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Keep Your Enemies Closer
September 8, 2011 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Better This World is a documentary about two activists from Austin who joined a group heading to protest the 2008 Republican convention. Their problem was that they prepared molotov cocktails at the last minute, and one of their ring-leaders was an FBI informant. Legal nightmare ensues. Aired on PBS September 6, it can be viewed online until October 6.
posted by Brian B. (115 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Do you still get to be an "activist" after you've prepared molotov cocktails?
posted by maryr at 7:34 AM on September 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


Related links telling the story of informant Brandon Darby.
posted by liketitanic at 7:35 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Two people can do what one person will not, especially when one person has an ulterior motive. I'm intrigued to see the whole documentary.

On the other hand, throwing molotov cocktails at a political protest is basically what terrorism...is.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:38 AM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Do you still get to be an "activist" after you've prepared molotov cocktails?

Asshativists?
posted by KokuRyu at 7:39 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, at least the FBI is infiltrating *some* domestic terrorists.
posted by DU at 7:40 AM on September 8, 2011


On the other hand, throwing molotov cocktails at a political protest is basically what terrorism...is.

No one threw or was going to throw any molotov cocktails.

"Six months later, on the eve of the convention, the two young friends make eight Molotov cocktails but then decide not to use them."
posted by enn at 7:41 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


They made the Molotov cocktails, but what does it mean to decide not to use them before the event? Did they destroy the Molotov cocktails, or did they instead choose to keep them around, getting raided when there were still ready-to-be-used Molotov cocktails lying around?

I'm aware that they did not get an opportunity to throw any Molotov cocktails, but it's not as if the ingredients accidentally fell into bottles and then a few bandanas accidentally floated into the bottles' necks. Someone chose to make Molotov cocktails. Why would that be acceptable behavior?
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:48 AM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


"...throwing molotov cocktails at a political protest is basically what terrorism...is."

Depending on your target and who is doing this throwing, your statement is far from true.
posted by pwb503 at 7:50 AM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Their problem was that they prepared molotov cocktails at the last minute
posted by octobersurprise at 7:53 AM on September 8, 2011


Depending on your target and who is doing this throwing, your statement is far from true.

Yeah, they could've used them to protect unborn children. Then it's okay.
posted by inigo2 at 7:53 AM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here's another related link.

It's an interesting look into activist culture, but mostly it sounds like Darby is just an asshole.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:54 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The This American Life piece I linked is interesting because it raises the question of whether they would have made the Molotov cocktails without the encouragement and guidance of informant Brandon Darby.
posted by liketitanic at 7:55 AM on September 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Left wing terror isn't better than right-wing terror. Whether they're your asses or mine, they still stink.
posted by resurrexit at 7:55 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


They made the Molotov cocktails, but what does it mean to decide not to use them before the event? Did they destroy the Molotov cocktails, or did they instead choose to keep them around, getting raided when there were still ready-to-be-used Molotov cocktails lying around?

The article Stagger Lee linked to describes what apparently happened (Darby was wearing a wire for the FBI):

On Aug. 31, a couple of days after the group's arrival in Minnesota, St. Paul police searched the trailer without a warrant and seized the shields. The next day, two of the van's passengers, David McKay, 22, and Bradley Crowder, 23, were arrested for disorderly conduct. McKay was released later that day, but Crowder remained in jail. According to a subsequent police affidavit, McKay met the next day with fellow activist Brandon Michael Darby, 32, who had also traveled to St. Paul with the Austin group. Angry that his friend was still being held, McKay told Darby that he and Crowder had made some Molotov cocktails (i.e., bottled gasoline bombs) and that he was planning on throwing them at cop cars parked in a parking lot.

According to the partial transcript in the affidavit, Darby asked McKay, "What if there's a cop sleeping in the car?" "He'll wake up," replied McKay. "What if he doesn't?" Darby asked. McKay was silent. Darby pressed on, asking McKay if he would "leave the scene with a cop burning or dying." McKay answered, "Yes." And then, again, according to a partial transcript of the recorded conversation, McKay told Darby that it was "worth it if a cop gets burned or maimed." These words, along with eight Molotov cocktails found in the basement of the house in which McKay was crashing, have him facing up to 30 years in federal prison for charges related to possession and assembly of "unregistered firearms," as the weapons are defined by federal law.

posted by burnmp3s at 7:55 AM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty creative but I can't think of a way in which a Molotov cocktail can be used defensively at a political rally, unless the 3rd Panzer Group decided to invite themselves.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:56 AM on September 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Aired on PBS September 6, it can be viewed online until October 6.

Not if you're outside the United States.
posted by cmonkey at 7:58 AM on September 8, 2011


Watched this when it aired. Good stuff. Though it is apparent to me that the FBI will go to great lengths to justify their anti-terror programs, as much of the U.S. government has. This isn't the first time an FBI informant has tried to push people toward violence. It's a fine line, this entrapment thing.

As for the idea expressed above about how molotov cocktails at a protest are always terrorism, it's just not true. It truly does depend on what and who you're protesting. At a certain point though, it becomes revolution. Are the Libyan rebels terrorists?
posted by IvoShandor at 7:59 AM on September 8, 2011


It truly does depend on what and who you're protesting. At a certain point though, it becomes revolution. Are the Libyan rebels terrorists?

The difference being that Qaddafi shot first.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:15 AM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Saw most of this at a local film festival (In A BARN!) this past summer. It may sound trite, but in amongst all the story, the thing that i took away from it was... things are complex, and there generally are no good guys and bad guys, rather shades of lighter or darker grey. That FBI informant crossed several lines imo, (and iirc he now works for right wing radio according to the end of the film). However, Crowder and McKay where not innocent babes-in-the-woods either.

Also, if I am remembering who's who from the film Bradley Crowder came across as the most honorable of the bunch, and may be the only one to emerge from this clusterfuck having learned something valuable while still being engaged in social justice issues.

my continuum of darkest grey to lightest would run Darby>McKay>Crowder
posted by edgeways at 8:16 AM on September 8, 2011


The police/FBI themselves seem to only be alleging the petrol bombs were intended for property damage (parked police cars - not watched film yet; that's from p.1 of the Mother Jones article). I realise 'terrorism' means pretty much any violent action you disapprove of these days, but surely it's a stretch in this case . Meanwhile, the fact that it's yet another agent provocateur means everything the state charges needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
posted by Abiezer at 8:18 AM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you read the article I linked, it's never particularly condoning moltov cocktail throwing. What is suggested though, is that Darby had an opportunity to guide those kids and defuse the situation, and instead he continued to provoke them and lead them on, inevitably leading them right into a prison cell.

It's not, "Darby should have let some cops burn," it's, "Darby could have steered those kids away from violence, and instead he pushed them right into a jail cell."

Exploiting relationships, lying to your friends, betraying organizations from within and possible entrapment, that's a pretty sleazy track record no matter what your goals are. I don't think that the ends necessarily justify the means, I think that they shape the structures that follow. That kind of tactics just breed hostility and paranoia, and exacerbate differences rather than reconciling them.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:19 AM on September 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Are the Libyan rebels terrorists?

