Sexism, egos, and lies:
Sometimes you wake up and it is not different
By Lisa Fithian / The Rag Blog / March 22, 2010
Community organizer and nonviolent activist/trainer Lisa Fithian will be Thorne Dreyer’s guest on Rag Radio, Tuesday, March 23, 2-3 p.m. (CST) on KOOP 91.7 FM in Austin. For those outside the listening area, go here to stream the show.
[The Rag Blog has reported extensively on FBI informant Brandon Darby and the Texas 2. We have also dealt with the larger issues related to governmental use of espionage and informants. Please see links to all of our previous material at the end of this article.]
On December 31, 2008, the Austin Informant Working Group released a statement titled: “Sometimes You Wake Up and It’s Different: Statement on Brandon Darby, the ‘Unnamed’ Informant/Provocateur in the ‘Texas 2.’” It’s been over a year since then and here is my long-overdue version of that story.
It was on December 18, 2008, that I learned unquestionably that Brandon Michael Darby, an Austin activist, was an FBI informant leading up to the 2008 Republican National Convention protests in St. Paul, MN. He was the key witness in the case of two young men from Midland, TX, Bradley Crowder (23) and David McKay (22) who, thanks to Brandon’s involvement, have been convicted of manufacturing Molotov cocktails.
They are now serving two and four years, respectively, in federal prison. In 2010, Brandon will be a key witness in another important case to the Government — the case of the RNC 8, Minneapolis organizers who are facing state conspiracy charges.
The case of the “Texas 2” gained national media attention as a result of Brandon’s unique blend of egomania, the media’s attraction to charismatic and controversial men, and the persistence of the U.S. government to criminalize and crush a growing anti-authoritarian movement. I found myself strangely entwined in the story — past, present and future.
I knew Brandon, and I was given a set of the FBI documents because, as it became apparent from reading them, I was one of the primary people he was reporting on to the FBI. (I, like many others engaged in political protest, am suspect because of my politics not my actions.) Now all of us who knew Brandon and worked closely with him, have been coming to terms with what he did, how he was able to do it, how we were used and abused in the process, and what we might do differently next time.
Some of us were more surprised than others when Brandon revealed himself as an informant. My first reaction was deep sadness. I then went through a range of emotions: disbelief, shock, anger, outrage, and at times vindication. I am still hurt and angry, not just with Brandon, but with the whole system that supports and enables him.
I am still struggling with forgiveness for choices made in activist communities and by some of my friends. I understand how difficult it was; Brandon, at times, was also my friend. In the end we must examine the behavior we experienced, reflect on the array of choices we had, and explore what we could do differently to insure this does not happen again.
Brandon’s behavior was problematic long before 2008. Whether or not he was actually working for the state, he was doing their job for them by breeding discord within our politically active communities. I raised my concerns about Brandon’s behavior in New Orleans, in Austin, and also in Minneapolis.
The news story broke on Thursday, December 29, when Brandon published an open letter to the community admitting he worked with the FBI. He knew we were about to blow the whistle, so he successfully preempted our headline. His initial words, however, were lies.
When asked why he got involved with the FBI, Darby said it was because he discovered that people he knew were planning violence. “Somebody had asked me to do something that would’ve resulted in hurting people, and I said no,” he said. “So they started asking other people. At that point, that’s when I went forward and contacted somebody in law enforcement.”
Darby had been involved with a group of young people from Texas who traveled together to the RNC. Their journey has become part of the fodder in the legal and media frenzy since September 2008. The trip proved to be a disaster. David and Brad ended up in jail, and the rest of the group was served Grand Jury subpoenas. The subpoenas were eventually dropped. While preparing for their trials, David and Brad both said Brandon was an informant and the community refused to heed their warnings. They felt like they knew Brandon, he’d been around for years.
In November an article appeared in the St. Paul Press asserting that Brandon Darby was an informant. This, unfortunately, was based on false evidence. Scott Crow, a friend of mine, and Brandon’s main ally in the activist community, defended Brandon calling the accusation a “COINTELPRO lie.” Little did Scott know how right he was – this whole damn thing is COINTELPRO shit.
The documents we got in December 2009 were clear — Brandon began working for the FBI in November 2007. In November 2007 Brandon had no relationship with David or Brad and could not have known their plans for the St. Paul Republican Conventions. Their plans didn’t develop until after Brandon had become an informant and after he established himself as their ally and mentor.
Furthermore, Brandon has never been squeamish about violence. He owned guns and cultivated his reputation as a hotheaded, militant revolutionary. At least a half a dozen people were prepared to testify, under oath and with some risk to them, that Brandon had approached them with proposals to commit robbery or arson. Ultimately Brandon admitted that he turned informant for the money.
Brad, David, and their families’ lives have been changed forever because these two young men were seduced and influenced by a paid FBI informant. In his early memos to the FBI, Brandon referred to them as “collateral damage.” Now these two men are spending several years of their young lives in Federal Prison.
There are many people in the activist community who have crossed Brandon’s path and have been hurt, demoralized, alienated, frightened, or run off by him. Those of us who were lied to or lied about, spied on, bullied, must deal with the trauma of his abusive behavior. We must also come to terms with the behavior of those who supported and enabled Brandon. And, as a community, we must deal with those parts of ourselves that were seduced, manipulated, and marginalized by Brandon so that we can defend each other, our political work, and ourselves.
I met Brandon through his relationship with another organizer, after I moved to Austin in February 2002. Over time I learned that it was a tumultuous and abusive relationship. When it ended in 2004 Brandon moved to New Orleans for about six months. Years later Brandon told me that he had turned himself in to the New Orleans Office of the FBI when he lived there during that time. He apparently told them that he knew they were looking for him, so here he was.
It was early 2003 around the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that Brandon inserted himself in the anti-war community and gained a reputation as a paranoid guy who got himself into unusual situations with police.
During the protests on the first day of the war, Brandon was supposedly arrested for photographing undercover cops. After that action he was, mysteriously, the only person who did not want legal support. The arrest apparently does not show up in any legal records. For more on this, go here.
During this time, Brandon began showing up regularly at anti-war rallies, trainings, and other events. The anti-war community had started to use civil disobedience as a protest tactic. In the first training I did following Brandon’s supposed arrest, Brandon insisted that one of the participants was an undercover cop and demanded that I ask that person to leave. High drama around other people being undercover is behavior I’ve learned to associate with informants as a way to divert attention from them. It also breeds distrust and is destabilizing of collective efforts.
