COINTELPRO, Provocateurs, and Prisoners: An Interview

By Peter Young
Simulposted with Voice of the Voiceless
and Thomas Paine’s Corner

I recently did an interview with Dylan from Vegan Police that is timely and worth reposting. The interview covered subjects that have become increasingly relevant with recent events, including: provocateurs, critics, informants, COINTELPRO, how to deal with suspected informants, and much more.

Your website has been inter woven in Walter Bond’s case, with Walter allegedly telling an informant to check Voice of the Voiceless to see “what he has been up to.” Do you feel a burden of responsibility knowing that the site is that well known and a hub or is that how you measure effectiveness?

This question became more relevant in the last 24 hours, after the FBI raided my home for the second time in five months yesterday. The new search warrant named certain communications to Voice of the Voiceless as among the items to be seized. This is the second time VOV has been mentioned in an FBI document in recent months.

Since its launch, VOV has focused on original content. I rarely repost articles, or post anything that isn’t offering some value, some insight or layer to the story no other source is offering. The internet is well past the point of data saturation, and I don’t want to add to it with unoriginal or redundant content.

The burden of increased site-traffic comes in having to be increasingly cautious in my reporting. Several times in recent months the media has picked up on stories that I’ve broken on VOV, and I’ve become much more hesitant to post any exclusive / breaking information without being 100% certain it is 100% accurate.

As an example, for weeks there was fairly solid speculation that the mystery informant in Walter Bond’s case was his brother. I was 95% certain based on what I was hearing, but I held off on reporting this until getting confirmation from Walter himself. Within minutes of posting, I was getting calls from the media, reporters who would likely never look at the site again if they were to catch me in one inaccuracy. Before VOV was getting decent traffic, I would have been less likely to hold myself to professional standards.

The burden comes in having to hold back on the stories I want to write. I’m sitting on several bombshell pieces of info that I’ve been waiting for 100% confirmation on before reporting. Were I doing just another blog, I would not have to be so restrained.

After Walter was charged by the FBI I was expecting a show of support from the vegan community. Instead I got a lot of criticisms about his personal appearance (face tattoo’s) as well as his adherence to straight edge and his past arson convictions. A “vegan” celebrity can endorse and promote products which brutally test on animals and be revered as a God, but an activist with a face tattoo allegedly sets three fires (which harm no human or animal life) and is ostracized. Do you think there is a larger comment on appearance based activism at work here?

One thing I learned early on: There are people who do, and people who criticize. And those two character types rarely overlap. The critic-to-doer ratio is easily 20-to-1. Anyone who steps up and brings their beliefs into action – whether as a grassroots activist or A.L.F. operative – subjects themselves to the attention-seeking chatter of the other 98%. I don’t think those critics are relevant because they don’t do anything. And I think in activism, you forfeit your right to have an opinion about what others are doing when you don’t do anything yourself.

That is my opinion of anyone who would deny an A.L.F. prisoner support because of a tattoo. Critics do damage with their hit-and-run internet slander assaults and whisper-campaigns. They exist because they know they can escape being confronted about what exactly they are contributing to the movement. When I see people who only show up at meetings to obstruct everyone else’s ideas, or make a name for themselves slandering people, I think they should either show us what value they are offering animals, or be shown the door.

Along those same lines, Walter has entered a plea of “not guilty” and IS innocent until proven guilty, however, many people feel like he MUST be guilty because of his appearance, past history, etc. Why are we so quick to internalize the messages authorities and major media send out about people in our own communities?

I’m saying this as someone without tattoos: When someone is facing 30 years in prison, that’s a time to lay down your ego, petty critiques, and judgments about inconsequential things and give support. We really see who’s-who when someone gets arrested and the chatter starts.

About six years ago there was an A.L.F. prisoner for whom the only available photo was one pulled from Myspace. I heard numerous verbal eye-rolls from people, judging him on what was taken as an overly-vain photograph. But you know what? The people casting these stones were the do-nothing critics. This kind of privileged judgment can only come from people who have never been in a legal predicament themselves, or think they’re immune to one. So they can sit on their cloud of judgment and cast stones from the safe side of the line while one of our own suffers in jail.

If someone is facing charges for burning things down and you’re fixated on a tattoo or a mug shot, you just exposed yourself for what you are, and anyone who matters will see it.

After Walter was charged, a local newspaper ran a quote from a woman who admitted she hated Walter, wherein she claimed he knowingly ate beef burgers prior to his arrest. This raised a red flag for many activists who have had their reputation and name smeared in the media. What were some of your experiences with fictitious news reports?

Walter stated in a letter to me that he communicated with this woman for “a grand total of perhaps two-dozen sentences” in his life. Additionally, he said he wasn’t even in her house that day, that he’s been vegan for 14 years, and that “those who know me know what I stand for”.

It would be hard to believe that in 2010 anyone is affected by this kind of transparent disinformation. This is COINTELPRO. This is is what the FBI does. They plant disinformation about their targets in the media, on the internet, and in gossip channels, and let activists do the FBI’s work by destroying themselves through the infighting caused by disinformation. This is classic FBI. It’s happened to me, its happened to other stated FBI targets I’ve known, and its happening to Walter.

Walter has even stated he believes the ATF / FBI deliberately coaxed her into these comments to publicly discredit him and deter support from the activism community. I think this is an appropriate assumption.

The disinformation can target specific activists, or anonymous ones in the A.L.F. In the past the media has reported dogs being beheaded by fur farm raiders, mice rescued from labs being found in the wild, and more.