Depends on who you ask.
To me no. To Qaddafi and his supporters, absolutely.

Was Bin laden a terrorist or a rebel/revolutionary? The two terms are not mutually exclusive. Being a revolutionary/rebel is not an automatic good. Being a terrorist may not be an automatic bad (for some people).
posted by edgeways at 8:19 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Terrorism is violence or threats of violence intended to further political aims. Throwing a Molotov cocktail is violent. Molotov cocktails have no use except to cause violence. The political aims may be naughty, the political aims may be nice.

The only way throwing a Molotov cocktail wouldn't be terrorism would be if the violence were severed from the political aim - you're throwing flammable explosives just because you're a dick - or if, I don't know, a polar bear was running amok in the streets of New York and an otherwise defenseless black bloc kiddo was forced to defend himself the only way he knows how - by breaking a Starbucks window - and then after that he throws the Molotov cocktail in a fit of prissy panic.

Will somebody please stand up and explain, in detail, how throwing Molotov cocktails at cop cars during the 2008 RNC would have been justified as some sort of righteous terrorism? Throwing flammable explosives at parked cop cars in parking lots, without concern as to whether human beings inside are alive, dying, or sleeping?

The entrapment angle is a separate issue. I look forward to seeing the documentary for more about that.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:20 AM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think that it'd be best to stay away from the word "terrorist" in these discussions.

It's become highly politically charged, and is often used very loosely now to condemn all sorts of people. It's become another Godwin.

The meaning as I understand it is to attempt to provoke political change by intentionally inciting fear amongst a civilian population. Blowing up a cop car may or may not fit that definition. There are cases for both. But the word is extremely difficult to use constructively at the moment.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:23 AM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]




Terrorism is violence or threats of violence intended to further political aims. Throwing a Molotov cocktail is violent. Molotov cocktails have no use except to cause violence. The political aims may be naughty, the political aims may be nice.


That broadens the definition to the point of uselessness. The key here is the engagement with civilian populations.
See my previous comment.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:25 AM on September 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm all for creatively "entrapping" people who are willing to make Molotov cocktails for any reason whatsoever. Don't get the handwringing here.

"The FBI made me do it" is not a defense. By the time you're buying the gasoline, you've already established what kind of person you are, and the rest is details.
posted by spitbull at 8:26 AM on September 8, 2011


Terrorism is violence or threats of violence intended to further political aims.
It's not though, is it? It's violence endangering life aimed at the civilian population with the intention of creating a climate of fear (just checked and looks like that fits US law too). There's plenty of other things they could be charged with, not sure why you're so keen to bend the definition here.
posted by Abiezer at 8:27 AM on September 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm all for creatively "entrapping" people who are willing to make Molotov cocktails for any reason whatsoever. Don't get the handwringing here.

But thoughts aren't crimes and Darby is not blameless. Two young, impressionable, dumb little dudes got pressured into moving forward when no one had to light that fuse at all. Not saying they aren't culpable, but trying to reveal whose thoughts are "wrong" via stae-sponsored psychological manipulation?
posted by liketitanic at 8:32 AM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm all for creatively "entrapping" people who are willing to make Molotov cocktails for any reason whatsoever. Don't get the handwringing here.


How do you pick out the people who are willing to make Molotov cocktails before you target them for 'creative entrapment'? Is there like a particular look in their eye? Maybe a particular cause they care about? Maybe they wear a t-shirt you don't like? How?
posted by spicynuts at 8:32 AM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


How much more post-9/11 zeitgeist can you get?
posted by liketitanic at 8:33 AM on September 8, 2011


It's not though, is it? It's violence endangering life aimed at the civilian population with the intention of creating a climate of fear (just checked and looks like that fits US law too). There's plenty of other things they could be charged with, not sure why you're so keen to bend the definition here.

I used the dictionary definition from Google. You are misquoting a US law about specifically international terrorism. Even if we assume that the law for international terrorism would apply domestically, the US law says nothing about endangering life aimed at the civilian population. The US law involves "violent acts or acts dangerous to human life" [emph. mine] which appear to be intended to coerce a civilian population or government policy or to affect the conduct of the government. It's a broad definition in the law, too.

I'm currently reading the article Stagger Lee linked to - it's extremely interesting.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:34 AM on September 8, 2011


This thread is strange. It seems to be 70% "making molotov cocktails for a political demonstration is not a very good idea" and 30% bizarre attacks on a pro-molotov cocktail argument that, unless some kind of server error is selectively hiding comments from me, nobody here appears to be making at all.

Possibly someone is an FBI agent.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:35 AM on September 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Ha. Well, the article you linked to.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:35 AM on September 8, 2011


I'm from Minneapolis and know a lot of folks who organized the anti-RNC protest, plus a bunch of folks who worked with Darby. I attended the protests and was peripherally involved in activist institutional support for them.

As far as I can tell based on personal accounts from folks in the scene, the kids who got set up by Darby were just what you'd expect - young guys peripheral to activism who were easily manipulated by a real asshole who pulled a lot of "you're not manly enough/activist enough" bullshit when they started to get cold feet. The level of stupidity required to make molotovs wasn't really any greater than to do any stupid, self-destructive thing that young guys do. Thank god no actual molotovs were thrown; fire and explosives should not be introduced into low-violence, civilian situations. I am agnostic on window-breaking and spraypainting and the usual, etc etc, but absolutely against fire.

Seriously, it ought to be criminal to incite molotov-making - what if someone had actually died, for heaven's sake?

(The amount of intentional entrapment and violence here around the RNC protests was incredible - one of my best friends was part of a small group forced to the floor and held at gunpoint by police during a SWAT-style raid on...the rented conference room where they were coordinating protests. I still get cold chills thinking about that, if something had gone wrong...Elsewhere, I've told the story of the person I know who was beaten unconscious in jail by homophobic cops after being grabbed for being a protest coordinator.)
posted by Frowner at 8:35 AM on September 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


(It's funny, only now do I realize that I'm actually over all that stuff that went down. I no longer get the sick feeling inside that I used to when I was thinking about it. The trials are over, we won a bunch of suits against the city, after three years much of the property (such as computers) seized by the cops during their bogus searches has been returned, I no longer really expect my friends to get grabbed off the street for political reasons...Of course, there's been an uptick in homophobic and racist violence here, so it's not exactly better.)
posted by Frowner at 8:38 AM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]



As far as I can tell based on personal accounts from folks in the scene, the kids who got set up by Darby were just what you'd expect - young guys peripheral to activism who were easily manipulated by a real asshole who pulled a lot of "you're not manly enough/activist enough" bullshit when they started to get cold feet. The level of stupidity required to make molotovs wasn't really any greater than to do any stupid, self-destructive thing that young guys do.


Agreed. I know some of the Austin folks associated with the bookstore they met at. That's what I've heard, too.

What it brings up for me is a parallel argument: that young Muslim Arab men are radicalized in schools and mosques where they're "educated" by aggressive, persuasive, masculine men whom they look up to and who deliver rhetoric and pressure that encourages their worst tendencies and thoughts. In those cases, we hold their "teachers" accountable, don't we? Or the media wants us to. But here the teacher is an FBI informant and we're told the purpose was to root out evil, not to create it. Even if, without the "schooling," things would have played out differently.