In another intense protest when UT students attempted to block an intersection with a tripod, the police unfortunately were waiting near the intersection and quickly pulled out the legs of a tri-pod, and dropped the person about 15 feet onto the pavement. Brandon who had helped bring props to the site became erratic and started yelling at the police resulting in even more people being arrested, including people who were not intending to risk arrest. Several students left the anti-war movement as a result of this action.
At this time, it became very clear that a key local organizer was being intensely targeted. Her home was broken into repeatedly. She found her vehicle tampered with, was fired from her job, and her cat was poisoned. Coincidentally, also at this time, Brandon began to court her as a mentor, asking her to teach him what she knew about organizing.
The first time she recalled meeting Brandon was the day he was arrested, when he ran up to her yelling that there were undercover cops in the crowd. Following his arrest, Brandon consistently called her, wanting to talk about his arrest and aftermath but rejecting the legal support she was helping organize. Recently, when the Austin Informant Working Group did an open records request on this organizer, the FBI found 600 documents with her name in them (they have not been relinquished by the FBI to date).
Brandon also participated in a protest at the Halliburton shareolders’ meeting in Houston. He unexpectedly joined the group intending to commit nonviolent civil disobedience. The group was on edge the night before, and now I understand why. In the planning session the night before the action, Brandon argued strongly that provoking and fighting the police was a tactic to open the eyes of the masses to police brutality, and bring more people into our cause.
He held his ground even when the group strongly disagreed and told him that under no circumstances would the group agree to him provoking or fighting the police. Brandon was a loose cannon and a bully. Even when he said he would agree to nonviolence in the action, it was clear that in his mind his agreement was contingent on the police not “provoking” him. Going into the action the next day was like sitting on a tinderbox waiting to explode.
At some actions, Brandon would show up, all masked up, with a video camera and take a lot of footage. He has continued to do this over the years, including in Minneapolis. I don’t believe he has ever posted or published any of it.
Brandon also befriended a local Palestinian activist, a man named Riad Hamad. In the spring of 2008 his house was raided by the FBI. In April Riad was found bound, gagged, and drowned in Town Lake. The death was ruled a suicide and the FBI is not releasing any information, but it was made clear in David McKay’s trial that Brandon was also involved as an FBI informant on that case.
It was in the fall of 2005 that my path became more intertwined with Brandon’s.
New Orleans and Common Ground Relief
After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was a post-apocalyptic state. The whole social order had collapsed. A military occupation was underway and vigilantes were literally shooting Black men in the streets. It was in the midst of this chaos that Common Ground Relief was born. The organization grew from a driveway operation into a massive grassroots response to the Katrina disaster. With ex-Black Panther Malik Rahim at the helm, it was outside of government or charity organizations, and based in direct action, mutual aid, and solidarity.
Within the first year Common Ground Relief hosted over 12,000 volunteers and established an effective grassroots relief network in New Orleans following Katrina: CG moved millions of dollars in goods and resources; set up a free medical clinic; cleaned and gutted over 1,500 homes, churches and schools; organized a free legal services, media and computer centers; revived community gardens, planted thousands of acres of wetlands and did numerous bioremediation projects.
This work was done by an incredible group of long-term organizers who committed their lives for months if not years to the work. Brandon, was part of this team of volunteers but he held a great deal of power because of efforts he and Scott Crow made in the early days of the storm to rescue a friend, Robert King Wilkerson, and to defend Malik’s home in Algiers from the white vigilantes. It was during their second trip to New Orleans that Common Ground was born.
Despite all the good accomplished by Common Ground, there was discord with other local groups and organizers who were struggling to come home. Much of the discord involved Brandon. Brandon had strong authoritarian tendencies but his lack of organizing skills and experience and his resistance to working horizontally or collectively created discord and challenges.
He insisted on being the person in charge. He demanded a chain of command with him at the top. At one point he tried to create a central committee to insure that only a select few would be in any position of power. This style put him out front whether it was the media or a group of volunteers who would be doing the heavy lifting while he talked.
For example, in the Bywater area, Brandon insisted on being the liaison to the activist community. But he treated them with such disrespect and patronization that Common Ground lost an important ally base in the local community. In another example, a local organizer was talking about putting together a women’s space and clinic. Instead of supporting that process, Brandon just moved ahead and set up a space separate from that effort, further alienating local activists.
Brandon actively agitated against any relationship between Common Ground and the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund (PHRF). He and Scott Crow, one of the co-founders of Common Ground, took a particularly hard-line position against certain members of leadership within the PHRF.
In December 2005 Brandon goaded Scott Crow to write a public letter accusing PHRF of corruption. The letter was very destructive. I had never before or since seen Malik so angry. He understood the danger of this letter and the negative impact it could have on Common Ground and the community, and he moved quickly to limit the damage.
With Common Ground Relief as his platform Brandon attempted to extend his influence internationally. He pushed for a trip to Venezuela, which made little sense and raised even more questions about Brandon, especially for those who traveled with him. In the summer of 2006 Brandon tried to initiate another emergency response and relief effort only this time in Lebanon. It was called Critical Response and was going to save the people of Lebanon from the Israeli attacks in the war with Hezebollah. Fortunately this effort never happened.
Sexism, egos and…
Brandon was a master of manipulation, and worked both women and men. He would draw them into his sometimes-twisted perspective by cultivating them through coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, revolutionary rhetoric, emotional neediness, or his physical presence — either seductive or intimidating.
Young women are often attracted to Brandon. At Common Ground, his unrestrained sexual engagement with volunteers was a problem. His “love for sex” became part of the organizational culture. His leadership role set a tone that led to systemic problems of sexual harassment and abuse at Common Ground.
When a group of the women in leadership challenged his behavior and asked that he stop sleeping with volunteers, he said “I like to fuck women, so what.” Our concerns were disregarded. The abuse became so rampant that Common Ground had to issue a public statement in May of 2006 acknowledging problems of sexual harassment in the organization.
