Remembering Occupy Wall Street: America’s Favorite ‘Terrorists’


It has been three years, more or less, since we last heard from the United States’ favorite domestic terrorist cell, the Occupy Wall Street movement. True, Occupiers have popped up here and there for various protests and Walmart has enabled online shoppers to preserve their fond memories of a tented Zucotti Park for $42.75, but for the most part Occupy lies dormant, its body-painted, tattooed, disgruntled and predominantly millennial insurgency smoldering like a chastened volcano.

“Terrorists?” you may balk. Surely not. Perhaps you prefer “freedom fighter?” Your federal government does not hold with such semantics. 

This is no exaggeration. The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund was able to obtain over one-hundred pages of FBI documents that labeled the Occupy movement as “domestic terrorists.” These documents were finally released, heavily redacted, after one Freedom of Information Act request and one year of struggle. That was in December 2012. 

Since then, Occupy has played a meager role in the public debate. In the words of Lee Stranahan, this is no problem, as “we now live in the post-Occupy era where radicalism is the new normal.”

Time has proven Stranahan wrong. In the recent mid-term elections, only 12 percent of the people who voted were under 30. As Jezebel news editor Erin Ryan pointed out, “the new U.S. Senate is 80 percent male and 94 percent white, with an average age of 62. Meanwhile, in Real America, the national median age is 36.8 years, 50.8 percent of the country is female, and 27.6 percent of the population is nonwhite. Representative democracy!”

The candidates also benefited from about $721 million in (reported) campaign funding from fossil fuel interests, including nearly $300 million from the Koch brothers’ network alone. As two of the richest men on the planet, the Kochs epitomize the one percent. They also plan to spend nearly $1 billion in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

This unprecedented spending is indeed radical, but this is not the “new normal” Stranahan had in mind. “The real triumph of Occupy Wall Street is both invisible and omnipresent,” he wrote in September 2013. The scale has shifted decidedly towards the former.

Occupy Spread, Then Was Flattened

The Occupy movement began in Liberty Square on September 17, 2011, in Manhattan’s Financial District. By October it had spread to 1,500 cities across the world. It took root in Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle; in Ashland and Ketchum; in Irvine, in Mexico City, Athens, Berlin, Seoul, Johannesburg, Sydney and Ottawa. Throw a rock and you’d hit an activist. 

Eventually, the police discovered that was the best way to deal with the problem.

There is a reason these terrorists are no longer obstructing commerce in your local financial district. Occupy Wall Street exposed a flaw in the American system, a system allegedly designed for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses “yearning to breathe free.” The flaw has been fixed, thanks to your friendly neighborhood Bureau of Investigation, your Homeland Security, your police informants and your infiltrators and your private sector, all operating under the umbrella of the Domestic Security Alliance Council. 

The flaw was the First Amendment. Thanks to the DSAC, America is all better now.

Enter the DSAC

While acknowledging Occupy Wall Street’s pacifist rhetoric, the FBI initiated a system of surveillance and infiltration, gathering intelligence that they then shared with Homeland Security, local police and the private security forces of Manhattan’s major corporations. When Occupy went national, counter-terrorism forces were readied in cities large and small. The contradiction between what the FBI observed in the Occupy movement and the actions it chose to take is evident in the documents delivered to the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. 

Speaking on Democracy Now!, Mara-Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PCJF, clarifies the dichotomy:

“Now, throughout the documents, they’re using their counterterrorism resources and counterterrorism authorities, they are defining the movement as domestic terrorism and potentially criminal in nature. But the fact is, they also throughout the documents say that they know that this is a peaceful movement, that it is organized on a basis of nonviolence. And by that logic, of course, you can investigate everyone in every activity in the United States on the grounds that someone might do something sometime.”

References are made to the “high level of unemployment” causing widespread agitation, revealing that the authorities were well aware of Occupy’s motivating factor. It was enough motivation for the government to hand the reins of military operations to the Domestic Security Alliance Council. 

