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Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

I got a text from my mom flipping out about The Memo—the document assembled by Fresno-area Congressman Devin Nunes and released, despite intelligence agency concerns, on Feb. 2.

She’s smart but not especially political, and her text made it clear that the #releasethememo movement that began as an alt-right rallying cry had now reached the mainstream. “As a teenager you ranted about the CIA (you were right),” she wrote. “Now the FBI. Can we trust any politician or any government office?”

It was a strange moment for me, because, at the same time every mainstream news network in the country was on “Memo Watch,” I was covering a woefully uncovered trial in Baltimore, where the FBI uncovered a vast police corruption conspiracy after they traced some opioids that killed a young woman back to a drug gang and, upon tapping phones, realized the gang was working with a Baltimore Police officer named Momodu Gondo. When FBI agents tapped his phone, they realized that he and other officers were regularly targeting citizens whom they thought had a lot of cash—to rob.

Over the last three weeks of a federal trial—six of the officers pleaded guilty, while two maintained innocence and stood trial—we have learned that, according to testimony, one officer executed a man point-blank in 2009 because he “didn’t feel like chasing him.” According to Gondo’s testimony, a deputy commissioner came out to the scene to coach everyone on what to say: The victim was about to run them over, and he had to shoot. The deputy commissioner announced his retirement immediately following the testimony.

We also learned that during the uprising following Freddie Gray’s death, Wayne Jenkins—the ringleader of the elite police task force who was also indicted—came to a bail bondsman with two big trash bags of pharmaceuticals stolen from pharmacies and told him to sell them.

The bail bondsman testified that Jenkins came to him with stolen drugs almost every night. Jenkins, who did not testify, has come across as something like a demon. Even Jemell Rayam, who shot the man to keep from chasing him, thought Jenkins’ actions were excessive. Most of the officers said they were scared of him. He is, in Trump’s language, “high-energy,” and is in many ways the perfect image of Trumpian law-enforcement: If people are poor, or black, or immigrants—unprotected—then they are inherently criminal, and nothing you can do to them is criminal.

Jenkins had been involved in this kind of activity since at least 2010, when he and Det. Sean Suiter—who was apparently murdered in November, the day before he was supposed to testify to the grand jury in the case—chased a “target,” causing a fatal car crash, and then planted drugs in the car. Jenkins, as many people testified, was protected by the local power structure.

But the plodding investigations by the FBI—and prosecutions of the U.S. attorneys—brought down Jenkins’ long reign of terror.

This is similar to the story told by David Grann in last year’s Killers of the Flower Moon, which is about how the newly formed FBI was able to break through the white-power structure of 1920s Oklahoma law enforcement and expose local authorities’ involvement in killing hundreds of Native Americans in order to steal their payments from oil on Osage-owned lands.

Yet the national media—which covered every second of the burning CVS during the riots following Freddie Gray’s death—was largely silent about the vast police misconduct revealed in the trial, even though they dovetailed in some uncomfortable ways with the Memo Watch hysteria.

The Memo’s author, Devin Nunes, worked on Trump’s transition team and had a weird midnight Uber ride and secret White House lawn meeting a few months back. He ultimately alleged that the Steele dossier—source of the “pee tape” rumors—was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and used to get a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant on former Trump advisor Carter Page.

The Trump team has long alleged that Page, who has done some bragging about his Russian connections, was nothing more than a “coffee boy”—and that this was an attempt by the FBI to take Trump down.

Ultimately, The Memo was a dud, but it does highlight the weird moment where the right is attacking law enforcement agencies, and the left is valorizing them. It’s not hard to find countless examples of FBI malfeasance—the agency’s COINTELPRO is one of the worst incidents of law enforcement over-stepping in American history, as J. Edgar Hoover and his team plotted illegal, Jenkins-esque ways to destroy the black-militant movement.

The rather young and dashing dynamic duo of federal prosecutors in Baltimore—Leo Wise and Derek Hines—come across as champions of Baltimore’s most vulnerable citizens. But as they pulled out a big bag of black masks and clothes that Jenkins used for burglaries, I couldn’t help but think of their colleague Jennifer Kerkhoff, who, an hour down the road in Washington D.C., is still trying to prosecute 59 people for wearing black clothes during Trump’s inauguration, following a protest where a few windows were broken.

Regardless, the Trumpist attempt to undermine the FBI can be seen as an attempt to protect people like Wayne Jenkins—remember that Trump pardoned the super-racist former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio—in the name of “local control” or “states’ rights.” It is part of what Steve Bannon called the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” an attempt to have lawmen—lawmen in whom the president sees himself—seen as above the law.

Just as testimony in the Baltimore trial wrapped up, it came out that the Trump team was trying to plan a big military parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Surely, that will elicit massive protests—and may be a great gift to the lagging and fractured protest movement—but I couldn’t help but imagine Wayne Jenkins, with his grappling hooks and stolen drugs, riding with Arpaio at the front of the whole thing as a perfect picture of Trumpian law enforcement.