Brandon left for a while but returned in November 2006 when he was asked to become the Interim Director of CG. His first focus was to dismantle the primarily women and queer leadership team at the St. Mary’s volunteer site. He then started recruiting men for the security team, trained them in martial arts, and asked if they were willing to carry guns, despite the fact that Common Ground had an explicit policy against weapons at our sites.
Brandon picked fights in the community, increasingly drawing police into the area and to Common Ground. He initiated action to kick down the door of the Women’s Center at two in the morning, to get rid of a man who was staying there. Brandon also kicked in the door of a trailer and pointed weapons at a group of volunteers who were hanging out with someone whom Brandon had asked to leave CG. As the Interim Director, Brandon felt he could do what he wanted without the consent of or accountability to the volunteers, the communities CG served, or other leadership.
In another incident, Brandon was arrested in a car chase. He was so angry about being arrested that Brandon once again trumped other work being done by deciding that he was going to personally clean up the New Orleans Police Department. He printed up hundreds of yard signs and put them around New Orleans, with a phone number saying that if you had a problem with NOPD, call Brandon Darby, Interim Director of Common Ground.
Brandon’s ego was getting more and more inflated making him even more dangerous. He covered his megalomania with a practiced humility and drawl. He became increasingly reckless and kept everybody in defensive and reactive postures.
Sexism, like racism, affects all of us. Brandon was allowed to assume leadership and authority at Common Ground because he was a strong, good-looking, charismatic, straight white male who was willing to take risks, even if reckless. As Malik’s favored son he did pretty much whatever he wanted. Yet, the work of activists who were women or queer or busy doing relief remained relatively invisible. Those activists were only given power where it didn’t challenge Brandon’s and he made sure of it.
During the first year of Common Ground, Brandon decided that I was an obstacle to his authority, and he worked to undermine me. He successfully diverted attention from my challenges to his sexist, abusive, unethical, and unaccountable behavior by framing them as a “power struggle”. Where he wasn’t able to convince others in the organization, he silenced them with fear of his retribution.
Brandon attacked me in public and spread disinformation about my work. He built a small group of dedicated followers that were willing to do his dirty work. They would tape record people, including myself and report back to him. He snitch-jacketed me — accused me of being an FBI agent. When I reached out to others, particularly men in New Orleans to intervene, I received little support. None of them were willing or able to challenge Brandon’s clearly destructive behavior. Those who backed his authority contributed to the organizational divisions that allowed his continued abuse of power.
In January 2007 I drove to New Orleans to pick up a friend who was kicked out of Common Ground by Brandon because she was a friend of mine. She was one of the coordinators at the St. Mary’s site. Other relief work coordinators were leaving the organization and because of this Brandon accused me of coming to town to wage a coup against him.
Early the next morning one of his “assistants” called me, threatening me with lawsuits. Then I get a call telling me that Brandon told them that King told him that Scott and I were conspiring against him. Crazy shit, crazy COINTELPRO shit. At the same time Brandon began a purge of three long-time coordinators by demanding they turn in the keys and leave the premises. But this time even Brandon went too far. Malik intervened and stopped the purge.
Brandon lies. He lied at Common Ground. He lied to the FBI. He lied in his open letter. He lied to his friends. He lied to the media. He lied to the judge and jury.
The government and the FBI lie, too. There is a long history of government infiltration and violence to disrupt social movements, a history that they have lied about in the past and they continue lie about today. It is documented that the government infiltrated and disrupted protests at the Republican National Conventions (2000 in Philly and 2004 in New York City). But in St. Paul they took it to a whole new level and they were more than willing to use Brandon to do it.
The government’s efforts to break the grassroots direct action anti-capitalist movement led to one of the most fascist operations I have experienced in the U.S. During the RNC — between knocking down doors, confiscating organizing materials, raiding homes, snatching people on the streets, impounding the skills training bus, and even surrounding my car with guns, they also arrested hundreds of innocent people and are continuing to prosecute the RNC 8, who are facing state conspiracy charges.
To this day it is my firm belief that the government set up both Brad and David, and another young man named Matt DePalma, in order to legitimize their acts of repression and to taint the environment in the case of the RNC 8. There were only two instances of Molotov cocktails in St. Paul and both of them had an FBI informant involved. In the case of Matt, the informant brought him to the library to learn how to make them, brought him to a store to buy the stuff and then made and tested them together!
In the case of David and Brad, Brandon had been goading them into a destructive mindset from the very first meeting and he continued to goad them throughout. Brandon created the environment in which they made some very bad decisions. I do not believe that those Molotov cocktails would have been made if Brandon had not been a part of that group.
One year later
At the time of this writing, Brad and David are both serving time in federal prison. Brad plea-bargained and was sentenced to two years. David went to trial and the first jury could not reach a verdict. Awaiting his second trial, prosecutors threatened to bring additional charges against Brad and to call Brad as a witness to testify against David.
Rather than force his friend to choose between self-interest and defending him, David made a decision to plea out. Instead of leniency, the judge doubled David’s sentence to four years without parole as punishment for the first trial.
Then in November 2009 the FBI unsuccessfully prosecuted a young woman, named Kate Kibby, for allegedly threatening Brandon in an email. Fortunately, the jury delivered a unanimous not guilty verdict. One of the many interesting things we learned in that case is that Brandon had actually drafted his open letter near the end of October and posted it against the FBI’s wishes.
We also learned that one of the FBI’s motivations in pursuing this case was the hope of finding a new informant. In their interrogation of this woman, they asked if she was working with me or Scott Crow. They told her she could be facing 20 years, but more likely 2-4. If she wanted to become an informant in the Austin and New York City anarchist scenes, they could work something out.
Fortunately, this woman had integrity and principles, and refused to be threatened or bullied. Because of this, she had to endure an FBI invasion into her life, and a terrifying trial. As her father said afterwards, “I knew if we could get 12 adults to sit down and look at this, they would see how absurd it is…”
I wish that this trial could be the end of any damage that Brandon might do, but we know that Brandon is likely to be a main witness in the trial against the RNC 8, organizers from Minneapolis who are facing conspiracy charges. Who knows how many other people he will concoct stories or fabricate lies about? Or how his brain twists the facts.
After Kate’s trial he sent an email to Scott, saying that Scott and I were responsible for David being in jail. He said:
I feel that you and Lisa bear some moral (not legal) responsibility for two of the years that David McKay is serving. Y’all let your dogma and your personal resentments guide you in the advice and encouragement you gave him. He did wrong and he would be free soon had he just been honest.
