While Republican delegates are whooping it up inside St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, federal and local law-enforcement officials have been battling a shadowy neo-anarchist group that was allegedly plotting to disrupt the convention by kidnapping delegates, hurling Molotov cocktails and committing other acts of "guerrilla warfare," according to police and other law-enforcement documents. (Article continued below...)
More than 300 anti-convention protestors have been arrested in St. Paul this week. While many have since been released, 16 have been charged with felonies that include "conspiracy to commit riot ... in the furtherance of terrorism," as the official violation reads.
Among those charged are the accused ringleaders of a group calling itself the Republican National Committee Welcoming Committee (RNCWC)—an obscure outfit that organized two major conferences over the past year at which hundreds of activists plotted how to "shut down" the GOP convention through acts of violence, according to a criminal complaint filed this week in Ramsey County, Minn., against eight members of the group.
"It appears they are fairly organized," said Ed Dickson, the FBI counterterrorism official who oversees domestic terror investigations. He added that the FBI was "looking at this group" as well as other domestic organizations that might be planning violent activity "during the campaign season."
The FBI has played down its own role in investigating groups like the RNCWC, at least compared to the way the bureau publicizes its probes of Islamic terror groups. The FBI did, however, announce Wednesday that it had arrested a 23-year-old Michigan man on charges that he was assembling Molotov cocktails as part of a plot to "blow up" the GOP convention by entering the Xcel Center through underground tunnels. The man, identified as Matthew Bradley DePalma, had allegedly revealed his plans to a confidential informant at a "CrimethInc. Convergence" meeting in Waldo, Wis., this summer that was attended by RNCWC members. His lawyer had no comment.
Still, documents released this week show that federal and local law-enforcement officials have infiltrated the RNCWC and closely observed its activities for more than a year as the group's members allegedly plotted what appeared to be well-laid-out plans to foment riots and disrupt the Republican convention. It is still unclear how serious the group was about some of the alleged plans—such as the supposed talk of kidnapping delegates. But the police charges and accompanying documents released by local law-enforcement officials this week suggest the group's plans were at least as elaborate as some of the so-called "homegrown" (and often half-baked) Islamic terror plots that have been cited by top Justice Department officials as serious threats to national security.
On its Web site, the RNCWC identifies itself as an "anarchist/anti-authoritarian organizing body" fighting "the rapid growth of racist militarized borders across stolen lands" as well as "police brutality and [the] prison industry," among other leftist causes. (One anonymous missive was signed "from the occupied territories of Minnesota.")
According to the complaint filed (against the eight arrested members of the group) on Wednesday, the RNCWC held more than 100 meetings over the past year, including two major conferences that were attended by as many as 200 anarchists from throughout the country. The group appears to have been fairly open about some of its activities. Last February, according to the complaint, one of its members released a YouTube video of buildings and hotels in downtown St. Paul with the song "Five Million Ways to Kill a CEO" playing in the background.
In addition, the group organized an "action camp" in Geneva, Minn., this summer where its members erected a stage labeled the "Xcel Center" and then practiced throwing mock Molotov cocktails at it, according to the complaint. "A simulated delegate vehicle was targeted by throwing rocks, slashing tires, and attempting to overturn the vehicle," the complaint states. Discussions at the "action camp" included plans to block bridges, slash tires and using "large puppets to conceal and transport materials such as Molotov cocktails" as well as bricks and caltrops—described as "a device with nails or other sharp objects protruding from it used to disable vehicles."
Local law enforcement kept members of the group under watch as they arrived in St. Paul and rented apartments. Last weekend, on the eve of the convention, local sheriff's deputies raided the residences and arrested some of the RNCWC members. Still, the first night of the convention was unusually tense, as hundreds of protestors flooded the streets around the Xcel Center. Some of the protestors wore black masks and hurled rocks at police cars, officials say. "It was scary," said Susan Gaertner, the Ramsey County Attorney who is prosecuting the accused RNCWC members. (During the police response, three journalists—Amy Goodman, the host of the popular liberal talk-radio show "Democracy Now," and two of her producers—were arrested covering the event. Goodman, who was later released, said she was handcuffed and locked up by police despite repeatedly trying to display her press tags and shouting, "I'm a reporter.")
On its Web site after the arrests, the RNCWC denounced the law-enforcement officials for "entrapment" of its members. One member—listed as its press contact who would identify himself only as "Andy"—said the group was merely trying to provide "logistical support" for those who wanted to come to St. Paul to oppose "Bush-McCain policies." Asked about the charges that members were plotting violence, he responded: "They're just saying this as a reason to crack down on dissent."