Friday, August 12, 2022

The secret police: A private security group regularly sent Minnesota police misinformation about protestors

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“I felt like I was in a nightmare. It was just so deeply incongruous,” she says. “Honestly, I felt quite humiliated by it, because there were all these people who were trying to speak and they were being drowned out.” Ruddock says, “It was so grotesque and obviously designed to make me know that they were watching me.” CRG had identified her, found a video of her music, and “blasted my music through my neighborhood.”

“I felt like I was going to have a panic attack,” she says. Ruddock tried to explain the situation to other activists—many of whom didn’t know that she was a musician, much less that it was her song—and quickly left the protest. She doesn’t know why she was singled out but suspects it was because she was frequently in attendance at the area around Seven Points with camera in hand, photographing the unrest in her neighborhood.

CRG also played recordings of speeches made by Martin Luther King Jr. to drown out chants at protests, according to three activists we spoke with. According to Rick Hodsdon, the chair of the Minnesota Board of Private Detectives and Protective Agent Services, no formal complaints against CRG have been filed. A complaint would trigger an investigation by the agency and could lead to revocation of security licenses and, potentially, criminal charges.

A look at the “intel reports”

What Ruddock couldn’t have known is that CRG also operated like a covert intelligence team for the Minneapolis Police Department. According to emails obtained by MIT Technology Review, CRG surveilled activists in Uptown and often sent reports to the department. One such 17-page report, entitled “Initial Threat Assessment,” described the organizers as part of “antifa,” a term often used in far-right discourse to exaggerate the threat posed by radical left-wing political groups. Ruddock was identified as one of the leaders of antifa, a claim she calls “ridiculous” and says she has “never been affiliated with antifa or any extremist groups.”

An email from CRG to MPD dated August 2021

(MIT Technology Review is not publishing the reports we reviewed because of the risk of spreading false and potentially defamatory information.)

Some of the reports include information sourced from the internet and social media, as well as photographs of Ruddock and other activists. In one exchange between Seven Points and MPD, Seven Points referred to CRG’s “cameras they do surveillance with.” Some information is drawn from the website AntifaWatch, including mugshots of Ruddock and other activists from a mass arrest during a protest on June 5, 2021, two days after Smith’s death. The 2021 charges against Ruddock have since been dropped for “insufficient evidence,” and there is pending litigation against the city surrounding the arrest.

AntifaWatch says it “exists to document and track Antifa and the Far Left.” The site publishes photographs of almost 7,000 people allegedly engaged in antifa or antifa-associated activities, along with other information about them. Its information is sourced from news reports, social media posts, and submissions that anyone can make. The website states that “for a Report to be approved it must have a reasonable level of proof (News article, arrest picture, riot picture, self-identifying, etc).” MIT Technology Review attempted to verify several of the entries on the site and found inaccuracies. For example, the daughter of New York City’s former mayor Bill de Blasio is included on the list for an arrest at a Black Lives Matter protest on May 31, 2020, in New York City. AntifaWatch characterized Chiara de Blasio as “rioting with antifa,” though the police report does not indicate that de Blasio participated in rioting.

The website states that “​​a report on AntifaWatch is in no way, shape or form an accusation of one’s involvement in Antifa, terrorism, or terroristic groups” and says that it “is not a doxxing website,” though it explicitly attempts to identify and reveal personal information about people. Its posts often contain bigoted language. It also features a facial recognition feature: anyone can upload an image, and the website will return potential matches from its AntifaWatch database. 



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