Recently, a trusted activist and ally in the So Cal community was coerced into the local police station to talk. The cops claimed (falsely) to have an arrest warrant, and convinced the activist to come down to the station – or face arrest. Agents and cops will say anything to terrorize people and it is completely legal for the authorities to lie to you. This particular activist was targeted due a recent falling out with other activists. Authorities most likely suspected the activist would give information since they were drifting from the movement due to previous intimidation*. The activist should have slammed the door in the cops’ faces and called an attorney. Among the many mistakes that were made by this activist, the biggest one of all was opening their mouth.
In addition to the police visit, former activists in the So Cal area were part of a swoop of visits by the FBI just this month. Agents targeted a former vegan – who has dropped out of the movement entirely – hoping to gain information on people still active. We must prepare ourselves for such harassment by agents and cops or continue to face dire situations that could have been easily prevented.
Talking to law enforcement will always hurt, you and others. The Feds or the local police are not your friends no matter how much they ensure you that they are trying to help you. Even when some answers may seem “innocent” or you work off the assumption that they have “nothing”, any information you provide them will incriminate other activists or yourself. In the activist community, we have once simple rule: nobody talks, everybody walks. Many people often speak freely of this rule yet when the time comes to walk, they fall flat. It seems that everything discussed at security culture workshops is forgotten and a state of panic overrides common sense.
Law enforcement will always resort to fear and intimidation and we must resist such divisional tactics. They will instill paranoia of infiltration, government surveillance, pit activists against each other, or use activist drama as leverage. Although some of their advanced technology is a reality, interrogation is their primary form of dividing communities. Even if you think they know it already, don’t be fooled because they most likely do not. If they had all the information they needed, they wouldn’t be asking any questions, now would they? Talking to the Feds or local police puts you on the defense and nothing you say will ever help a situation.
In addition, answering Johnny Law’s questions presents a problem for fellow activists, many who will no longer trust someone who talks to the cops. This cripples activists’ ability to organize once they are consumed with thoughts about what was said and who will be visited next. Activists must then distance themselves from an individual who is willing to talk to the authorities due to future security concerns, thus weakening the community.
There are several consequences of talking and none should be taken lightly. It cannot be stressed enough that volunteering information or answering any questions for the cops and/or agents will result in isolation from the community and your activist friends. This in turn diminishes our effectiveness as a movement and strengthens the opposition. When you talk, connections are made where there weren’t any to begin with. Even reciting what you think is “common knowledge” to the police or Feds not only gets you talking, but can get others raided, arrested or injunctions filed. Talking translates into prison time, restraining orders, or lawsuits and a guaranteed loss of trust and alienation.
In order to resist the urge to talk, there are a few things you can do:
- Be mentally prepared: Envision what a visit would be like ahead of time. This helps you remain calm and collected, and allows you to recite your actions – shutting your mouth and the door. Just expect to get a knock, get raided, even get hauled down to the local police precinct for questioning. It makes you more prepared if it does happen. Also be prepared to stare at the wall for hours if it does happen- remember, no one can make you open your mouth and expel air across your vocal cords to form words they want to hear. It is possible to look another human in the eye and simply stare without saying a word. It makes you uncomfortable, but its even worse for the oppressors.
- Plan on not caring if they come-ah-knockin': If you are an effective activist, there is a possibility, even a probability, they’ll visit you. Just remember, their job is to oppress you and your community, and high on their agenda is to impede social change. By not talking, you strengthen your community and the movement.
- Don’t let cops/agents scare you: Nothing is worse than buying into the authorities scare tactics. If they have you paranoid and scared, they have won. Just remember the silent treatment frustrates the authorities but saves activists. If they had evidence you had committed a crime, they would arrest you, not come around asking questions. And if cops scare you, just think what the animals must feel when they are hauled out of their cages to be tortured or killed. That’s something to be afraid of, not some overweight bully of a law enforcement officer asking questions.
- Never let them see you sweat: Being overly concerned, even among friends or on the phone, will lead the authorities to your door. They will suspect you as a weak link and easy target. Keep your eye on the ball, animal suffering that we must stop using whatever means are at our disposal. Cops are just an ugly distraction.
- Never keep it a secret: If you are not sure what to do, ask an attorney or activist friends. Don’t keep visits, calls or letters a secret and always alert (without scaring!) other activists and friends in the community.
Unfortunately, this article was written in response to a close friend and great activist making a catastrophic and irreversible mistake. This activist was well liked in the community and now must be distant due to the serious nature of talking to cops. We can no longer ignore security culture as if it doesn’t matter – it does.
For more information concerning security culture and activist safety, check out “If an Agent Knocks” by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). —
* The activist was called and sent a letter by the PD before authorities visited their home.