I'm not sure I see the difference.
posted by liketitanic at 8:41 AM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I watched this in it's entirety the other night, I though it raised good questions about Darby's character & motivations as well as addressing what constitutes entrapment and the fuzzy line there. Also did a good job of pointing out how the Federal Courts are stacked against ANY defendant and how that played out with plea agreements and such.

Good doc. for sure.
posted by djseafood at 8:41 AM on September 8, 2011


I watched this film last night, and I've got to give the filmmakers credit for a balanced presentation of this fascinating case.

While Darby seems like a low-life, and some of the FBI's tactics were dodgy (why the decision not to record the "smoking gun" conversation at the diner?), the sentences that were ultimately handed down (2 and 4 years respectively) seem proportional to the crimes committed.

Also important to remember that it wasn't just firebombs that these kids were making. They were also preparing for open, violent conflict with police by making their own riot shields.

I think the question about whether Crowder and McKay would have made the firebombs without Darby's involvement is ultimately unanswerable... which is why the government accepted a plea rather than taking the case to trial.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:42 AM on September 8, 2011


Previously.

Personally, I think that there is nothing wrong with sending those activists to jail without the "entrapment" defense- for two reasons. Firstly, that in the criminal justice system there are various offences for which attempts bear just as much culpability and penalty as successful crimes. Secondly, that the fact that we ascribe a particular culpability with conspiracies and give every member a higher sentence than if those crimes were committed by individuals shows that we recognize that the intention to commit those crimes and the process of carrying it about cannot be attributed to any one individual; rather that it was a product of the group.

I think the problem is that the FBI is carrying out these projects in the first place. Of course it's a slippery slope towards greater profiling. And it most definitely creates a detriment in those situations where the suggestions do not at all fit in with the group's overall intentions and create unnecessary tensions preventing legitimate causes from being expressed, hollowing the middle ground between conventional forms of political influence and violent action.
posted by Greener_pastures at 8:44 AM on September 8, 2011


My immediate takeaway from Stagger Lee's link is that nobody likes a snitch and nobody likes an agent provocateur, and for good reason.

On the other hand, much of the incidents raised to indict Darby's character outside of his being a snitch and an agent provocateur sound extremely lame to me - "he yelled at us when he needed to pee!" Oh, my goodness gracious!

Other moments are grayer. He kicked down the door of a woman's shelter at 2am to get rid of an uninvited guy who had holed himself up in there. I understand why he did what he did, but I also understand why others would feel that this was the wrong thing to do. I would love to have been a fly on the wall for the discussions after this event.

Still, that article doesn't have enough for me to have much of an opinion on the entrapment issue. I need to know more.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:45 AM on September 8, 2011


I'm aware that they did not get an opportunity to throw any Molotov cocktails, but it's not as if the ingredients accidentally fell into bottles and then a few bandanas accidentally floated into the bottles' necks. Someone chose to make Molotov cocktails. Why would that be acceptable behavior?
The same reason people think it's OK to own handguns. second amendment totally covers Molotov cocktails.

"The FBI made me do it" is not a defense. By the time you're buying the gasoline, you've already established what kind of person you are, and the rest is details.

Bullshit. Scientific research has proven again and again that people can easily be manipulated to do things they'd never do or say on their own. Brandon Darby is a manipulator, and he preyed on their youth and their anger, plain and simple.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:48 AM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


The entrapment angle is a separate issue. I look forward to seeing the documentary for more about that.

It's pretty a sad indictment of how the FBI prosecutes the war on terror, you should definitely see it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:49 AM on September 8, 2011


Also important to remember that it wasn't just firebombs that these kids were making. They were also preparing for open, violent conflict with police by making their own riot shields.

This is quite possibly a misunderstanding. You make riot shields - often enough - to keep from being pushed back by or beaten by police. I've been on completely legal marches where folks had - and needed - riot shields to keep from being batoned. I remember vividly because I didn't have one, and it hurt a lot!

The best use for riot shields during the demos would have been when blocking delegates' cars or when being heavily pepper-sprayed (note that people were being just soaked with pepper spray and then left for hours in jail, and that most of those people were completely ordinary college kids. It's a damn good thing that no one had respiratory complications and was seriously hurt.)

In fact, a riot shield isn't much good in violent conflict; it's cumbersome. When you're up against the cops, you're up against MUCH bigger people (almost always; I'm a big woman and cops are always taller and heavier) who have much better shields and weapons and have legal license to use them, plus they're used to using them, plus most of them are looking forward to the punch up. (That was part of what happened at RNC - they imported lots of cops from very conservative suburbs and towns, and those folks were looking forward to beating up the hippies, plus they had no IDEA about the culture of cities.)
posted by Frowner at 8:50 AM on September 8, 2011


The same reason people think it's OK to own handguns. second amendment totally covers Molotov cocktails.

That statement is 100% false.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:51 AM on September 8, 2011


dude, warn a body before sending them to a 200+ page pdf eh?
posted by edgeways at 8:54 AM on September 8, 2011


An old anarchist friend once told me "the first person who offers to buy the dynamite is ALWAYS the FBI agent."
posted by nestor_makhno at 8:56 AM on September 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


A 200-page PDF that appears to be broken.
posted by koeselitz at 8:57 AM on September 8, 2011


dude, warn a body before sending them to a 200+ page pdf eh?

Wait until you see how long the pdf on the First Amendment is.
posted by joe lisboa at 8:57 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is quite possibly a misunderstanding. You make riot shields - often enough - to keep from being pushed back by or beaten by police. I've been on completely legal marches where folks had - and needed - riot shields to keep from being batoned. I remember vividly because I didn't have one, and it hurt a lot!

Let's be honest: you make a riot shield to help you win a street battle with police. That's what these guys were planning, and whatever the ultimate value of said shield, having a bunch of them on hand says a lot about one's intent.

and on preview, sorry about the huge .pdf. It's a link to the ATF's "National Firearms Handbook" which specifically proscribes the manufacture of incendiary devices.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:57 AM on September 8, 2011





An old anarchist friend once told me "the first person who offers to buy the dynamite is ALWAYS the FBI agent."
posted by nestor_makhno

In the case of Nestor Makhno, wouldn't that be an agent of the Tsar?
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:59 AM on September 8, 2011


The difference being that Qaddafi shot first.

Huh, so Greedo was a freedom fighter.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:59 AM on September 8, 2011


Let's be honest: you make a riot shield to help you win a street battle with police. That's what these guys were planning, and whatever the ultimate value of said shield, having a bunch of them on hand says a lot about one's intent.

Okay, we're sort of at an impasse. I can only assert that this is not my experience unless you want to say that no one has the right to protest. I have absolutely been on 100% legal protests behaving legally that were set upon by cops, protests where we knew we were likely to be set upon by cops.

Also, the goal of the RNC protests was to shut down the convention as much as possible by blocking streets. I know this because I was there. There were no "pitched street battles". There were never going to be any pitched street battles. For the most part, there were hippies, people who planned to be very inconvenient by locking arms, locking down and pulling stuff into the road, and a bunch of folks who simply planned to march as much as possible.