Y’all somehow convinced him that he had to “fight the man” and that his being honest was somehow unfair to the oppressed peoples of the world. Thankfully, Mrs. Kibby did not take y’alls guidance or drink your koolaid- and she’s free.
A few years ago, I began to feel that you guys were similiar to radical Imams in that y’all spout hatred (not all hatred, good things too) and young activists get in trouble all around y’all, but never y’all. I feel that y’all did that with my youthful anger as well.
Though I’m sure you don’t appreciate receiving an email from me, I think you can deduce some of my motivations from its words.
I am sorry; I have worked with thousands of young people over the years and none of them are in the situation that people find themselves in after working around Brandon. I have no time for his twisted logic, vague threats and destructive behavior. Instead, let us vanquish him and learn from this to insure that he, or people like him, can never do this again. To that end…
Behaviors of Brandon’s or others that enabled this kind of damage to be done.
- Deferring or listening to men, as opposed to women and/or attacking women in leadership positions. Our patriarchal society has taught us this and we need to deconstruct it.
- Charisma and confidence enabled him to assume leadership and control — people deferred even though he had little experience. He cultivated a handful of women and men to become personal assistants who did a lot of his work for him.
- Assuming credibility by his associations — Brandon tried to associate himself with other high profile organizers in the activist community.
- Preying on and exploiting people’s vulnerabilities and insecurities, particularly using alcohol or other addictions. He liked to “play with people’s minds.”
- Bullying. All bullies abuse their power and people let them do what they want because they are afraid of what will happen if they do not go along. They use their physical prowess to intimidate both women and men.
- Disrupting group process in meetings, derailing agendas, questioning process, challenging others, or not coming to meetings at all to avoid accountability. Or using secrecy and sub-groups to divide the whole.
- Pointing fingers at and ‘snitch-jacketing’ other people, accusing them of being cops, FBI agents, etc. This kept everyone on guard, and created an environment of suspicion and distrust.
- Seducing people using power or sex, leaving a lot of pain and destabilized situations in his wake or provoking people to do acts they would not do on their own.
- Being persistent and pursuing people, by calling them repeatedly or showing up at their homes, inviting them for coffee, he would wear you down, or find other ways back into important relationships.
- Being an emotional/physical wreck, becoming very needy and seducing people into taking care of him. Then people would defend him because of his emotional vulnerabilities or physical needs.
- Time and energy suck. Talk endlessly, consuming hours of time and energy — confusing, exhausting, and indoctrinating.
- Being helpful or useful — showing up when you most needed support. Brandon would arrive with tools, money, or whatever was needed at just the right time.
- Documenting through videotaping or photographing actions but never using it or working on communications systems which he attempted at the RNC.
Some day I hope to wake up and find things different
Brandon’s behavior over the years makes it clear that he is a misogynist, an egomaniac, and a liar. Unfortunately, many in our broader community bought into the illusion that he was a great radical self-described “revolutionary.” They defended him again and again. He repaid their support with betrayal. He continues to make a mockery of our work and supports the FBI in their efforts to crush our struggle for justice.
Some day I hope to wake up and find things different. I hope to see our communities deepen our understanding and commitment to uprooting all the “isms.” I would like to see a community where we create agreements and structures of accountability that will not allow behaviors like those highlighted above to continue, and if they do continue, that men will listen to women, and stand up to each other when someone is clearly abusing their power and authority.
In the end, I do not know what other choices I could have made short of leaving Common Ground earlier. I actually believe I tried to interrupt, make visible, warn and mitigate the damage of Brandon, but it was the people around me that continued to support Brandon despite the obvious problems.
Some of the lessons I have learned are that if someone is continually engaging in a pattern of disruptive behavior, like those mentioned above, that people must make clear agreements about what kind of behavior is OK and not OK and then collectively hold each other to those agreements.
If people/women are continually raising an issue about a particular person I will pay more attention, do some research, and if questions or problems continue to arise about that person, I will work together with others to ask that person to leave. Whether they are infiltrators or not, the behaviors that they are exhibiting are counterproductive to a world rooted in justice and equality. They are also, by their very nature, putting all of us at risk of unjust government action and imprisonment by their reckless and provocative behavior.
I also hope that someday when I wake up that I will live in a world where people do not use the threat of or use of violence to get their way or impose their will. That if we have such people in our movement that we will not be intimidated but instead will work together to end those abuses of power, for they mirror the abuses the Government in their efforts to exploit and control.
I also hope more people will chose nonviolent action since such action prefigures our future, can be strategically effective, and minimizes our movement’s vulnerability — and because I do not believe we can make lasting real radical change through violent means in this country.
Some day when I wake up, I hope to find an end to the systemic oppression and repression that unjustly locks up so many innocent people, while destroying and thwarting the dreams of so many others. Perhaps if we built our communities based on just agreements and real accountability, prisons would become obsolete.
Until we wake up in that world, let us remember that no one is free until we all are free. No day will be different until we make it so. Let us begin today.
Here is a link to a story about a long-time informant in New Zealand that also made the news in December 2008. It is uncanny how many similarities there are and lots of good lessons for us…http://indymedia.org.nz/newswire/display/76563/index.php
A great deal has been written about the case of the Texas 2 and can be found at www.freethetexas2.org
Many thanks to the following for their editorial support: James Clark, Lauren Ross, Ted German, Casey Pritchett, Scott Crow, and Missy Benavidez.
[Lisa Fithian has been organizing for 35 years — working with peace, labor, student/youth, immigrant and global, environmental and racial justice organizations and movements. Much of her work has been focused on using creative nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience in strategic campaigns. She is a member of the Alliance of Community Trainers, a small collective working to empower communities for collective transformation.
Lisa has worked with Common Ground Relief, the post-Katrina New Orleans collective; the new Students for a Democratic Society (SDS); United for Peace and Justice; and environmental groups like Save our Springs — and she helped Cindy Sheehan coordinate activities at Camp Casey. Check out Lisa’s websites: www.organizingforpower.org and www.trainersalliance.org.]
