Exclusive: Feds went undercover to investigate peaceful demonstrations in Detroit, Lansing

ProtestsThe Department of Homeland Security spied daily on rallies in Detroit and Lansing over the emergency manager, wages for teachers and city workers, inadequate transportation and rising poverty during the peak of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Motor City Muckraker has learned from records stamped confidential.

Federal Protective Service officials in Detroit sent daily briefings to Washington D.C. on protests in places such as Lansing, the Ambassador Bridge, city hall, Bank of America and several state and federal buildings in downtown Detroit, according to records confirmed by federal authorities.

Occupy protests

Concerns were raised over peaceful protests against Gov. Rick Snyder for appointing emergency managers in Michigan cities and school districts. The protests were peaceful and law-abiding, the unnamed officials said in a briefing to headquarters.

The feds also monitored teacher and city unions, transportation advocates, anti-poverty activists and Occupy demonstrators – all of whom were peaceful, the report states. But feds still spied, keeping track 0f strategies, meetings, media presence and even the weather.

According to the records, many protestors were angry with Snyder for taking over the finances of cash-strapped cities. They claim there has been “overt action to subvert our democracy and our system of representative government,” the undercover federal official wrote.

In October 2011, feds kept close tabs on Grand Circus Park as more than 200 protestors set up tents during the height of the Occupy movement. Despite the peaceful gatherings, federal authorities considered breaking up the demonstrators.

“We are not making any decision right now to move them out as of yet,” the official wrote. “However I have been tasked with coming up with an exit strategy.”

Two federal officials went undercover to spy on Occupy protesters and others during a rally in Lansing from Oct. 15-17. Records identify the officials only as Burdett and Argillander.  

Again, no problems were reported.

The records focused mostly on 2011, so it’s unclear when the surveillance ended, if ever.

Demonstrations have been breaking out daily since last week’s arrival of Detroit’s new emergency manager, Kevyn Orr.

Stay tuned for updates as we talk to federal authorities, protesters and free-speech lawyers.

Got tips or suggestions? Contact Steve at sneavling@gmail.com. 

Steve Neavling, who lives on the city’s east side, is an investigative journalist, a freelance reporter for Reuters and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Neavling explores corruption, Detroit’s unsung heroes and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for many more daily updates, investigations, photos and videos of the Motor City. 

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

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  • John Davis

    LMFAO GET USED TO IT! They have been doing this to the cannabis reform movement for decades, including inserting under-covers into the movements leadership. I know, I know, just stoner paranoia right? But considering someone is arrested for possession every 27 seconds, shouldn’t we be paranoid?

  • If you can’t elect a competent official to handle it we must send someone in to save the ‘system’. Think about this on next election day,instead of ‘following the pack’. Most people research ‘their candidate’.

  • Michael Mulholland

    Steve, I’m curious, did they mention either AFSCME 207 or BAMN? (both of which I’m affliated)—Michael Mulholland

    • Steve Neavling

      Thanks for asking. They didn’t mention either.

    • cavmedic

      Resulting from irrelevancy………………..

  • jim pita

    this is like cointelpro in the 70s and this was big time during the mccarthy period. frameups provacatuers have operated all through out the struggle 4 a better world. thats y we should b on guard for these kinds of elements trying to turn a peacful rally into a riot. b on guard brothers and sisters

  • As a member of OD, we were, especially in the beginning, warned and well aware of the possibility of moles. I guess homeland ‘security’ had gone to the lengths of setting up shop in one of the buildings around the park – I am not going to say which, but we even knew the building they were in:) As we are still rolling along, I’m sure ‘they’ are still are still at it… F*ckers!

  • thank you for this report. I guess we can stop thinking we will gethelp from the government. Geez!

  • This is nothing new, actually. Organizations within the federal government has made it common practice to infiltrate organizations and groups that they suspect might be to no good. There has been a long history of agents becoming members of pseudo-militant groups, right- and left-wing nut jobs, environmental groups, churches, temples, synagogues, madrasas, schools, boy scouts, cub scouts, girl scouts, Black Panthers, Hell’s Angels, Al Quida, and probably even the Grateful Dead and the Harlem Globetrotters.

  • Everyday life under the fascist rule of Herr Snyder.

    • Michael Mulholland

      Uhhh, Steve, this is the FEDS. I think they nominally answer to Obama. Not to cut Herr Snyder any slack, but beware of thinking the good cop is really good in this game.

  • Sunlight worth shining, Steve, though word choices and framing seem to suggest you feel the Federal Protective Service wrongly monitored large public gatherings near government buildings. Isn’t that part of their job?

    I’d stand with you to condemn past abuses by J. Edgar’s boys, the Red Squad and SDS infiltrators, but don’t see this rising anywhere near that level.

    I also don’t see a similar tone of outrage in coverage by HufPost and Truthout of “about 250 pages of redacted documents released last week by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), in response to Truthout’s 17-month-old Freedom of Information Act request,”

    You write that “feds still spied, keeping track of strategies, meetings, media presence and even the weather.”

    Jason Leopold writes at Truthout that in Oct. 2011 “an email that noted information about Occupy Michigan collected from ‘open source monitoring’ about upcoming protests said, ‘no specific threats have been identified’ and added, ‘Information cannot be collected or maintained solely on First Amendment protected activities or on the basis of any racial, ethnic, religious, political or other profile.’ ”

    Same docs, dramatically different temperature level than “feds went undercover to spy” and “feds kept close tabs.”

    Leopold notes that Truthout wanted to see “what role, if any, the federal government played in dismantling the nationwide encampments” by Occupy participants. The doc dump, he adds, does “not contain any smoking guns that would put to rest that lingering question.”

    • Sorry Alan, but had we the opportunity to flourish, along with public support (which only wasn’t there because of bad press), Occupy would be a threat. We were and are much more important than any of those org’s you had mentioned, because never before in the US has a group taken on racial equality, environmental protection, lack of education, corporate corruption, and plethora of other equally important issues! I wish people like you, along with the media, were able to witness all the caring individuals, from city, suburb and rural, who all came together for this movement. As I said, the movement is far from dead, we are like a sleeper cell ready to fight when the time comes to strike! ‘You can’t evict an idea, who’s time has come’

  • I think the Occupy movement is blowing this out proportion to attract attention to their dying movement. The Feds are on my website at least 25-30 times a week. Everyone from the, FBI,CIA,IRS,NSA, Naval Intelligence,the SEC, the NY Fed, the FDIC,USDOJ and even MI-5 out of Great Britain. They do it because of the nature of what I do and the fact my clients have cost the banks about $90-$100 million in the past 5 years. If they wanted to question or arrest me for something by now they would have done it.