September 6, 2019

If an intelligence memo recently issued from the FBI’s office in Phoenix is any kind of barometer, the agency apparently sees antifascists organizing along the border as a dire threat, with the potential to wreak serious harm against government agencies. Yet for the past 15 years—and even today—as right-wing extremists have been organizing vigilante “border watches” that turned out to be breeding grounds for criminality and murder, and whose recent iterations have produced a similar litany of violence, no such intelligence assessment has been proffered for advice to law enforcement officials as the FBI’s memo about “anarchist extremist” has.

Titled “Anarchist Extremists Very Likely Increasing Targeting of US Government Entities in Arizona, Increasing Risk of Armed Conflict,” the memo outlines its reasons for fearing threats from the far left, including concerns that more such activists appear to be arming themselves.

“FBI Phoenix assesses anarchist extremists (AEs) very likely are increasing the targeting of U.S. Government … law enforcement personnel and facilities along the Arizona border, increasing the risk of armed conflict,” it reads. “FBI Phoenix also assesses Arizona-based AEs likely are increasingly arming themselves and using lethal force to further their goals and in confrontations with ideologically opposed groups.”

While the memo discusses intelligence—much of which it acknowledges it only has “medium” confidence regarding its veracity—that might raise concerns among people convinced that these leftists are intent on violence, none of the actions discussed are necessarily criminal in nature. Indeed, most fall under the rubric of protected speech and perfectly legal behavior, most of it related to organizing protests, but including the purchase of weapons.

All of this forms a sharp contrast for longtime observers of the border scene, which since the early 2000s has been dominated by nativist vigilantes intent on stopping the “invasion” crossing into the United States from Mexico. A record of threatening behavior, brandishing weapons, violating civil rights, fraud, and general criminality followed with it:

  • Ranch Rescue, the first Arizona border-watch operation, broke apart after its members detained two migrants from El Salvador and sicced a dog on them, resulting in a massive lawsuit that they lost.
  • The Minutemen, who made headlines in April 2005 with their media-friendly border watch south of the Tombstone area, similarly fell apart amid accusations of financial mismanagement and fraud. Cofounder Chris Simcox in 2016 was convicted of sexually abusing two young girls.
  • Shawna Forde, the leader of a Minuteman spinoff operation that oversaw vigilante border watches in Arizona, was convicted of leading a 2009 home-invasion robbery in which a 9-year-old girl and her father were murdered in cold blood.
  • Jason Todd “J.T.” Ready, a longtime leader of the state’s neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, and an organizer of independent NSM border watches in Arizona, went on a shooting rampage in May 2012 at the home of his girlfriend. He killed five people, including a 15-month-old toddler, before turning the gun on himself.
  • A Texas border-watch operation that called itself “Camp LoneStar” attempted similarly to detain border crossers at the Rio Grande, before eventually dissolving amid a flurry of weapons charges and other crimes. One of the camp’s leaders is currently a federal fugitive.
  • Another group of militiaman border watchers in New Mexico began posing as Border Patrol and detaining immigrants coming through the area where they had set up their operations. The FBI eventually arrested the leader of that militia on a variety of weapons charges.
  • An Arizona border watcher named Joshua Pratchard, attached to Tim Foley’s “Arizona Border Recon” operation near the border, was also recently arrested by the FBI for running a “firearms and ammunition factory” out of his house in San Diego, California. His attorneys claimed he broke the law because he “believed this was a way to give back to his country to help ensure that the border was not overrun by drugs, criminals and an invasion of illegal aliens.”

Despite the FBI’s obvious involvement in dealing with multiple cases related to far-right-wing border watchers, the agency has not yet produced any memos advising law enforcement on the threat these radicals might pose.

The “Anarchist Extremism” memo describes various “anarchist actions” as potential threats to government operations, but doesn’t identify any that are criminal in nature, other than “operations to disrupt [government] border security operations and the construction of the proposed wall at the Texas and Arizona borders with Mexico.” It also noted that some of these anarchists were training in combat techniques and conducting reconnaissance with drones.

The problem with all this, as Brennan Center analyst Michael German—himself a former FBI agent—explained to Yahoo News, is that this is in fact all constitutionally protected and perfectly legal behavior. It’s embedded in the agency’s history and culture, he says, to interpret right-wing activism in the dark light conceivable.

“It’s been a feature of the post 9/11 counterterrorism effort by the FBI to focus on nonviolent civil disobedience and to prioritize it,” said German. “For several years after 9/11, the FBI called environmental activists the No. 1 domestic terror threat, even though there’s not a single homicide related to environmental ‘terrorists’ in the United States.”

Moreover, the document doesn’t cite any violent actions that have taken place—in stark contrast to how the FBI’s analytical team has handled far-right vigilantes. It simply claims that the “threat” will “likely grow in intensity and frequency in the near to mid-term.”

Published with permission of Daily Kos

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