CVIndependent

Sat05262018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels used pseudonyms in the non-disclosure agreement worked out by the now-president’s seemingly suicidal lawyer Michael Cohen. They called themselves David Dennison and Peggy Peterson—but Trump still didn’t sign it, which has gotten him into a fresh pile of shit.

Stormy Daniels is already a nom-de-porn, but even people like Trump and Daniels, whose livelihoods require an extreme level of visibility, crave privacy almost as much as they demand a spotlight.

But privacy is contradictory in our half-online lives. We can post without anyone knowing who we are, but we also broadcast the details of our lives on numerous platforms and essentially carry tracking devices in our pockets. Our emails damn us, even in their absence—just ask Hillary—and our texts can be turned against us, as FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page can surely attest to, as theirs were blasted around the world. Our dumb Facebook posts and tweets follow us as we try to move into more respectable environs—see whatever Nazi-sympathizer The New York Times op-ed page hired and fired this week.

In this context, law-enforcement officers are demanding a kind of privacy not afforded ordinary citizens. This is particularly clear in a recent filing in the case against protesters and bystanders caught up in the Disrupt J20 protests against Trump’s inauguration.

After losing the first trial against six defendants late last year and dropping charges against more than 100 others—who needlessly spent months fighting against what were ultimately unsustainable charges—prosecutor Jennifer Kerkhoff is gearing up to try the remaining 58 defendants. She found an undercover agent who has been infiltrating “the anarchist extremist movement” to testify as an expert witness on the “black bloc” technique—wearing black clothes, covering up identifying features and moving as a “bloc.”

The government is charging numerous people who—even prosecutors admit—did not physically break any of the windows that were smashed during the inauguration, and who engaged in no other violence. But if they covered their faces or wore black clothes, they abetted the anonymity of those who did, and are therefore guilty of the crimes, the government claims.

But the government doesn’t want to reveal the name of its witness, who is allegedly an expert on these same techniques—which are intended to protect privacy. Kerkhoff moved that she be called by a pseudonym “Julie McMahon”—with a possible nod to the McMahons of professional wrestling fame, or maybe to a tabloid divorcee who allegedly pursued Bill Clinton and was named “The Energizer” by the Secret Service. However they came up with the name, the government argues that she won’t be able to continue her undercover activity if her identity is known.

“Given the repeated efforts to publicly disseminate identifying information about the prosecutor and law enforcement officers involved in this case (to include an MPD officer who acted in an undercover capacity), the government submits there is a reason to believe that the expert will be targeted in the same manner,” Kerkhoff argues.

Kerkhoff argues that when an undercover police officer testified in the first trials, people identified him. That’s not the fault of the press or the public; don’t call an undercover officer to testify if you don’t want to blow their cover. Or should they get to testify wearing black masks?

“Further, when the MPD officer stepped outside of the courthouse during his testimony, his photograph was taken and was disseminated on multiple social media accounts and in various media outlets,” the motion reads.

When he is outside of the courthouse, it is neither illegal nor illegitimate to take his photograph. Kerkhoff complains again that “as the prosecutors and lead detective left the courthouse, their photograph was taken and published in media outlets.”

So, the black bloc is bad for not wanting to be surveilled and identified—not to mention tear-gassed and hit with chemical grenades—by the state, but the agents of the state deserve anonymity, even in what used to be called “open court.”

The government also went to great lengths to prohibit the public from seeing police body-cam footage—while Det. Gregg Pemberton spent a year combing through all of the personal data on the cellphones of those who were arrested. He has personally told me that he saw me all over the videos he had scoured, and that he was looking for evidence of an illegal action. He is armed. And he is afraid of a photograph?

The department, meanwhile, denied a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Unicorn Riot to see his overtime slips during that period, despite allegations that he had falsely charged the city overtime while defending himself against a DUI charge in a previous case.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington and the MPD fought to protect the identity not only of their undercover officers, but also of the far-right slime-ball Project Veritas operative who infiltrated an alleged planning meeting.

Meanwhile, a list of the names of everyone arrested during the J20 protest was leaked to far-right site Got News from the official police computer of Metropolitan Police Department employee Rachel Schaerr, according to the metadata on the spreadsheet. The names are still on the site which calls them “LEFT-WING ANARCHISTS AND ANTIFA TERRORISTS.”

This is part of a trend in which law-enforcement officials want ever-greater access to information about individual citizens, while seeking to further shield themselves. The Maryland judiciary recently removed the names of police officers from its public database. If I were arrested and cleared of all charges, my name, address and birthdate would have remained public unless I made the effort to expunge it. But the officer who arrested me would have remained unknown to the public. The move occurred amid one of the craziest police-corruption scandals in modern history—and stoked a serious uproar that caused the court to reverse its decision and put the officers’ names back.

“It’s disgusting, and it’s dishonorable,” said David Simon, creator of The Wire, about the attempt to hide police officers’ names in Maryland. “And generations of police officers who were capable of standing by their police work, publicly standing by their use of force, their use of lethal force, and their powers of arrest—those generations are ashamed right now because this present one is pretending they are incapable of that level of responsibility.”

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

Donald Trump’s second year in office is beginning like every new Star Wars movie: The Resistance is in tatters, trying to rebuild.