IME, most Americans get their information about protests from television fantasy and the movies.
posted by Frowner at 9:01 AM on September 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


An old anarchist friend once told me "the first person who offers to buy the dynamite is ALWAYS the FBI agent."

Stringer Bell's Corollary: the last person to complain about cut pay is the snitch.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:03 AM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


BobbyVan: “It's a link to the ATF's "National Firearms Handbook" which specifically proscribes the manufacture of incendiary devices.”

Ah yes. I almost forgot that the "National Firearms Handbook" was ratified as the 28th amendment to the Constitution a few years ago.
posted by koeselitz at 9:06 AM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


BobbyVan: “Let's be honest: you make a riot shield to help you win a street battle with police.”

Yes. Where "win" equals "not get murdered."
posted by koeselitz at 9:07 AM on September 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


(I would be, in general, much happier if the police would bust people for actually breaking the law rather than pre-emptively arresting them or inciting the more isolated and naive among them to commit crimes. Bust me for locking down in the street? Sure, whatever, I am after all locked down in the street. Break into a legally rented office where people are doing perfectly legal media stuff and arrest a bunch of folks? No way.

This is one of the smaller reasons why anarchists are skeptical of the law)
posted by Frowner at 9:08 AM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Darby is a clearly state actor that has clearly engaged in entrapment.

You'll achieve really high conviction rates by focusing your efforts towards creating the criminals you wish to catch and then catching exactly those criminals, but that ain't making civilians any safer.

Indeed, you'll eventually create some who then slip through your fingers, meaning you're making society less safe.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:10 AM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Frowner, I'll defer to your experience as to the quasi-legitimate use of shields as a purely defensive tactic on marches.

I think you and I would disagree, however, on the legitimacy of protestors shutting down streets in order to interrupt the US democratic process. Bringing riot gear to the party makes the job of the police that much more difficult and, ironically, makes violent conflict more probable.
posted by BobbyVan at 9:10 AM on September 8, 2011


Ah yes. I almost forgot that the "National Firearms Handbook" was ratified as the 28th amendment to the Constitution a few years ago.

The BATF is a wing of the executive branch which enforces, among other things, federal laws pertaining to firearms. Their official documents don't have to be literally in the Constitution to be authoritative.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:10 AM on September 8, 2011


'You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to
corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming
drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal
diseases -- to do anything which is likely to cause
demoralization and weaken the power of the Party?'

'Yes.'

posted by Meatbomb at 9:13 AM on September 8, 2011


Sticherbeast: “The BATF is a wing of the executive branch which enforces, among other things, federal laws pertaining to firearms. Their official documents don't have to be literally in the Constitution to be authoritative.”

Yes, and the New York Police Department is a wing of the executive branch that enforces various laws, too. That doesn't mean their handbooks are the final, unerring, unquestioned Law Of The Land. Much to the contrary, handbooks written by enforcers in the executive branch probably have more oversight than any other government documents. And so it should be. There are many, many people who have a right to say that the ATF's manuals are wrong, not least of whom is the citizenry of this country.
posted by koeselitz at 9:16 AM on September 8, 2011


BobbyVan: “Bringing riot gear to the party makes the job of the police that much more difficult and, ironically, makes violent conflict more probable.”

If the police are not there to do their jobs, and violent conflict is already a sure thing because of that fact, riot gear would seem to be a good idea.
posted by koeselitz at 9:17 AM on September 8, 2011


Someone chose to make Molotov cocktails. Why would that be acceptable behavior?

I have to tell you the American "right to bear arms" is very confusing to an outsider. I mean, I'm not in favor of people using Molotov cocktails, but it's basically a bottle or jar of gasoline. If they're just sitting in someone's home, is that so different from having a gun?

Anyways, much as I think Republicans are bonkers and have been responsible for a lot of terrible things in the last decade, the sort of political violence these people were planning is inexcusable in the circumstances. Protest all you like, but violence for...what? So they can't choose a candidate?
posted by Hoopo at 9:18 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, and the New York Police Department is a wing of the executive branch that enforces various laws, too. That doesn't mean their handbooks are the final, unerring, unquestioned Law Of The Land. Much to the contrary, handbooks written by enforcers in the executive branch probably have more oversight than any other government documents. And so it should be. There are many, many people who have a right to say that the ATF's manuals are wrong, not least of whom is the citizenry of this country.

The ATF has been authorized by the US Congress to enforce firearms laws. They get their funding from the US Congress. Are you saying that it should be OK to make homemade bombs under the 2nd Amendment?
posted by BobbyVan at 9:20 AM on September 8, 2011


Huh, so Greedo was a freedom fighter.

No, Greedo was a mercenary or "contractor", like Blackwater/Xe
posted by Hoopo at 9:21 AM on September 8, 2011


The level of stupidity required to make molotovs wasn't really any greater than to do any stupid, self-destructive thing that young guys do.

I disagree and would suggest that it is a good deal higher. How did they suppose this was supposed to turn out well ?

At 23, they are full fledged adults. My father did two tours in Vietnam and had a wife and two kids by that age.

They had ample opportunity to not be stupid and choose to be stupid anyway.

Idiocy like this does not help the cause. The USA is not Libya. yet, anyway
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:21 AM on September 8, 2011



I think you and I would disagree, however, on the legitimacy of protestors shutting down streets in order to interrupt the US democratic process. Bringing riot gear to the party makes the job of the police that much more difficult and, ironically, makes violent conflict more probable.


Many of us feel that the US democratic process is absolutely shot to shit at this point, and that protests within the confines of the "democratic" (free speech zones, sidewalk-based marches, petitions, etc) have become useless - they neither persuade nor intimidate political elites. I myself (not all anarchists feel this way) would argue that there have been times in US history when those tactics have worked just fine, and that there are probably specific causes where they work still, but that on the big issues elites only act in the popular interest when they have to legitimate themselves or when they're scared for their money/skins. And let's not forget that this was the Republican convention - quite a few of us did not want to protest the DNC (even though we normally would) because we thought that it would send a really fucked up message about race.

It's hazardous to escalate via protests or direct action. But the thing is, really shitty stuff keeps happening. Stupid shitty stuff like cuts to social programs, more immunity for cops when they kill crazy homeless people, etc etc. And corporate crony shitty stuff - dangerous oil drilling, chopping down irreplaceable forests, screwing people over on insurance. And as far as I can tell, liberalism-style dissent no longer works - elites are so powerful and isolated that they can just ignore us or lie to us with no consequence. So the choice is to just sit around holding a petition while the shitty stuff keeps right on happening or to try some new forms, some of which will work and some won't.
posted by Frowner at 9:21 AM on September 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


I saw this film this summer at Silverdocs, and I just want to really encourage you, if you haven't seen it, not to assume you know what it's about or entirely what its angle is. It's really not about whether throwing Molotov cocktails is okay, and it really isn't about whether they did or didn't do anything wrong. Brad Crowder spoke at Silverdocs after the screening, and one of the things he said was that he absolutely believed that what they did was wrong.