Previous Rag Blog articles on Brandon Darby and the Texas 2:
- James Retherford : Brandon Darby, The Texas 2, and the FBI’s Runaway Informants by James Retherford / The Rag Blog / May 26, 2009
- This Activist Life: Brandon Darby’s Egotistical Sexism in New Orleans by Victoria Welle / The Rag Blog / May 26, 2009
- Cop Nation : Snitch Brandon Darby, and Riot Police With the ‘Kent State’ Gene by Larry Ray / The Rag Blog / Jan. 8, 2009>
- Mariann Wizard on Brandon Darby : ‘To Live Outside the Law You Must Be Honest’ by Mariann Wizard / The Rag Blog / Jan. 7, 2008
- Brandon Darby : FBI Informant is Provocateur, Not a Hero by Austin Informant Working Group / The Rag Blog / Jan. 6, 2009
Go to the Support the Texas 2 website.
And listen to “Turncoat,” a story about Brandon Darby on Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life. [The Darby segment starts 13 minutes in.]
Also, read this remarkable piece of reporting: The Informant: Revolutionary to rat: The uneasy journey of Brandon Darby by Diana Welch / Austin Chronicle / Jan. 23, 2009
For more background on the history of informants in Texas, read The Spies of Texas by Thorne Dreyer / The Texas Observer / Nov. 17, 2006.
And see the entire “Hamilton Files” of former UT-Austin police chief Allen Hamilton that served as documentation for Dreyer’s story, here.
A great article. As one who empowered Brandon by working for him, I can say that I was, almost entirely, disillusioned and burnt out by his actions. I also found that the responses to Brandon were confusing, emotion laden and did not offer what seemed to be viable alternatives. When seeking help from the activist community, all too often I found enough people I knew well supporting Brandon and Malik and only people that I didn’t know asking me to oppose him. I wish I could have known, instead I feel like a fool and a failure.
It is worth saying that there were enough people at Common Ground and afterward that backed Brandon to give him power. After he left Common Ground seemed to go into a tailspin to which it has not quite recovered, and I don’t think the organization became stronger when he left. Nor do I think his departure helped out the neighborhoods around St. Marys or the 9th ward in general. The life at St Marys, while great and uplifting, did not seem to revolve around helping the community, nor did it seem to spawn innovative ideas on how to recover from a catastrophe. Neither before nor after Brandon. (speakin briefly from late winter ’06 to several months after Brandon’s departure)
The divisiveness around Brandon and in the activist community in New Orleans seemed to be deep and ineffective, and I’ve since moved on to more middle class pursuits such as homeownership and Neighborhood associations. Yet I hold to the idea that all people can be equal and all of the “isms” as they are so called can be dismantled. But I haven’t and can’t see it working in the same environments that allowed Brandon to thrive.
So much talk has been allocated to him, yet it seems so many people who worked with him continue to face temporal defeats, from the demolition of public housing to the failure of any progressive candidate to capture more than 3% of the vote to the ever closer razing of mid-city and higher education budget cuts.
Would it all have been better without Brandon? Maybe. I can’t believe that modern COINTELPRO is responsible for the state of disorganization of the activist community however. Rather Brandon and his ilk seem to be opportunistic infections that thrive in the compromised communities of activist life.
I spent an hour reading the posting and all of the links. Great job Lisa! One point I would like to take issue with. The list of dispicable behaviors attributed to this rat would not alert anyone that he was a pig spy. He was a bad person and should have been busted for that. To catch a spy takes a bit of background sleuthing. The spy (spies) now in the Austin and every other movement are not always discovered by their piggish behavior, they come in all shapes, sizes, and temperments. The spy in the early days of SCLC was the quietest guy in the meetings, he was the accountant, he spied on MLK and the others for 18 months and was only outted years later when the FBI files were revealed.
One spy in an organization usually doesn’t happen, the man wants corroberation of the info, so at least two spies are necessary. The day they recruited Brandon they started looking for his replacment.
As for the snitch-jacket, I had that pulled on me a couple of times and it is frustrating, but you know the one who hangs it on you is the snitch themselves. Before you trust, check them out, that’s why god gave us computers and the internet.
Writing experiences like this makes smarter activists for a stronger community that, hopefully, might help engender resistance to COINTELPRO-esque crap in the future… but really, it seems that your warnings simply underscore things we already believe; even if Darby hadn’t been an informant, his behavior should not have been tolerated.
keep aware of your own mental state, be ruthlessly skeptical of people in a position of power, and flaws in method become flaws in result- that’s what this sorry affair teaches me.
Lisa–Thank you so much for putting in the effort to tell this story, in hopes that we might all learn from it.
Thank you so much Lisa. To me, the biggest lesson from this fiasco that almost all groups need to learn: LISTEN TO WOMEN. In too many, men talk. They talk some more. And they don’t listen as much as they talk. Sometimes women don’t listen as much as they should either. But in every group there has to be a willingness to sit and listen – and then act.
Also, to Richard – as difficult as it can be, I think when someone is as destructive to an organization as Brandon, even if you don’t have evidence he’s a snitch, play it safe and make real efforts to address his behavior or kick him the fuck out…
Thanks for posting this Lisa. We need more and more detailed accounts like this so that we can not only be aware of erratic behavior of infiltrators and just plain nutty disruptors, but also so we can check our own oppressive behaviors as we move forward in building a stronger anti-authoritarian grassroots movement.
This is one of the most important pieces yet posted on The Rag Blog. It reinforces the importance of supporting this site with contributions of both money and content. Thanks to Lisa for her courage in exposing this story and to Thorne for having her on his excellent radio program. One thing though…..I don’t buy into the idea that any gender or sexual preference has a greater capacity for harmonious leadership in groups. Frankly, that’s ridiculous. If one made these comments about races or cultures, people would be up in arms! If you think the law doesn’t use women as informants you are very wrong. In many cases these informants are having affairs with both the targeted activist and the control agent. Yes, let’s speak out against bullying and controlling sexist behavior. But it’s naive to attribute it to just one sex.
Thank you for all of your work in documenting and analyzing what happened, Lisa. It’s hard for the rest of us to hear about, but I’m glad to hear the details anyway.
I agree with most everything you wrote here. What especially struck me was this line:
“people must make clear agreements about what kind of behavior is OK and not OK and then collectively hold each other to those agreements”
That is such a strong takeaway.
What happened with you has happened to many others, but it usually doesn’t get talked about enough, or at least, clearly enough. I’ve had some similar experiences over the years.