Yes, there is plenty of Internet #Resistance, ranging from insane conspiracy theories to serious commentary and organizing—but this online profusion has resulted in confusion in real life.

The divide is mirrored in the Bernie/Hillary split—but it is also something deeper and something that moves further to the fringes. The divide, in many ways, mirrors the increasing divisions within the far right, where the alt-lite litigiously differentiates itself from the more openly racist alt-right.

Last year, there was the Disrupt J20 protest on Inauguration Day, which led to the prosecution of nearly 200 individuals, identified by the police and the prosecution as anarchists. The next day, hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets for the women’s march.

There is little sympathy or support between these groups, with many anarchists and hardcore organizers mocking feel-good liberals who #Resist while supporting the FBI, intelligence agencies and Robert Mueller. More mainstream liberals, on the other hand, attempt to distance themselves from anyone further to the left than they are for fear of being tainted by the anarchist stench of “hippies.” As a result, these liberals have been far more concerned about Putin’s abuse of reporters than they have about the prosecution of journalists who were covering the J20 protests. Though these J20 cases have been largely ignored by the mainstream press, they have had an immeasurable effect on the state of protest—creating fear, distrust, and division on the left.

Over the last couple of weeks, some of these tensions have bubbled up, largely in online debates about a real-life rally slated for Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27. The “People’s March on Washington,” also called the “The Impeachment March,” has gained a lot of online support—25,000 are “interested” on Facebook, and more than 2,000 say they are going. It has also gotten a lot of pushback.

The rally was organized by a group called People Demand Action, headed up by a 24-year-old man named Lawrence Nathaniel, who is a big-thinking, marketing-minded millennial leftist who says he worked on the Bernie Sanders campaign and then, after he got over his disappointment following the primary loss, for Hillary Clinton. When Trump won, he began to think about what he could do.

Nathaniel has a long list of sometimes improbable plans and goals, including opening a free, private school in Bamberg, S.C. However, the march calling for the impeachment of the president indeed gained traction. But as interest in the march grew—and organizers began trying to raise money—so did the questions surrounding it.

I first heard questions about the march when Dave Troy, a technologist and writer in Baltimore, wrote to me. Troy is deeply concerned about Russian trolls and “active measures.” When he saw confusion surrounding the event, he initially thought it might be the result of some Kremlin campaign. But after he started to look into it, he attributed the perceived failings of the organizers to inexperience rather than malfeasance.

Nathaniel has set up a number of organizations to promote the march and his various other endeavors. People have been calling them “shell organizations” or “false fronts,” but that seems a little too harsh. The one organization that has filed official papers is called the Presidential House, and it proposes some sort of weird shadow government in Charleston, S.C., with Nathaniel as president. Troy called it “unhinged, fantastical nonsense.”

I called Nathaniel and asked for an explanation.

“When I started the Presidential House I started volunteering for the Obama campaign,” Nathaniel said. He acknowledged that the original scheme was kind of goofy, but said it came from his enthusiasm for Obama. “I was 16 or 17 and was very excited, and so I started something called the Presidential House to get out in my community.”

For Nathaniel, inexperience is part of the point of protest.

“Many of us, especially young people in the political realm, don’t really get our voices heard, because it’s mostly a ‘who has more experience’ type thing versus a protest where we’re able to organize it, either locally or nationally, and our voices can be heard much easier there than working with politics,” Nathaniel said.

However, he said he is still interested in electoral politics and local issues. “My goal was to run for United States Congress this year, but I decided not to because Annabelle Robertson, who is way more qualified than I am, decided to run (against Republican South Carolina Rep. Joe “You Lie” Wilson). So I decided to put my action behind her and get out and protest.”

Critics point to the “Rally at the Border,” in San Ysidro, Calif., the only other rally Nathaniel has organized. It failed amid concerns of top-down organizing that didn’t take the needs of the community into consideration, and could have put a lot of people at risk.

Once news of the failed border rally became public, people began demanding to see the permit for the march on Washington. Nathaniel says he has a permit and has met with D.C. police, Park Police, the Secret Service and the FBI.

But for local organizers in San Ysidro and D.C., working with the authorities is precisely the problem: Washington, D.C.’s police department threw more than 70 grenades and emptied hundreds of canisters of pepper spray at the Disrupt J20 protest during the inauguration. At a right-wing rally recently, Park Police claimed to be working with right-wing militias.

“In D.C., we do not like interfacing with police,” Brendan Orsinger, an organizer in D.C., told me. “We don’t like the idea of the state giving permission for us to march. And we don’t need it. … It’s actually much safer not to have police involved in the planning of the march.”

Orsinger has been vociferous in his criticism of the march. But like Troy, he doesn’t see a conspiracy: “There are good intentions here. But one of the things that I learned over the last year is that good intentions are not good enough to make change happen in this country.”

This raises the larger question: What are protests for? The prosecution of the nearly 200 people charged with rioting charges after the inauguration may have had a chilling effect, but it has also shown the effectiveness of protest—if the U.S. Attorney’s office works that hard to shut them down, then they must have some power.

So, the question becomes: How can a larger movement bring together Russiagaters like Troy, local grassroots organizers like Orsinger, and enthusiastic young people like Nathaniel? If people really want to resist and not just #Resist, they need to answer this question while embracing a diversity of tactics and figuring out how to form coalitions.

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