Try to go into it with an open mind, if you can. It's got a lot of very provocative things to say about Darby, but it's also a really poignant story of these two guys who wind up having to navigate separate cases and figure out what to do about plea bargains and confessions and so forth, given that all those things intersect with their friendship. It's really compelling, and I don't think it asks you to posit or to ultimately conclude that throwing Molotov cocktails is a legitimate form of political protest, if that's your concern.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:22 AM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


If the police are not there to do their jobs, and violent conflict is already a sure thing because of that fact, riot gear would seem to be a good idea.

Those are some pretty big "if's". I'd say that the police are there to keep the city functioning, and sometimes that entails removing protestors from areas they have blockaded. If the protestors build up defenses around those blockades, the police are then compelled to remove the defenses. All of that increases the risk to protestors and police.

It's pretty simple if you ask me.
posted by BobbyVan at 9:23 AM on September 8, 2011


(Oh, hey - one thing that entrapping these kids did was substantially discredit the protests. Even on this thread - with people who are fairly well informed, three years later - there's quite a strong subtext of "folks at the protest would have endorsed throwing molotov cocktails because hey, they're defending the kids who were entrapped". This is absolutely not the case. Molotov-cocktail throwing would have been dangerous and a complete disaster for the movement; no one but the foolish kids who were being entrapped thought that it was a good idea, no matter what other tactics may have been on the table. We just have a LOT of experience with entrapment and police violence, and in general it's a better idea to defend the entrapped in regards to their entrapment EVEN IF you don't support their actions. )
posted by Frowner at 9:25 AM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


BobbyVan, this video refutes most if not all of your points, especially the footage of the police Sargent joking and laughing afterwards (and the laughter in response) about shooting an unarmed protester. You can claim that it isn't typical of how police respond to protesters, but I find it more accurate than the situations you describe.
posted by Challahtronix at 9:29 AM on September 8, 2011


Oh, hey - one thing that entrapping these kids did was substantially discredit the protests

Absolutely, and it's why there's always conspiracy theories these days when the Black Bloc shows up that they might be agents provocateurs working for the police. Because it works to discredit the thousands of people who gathered peacefully when all you see on TV is a couple masked idiots smashing and burning. And we've seen evidence it's happened before in Canada. And why it's really not cool that the FBI informant in this case goaded them on.
posted by Hoopo at 9:30 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


(And there's a world of difference between a punch-up and firebombing something. Someone who is willing to block the street - seriously block it, push back against the cops, etc, go to jail if it comes to that, etc - is almost certainly NOT someone who is willing to blow things up and cause fires that might spread.

Amongst the folks I know, it seems perfectly rational to say "we want to inconvenience these awful people as much as possible without doing permanent damage to them; the cops will probably want to try to stop us and that does mean that it will be No Fun". That's the function of the cops and the function of the state. What delegitimates the state, to my mind, are the very excesses that are designed to create terror - beating the queer kid in jail, holding a group of extremely harmless hippies at gunpoint when it would have been enough, physically, to have the hippies simply know that you've got guns, beating down little tiny women, strip-searching young girls....If we're fighting, yeah, we're fighting - but if you queerbash me while I'm handcuffed, you're a fucking fascist.

The anarchist thing is that we don't consider people either legitimate or illegitimate just because they're state actors.
posted by Frowner at 9:32 AM on September 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


BobbyVan: “The ATF has been authorized by the US Congress to enforce firearms laws. They get their funding from the US Congress. Are you saying that it should be OK to make homemade bombs under the 2nd Amendment?”

First of all, this statement makes little sense. Congress does not authorize the ATF to enforce any laws whatsoever. The executive branchis authorized by the constitution to enforce laws. The executive in turn authorizes the ATF through its enforcement arm, the Department of Justice.

Second, no, I'm not saying that people should be allowed to walk the streets with explosives in their backpacks.

What I'm saying is that it is emphatically not the duty of the police who enforce the laws to interpret what those laws mean. This is true of cops on the beat, and it is true of enforcement agencies such as the ATF. Their job is not to tell us what the laws mean. Given circumstances in which the laws are not immediately clear, it is either up to Congress to rewrite the laws or the courts to interpret them for us.

This is an essential feature of the democracy we have in the United States. It is absolutely imperative that enforcers not be granted the power to interpret laws. If they are, we step closer and closer to granting them the power to be judge, jury, and executioner. I hope I don't have to explain why that power emphatically should not be granted to any one agency.
posted by koeselitz at 9:37 AM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


(I'm dropping out of this thread to focus on my paid work...just so that you know I'm not dropping out in a fit of pique or something.)
posted by Frowner at 9:40 AM on September 8, 2011


Koeslitz, what nonsense. No matter how many angels you try to fit on this particular pin, you can't make it legal to manufacture bombs, period.

In this case, bombs were made and an intent was expressed to use those bombs, without regard to the possible loss of innocent life.

I said earlier that the possibility of entrapment could not be discounted, but that the ultimate sentences of 2 and 4 years seemed about right to me.
posted by BobbyVan at 9:42 AM on September 8, 2011


me: “If the police are not there to do their jobs, and violent conflict is already a sure thing because of that fact, riot gear would seem to be a good idea.”

BobbyVan: “Those are some pretty big "if's". I'd say that the police are there to keep the city functioning, and sometimes that entails removing protestors from areas they have blockaded. If the protestors build up defenses around those blockades, the police are then compelled to remove the defenses. All of that increases the risk to protestors and police. It's pretty simple if you ask me.”

Now that I think about where I'm going with this, I realize I'm going down a road that is infamous and unfortunately fraught for Metafilter. Moreover, it's a derail. So I'd like to try, if I can, to avoid the "cops are bad vs cops are good" argument. I'm sorry for pushing things in that direction.

So I'll say this:

We can assume, perhaps, that cops are there to try to help us, to try to keep order and to keep the city functioning. That may well be, and I feel as though the majority of cops wouldn't be in their line of work if they didn't have some dedication to making the world a better place. However, recent events – in San Francisco, for instance – have demonstrated that accidents happen all the time, and it's not outside the realm of possibility that one might be shot accidentally by an officer who is simply attempting to do her or his job. Given that situations get very tense during protests, it seems wise to protect the cops and oneself by being prepared.
posted by koeselitz at 9:44 AM on September 8, 2011


Would it be advisable for activist groups to have a written charter that states they are committed to nonviolent change and a policy of suspending/removing members who advocate or talk about committing violence? Does this provide any protection at all from these kinds of incidents? Also I would presume that one should provide some level of training to your protest leaders to keep them from doing stupid things like this.
posted by humanfont at 9:44 AM on September 8, 2011


"...throwing molotov cocktails at a political protest is basically what terrorism...is."

pwb503 : Depending on your target and who is doing this throwing, your statement is far from true.

Sorry, I have to disagree with this point, unless your target is military (in which case you are operating asymmetrically) molotov cocktails are pretty much the definition of terrorism; they are designed hurt people, destroy property and provoke a strong fear response. Regardless of the goal is political or personally motivated, it's a kind of terrorism.