One group I was active with was infiltrated at least twice that we know of, first, by an informer who whose problems with drugs and mental illness made her vulnerable. She too engaged in many of the same ultra-militant behaviors, the gun culture, and, especially, the (costly) snitch-jacketing. The second person came forward to me personally, years later, to confess that she had been recruited by her girlfriend to join our group, this time at the behest an agent placed within the Forest Service (maybe the same person who was handling the other person), and that she had quickly come to see that her friend was unstable and that we were not engaged in the kinds of violent activities she’d been told we were involved in.
In other cases, more recent cases, our community has had to deal with serious problems that seem purely to stem from mental health issues, not from outside manipulation. But in two of these cases, both men this time, individuals who were off their meds, and who were not actively involved in the movement at that time – more on the margins – ended up attacking others: in one case trying to strangle me (I went and got a restraining order (sorry folks, I’m a lesser anarchist, I guess, but heck, I’m a lawyer these days . . . )), and in the other, stabbing an elderly man at a mailing party. In both cases, although alarms had already been raised in some quarters, most activists chose to be “tolerant” and not to confront the dangerous behaviors that were manifest.
That last incident – involving the stabbing – was extremely hard for everyone to deal with. The fellow who was attacked survived it, but died several years later; hard to know whether that was hastened by the stress. The person who did it was a good person, and an old friend of many people, including myself, who had gone far downhill in dealing with his long-term illness. Heartbreaking.
The lesson in this case, as with the others, is that it could have been much worse (see your experience), and that we should have, collectively, taken strong preventive action.
Postscript – I will say that I think for some of us the lesson was learned. When we started encountering problems of aggression (and more) with a new member of our group, several years later, a couple of us “old-timers” stepped up and laid down the law – our law – which was “clean yourself up and get it together and don’t come back unless and until you do.” It seems to have worked. So far.
thanks for the great article. i have reposted it to my blog Sketchy Thoughts (hope that’s ok)
Thanks, kersplebedeb. We always welcome reposting of our material, and don’t require permission. We just ask folks to include credit and a link.
We’re not into some kind of abstract possession of the content; getting the information out there is what’s important.
We also encourage other sites to include us in their links lists and/or to incorporate a Rag Blog feed.
All of this is good info but you have forgotten to mention that the health clinic withdrew material support from CGR while Brandon was in charge. We made this decision after presenting a list of things that we perceived as safety/ public health risks and solutions to these problems. Mainly these represented not letting some of the site coordinators do there jobs and having a genuine security system in place rather than a brute squad.
We were appalled very early with Brandon at the clinic and refused to play his games. We may be criticized for showing some sort of “lack of solidarity” with CGR at that time but at least we did not enable Brandon’s empire.
We could do this because we had created a space in the Health clinic where the type of poor behavior Brandon showed was simply not tolerated and anyone acting out was asked to leave.
While looking at lessons learned we need to remember that there was no real accountability process that CGR leadership could be held too and when organizers tried they were simply stonewalled until they gave up and left, or were forced out. Our errors were in not calling out just brandon but the whole of the organization that allowed it to continue at that time rather than permitting it cause the good intentions were still there.
my 2 cents
I was at Common Ground in March 2007, I wonder if he was still there. I think I remember him almost kicking me out for talking too loud at night. The sexism seemed palpable at that place. I feel badly now that I gave the organization $1,000. I hope that it wasn’t used for ill by Brandon et. all.
I didnt realize there was so much drama in the life of an anarchist. Kinda soap opera-esque.
There seems to be conflicing messages. If you aren’t doing or planning anyting violent or illegal, then there is nothing the informant will gain from their effort. You will have wasted the FBI’s time and that should make you smile. They will go away to find more productive pastures.
If you are planning something violent or illegal, then its comforting to know that the FBI is keeping tabs on it and you.
Us tea party types dont have to worry about the FBI or police infiltrating us. Some of them are members and attend our meetings, just like everyone else.
Apparently we dont have as much drama.
Lisa, Thanks. Now I know what to call it: “snitch-jacketed”.
The madness seems to be growing. Remember the cartoon spy vs spy?
Maybe there are some activists in the FBI.
A quick point. As in the case of Brandon Darby snitches are prone to lie, to impress their handlers or to settle personal scores.
A case: long ago in the city of Chicago during a manifestation called “A Festival of Life” an obvious biker type snitch “joined” a group of organizers, promoting himself as a “security guy,” just like Brandon, everyone was on to him so we just let him hang out, he did, and among other things got his picture taken with as many as he could. Later he appeared at a a now historical trial as a govenment witness, because he could show he was there and talking to some of the defendants his testimony (a pack of lies) was given some weight. In the end after the trial (cost millions) all the defendants were aquitted, but if we had just kicked the lying sack of shit out, could have saved a lot of time and trouble. You don’t have to be doing something “wrong” or illegal to become the victim of a government with an axe to grind. You tea-baggers will find out some time from now how many of those in your group are in fact either cops or scabs doing a job a union cop should be doing.
I remember Brandon Darby. It was so odd. I came to help out with CG in November 2006 when it was run by a few nice busy queer ladies, as you said. It was so positive and nice in the beginning and a lot was being done, a lot of gutting houses and cooking food. I left for a couple weeks in December and when I came back, Brandon Darby was in charge, lots of coordinators were asked to leave for no apparant reason. It was weird. It seemed like, with Brandon Darby there, we had to do these ridiculous night long security shifts. We were doing more security shifts than we were doing actual volunteer work! One night, Brandon called a volunteer meeting when one or two of the big college groups was there. He was definitely being charismatic and using his influence to get people to like him. I dont even remember what the meeting was about. I’ve also heard strange stories of Brandon and his violence when a young resident was threatening St. Mary’s. That’s when a lot of the security shifts increased and a lot of the actual volunteer work decreased. It’s also when he was violent and ran into said resident’s truck on purpose. He seemed very shifty. He didn’t want volunteers to know where he was living. My one actual encounter with Brandon Darby when I actually talked to him… we were sitting on a curb and he said something like “I know you are afraid of me and shy, you don’t have to be”. I didn’t really know how to respond to that and don’t remember what I said. I left in March of 2007 frustrated and confused. What a strange time. Anyway, thanks.