But Jenkins better not wear his black burglary clothes—D.C. prosecutors might mistake him for an anarchist and charge him with another conspiracy.

Baynard Woods is a reporter for the Real News Network and the founder of Democracy in Crisis, a project of alternative newspapers across the country. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter: @baynardwoods.

Published in National/International

Hundreds of people were lined up in the marble hallways of a Senate office building, hoping to get one of the 88 public seats in Room 216, where James Comey, the FBI director Trump fired over the Russia investigation, was scheduled to testify at 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 8.

That was at 8:30 a.m. More came. Some of the people waiting in the winding line said they’d arrived at 4 a.m. Bars were opening early, and for once, it seemed like reporters and senators were the only people in Washington, D.C., not day-drinking.

Yes, this was serious shit.

Comey said that Trump asked him for loyalty. It freaked the then-director out—because if the FBI is not independent of political factions, it becomes a secret police force abetting tyranny or totalitarian control.

At one point, Comey tried to explain why he had assured Trump that he wasn’t personally under an investigation on several occasions.

Comey also said he told the president about salacious material—the Russian sex workers pissing on the bed the Obamas slept in, I guess—in a dossier gathered by a former intelligence official and later published by BuzzFeed; he didn’t want Trump to think the FBI would use the material against him.

“I was worried very much of being in kind of a—kind of a J. Edgar Hoover-type situation,” Comey said, referring to the legendary director—you might say dictator—of the FBI for half a century.

It was remarkable to hear Comey talk this way about the man more associated with the bureau than anyone else—but he had good reason: It helps us contextualize what is happening now, because things were even more fucked-up a century ago. That should make us feel a little better.

Hoover—a powerful, paranoid and proud eccentric—crafted the modern FBI. He started working for the Department of Justice in 1917. The country had finally entered World War I in April of that year. Two years earlier, in 1915, as the war in Europe escalated, Germany feared U.S. involvement and began a propaganda campaign (or “active measures,” as we’re calling it). As Tim Weiner writes in his book Enemies: A History of the FBI, a German official “began to build a propaganda machine in the United States; the Germans secretly gained control of a major New York newspaper, the Evening Mail; their front men negotiated to buy The Washington Post and the New York Sun. Political fixers, corrupt Germans and crooked detectives served the German cause.”

The U.S. eventually entered the war, and the government—especially the bureau, which worked under the Department of Justice—began to arrest and surveil German immigrants.

“The bureau launched its first nationwide domestic surveillance programs under the Espionage Act of 1917, rounding up radicals, wiretapping conversations, and opening mail,” Weiner writes, noting that more than 1,000 people were convicted under the act.

In 1920, a few years later, Hoover orchestrated the “biggest mass arrest in U.S. history,” according to Weiner’s research in unclassified documents, when the bureau “broke into political meetings, private homes, social clubs, dance halls and saloons across America,” arresting more than 6,000 people, for many of whom there were no warrants.

Back in the modern day, 200 people, including a reporter, were charged with felony rioting after protests on inauguration day; the reporter was arraigned the day after Comey’s testimony. Reality Winner, the federal contractor who leaked secrets about Russian attempts to hack voting machines in 2016, was arrested and charged under the Espionage Act a couple of days earlier.

It’s still hard to imagine the scope of those 1920 raids. It shouldn’t be.

Hoover later distanced himself from the raids and denied involvement. But rather than backing off as outrage grew over the violations of civil liberties, Hoover started to collect secret files on his political enemies. That’s what Comey was referring to when he referred to a Hoover-type situation.

David Grann’s stunning new book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, shows how valuable a centralized investigative force can be in its detailing of the early FBI’s role in solving at least some of the murders of the indigenous Osage people in Oklahoma in the early 20th century, committed as a means to steal their money. The entire white power structure—from businesspeople to police to doctors—were in on the conspiracy to kill the Osage. But the FBI was outside of that local structure and was able to solve and prosecute some of the crimes as a result.

But much of the bureau’s history is shameful, reactionary and racist, as in COINTELPRO, or Counterintelligence Program, which targeted civil rights and peace activists in the 1960s. In a 2015 talk, Comey said he kept Hoover’s application for a warrant to wiretap Martin Luther King Jr., which cited “Communist influence in the racial situation,” on his desk. He said he required agents to study the Bureau’s MLK files and other instances of injustice, “to ensure that we remember our mistakes and that we learn from them.”

The idea of remembering our mistakes and learning from them is about as far as you can get from the whitewashed view of history implicit in Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Trump doesn’t seem like a person who is capable of admitting, much less learning from, a mistake, so the Senate needs to be particularly vigilant in their confirmation of Christopher Wray, Chris Christie’s Bridgegate lawyer, whose appointment as Comey’s replacement was announced over Twitter the day before Comey testified.

Things may seem bad now, but the bureau’s previous political persecution of the left, immigrants and minorities should remind us that they can always get worse.

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney’s, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications. Send tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter @demoincrisis. Podcast every Thursday at www.democracyincrisis.com.

Published in National/International