COINTELPRO was a covert, semi-illegal project run by the FBI to surveil, infiltrate and disrupt political organizations—nearly all of which fell on the liberal side of the political spectrum. Their targets included anti-Vietnam protesters, the civil rights movement and many other political organizations in the New Left (the FBI also targeted the KKK). I bring this up to establish the unadulterated fact that the United States federal government has a longstanding history of trying to disrupt liberal organizations, and an exclusive report today by The Nation added to this nation’s sordid history:
In the late summer of 2018, as protests against the Trump administration’s immigration policies intensified and the movement to abolish ICE gained momentum, the federal agency at the center of the storm was keeping tabs on a series of “anti-Trump protests” in New York City, according to documents obtained by The Nation via a Freedom of Information Act request. Among the protests the agency tracked were several promoting immigrants’ rights and opposing the administration’s deportation policies as well as one protesting the National Rifle Association. One event was organized by a sitting member of Congress.
Despite this inclusive and peaceful sentiment, Rep. Espaillat’s rally ended up on a government list. In an email sent out on the afternoon of July 31, 2018, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative arm of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), transmitted detailed information to an undisclosed number of recipients, including at least one Department of Homeland Security supervisor, about public protests planned by mostly liberal and left-leaning groups in New York City. The email contained a four-page document, titled “Anti-Trump Protest Spreadsheet 07/31/2018,” which listed the time, date, location and purpose of upcoming protests slated to take place around the city.
The July 31 email from the [Homeland Security Investigations] account contained a simple message to its readers: “All, Please see below listing … with updated protest information. Please remain vigilant and aware of your surroundings.”
This is a feature, not a bug of the Feds, lest we forget when the FBI sent a letter to Martin Luther King Jr. pretending to be a black man trying to convince Dr. King to kill himself:
King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical signifficant (sic). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is an inherently autocratic agency who has been emboldened in the Trump era. They are the manifestation of his bloviation and authoritarianism, and given the sordid history of less authoritarian agencies, this is almost surely just the tip of the iceberg of their surveillance of liberal groups. The Nation revealed that the ICE spreadsheet lists “protests and marches organized by Young Progressives of America, Refuse Fascism NYC, NYC Says Enough, the New Sanctuary Coalition, and Rise and Resist.” Just one conservative event was on the spreadsheet, but it was described on the sheet as a “counter-protest.”
ICE’s explanation for the existence of this spreadsheet to The Nation was boilerplate, nondescriptive gobbledygook:
“It is important to note that Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents are regularly conducting field investigations in the New York city area. The referenced email was provided to HSI agents for situational awareness should any HSI employees be travelling through those areas, whether on work or personal time.”
So taking ICE at their word, they feel that their agents should be aware of any liberal protests when “traveling through those areas, whether on work or personal time,” yet there was no unearthing of a conservative list and ICE did not say anything about policing the other side of our political divide. ICE is a tool of Donald Trump, and they should be treated as such. America does not need a group of jack-booted thugs handling deportations. From 1933 to 2003, America dealt with immigration issues through the Immigration and Naturalization Service working with local police. ICE’s very existence is fascist, so it should come as no surprise that they are dabbling in fascist tropes, like keeping an eye on anyone protesting their Dear Leader.
This isn’t just a cheeky internet slogan. We really do need to abolish ICE.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.