The message of the article was actually quite clear if you take the time to read it: where there was no violence, Brandon/the FBI worked to create it; where there was no conflict, Brandon/the FBI work to foment it; where there was honest and genuine work for justice, Brandon/the FBI strove to disrupt it.
The mixed messages seem to be coming from you. I thought the Tea Party movement wanted to protest the expansions and encroachments of federal power, not collaborate with the federal government’s most violent and repressive domestic arm. I thought privacy and liberty was your rallying cry, not inviting government snoops into your political organizing because “if you’re not doing anything wrong then you have nothing to hide” (which anyone who has ever whispered or shut their bedroom door knows is bullshit).
I think its a testament to the Tea Party’s misguided and ineffectual organizing that the Federal Government’s response is to join your groups, not repress them.
Please read up on COINTELPRO, and straighten out your politics before you come interject your drivel into our media outlets.
Thank you so much for this article. As you may have noticed I disappeared for a couple of years. I am starting to poke my head out of the hole a bit and hope to see you soon.
James Hill here. I am more than certain that you will read this blog so:
As you know we are brothers in addiction and bipolar disorder. I knew you were manic when we were planning on going to Lebanon but I had faith in you anyway. When the sexual harassment allegations came up I defended you. Funny some around CG routinely told others they thought I was a snitch. I think I know why.
I have been clean, medicated and on the way to health and clarity for 15 months. I now recognize that if I hadn’t cycled into some horrible depression in New Orleans, I could have wound up the subject of this whole sorry mess.
I, and I think you are not capable of being rational and caring individuals while in the midst of our diseases. We can behave that way, if it suits our purposes but usually we just hurt people. I have in the past turned to anything to smother the shame and guilt associated with my abhorrent behaviors. Usually alcohol and drugs did the trick temporarily but on many occasions a massive undeserved ego trip would do. I would violate ALL my core beliefs to get high from praise, power, sex, attention, validation, just as I would to get high from drugs and alcohol. In my experience the former can be more damaging than the latter.
My brother, what you have done is truly unconscionable as you were and may still be using, unmedicated and lost, and therefore incapable of finding your conscience.
Our shared illnesses are some of the most deadly. The mortality rate for bipolar disorder through suicide alone is 15-20%. Add addiction to the mix and it gets grimmer. Enough lives has been destroyed by this horror show already, don’t add yours to it.
I believe you, like I, have a lot of work to do before you can like what you see in the mirror again. Please start that work now. Maybe you will one day find yourself in a place where you can begin to make amends for this. The alternative is too horrible for me to contemplate. We are not entirely responsible for our actions when sick but we will and must be held accountable.
Thank you so much, Lisa for a job well done in documenting this whole mess. I can imagine the pain that it involved to take that look back and again I appreciate you for it!. We, as the progressive community, have to develop the atmosphere where we talk to each other, share information and learn from our work,positive and negative. As a member of Common Ground Relief, as a member in various leadership circles for 7-8 months in 2006,I attempted to work with you and others in fighting some of the negative trends that you so clearly described. Brandon was particularly effective in playing me as a elder mentor whom periodically, he would confess his sins (as it turned out his lesser sins) and promise, over and over again, that he was learning from his mistakes. Of course that all proved to be so much BS. It is dispiriting when we seem to make the same mistake over and over. As a young Black Panther and in a few too many groups since then, I have seen the Brandon type of agent provacateur, do his damage because we did not properly set standards for internal behavior and live up to them! As you well said and couple of others also commented, if we establish clear standards for democratic, caring and supportive behavior; we will root out those who for whatever reason, bring violence, domination and disruption into our midst. A good part of this requires us to also share information, talk to and listen to each other, even when we might find ourselves in different political “camps”. It is a shame that so many of us took so long to add up all of our different interactions with Brandon and gain a clearer picture of who this young man was and is. To you Lisa and to any others that I may not have supported as strongly as I should have, I apologize and especially to those of you who were driven from our movement because of the mistakes that were made. Incredible work was done at Common Ground Collective/Relief and I am proud to have been a small part of it, and to have been associated with so many incredible fighters for justice and peace. If I have learned anything from the forty years or more that I have been an activist; We stand with the people who are victimized, we do our work as best we can, we learn, we grow and we hopefully do a better job the next go round!!!
Thanks for writing this Lisa — I’m sure it wasn’t fun. I’ve added it to our blog… and want to float the suggestion that people/groups use FOIA and open records requests regularly to try to uncover informants and surveillance BEFORE they can do so much damage. (we have some resources on our website, but welcome suggestions). http://www.defendingdissent.org
Hey road, piss off. Get over your ego, I was invited and so far I havent pissed Thorne off enough to get booted.
We dont select the poeple that can participate in the tea parties, they simply start coming and stay if they like what they hear. Just in my little sphere in austin I know about attorneys, carpenters, stay at home moms, sales people, cops, firemen, the unemployed, and one heavily tattoed guy that seems to know a lot about progressive leaders and history. Hell we would even allow some of you guys to attend if you promised to keep your wise ass comments to yourself until after the meeting.
The point is, I dont give a crap what you think about the tea parties. We are focused like a laser on the fall elections to bring some fiscal and policy sanity back to the country.
I used to be worried about the political power of progressives. But my stint here has convinced me that you can barely get out of the way of your own egos and internal drama. You are not going to get much done on a national political level.
Great article. Your regrets and pain come through, and I’m sorry everyone was so betrayed.
Your list of alarming behaviors is good. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard of women bringing up issues, and specific men who are problematic, to just get ignored, or considered “whiners”–even by other women who want to “pal up” with men in power. The thing about the “charismatic leader” is very true as well.
There are some on the list that seem a bit too cautious, though, and as a leader in the movement, it is important to be careful with what you put out there.
Numbers 2, 6, 9, 10, 12 are not a problem on their own, and maybe aren’t a problem at all. It’s the fact that he was an informant. There are plenty of people in the movement that share these characteristics, and may need compassion and understanding rather being turned away. Could be the movement is still so fragile, it can’t take these folks on, but it’s better to know this from the beginning, than to have endless discussions of what’s OK and not OK. To me, that feels very dictorial as well, and a bit inhumane.
In retrospect, all of the behaviors together, show you something about how someone is able to create emotional attachment.
