1.7.21, 10:22 am: This story has been updated to include previously reported information and records indicating that a local self-described militia group had notified local law enforcement they would provide security at a protest against police brutality in June 2020.
Reporting published by The Guardian in late August documented new details about unsubstantiated social media rumors of “antifa buses” that led Northern California law enforcement to launch vehicle and aerial surveillance, just prior to a Redding protest against police brutality on June 2, 2020. Documents also indicate how that information was used to warn other Northern Californian jurisdictions and agencies of “antifa buses” despite no credible reports of danger. At that time, just a few days after the murder of George Floyd, threats of “antifa” were active across social media but were already being identified as misinformation.
A CHP spokeswoman confirmed for The Guardian earlier this year that an air unit had conducted a short, 12-minute aerial search based on two social media posts. She said CHP was unable to locate any antifa buses, and added that no specific individuals were surveilled, contacted, or apprehended, and no threat was identified. In response to a request for additional comment Thursday, Cal Robertson, a Public Information Officer for CHP’s Northern Division, told Shasta Scout that previous statements made to The Guardian still serve as the department’s response.
For some, the “antifa bus” story and the law enforcement documents that revealed it, raise questions about bias in policing and whether local law enforcement is appropriately training staff to evaluate disinformation on the internet.
Ted Couch, co-chair of the Shasta Equal Justice Coalition (SEJC) says that on June 2, 2020, members of SEJC were among others who attended peaceful Redding protests against police brutality, heard stories of rumored “antifa” buses, and witnessed the presence of local militia in tactical gear. The story by The Guardian, Couch wrote in an email to Shasta Scout, “provides a clear example of how bias affects equal and effective administration of justice in our region.”
SEJC is a network of individuals and organizations that came together after the death of George Floyd in response to concerns about barriers to equal justice. Couch says while local bias clearly exists it’s important to remember that these biases “are not unique to the North State, and exist throughout our country.” That’s why SEJC “supports strong reforms that help get to the root causes of inequities, including biases, disinformation, and the perpetuation of negative stereotypes,” Couch says.
New Document Reveals More About Law Enforcement Response to a June 2 Redding Protest
On June 2, 2020, the same day CHP activated air surveillance to search for rumored antifa buses, local organizers cancelled a planned protest against police brutality after being advised to do so by the Redding Police Department who who were apparently unable to provide needed security for the event due a law enforcement shooting in nearby Cottonwood.
But shortly after 6 pm, hundreds of protesters against police brutality gathered anyway, assembling in front of the Shasta County courthouse. The protests also drew dozens of individuals in camouflage, some of whom said they had been asked to attend by law enforcement to prevent violence and property destruction. Police have previously denied this claim as reported by other regional media, although they did not respond to Shasta Scout’s request for comment. Previous records requests by the Record Searchlight indicate that local law enforcement was informed by militia members that they planned to be the Redding protest event to provide security. CHP documents show law enforcement was also aware that individuals with similar goals and dress had recently shown up to Oregon protests against police brutality with the stated intent of deterring “antifa” violence.
After several hours of protest, as darkness fell on June 2, police closed roads surrounding the courthouse event. Soon after, individuals in camouflage who had moved into the protest crowd from where they had been staging nearby, appeared to begin pushing protesters towards a line of police in riot gear several blocks away.
CHP documentation provided by Property of the People.
It’s not clear why law enforcement responded in riot gear to end a peaceful protest. But a CHP situation report from earlier the same day indicates the Redding Police Department planned to utilize a “full contingency” to “mitigate” any groups which chose to hold a protest “and/or commit civil unrest.” The Redding Police Department has not responded to several previous requests for comment on what these terms mean and the reasons for their tactical decisions that night.
Why Did a National Nonprofit Request Local Law Enforcement Documents?
Follow up on The Guardian’s reporting by Shasta Scout revealed the “antifa bus” story emerged as part of a nation-wide search for clues about what led a group of armed insurrectionists to attack the Capitol Building while the presidential vote was being certified inside.
Ryan Shapiro, Executive Director of Property of the People, the Washington D.C. based non-profit that provided the “antifa bus” documents to The Guardian, says they came to light as part of a larger series of requests that were initiated in early 2021 when the organization began focusing on what they called the January 6 Project.
The organization submitted requests for law enforcement documents across the country, he says, in an effort to understand why the FBI, Capitol police and other law enforcement agencies did not appear prepared for the attack on the nation’s Capitol. “We knew it would be difficult to get federal intelligence and related records about the run-up to and the events of January 6,” Shapiro says, “but we also knew that it was critical that we succeed.”
What Those Documents Reveal About January 6, 2021
In an update on the January 6 project provided to Shasta Scout via email, Shapiro wrote that Property of the People has “successfully liberated numerous key documents” related to the events of January 6, 2021, and “continues to work aggressively towards liberating more.” Why the events of that day were “allowed to happen,” Shapiro says, is still an unanswered question. But he says some things are increasingly clear.
“January 6 wasn’t an intelligence failure,” Shapiro continued, ”It was a political failure by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement.” He sees this as part of a larger pattern of law enforcement and U.S. intelligence behavior which, he argues, has frequently “targeted even mild leftist dissent as terrorism, while simultaneously ignoring and even assisting genuinely violent actors on the far-right.”
Historically, much of Property of the People’s work has revolved around the exposing of government surveillance and the policing of dissent. Using public records requests under the Freedom of Information Act or “FOIA,” the organization has sought, obtained, and released key documents about national and international stories including CIA torture, government collusion with large agricultural industries, and U.S. intelligence agency efforts to surveil Nelson Mandela.
Shapiro uses innovative methods and, when necessary, litigation, to successfully obtain public documents and argues that “information activism” is a key component in addressing discriminatory law enforcement practices. In the case of the “antifa bus”, Shapiro’s organization was able to obtain documents previously refused to Northern California journalists. Those refusals were based on the claim that the documents (social media posts) were “intelligence information” and were therefore exempt from California’s Public Records Act. Shapiro calls such attempts at secrecy “a cancer on the body of democracy.”
“If the people don’t know what’s happening,” he says, “how can they fight back?”
You can review public documents that led to reporting about rumored “antifa buses” here.
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