The Los Angeles police department infiltrated and spied on a left-wing activist group as they coordinated anti-Trump protests, according to newly disclosed police documents.
The LAPD ordered a confidential informant to secretly record the group Refuse Fascism, the documents show. Transcripts of the interaction were obtained in a criminal case against activists who were charged with trespassing after blocking traffic on a California freeway amid anti-Trump protests.
The operation was spearheaded by the LAPD’s Major Crime Division in October 2017 ahead of potential mass demonstration to mark the first anniversary of Trump’s election.
The informant was equipped by police with a hidden recording device and assigned the informant to attend Refuse Fascism meetings at a local church “in an attempt to elicit information regarding the closure” of the freeway and to express interest in being involved “in any such future activities”, police wrote.
As a result of the investigation, left-wing activist Miguel Antonio, who was monitored and recorded by the informant, charged with misdemeanors for shutting down the freeway.
Antonio vowed in an interview with The Guardian that not to allow threats of surveillance to intimidate him from organizing “peaceful protests.”
“We’re not scared. We’re not going to back down in the face of repression,” he said, adding that this kind of spying was meant to discourage activists. “You’re in a church, and you’re meeting about organizing a peaceful protest, and you’re running the risk of being charged with conspiracy or these petty crimes.”
Disclosure of the LAPD’s infiltration of the left-wing activist group comes after Republican Sens. Ted Cruz R-TX) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced a resolution on July 18 that condemns Antifa’s “violent acts” and calls for the designation of the group as a “domestic terrorist organization.”
The two senators referenced the recent attack by Antifa members on photojournalist Andrew Ngo in Portland. Ngo was taking pictures at a June 29 demonstration when he was beaten by Antifa members, subsequently suffering a brain hemorrhage and a torn ear lobe.
Last, weed 69-year-old armed Willem Van Spronsen was killed by Washington state police as he attacked a local Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center. Spronsen sent a manifesto to friends the day before the assault in which he wrote “I am Antifa,” and was being lionized by members of the leftwing group as a “martyr.”
Former NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik has also warned the members of the left-wing activist group Antifa should be “designated as a terror group.”
Meanwhile, so-called civil rights advocates argue the LAPD’s infiltration of leftwing activists meetings are “deeply troubling.” Mohammad Tajsar, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California who specializes in surveillance matters warns the LAPD has damaged its ability to work cooperatively with demonstrators in the future by engaging in espionage tactics.
“When you know that your investigation is going to infringe on core political rights that communities have, you have to be damn near certain that there is some criminal activity afoot,” Tajsar told the Los Angeles Times. “It cannot be that you’re relying on speculation, hunches, innuendos or your gut feeling.”
Frank Wulf, the pastor of the church where the LAPD was conducting the surveillance, said it was “offensive” for police to “infiltrate a group whose purposes are clearly non-violent”.
“The government is interfering with the rights of protest in America,” he said, adding that he worried about a chilling effect: “You never know if the person sitting next to you is a police informant or not.”
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