Updated: The Shocking Truth About Naomi Wolf's Factless Assertions

In an article for The Guardian, Naomi Wolf wrote this: In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House,

In an article for The Guardian, Naomi Wolf wrote this:

In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

This follows the ongoing meme that DHS has coordinated the Occupy crackdowns on a national level; that they are orchestrating the violence behind the clearing of Zuccotti Park and others. Wolf carries this to her conclusion:

So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.

It's a factless, incendiary assertion dripping in hyperbole, grounded in speculation that's been going on for a couple of weeks now. It began with a tweet. A tweet from Michael Moore speculating that the coordination seemed like something being coordinated by DHS and sanctioned, nay, possibly even requested, by the Obama administration.

Here are the two links Wolf provides as evidence: One to Wonkette; the other toWashingtonsblog.com. Both articles point back to this absurd article on the Examiner.com site (a very, very right-wing Phil Anschutz, write-out-of-your-butt-with-no-evidence kind of site). Washingtons Blog goes one step further, updating with this:

(And for those who are understandably doubtful about Examiner.com as a news source,here’s an AP story from a couple hours ago that verifies everything except the specific mention of DHS coordination.)

Got that? The headlines on both of these stories (Wonkette and Washingtons Blog) were splayed across the sites in very large heading fonts: “Homeland Security Coordinated….” and yet the AP confirms everything BUT DHS coordination. Still, that didn’t stop Wolf from ignoring the AP story entirely and writing a piece for the Guardian that included links to bolster her argument that are as factless as her hyperbole, and stem from right-wing sites with anonymous sources.

No one has a source, no one has any evidence, and the originating story which Michael Moore and now Naomi Wolf breathlessly spread quotes an anonymous source with the promise of still more to come in the future, from a "reporter" for Examiner.com who no one seems to know. Miraculously, this "reporter" got a tip from DHS that no national reporter received, and even though Mr. Ellis walks back his original accusation, he promises updates in the future. Well, it’s the future. It’s two weeks later and crickets from Mr. Ellis. Mission accomplished, though. Ask people who are paying attention to the OWS movement and they’ll swear up and down that yes, it was coordinated by DHS because MICHAEL MOORE and now NAOMI WOLF say so.

Truth: We don’t know. It isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility for mayors to consult with DHS. After all, that’s what they’re there for. To help local and state governments deal with threats, real, rumored or perceived. At best, one can conclude that maybe they did, and maybe they didn’t coordinate, and if they did coordinate, no one knows to what extent they did or whether there was any sort of "blessing" and/or mandate from DHS to what they ultimately chose to do.

The best anyone can say is "maybe". But if Wolf were not trying to stoke an international narrative she has chosen, she would have had a look at Portland, where there is some evidence that DHS was consulted because the occupiers were adjacent to federal land.

There is another line of thinking out there that runs directly counter to the federal-coordination theory: Ruiz wouldn’t comment on this, but one well-placed city source said, in fact, that the feds were mostly inclined to leave Schrunk Plaza open. It was city officials who cajoled them into getting on board—lest they watch most of Occupy’s camp merely move several hundred feet south onto federal land. Which would have been awkward for the city. But also interesting.

Should you accept as fact the idea that the feds were reluctant and the city pushed them along? NO. Why? Because it’s attributed to an anonymous source with nothing to back it up, which makes this theory as worthy as the DHS coordination theory, or just speculation with no facts behind it.

Josh Holland at AlterNet also notes:

Ironically, the occupation that arguably maintains the best relationship with local officials is Occupy DC, and the Washington, DC government is directly overseen by Congress.

Look, if DHS somehow instructed these cities to dress up their cops in riot gear, pepper spray kneeling protesters, use billy clubs to keep them from crossing imaginary borders, and ultimately throw the lot of them out, then yes, by all means shake your fist. But it's irresponsible for Wolf to publish such incendiary accusations -- accusations of real, physical civil war -- in an international publication, to cite magical articles with unsourced accusations and call it fact. Some might actually call it a lie.

Wolf's hyperbole does harm to the OWS movement and those honest people out there conducting themselves peacefully and with clear intent, because she intentionally tried to stir the fires of anger and discontent and anti-government sentiment on an international level. She should have to either retract or clarify her accusations.

Update Joshua Holland has written his own excellent response to Wolf's specific accusations.

When you don’t “connect” wholly disparate “dots,” what you get is far less dramatic. Mayors in a handful of cities, responding to local political pressures, decided to break up their local occupations — decisions that were announced to the press well in advance — and were advised as to how best to do so.

One doesn’t have to like that fact to recognize that it’s hardly shocking, and anything but a sinister assault on local communities’ autonomy.

Also, regarding PERF's* involvement, an interview with the director in The Boston Phoenix:

But what is PERF? And what role, if any, did it play in the police actions? According to PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler, not the one he had hoped.

His organization is more concerned with improving police practices and policies, he said. He cited a report PERF published in June, which gives advice that runs exactly counter to how Occupy has been handled in most cities — emphasizing communication, respect for the First Amendment, and avoidance of violent methods at nearly all cost.

"Over the years, we've taken on racially biased policing, violent crime, the Gates-Crowley thing in Cambridge," he said. "It's not always pretty, and it's not easy, but I think we owe it to the public to identify best practices."

*PERF is the Police Executives' Research Forum, a group who views themselves as a progressive organization dedicated to reducing police brutality and establishing best practices for police officers in various situations. Until recently, they've been a big target of the right wing for their support of gun control laws.

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