It is obvious Brandon was a predator, and he used various tools to gain trust because he knows what works. But tread lightly on shutting people out who hold some of the characteristics.
Dear James, Brandon’s “Brother”
Your comments above are the sorriest piece of unmitigated crap I have read in a while. People who were told that you were a snitch probably got it from your “brother.”
I’m surprised you would use this blog to try and communicate with that worthless piece of shit. First of all bi-polaritis is not a disease, like addiction it is simply a handy excuse for bad behavior. If there were any guilt or shame in his shameless actions you must blame it on bad character and/or poor upbringing. He is not shamed or feeling guilty now, you are just trying to make a simple minded excuse for a guy who can never be excused for what he did.
Snitches are snitches because they are scum. It’s nice of you to be concerned about him destroying his life, what about the two lives he destroyed that now sit in FedBop, not a word about them. Don’t worry about him not being able to look in the mirror, I’m sure he looks every morning and is pleased with what he sees. He is entirely responsible for his actions that sick crap don’t cut it with me, how is he going to make amends for the six years the two real brothers are doing.
History is full of rats, none of them tried to use the sicko excuse, it is not even a little bit inventive.
George Demmerly ratted out Sam Melville and sent him to his execution in D yard. David Greenglass ratted out his sister and sent her to the electric chair, when she was given a chance to be a rat she stood up and refused. David Kazinsky ratted out his brother and got him life. Bob Ford shot Jesse in the back.
None of these people ever tried the “I was sick” lame-ass excuse. Go back to your hole.
Don’t let people like Road get you down or cause you to react. I think he had aomething to say in there somewhere but it was garbled by his unwarranted vendetta against your comments.
I as always am glad for your comments. You are new to the organizing game and a little naive sometimes about the forces in play, but hell that’s no crime, and you will learn as you go along just like we did.
If it weren’t for you the comments would consist of mindless leftoid drivel, which I and some of my friends put in. Or worse yet liberalism, nothing more booring. It’s an anarchist blog, while that has been my position not everyone who comments here holds those beliefs.
Keep it comming, sometimes I learn a little something, when I can stop laughing that is.
Excellent Lisa, thanks for clearly writing, sharing, teaching and leading.
The funny thing is that I think anarchy and revolution will be the ultimate outcome in our country, regardless of whether you arrive there via the right or via the left. All paths converge in future state that is untenable. How anarchist-like is that 🙂
I don’t think that the future you see and the one I see are so different if we look 50 years down the road. Whether your a person disenfranchised by corporate greed, loss of job security and destruction of the planet, or by government corruption, spiraling debt and loss of liberties, eventually the bad taste will find its way into the cloudy consciousness of the middle class and they will look up and pay attention. Some crisis, likely financial, will serve as a catalyst to focus attention on how badly the average American is treated by both government and corporations.
Corporations and government are both addicted to the steady flow of money. When Americans refuse to be a pack mule for their company and refuse to be an ATM for their government, times will get interesting indeed. All of middle America will be an anarchist at that point.
anymore leads on the nyc work the fbi asked for?
we are winning!
You may be right, but here’s where I think our thinking differs. You talk a lot about the coming November elections, I think you want to replace those currently in power. I want to destroy that power, one start would be not to vote, it only encourages them, and it makes them think we want or like them. The put up two losers and then we get to make one of them a winner or at least make one of them think they are a winner, they are two losers neither of them could be a winner. See 2008 elections. Big day for T-baggers in Spotlight huh?
Please edit the link for Free the Texas 2 to read: http://www.freethetexas2.com
It now reads dot org and is not a clickable link.
That wasn’t exactly the problem, but the link is fixed. — .t
thank you lisa fithian, for taking the time to write out this account. I remember hearing about this awhile back and it’s always useful to get these kind of details so we can see how to deal with similar people in our midst.
I know not all of these types of snitches but we can do ourselves a great service by simply refusing to work with such disruptors.
The one problem with this situation I would like to see addressed is this. Do you tell other people that such a person is trouble or do you let them find out on their own?
How can one be both an anarchist and a “community organizer”? do you not see the contradiction in terms? These two scumbags are simply criminals. 4 years seems far too lenient and your enabling tone is vile.
Interesting read – Thank you Brandon for catching these criminals from assuredly harming our fellow man. Both in these two cases, as well as many others you may have prevented through your actions.
Sounds to me like your the one lying. Lisa, you want the system to collapse so badly, you don’t care who gets hurt. Don’t you understand your actions put people’s lives in danger?
You are naive to think that only the FBI infiltrates left groups. Or that only males serve as informants. The fact of the matter is that ever since the Fatherland Security Act was implemented, police and other law enforcement agencies around the country have had more and more money in their budgets with which to hire informants. These people are typically recruited from University criminal justice programs, and can consist of both male and female snitches.
They infiltrate Rightist groups as well. In fact, it is safe to say that in the modern American Police State, EVERYTHING is infiltrated! So, behave accordingly.
I first heard of Brandon Darby through the “Why Misogynists Make Great Informants” article.
I was raped and battered by a fellow activist. When I reported the crime, the local police were so encouraging and certain that the case was solid and they would lock him up. Then nothing happened.
The rapist started showing up at demos, supporting and leading groups he had privately professed to hate. Then he started being arrested again, but never held and never charged with anything more serious than trespass. All of this with federal warrants hanging over his head, and an increasing number of people realizing something was very wrong.
Eventually we found out through a contact in one of the gov’t agencies that this serial rapist, batterer and drug addict had cut a deal – act as an agent provocateur and informant in a series of radical groups, and stay out of prison.
We looked into his past and saw that he had been in prison in the past, but released very early. He had been raping and battering his whole life, but that’s when he started raping and battering activists.
There are people in the FBI who are perfectly willing and eager to set rapists and other misogynists loose on activist populations. They know that raping other activists, beating the crap out of them, then telling others that a whole series of women activists are liars, will severely disrupt a movement.
I’ve done my homework regarding this character and I don’t think he deserves any discussion, I’m not sure how he lives in his own skin? I think the conscious minds of our day should do what any civilized individual would do to a confused, wounded, and threatening cancer of a human being and simply wish him luck and carry on.
Respect for mis compañeras, Lauren and Lisa.
=Long Live Crawford Peace House & Camp Casey!=