Loading...
Activism

Prominent Activist and Organizer Outed as FBI Informant

Brandon Darby, co-founder of Common Grounds, has publicly admitted to working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and being responsible for the arrest of two activists from Austin, Texas. On Monday he wrote an open letter in explanation of his actions, though the letter does not disclose many details.

In the letter, Darby defends his choice to work for the FBI, admitting that he was not approached by them, but that he actually took the initiative himself when he began disagreeing with his affinity group’s tactics and increased militancy. He wrote that the government is not out to silence dissent or take down activists, but that they merely intend to stop crimes from taking place.

[social_buttons]

It is not clear exactly how long he has worked for the FBI for or how many people he gave information on, but it appears that he has been an informant for about two to three years. His information led the to the arrests of David McKay and Bradley Crowder, who are charged with making Molotov cocktails which they allegedly intended to use at the Republican National Convention protests in St. Paul this past summer. Activists say that Darby actively encouraged and provoked the two men, who he hadn’t even met yet, to take illegal action.

It is also being speculated that his information may have had something to do with the arrests of eight activists who were rounded up before the week of RNC protests could even begin. The activists, known as the “RNC 8”, are being charged with four felony counts each.

Many of his peers defended him before he was officially outed, saying that Darby would never spy on his fellow activists and that doing so would be completely against his ideology. Darby disagreed, saying in his letter (which he ironically signed “In Solidarity”) that his ideology supports his choice, a choice he “strongly defends.”

I feel the need to editorialize and say that I find the idea of a fellow activist volunteering himself to the FBI to be quite scary. Becoming an informant is always abhorrent, but even more so when it is done gladly. This man says he did not spy on his friends to cut a deal or to make money — he did it because he honestly thought it was the right thing to do.

This may make him slightly less despicable than those who break their ethics for money, but it has frightening implications for radical organizers. If activists cannot trust one another with tactics and secrets, who can be trusted?

I am strictly opposed to violence, but I believe very seriously in solidarity. If I disagree with someone in my affinity group, I use the framework that radicals have created to let that person know how I feel. I expect the same in return, and it literally hurts my stomach to know that people who do work as good as Darby did would turn to the federal government, who is not exactly known for its adherence to pacifism, in order to resolve tactical disputes.

Photo Credit: Carsten Lorentzen on Flickr under Creative Commons license




12 comments
  1. renee

    Phillip,
    It is nice to see that someone has an open mind concerning this situation. Considering that one of these men has pleaded guilty should let us know that there is more to the story.

  2. Bilbo Baggins

    I glad to see Phillip’s arguements rebutted, Brandon began snitching for the FBI months before meeting the people he claims were going to commit a crime. He’s the chicken before the egg. He’s an agent provocateur, a hypocrit (and/or a liar) and a snitch.

    check out http://brandondarby.com for more

  3. Michael A. Weber

    Ann- For sure. Thank you for that. From what I read, some of his defenders were really shocked that he did it and felt really betrayed, which i interpreted to mean that they believed he would never do anything of the sort.

    I don’t think I should continue to edit this article because of anecdotes that people tell me, but I have heard from a few different people who know about this story from personal experience. If I write any follow up blogs to it, I can try to include quotes from people (anonymously or not) who know what’s going on firsthand.

    If you would like me to include anything from you or your community, email me at throw_aways(at)yahoo(dot)com

  4. Ann Harkness

    Michael A. Weber wrote:
    “Many of his peers defended him before he was officially outed, saying that Darby would never spy on his fellow activists and that doing so would be completely against his ideology.”

    I am one of the peers that defended him and believe me it was not because we believed that he would never do something like this. He was only defended because we had no clear evidence yet.

    As a community if we go around believing and acting on every rumor that pops up, the FBI would have a cointelpro heyday.

  5. Alex Felsinger

    Phillip,

    Some facts are very clear, from his letter alone. He was an FBI informant. He did not simply call the FBI or police when something went wrong. He planned to do so ahead of time. That makes him a snitch, not a whistleblower.

    After contending that we should not pass judgment before knowing all the facts, you created a what-if argument that presumed 8 people had planned to toss bombs into crowds. There is no evidence that this type of action had ever been planned.

    “I agree the the affinity group consensus should have prevented the actions of the few, but where is the evidence that anyone else in the group worked to prevent the assembly of the firebombs?”