Now, whether or not there are times where this kind of terrorism is warranted, is probably a different question. But that it's terrorism (regardless of what baggage that word now as associated with it) is pretty cut and dried to my mind.
posted by quin at 9:45 AM on September 8, 2011


I should also make clear that the ATF didn't just make up the provision against bomb-making. It's actually enforcing a law passed by the US Congress called the National Firearms Act.
posted by BobbyVan at 9:46 AM on September 8, 2011


BobbyVan: “Koeslitz, what nonsense.”

The Constitution is "nonsense" now?

“No matter how many angels you try to fit on this particular pin, you can't make it legal to manufacture bombs, period.”

It should not be legal to manufacture bombs at all. I'm glad it's not. My objection wasn't to the illegality of manufacturing bombs.

My objection was to the fact that you cited an ATF handbook as though it were law or caselaw. It is neither.

BobbyVan: “I should also make clear that the ATF didn't just make up the provision against bomb-making. It's actually enforcing a law passed by the US Congress called the National Firearms Act.”

Thank you. That's all you needed to say. I'm sorry if this seems like a pedantic point, but it's very important in my view. If ATF handbooks become simply authoritative as interpretations of law, then you're completely doing away with the entire judicial system.
posted by koeselitz at 9:48 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Darby is a clearly state actor that has clearly engaged in entrapment.

Let's turn to the law first. Minnesota is a so-called "subjective" state, that is the entrapment defense turns on whether or not the individual in question
The long-established, presently prevailing majority rule associated with the majority opinions in the three United States Supreme Court cases, Sorrells, Sherman, and Russell, has been termed the 'subjective' test. United States v. Russell, 411 U.S. 423, 440, 93 S.Ct. 1637, 1647, 36 L.Ed.2d 366, 378 (Mr. Justice Stewart dissenting). In the majority view, the inquiry on entrapment is concerned primarily with the element of defendant's predisposition: whether it was his own original intent to commit the crime charged. The defense must show that the actions of the police went further than those necessary to produce evidence of the defendant's criminality. 1 However, where the state can show the defendant's 'predisposition' by evidence of (a) defendant's active solicitation to commit the crime, (b) prior criminal convictions, or (c) prior criminal activity not resulting in conviction (as here), or (d) defendant's criminal reputation, or by any other adequate means the challenged conduct of the state's officers is mitigated or excused, and the defense of entrapment is not proved. The issue has traditionally been submitted to the jury for determination following instructions from the court based on the 'subjective' approach.
See State v. Grilli, 230 N.W. 2d 445, 452 (1975).

So let's look at the Austin-American Statesman's report on the case:
Angry that his friend was still being held, McKay told Darby that he and Crowder had made some Molotov cocktails (i.e., bottled gasoline bombs) and that he was planning on throwing them at cop cars parked in a parking lot.

According to the partial transcript in the affidavit, Darby asked McKay, "What if there's a cop sleeping in the car?" "He'll wake up," replied McKay. "What if he doesn't?" Darby asked. McKay was silent. Darby pressed on, asking McKay if he would "leave the scene with a cop burning or dying." McKay answered, "Yes." And then, again, according to a partial transcript of the recorded conversation, McKay told Darby that it was "worth it if a cop gets burned or maimed." These words, along with eight Molotov cocktails found in the basement of the house in which McKay was crashing, have him facing up to 30 years in federal prison for charges related to possession and assembly of "unregistered firearms," as the weapons are defined by federal law.
So looking at the actions, what police activity occured? First, do we have evidence Darby told the defendants to make Molotov cocktails? The Austin American Statesman article seems to indicate that they made the gasoline bombs, then told Darby about it. Therefore, it appears that Darby did not induce them to make the bombs.

Therefore, under Minnesota law, it isn't entrapment.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:51 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth: “First, do we have evidence Darby told the defendants to make Molotov cocktails? The Austin American Statesman article seems to indicate that they made the gasoline bombs, then told Darby about it. Therefore, it appears that Darby did not induce them to make the bombs. Therefore, under Minnesota law, it isn't entrapment.”

There are some fairly massive leaps there. I agree that it depends on whether Darby induced them to make the bombs, but I am not so sure, given that neither you nor I have seen or even heard of any evidence one way or another.
posted by koeselitz at 9:54 AM on September 8, 2011


If ATF handbooks become simply authoritative as interpretations of law, then you're completely doing away with the entire judicial system.

Good thing no one suggested that.

The Executive Branch has an important duty in interpreting laws. That's why you have something called the Federal Register, and it's where you'll find many lawful orders from agencies like the ATF, as well as the EPA and the NLRB. What the Executive Branch cannot offer, however, is the final interpretation of the law. That was settled back in the 18th century with Marbury v. Madison.
posted by BobbyVan at 10:01 AM on September 8, 2011


Terrorism is violence or threats of violence intended to further political aims.

That's a terrible definition - for one, it includes every single war that has ever happened.

Terrorism is a contentious subject; my SO works in security studies, and even he couldn't come up with a perfect definition. But it's more than just "violence ... intended to further political aims."

One thing is - you have to take the emotion/morality out of it. Defining terrorism is like accurately describing a disease. It doesn't make diseases that don't fit the definition "better" and those that do "worse", just different (and maybe with different causes and different treatments).
posted by jb at 10:04 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I took a class on terrorism in college, and we settled on, "violence, directed principally or substantially against civilians, in furtherance of political goals."
posted by BobbyVan at 10:06 AM on September 8, 2011


Just to put a cap on the ATF derail, here's an excerpt from page 2 of the (200 page) .pdf I linked above.
This publication is not a law book. Rather, it is intended as a “user friendly” reference book enabling the user to quickly find answers to questions concerning the NFA [National Firearms Act]. Nevertheless, it should also be useful to attorneys seeking basic information about the NFA and how the law has been interpreted by ATF. The book’s Table of Contents will be helpful to the user in locating needed information.
posted by BobbyVan at 10:15 AM on September 8, 2011


There are some fairly massive leaps there. I agree that it depends on whether Darby induced them to make the bombs, but I am not so sure, given that neither you nor I have seen or even heard of any evidence one way or another.

The Austin American-Statesman reporter was working off a partial transcript, so we do have evidence one way or another.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:16 AM on September 8, 2011


Ironmouth, the "transcript" wasn't based on a recording, but rather on an FBI agent's notes taken while listening to a transmitted conversation, so while it's evidence, it's not conclusive.
posted by BobbyVan at 10:18 AM on September 8, 2011


I took a class on terrorism in college, and we settled on, "violence, directed principally or substantially against civilians, in furtherance of political goals."
posted by BobbyVan at 1:06 PM on September 8 [+] [!]


That's a bit better - but would you say that the Syrian government's actions against their citizens was terrorism?

Maybe I'm just a softy-humanities geek, but I would think that the word "terror" is inherent to the definition - the violence is intended to further political goals through the incitement of widespread fear/terror. It's not just that it is violence directed against civilians, but a kind of unpredictable violence which inspires fear -- so you might have something like IRA bombings which killed relatively few people but inspired terror defined as terrorism. Interestingly, you rarely hear about something like widespread rape being used as a weapon of war as "terrorism" though they are clearly directed at civilians and certainly inspire terror and are (in my own personal heirachy of nightmares) more horrific than many terrorist bombings.

But there is something about the pattern that is different - it isn't violence in an otherwise peaceful place, it isn't as surprising. A lot of what we define as terrorism is violence which specifically happens in places perceived of as safe - like a peaceful bus in Jerusalem, a mall in the UK, the bombing of a doctor's office. We don't call IEDs next to roads in Afghanistan "terrorism" (okay, some people might, but I think most people would see it as different - not better, just different).

Also, we generally only use "terrorism" to describe the actions of non-state actors - and see it as a method of assymetric warfare. But again, it's a different method than something like guerilla warfare. Also, I don't think that many states would ever engage in the kind of "surprise" violence of terrorism - it feels strongly like the actions of a group who felt themselves to be acting against the status quo.

sorry - this probably all sounds so cold and analytical. But I think we should be analytical about this sort of thing.
posted by jb at 10:20 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


off-topic but seriously odd: Is anyone else seeing a post all about Jim Henson in the "related posts" at the bottom of this thread? and the first one, too.
posted by jb at 10:21 AM on September 8, 2011


would you say that the Syrian government's actions against their citizens was terrorism?

Yes I would. The Syrian govt's actions were meant not only to stamp out an immediate threat to the regime's authority, but also to spread fear among the broader population to encourage submission.

I think you're having trouble with the word "terrorism" because of its history, connotations and common usage. But because it's a word that is so politically fraught, we should try to define it and call things that fit the definition "terrorism" even if doing so makes us a little uncomfortable.
posted by BobbyVan at 10:27 AM on September 8, 2011


How about this: terrorism is the use of violence to further political aims by the spread of fear and chaos, typically by non-state actors, typically outside of the context of formally-declared war.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:27 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


off-topic but seriously odd: Is anyone else seeing a post all about Jim Henson in the "related posts" at the bottom of this thread? and the first one, too.

Both have "PBS" as a tag.

posted by inigo2 at 10:37 AM on September 8, 2011



would you say that the Syrian government's actions against their citizens was terrorism?

Yes I would. The Syrian govt's actions were meant not only to stamp out an immediate threat to the regime's authority, but also to spread fear among the broader population to encourage submission.


Whereas I would say that it's just as wrong - possibly even more so, since a government has a sacred duty to protect their peopel - but it's a different kind of creature than most actions we describe as terrorism. Sticherbeast's definition is more satisfactory.
posted by jb at 10:48 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth, the "transcript" wasn't based on a recording, but rather on an FBI agent's notes taken while listening to a transmitted conversation, so while it's evidence, it's not conclusive.

No sworn statement is "conclusive" in the sense you speak of. Listen, the police, in a sworn statement, say that they freaked out and built the bombs and then came to Darby. The two persons then pled guilty. This means they admitted their guilt before a court of law, on the record. I don't think you can get any more conclusive than that.

We can have sympathy for a cause (being opposed to the policies advocated for by John McCain and the Republican party, while also saying that molotov cocktails are not the proper way to oppose those people.

but, for those who declare that it is "clear" that the pair were "entrapped," I have to say that it appears they were not from what's in front of us.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:08 AM on September 8, 2011


Ironmouth - I'm a conservative and have little sympathy for Crowder or McKay's cause. I think they earned their jail sentences.

That said, I encourage you to watch the documentary to catch some interesting and disturbing nuances to the case. According to the FBI, Darby (the informant) felt uncomfortable having his conversation with Crowder recorded (the one where Crowder supposedly said that he'd be OK with maiming or killing police officers), so it was only "transmitted" with the FBI listening in and taking notes. That was a little fishy to me.

Also, while the government offered two and three-year pleas to Crowder and McKay, they could have been sentenced to 30 years had they taken their cases to trial. As a condition of the pleas, both Crowder and McKay had to say that they were not entrapped. Now, you can choose to believe that Crowder and McKay were truthful in that instance, but it's also perfectly reasonable to infer that they said what they needed to say to receive reduced sentences.

I said earlier in this thread that there is no way of being certain one way or the other as to whether the two were entrapped, and I think that's the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn here. I also think that "transcripts" and plea agreements need to be examined in the appropriate light when it's the truth we're after.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:26 AM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ironmouth: “The Austin American-Statesman reporter was working off a partial transcript, so we do have evidence one way or another.”

No, we don't. Absence of evidence is not evidence. We have no evidence that Darby did, or did not, induce them to make the explosives. The only thing you pointed to above was that a newspaper article "seems to indicate" that they did not. But the article does not offer or cite any evidence whatsoever for that indication. Nor has any apparently been offered. The transcript doesn't describe in detail everything that happened before the incident.
posted by koeselitz at 11:46 AM on September 8, 2011


God, I'm becoming the king of pedantic, niggling little points here. Still, this seems to be the case to me – I really don't see any evidence that you or anybody else has cited, Ironmouth, that there was or was not inducement or entrapment here.
posted by koeselitz at 11:49 AM on September 8, 2011


I give not one shit if undercover cops "encourage" protestors who build weapons. We are not in Syria; this country has open political discourse and people can express themselves peacefully. If you illegally build a weapon with the intent, even the temporary intent, of using it to protest, you should be in jail, or in a psychiatric facility, and the country will be safer for it. Unless they held a gun to your head, I don't care who encouraged you.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:49 AM on September 8, 2011


I come from a similar place in that I think vanguardist violence is counter-productive. But either way, still seems to me that an overly-broad application of terrorism laws and the use of agents provocateur is more troubling than the fact that a couple of young men who are basically decent were a bit daft and easily led.
posted by Abiezer at 12:05 PM on September 8, 2011


The "evidence," Koeselitz, is testimony. Darby (the informant) and the FBI said that there was no entrapment. McKay pled out early, saying he was not entrapped, and received a 2 year sentence. Crowder went to trial, claimed that the idea to build firebombs was originally Darby's -- the trial ended in a hung jury.

Before the re-trial of Crowder, the prosecution sought to compel McKay to testify to his original plea that there was no entrapment. If McKay refused or told a different story on the stand, he would have lost his plea agreement and could have faced 7 years in prison. If Crowder was convicted in the new trial, he faced 30 years in prison. So he accepted a 3 year sentence, which was increased to 4 by the judge.

A number of other peripheral witnesses also discussed Darby's charismatic nature, and more importantly, his history of encouraging activists to consider more violent methods.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:05 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


All I know is, "Cocktail" is an awfully weird-looking word.


This moment of pointlessness brought to you by an excess of sugar.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:14 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just to add my own bit of pedantry, I think this thread - and others - could benefit from the definition of "terrorist threat".

I am dreadfully sorry for the "about.com" link, but I found the differences between the various definitions of what "terrorism" is, and who is doing the defining, to be somewhat interesting. There are multiple subpages, and some of the subpages have links elsewhere, so it may be worth examining.

As for this particular case, I don't think they have a strong case for entrapment. Entrapment requires that the actors were led to do something they wouldn't have done otherwise. The latter clause in that sentence is the more important - it's not that "the actors were led to do something" that is entrapment. It's that they wouldn't have done it otherwise. Of course that makes entrapment particularly difficult to prove, if not impossible, from a logical standpoint.

I think many people don't realize how often they might violate the law in the course of their lives, either. It might be fun to play "terrorist cell" and speculate with some buddies about how you might blow up the Tower of London. But you might have just committed a crime of conspiracy, despite the fact there was no intent to actually do anything. And if you have ever been pissed off enough to tell someone you were going to kill them, even if you meant it metaphorically, you may have just committed a "terrorist threat".

Paradoxically, actual terrorists are likely to much more careful in their communications than are some misguided angry youths. As a result, angry youths get imprisoned, there is no effect on terrorism at all except to make genuine terrorists more careful - and difficult to catch. In the meantime, law enforcement and security get to strut around and claim they "prevented terrorism" - and justify their budgets in the process.

Security. Theater.

(and just for shits and giggles, I'll link to this NYMag article)
posted by Xoebe at 12:16 PM on September 8, 2011


We have no evidence that Darby did, or did not, induce them to make the explosives. The only thing you pointed to above was that a newspaper article "seems to indicate" that they did not. But the article does not offer or cite any evidence whatsoever for that indication. Nor has any apparently been offered. The transcript doesn't describe in detail everything that happened before the incident.

This is what we have:

According to a subsequent police affidavit, McKay met the next day with fellow activist Brandon Michael Darby, 32, who had also traveled to St. Paul with the Austin group. Angry that his friend was still being held, McKay told Darby that he and Crowder had made some Molotov cocktails (i.e., bottled gasoline bombs) and that he was planning on throwing them at cop cars parked in a parking lot. (emphasis added).

We have a statement in an affidavit from a police officer that McKay met with Darby and informed them that he (McKay) and Crowder had manufactured the bombs and that they were planning to throw them at police. Hence, we do have evidence.

Further evidence is the sworn statement of one of the conspirators that there was no entrapment. So, again there is lots of evidence there is no entrapment. The only evidence we have that there was is the statement of Crowder, who, if the US Attorney had a drop of brains, will have also signed an affidavit stating there was no entrapment.

Listen, entrapment isn't like in TV. Its really hard to prove. You have to be persuaded to do an act you normally would not have done. And that act has to be the actual act charged, such as making bombs.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:16 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


It might be fun to play "terrorist cell" and speculate with some buddies about how you might blow up the Tower of London. But you might have just committed a crime of conspiracy, despite the fact there was no intent to actually do anything.

Generally, a concrete step is also required for a conspiracy to be found. Just bullshitting about how you would knock over a casino, "like Ocean's 11" isn't enough.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:18 PM on September 8, 2011


I've thought a fair bit about the definition of Terrorism, and for me, I've found the most parsimonious definition is Terrorism is something that would be a war crime if committed during a war.

Namely, an intentional (rather than incidental) threat, preparation of attack, or actual attack on uninvolved civilians, usually for the purpose of invoking fear and forcing your opponents to make concessions to you to prevent the attack or because of it.

Specifically attacking law enforcement or military personnel is, IMO a different kind of crime than Terrorism (namely normal Rioting/Mayhem/etc if against law enforcement, or an enemy attack or rebellion if against the military).
posted by chimaera at 1:24 PM on September 8, 2011


Is there any technical or legal reason that the transmission of their conversation was able to be heard by humans taking notes but not a machine that could record it exactly?

Refusing to allow a recording seems like a premeditated move towards spin or plausible deniability--like cutting off the audio recording in an interrogation room before you break out the phone books.

Does that make sense, Ironmouth? Policemen seem to have a privileged stance of presumed truthiness in the court of law, but certain members of the general public often have the opposite take outside the courtroom. That goes double when the only corroboration is from other policemen, and triple when the policemen involved have deliberately acted to limit the impartial electronic recording of events.

I get that a courtroom has to take them at their word, but is it wrong to believe there is some significant probability (10%? 30%?) of shenanigans being in play?
posted by jsturgill at 4:08 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't want to spoil the viewing experience, but since there are some who can't watch it outside the US, I feel that it is justified.

McKay and Crowder refused to testify against each other for special treatment. Crowder had accepted a 2-year plea agreement. McKay fought his charges after being offered a worse plea agreement. The daring part for him was that he risked a much longer sentence if found guilty, so it was a pretty gutsy move to fight it. The jury was hung, 6 to 6, and so they planned a new trial. Meanwhile, Crowder's deal was now off because he was now compelled to testify against McKay and alter his account because McKay claimed that they both witnessed Darby entrap them. The stakes of losing the new trial were now raised to even longer sentences. McKay relented and finally accepted a new 2-year plea if they dropped the entrapment claims. He was later sentenced to 4 years for obstructing justice.

The documentary clearly shows the double bind of any defendant weighing the admission of guilt for a lower sentence, versus fighting the charges and getting the worse possible sentence, which is often promised as part of the pressure applied. The point made in the film quite eloquently by both defendants was the necessity of the trial to place the alleged facts under scrutiny, since they came from an informant in a leadership role who did nothing to prevent the alleged crime he was so eager to inform about.
posted by Brian B. at 4:26 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


since they came from an informant in a leadership role who did nothing to prevent the alleged crime he was so eager to inform about.

The affidavit quoted in the Austin American Statesman indicates that he tried to reason with them and point out the harms to the police that would be targeted. It also states that they came to him after the bombs were made.

Listen, it was crap that the FBI was so heavy-handed in Farenheit 911 and were infiltrating groups that were no threat.

But these people admitted to making gasoline bombs with the intent of throwing them at people because a friend was in jail. People who do that are in the wrong, even if they are protesting a larger evil like GOP policies. Is this something Dr. King would be for? Gandhi? No. And it appears that every sworn statement says they were not entrapped, even their own. The r

And this is isn't an example of the cheesy "aspirational" plots we sometimes see where the instruments are provided to the alleged terrorists. All defendants admit that they made the bombs. Real bombs.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:57 PM on September 8, 2011


Terrorism is violence or threats of violence intended to further political aims.

Hey, check it out! The US Military is a terrorist organization!
posted by kaibutsu at 4:58 PM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


C'mon; you really think the FBI affidavit is really a bastion of truth? When I was arrested as a protester, I was charged with carrying a makeshift weapon. Eventually, I learned that this was code for a protest sign. But I wasn't carrying a sign. Point being that there's no way an agent provocateur would submit an affidavit saying that they had encouraged the kids to make bombs, even if that were what had happened. The FBI agent's testimony cannot be held as unquestionable testament to the agent's actions.
posted by kaibutsu at 5:02 PM on September 8, 2011


Terrorism is violence or threats of violence intended to further political aims.

Hey, check it out! The US Military is a terrorist organization!


That definition makes every military, ever, a terrorist organization.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:05 PM on September 8, 2011


I too am concerned about the Bad Faith evidenced by failing to record the audio. It's not like turning on a tape recorder is a really hard task, and it seems that when conducting surveillance you need to go out of your way not to capture everything said on tape.
posted by mikelieman at 5:06 PM on September 8, 2011


Slow political change is great and most people try to partake of the system as is. Other people will attempt political revolution by any and all means (the motives and morality of said means being decided by the victor). Other people will smoke up, drink a bit, be told by an agent provocateur of the FBI to make weapons, and then be busted for making said weapons.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:50 PM on September 8, 2011


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