Media lies are generally transparent. We should have greater concern for disinformation spread by those masquerading as activists. Among recent cases we’ve seen are people moving through the movement, hopping town to town spreading disinformation and creating divisions among activists before moving on. And that’s not even to mention internet snipers, breeding disharmony amount activists online, often anonymously. Interesting to note how much obvious agitator / COINTELPRO work we let someone get away with before waking up. Media lies are expected. Its the disinformation agents among us that should be our greatest concern.

Any A.L.F. activist can only hope that if they fall, a thousand will rise. Instead, they must be concerned about scorn from activists and lies from the media. When someone is facing 30 years, it is not the time to criticize.

Walter is now also being charged under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, as far as I know this is the first time it will be used to prosecute someone who is being charged with arson. What implications do you think this will have for this case and the legislation?

Implications for the AETA: none. Arson has always been illegal. The real precedent-setting Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act cases will be those like the AETA 4 case, which prosecute previously protected free speech activity. I don’t think we can read anything into them going after the A.L.F. for arson. It falls within the ostensible purpose of the AETA, and the new charge should come as surprise to no one. The only implications are for Walter personally – he may now face a harsher sentence than he otherwise would have under a standard arson charge.

The anonymous informant in this case received $25,000. How can this movement grow and be welcoming, while at the same time not be suspicious of everyone’s intentions and interests?

The first step is for those of us who aren’t active in the A.L.F. (which is nearly everyone) to not act as though we are. Pulling the “security culture” card every time you discuss jaywalking or planning a demo is generally pretentious. Part of being someone who has something to hide is not talking about how you’re someone who has something to hide. Prison isn’t the greatest weapon they have, its fear. That fear is propagated by incessant conversation about “who the informants are”, and over-cautious applications of security culture. The FBI is sitting back loving this.

I did a lot of foolish things in my early days as an activist, things that breached security culture in a serious way. There was an instance where I told another activist at a demo about some low-level property damage I had done at the protest target the night before. I was fortunate that she explained sternly why ever talking about illegal action was wrong, and to not do it again. I never forgot that lesson.

You don’t have to be working for the FBI to do their work. Not everyone who breaches security culture is an informant, and we have to be cautious about who we suspect.

If you’re in the 99.9% of activists doing standard activism work, suspecting everyone of being an informant is an indirect way of suggesting you’re someone the FBI would dedicate that level of resources to. If you don’t do work that an informant could send you to prison for, the costs of suspicion towards everyone you meet far outweighs the costs of allowing an informant to be present at a meeting where you are discussing benign protest activity.

The approach to dealing with suspicious people in above-ground groups should be simple: Wait for them to do or ask something inappropriate. Warn them the behavior is inappropriate. If they do it again, either warn them again, or tell them they are no longer welcome.

I would just caution activists against overzealous “security culture” that borders on pretentiousness, and to ask themselves if they only carrying out unambiguously legal actions for animals, what it is they are protecting themselves from.

For the rest, they know they are targets and will compartmentalize their life accordingly. They will nullify the threat of informants by working alone when possible, and never talking about an A.L.F. action after it has been carried out – no exceptions. Whether to someone involved or not. The risk of comrades turning informants and wearing wires during conversations, of people going to police, or of people gossiping (an indirect way of going to the police) are too great. Those people don’t need to be concerned about informants because they erect firewalls in their lives and keep their mouths shut.

The most unfortunate part of Walter Bond’s case is the allegation he confessed involvement in three A.L.F. arsons to his brother. If true, this is a profound breach of basic security culture. While this should never happen, it may take a high-profile example of this every few years to remind the new generation of basic security principles.

You mention that Walter’s arrest has shed light on issues that normally do not make mainstream news, sheepskin, leather, foie gras. Do you see direct action as an outreach tool?

No question. At its best, liberation is education. Early on, I saw an example of this when the A.L.F. liberated 11 chickens from a battery hen farm near Seattle in 1998. The action was videotaped and footage was shown on network news, giving millions of people their first glimpse inside an egg farm. A year prior, a large mink release in Mount Angel, Oregon sparked a several-part series on the local fur industry in Oregon’s largest newspaper. Meanwhile, our legal protests were ignored. We’ve seen over and over that the sensationalism of direct actions serves as a hook to bring media attention – and thus media attention -to the plight of animals.

Many articles reprinted Lone Wolf communique excerpts, decrying the cruelty of leather and more. While our movement may be ahead of its time, and the average person on the street may not support arson as a tactic, very few could come away from these news stories without an understanding of why these companies were targeted. And hopefully, not without thinking about the exploitation of animals in the process.

Simply put: direct action generates media. It is the responsibility of the above-ground to capitalize on this media coverage to bring greater attention to the plight of animals. When I speak to the media about A.L.F. actions, I keep the issue on what matters: what happens to animals. And the message reaches the public on a scale that protests never generate.

What were some of the criticisms you faced from some corners of the vegan/animal rights movement as you faced trial? Conversely, how important was the support you received?

There were no criticisms to speak of. Some white noise about having been arrested at a Starbucks, but nothing of note.

The support was incredible personally, and more importantly it telegraphed to the larger movement that there is a safety net for activists who put themselves on the line for animals. I hope the boxes of letters and paid private attorney advertise this to the next generation of A.L.F. activist.

And if we deny Walter Bond support for having a face-tattoo, you advertise to the next generation of saboteur that if you are caught, support is conditional. For the animals, the deterrent effect of these armchair judgments could literally be deadly.

If you would like to write to Walter and send support.