According to a DSAC brochure, its mission statement is to “enhance security for American businesses.” Further:

“The Domestic Security Alliance Council (DSAC) gives American businesses a valuable opportunity to enhance protection of their assets, employees, and proprietary information through a definitive security communications network. A strategic partnership between the U.S. private sector and the FBI, DSAC promotes the exchange of timely information to help prevent, detect and investigate matters affecting American businesses more effectively than ever before.”

With such a formidable force on its side, it’s hard to believe Occupy’s terrorists ever stood a chance.

Joseph Petro, the Managing Director of Citigroup Security and Investigations, said it best: “DSAC is more than information sharing. It is mission sharing.” Airlines, retailers and food and beverage corporations all breathed much easier knowing that the DSAC shared their mission to enjoy uninterrupted commerce.

That mission was shared by UC Davis Police Lieutenant John Pike

It was shared by the 1,400 officers that destroyed Occupy LA.

It was shared by the riot police that put down Occupy’s “violent splinter group” in Oakland, California.

All across America, Americans were protecting Americans from our beloved American terrorists: Their children, their teachers, their dispossessed and their disenfranchised, “the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Preventing Another Occupy with NCTC and the TIDE

The National Security Agency has gotten some flak for simply doing its job (collecting the phone records of 300 million Americans, exploiting software liabilities and rerouting hardware deliveries to civilians to implant spyware). This can all be done in the name of National Security for persons suspected of potential terrorist links. 

The National CounterTerrorism Center, or NCTC, has a similar job. Unlike the NSA, the NCTC is actually not part of the 16-element Intelligence Community (composed of such distinguished acronyms as the FBI, the CIA, the DEA and the OICI) but one of six centers serving the the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or ODNI. 

Following an update to its rules in 2012 (about four months after Occupy), the NCTC is now able to pull government files on any United States citizen, regardless of their past criminal or terrorist associations. Once upon a time the NCTC required probable cause for its searches but now data on innocent Americans can be retained for five years and data “reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information” can be held forever. This database of U.S. civilians can also be shared with foreign governments. 

If you’re familiar with the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, this may seem illegal for individuals that haven’t committed a crime. But as the Wall Street Journal points out, search and seizure of persons, houses, papers and effects “doesn’t cover records the government creates in the normal course of business with citizens.”

Citizens, how often do you do business with your government? 

The NCTC’s Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) is used by the FBI to create terrorist watchlists and is comprised of about 500,000 names affiliated with terrorists – from the closest to the most tenuous.

This vast intelligence network was put to use in August of 2011, before the first Occupier had even Occupied. As Paul Bresson, spokesman for the FBI, stated, “It is law enforcement’s duty to use all lawful tools to protect their communities.” 

Which community bears explanation. The private community was well protected. The public community…well, they were the terrorists, after all.

Stay Home

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

– First Amendment, United States Constitution

In her paper, “Changing the World: An Introduction to Social Movements,” Professor Abigail Fuller explains that a movement’s success is greatly influenced when powerful allies support it, whereas “repression,” when used at the beginning or end of a protest cycle, “inhibits protest.” Repression can only spur the movement when used in the middle of its cycle, a key factor in Occupy Wall Street’s downfall. Occupy movements were allowed to languish in parks and public places for weeks with little police action beyond corralling and supervision. 

A month into the Occupy protests, President Barack Obama said, “I think people are frustrated.” Though he sympathized with the Occupiers, he preferred that America focus on the real answer: tougher consumer protection measures. The man who came to office under the banner of change was the powerful ally Occupy never had. 

Fuller states that, “Just as the political environment influences whether a social movement emerges in the first place, it also influences its chances of success.” Occupy rose up when inequality and the economy were unbearable, when change was needed and reform impossible from within a somnolent government. It toppled under the weight of its own ignorance, unknowingly supported by the fragile pillar of how much we don’t know about our own protectors. 

Remembering the failure of Occupy, we would all do well to stay home. Who knows which of us will become America’s next favorite terrorist.

A version of this post originally appeared at Nation of Change.