    Where is the evidence that Brandon worked to prevent the assembly of the firebombs? By some accounts, he encouraged it.

    -Alex

  6. Phillip

    Michael & Alex,

    I believe I understand your points, but I urge you both, and anyone else following this activity, to keep an open mind because we don’t know all of the facts yet.

    But isn’t the fact that eight firebombs were recovered pretty strong evidence supporting Brandon’s long-standing concerns that a small contingent within the group were dangerously violent? The arrests weren’t made because activists were exercising their right to free speech, the arrests were made because one or more people put together a number of potentially lethal firebombs. Michael, I agree the the affinity group consensus should have prevented the actions of the few, but where is the evidence that anyone else in the group worked to prevent the assembly of the firebombs? Had the others been more involved there would have been no firebombs and, consequently, no arrests.

    While I generally steer away from ‘what if’ arguments, can you think for a moment what would have happened if those eight firebombs had been tossed into the GOP convention crowd? Many activists and many causes would have been tarred with the label of Terrorist, and we would have suffered an unprecedented and draconian suppression of activist groups. Today we might well be preparing for the inauguration of President McCain. Gives me the willies to even think about it.

  7. Michael A. Weber

    Haloka- Thanks for catching that. I edited it to say “This man says he did not…” I believe that clarifies it.

    Phillip- To add to what Alex said, Darby’s work with the FBI began before he even met the two activists he got arrested. He had no way of knowing what they were up to ahead of time. By the time he joined the Austin Area Affinity Group for the RNC disruption, he was already an informant.

    I am not saying he is a bad man inside or that he didn’t genuinely believe he was doing the right thing- I will never know either of those. But he broke a very strong code in activist and anarchist communities. Like I said, there is a framework to express disagreement, and it goes as far as being able to “block” any action you think goes against the nature of your organization. I am just as anti-violence as you are, the consensus discussion is the way to stop violence in your activist community.

    If he had told the police on ONE specific action, I might think differently. But, again, he joined an affinity group for the sole purpose of infiltrating and provoking it. That is traitorous.

  8. Alex Felsinger

    Phillip,

    Well said, however, I think you’re missing the gravity of the situation.

    Brandon didn’t simply call the police when he thought things were going wrong or turning violent. He preemptively decided that it would be a good idea to become an FBI spy.

    It’s one thing to blow the whistle when things are going wrong, but it’s a whole ‘nother game when someone decides ahead of time that they intend to turn over their fellow activists to the authorities. Not to mention, some allege that he in fact had been encouraging others to engage in radical action.

    -Alex

  9. Phillip

    I have known Brandon for years and have deep respect for him, and for the years of work he has put into causes such as Common Ground. I am sure that he did a lot of soul searching before he decided to work with the FBI. Brandon has put out an open letter discussing his decision and I urge everyone to read that before condemning him for his decision. You’ll see that his decision to work with the FBI wasn’t “done gladly” or casually, but was in response to what he saw as a very real threat of violence by a small minority of the group.

    Lethal violence is never an acceptable means of protest, and Molotov Cocktail firebombs certainly have the potential to be lethal. Larra, you are correct that nobody has been convicted yet in this case, but the eight firebombs which were recovered were somebody’s handiwork. Had they been used they could have killed and injured a number of people. Should Brandon have let the events unfold in silence?

    Edmund Burke said “For evil to prevail, it is only necessary for good people to do nothing”. Brandon is a good person who could not stand by and do nothing. I feel that any condemnation should be reserved for those who knew of the firebombs and didn’t speak up. I hope that if I’m ever in a similar situation that I have the same courage and integrity that Brandon has demonstrated.

  10. haloka

    “This man did not spy on his friends to cut a deal or to make money”

    We don’t know that. We don’t really having any way of knowing. Obviously, a letter from someone who is working for the FBI isn’t to be trusted.

    Personally, I’m not even sure the whole letter isn’t just a COINTELPRO-style tactic designed to spur disagreement and rancor within activist ranks, fueling the impression that opposition to snitching isn’t as nearly universal as it really is.

  11. Larra

    Howdy.

    I just wanted to point out ever so politely, Brad and David (Texas 2) have not been convicted of anything, all is alleged..like..where ya wrote

    “His information led the to the arrests of two activists who made Molotov cocktails which they allegedly intended to use …”

    David Mckay on the other hand IS cooperating, and as far as all of us are concerned..is a turncoat. thank you for reporting on this! You’re Great!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *