Memphis, Tenn.–In response to the roundups of Colombia and Palestine solidarity activists across the Midwest by the FBI, members of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center (MSP&JC) and the Socialist Party organized a street demonstration last year in front of the Federal Building condemning the Neo-McCarthyite surveillance of peace activists. We waved at passing cars and held signs, “Stop FBI roundups.” Local authorities did not harass or intervene in our gathering of 20-25.
Months later, on Jan. 25, three FBI agents gained access to the security-code-locked First Congregational Church where many activists’ offices are located, and wandered into a busy office. They notified the staff that anti-war activists were planning a demonstration outside the building that day. “I paused and tried not to laugh,” said Brad Watkins of the MSP&JC, “when I said, ‘Uh…yes sir. These are the offices of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.'” Staff further informed the agents that, as written in the press release, this is not a demonstration but simply a meeting.
That meeting of 20 people apparently needed several hours of TACT–a Memphis police department unit similar to SWAT–surveillance, and a lengthy series of absurd explanations from the Memphis Police Department (MPD) regarding its unwelcome presence.
I believe that these two incidents are part of a larger series of well-organized coincidences that day, including a home visit by the MPD and a warrantless, gun-brandishing home invasion by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department. The meeting at the MSP&JC was to file freedom of information requests. Those who called it are the same individuals who organized the demonstration at the Federal Building condemning the FBI raids. The home invasion occurred at the residence of a member of this group. And, yes, the other home visit occurred at the residence of people who were at the same demonstration.
Public outrage over this absurdity prompted a much more poorly organized series of absurd official responses. Ernest Greenleaf of TACT said at the time, “We’re just here to make sure nobody bothers y’all.” MPD spokesperson Larry Godwin stated the presence was in response to a complaint by a “concerned citizen.” He said the prolonged presence of six TACT vehicles was just a mistake, that they were just killing time or hanging out. Days later, Mayor A.C. Wharton, caught with his pants down in the face of rogue actions by law enforcement, apologized and claimed the FBI/police visits were a response to threats from the “sovereign citizen” movement. Wharton is apparently unaware that filing FBI complaints is the last thing that would piss off the anti-government sovereign citizen movement.
I have called the local FBI offices a number of times and have yet to get a return call. The day after my first call, however, a car drove down my block a number of times, slowing down each time he passed my house; he pulled over in front of my house twice. Twice he drove off the moment I stepped outside and approached the car. I wanted to ask him a question–why bother these folks? But the only answer I’ll get I already have–the most well-organized series of coincidences I have ever seen.