ACLU FOIA Documents Reveal Widespread Surveillance of Antiwar Movement in Grand Rapids

Nearly 400 pages of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the West Michigan ACLU reveal that the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) engaged in widespread surveillance of the antiwar movement from January of 2003 to at least October of 2004.

Nearly 400 pages of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the West Michigan ACLU reveal that the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) engaged in widespread surveillance of the antiwar movement from January of 2003 to at least October of 2004. During the height of antiwar activities in the winter of 2003, local activists documented several incidents of police surveillance, and in the winter of 2004, GRPD Chief Harry Dolan finally admitted that surveillance was taking place after an articled title “A Thousand J. Edgar Hoovers” appeared on the internet magazine

The documents consist of a variety of in internal memos, arrest reports, notes from undercover officers, printouts from web sites, and a host of other materials. Based on a review of the documents, the GRPD attempted to monitor groups such as the People’s Alliance for Justice and Change, Women in Black, the Institute for Global Education, the West Michigan Justice and Peace Coalition, Critical Mass, CRC Peacebuilders, and the Grand Rapids Republicrat (un)Welcoming Committee using a variety of means from subscribing to email lists, visiting activist websites, infiltrating meetings, and using video surveillance of protests.

The following documents are some of the more interesting ones handed over by the GRPD:

Undated Flyer for 01/29/2003 Bush Protest
A flyer announcing the protest planned for President George W. Bush’s January 29, 2003 visit to Grand Rapids.

01/27/2003 – Email Announcing Bush Protest on CRC Listserv

While antiwar activists believed that surveillance began after the protest on January 29, 2003, this email shows that the GRPD was monitoring the CRC Peacebuilders listserv before President Bush’s visit. A GRPD officer on the list forwarded it onto his superiors, describing it as “a little internet intel.”

01/29/2003 – Press Release from GRPD on Bush Protest

This press release, sent out by the GRPD, is the origin of many of the lies reported by the local corporate media in their coverage of the Bush protest. The press release describes a “large, unruly crowd” that “block[ed] streets in downtown Grand Rapids,” attempted to “overturn a commercial truck,” and tried to “attack police officers.” The press release outlines the arrests made during the day and the charges faced by the protestors, specifically highlighting the “10 year felony, $10,000 fine” some protestors faced for “inciting a riot.”

All charges were later reduced to misdemeanors after the West Michigan Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union offered free legal assistance to the arrested protestors. Other documents received in this FOIA reveal that the GRPD made extensive use of undercover agents to monitor the crowd and had these officers gather “intelligence” to identify and arrest “leaders” of the protest.

Undated Notes on 01/29/2003 Bush Protest
These notes contain general observations by the GRPD on how they the policing of the Bush visit could have gone smoother. The GRPD noted that at any point the “crowd could have broken through our tape lines and disrupted the motorcade” on Michigan Ave and that “heavy duty bike stand fencing” is needed in the future, and indeed has been deployed at subsequent visits. The notes also identify a need for chemical weapons to be deployed in an accessible location for officers, have vans for transporting arrestees, and a need for more cameras to monitor the crowd.

02/21/2003 – Email Regarding Permit for 01/29/2003 Bush Protest

This email shows that the GRPD investigated whether or not the City of Grand Rapids issued permits for the January 29, 2003 Bush Protest. The email also suggests that one local organizer was identified as being the primary organizer. This organizer mentioned in a variety of FOIA documents dating from January of 2003 to November of 2004 and was identified by the GRPD as a leader in the antiwar movement.

02/25/2003 – Memo Describing GRPD Internal Affairs Investigation of Bush Protest

This memo is a summary of a review conducted by the GRPD in which they determined that they acted appropriately in their response to the Bush protests. The summary was attached to a packet of information that included printouts of all articles on the Bush protest published on the Michigan Independent Media Center (the memo describes the Michigan IMC as “a conduit on the Internet for comments from those who participated in the march”), copies of articles published on the Direct Action! web site, arrest records, witness testimony, and notes from undercover officers that were in the crowd. The notes and arrest reports from GRPD officers make it clear that they were unprepared for the disruptive march and were initially unaware that the march intended to block major streets in downtown Grand Rapids. The memo also mentions that the GRPD made a copy of a video tape shot by a protestor who was arrested.

03/03/2003 – Memo Announcing Subpoena Filed for GRPD Records

On February 28, 2003, the GRPD was served with a subpoena and motion to compel discovery for police records pertaining to the Bush protest. The memo’s author believes that “we [the GRPD and City] should contest the release” of some of the information.

Undated Michigan State Police Daily Intelligence Briefing

Based on the events discussed in this Daily Intelligence Briefing, it was sent out during the week before the invasion of Iraq. The bulletin outlines plans for antiwar protests in Traverse City (organized by, in Lansing (organized by Direct Action!, and in Ann Arbor (organized by the Ann Arbor Committee for Peace and University of Michigan Anti-War Action). The bulletin states that “the intelligence unit will continue to monitor various sources for additional information” and asks recipients to “share any relevant information with our unit,” suggesting a coordinated approach by law enforcement agencies across the state.

Flyer Announcing Plans for Demonstrations at Start of the War

A flyer prepared by the Grand Rapids-based People’s Alliance for Justice and Change calling for multiple demonstrations and a “direct action planning meeting” in conjunction with the start of the war. The flyer was cited by the GRPD in other documents for its alleged call for “violent type demonstrations” and was used as justification for infiltrating a meeting at the Institute for Global Education (IGE) on the day the war started.

Undated Notes Discussing Plans for Start of the War

These notes show that the GRPD prepared for large-scale civil disobedience at the start of the invasion of Iraq. The notes mention that transport vans were secured, officers were trained to use pain compliance on “passive resisters,” and that the GRPD talked to military officials to get a “no trespass letter” for military facilities. The notes also show that the GRPD was coordinating plans with Grand Valley State University (GVSU) where demonstrations were expected and with the Lansing Police Department.

03/20/2003 – Email to City Workers Announcing Protests

An email that was sent to City of Grand Rapids employees mentioning that antiwar protests were scheduled for late that day near the City building and that they [the City] “are monitoring events closely.” The email mentions a temporary lockdown of the plaza level of the City building and was included in the FOIA along with a bulletin announcing an increase in the country’s terror alert. WOOD TV 8 ran a story on the night of March 20, 2003 reporting that the GRPD was able to “protect” the city from protestors, a story that was possibly inspired by the sense of fear conveyed by the GRPD.

03/20/2003 – Flyer Announcing Anti-War Rally at GVSU

Following the start of the war, student antiwar organizers at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) made plans for an emergency ant-war rally and posted flyers around the campus on the morning of the 20th. GVSU Public Safety faxed a copy of the flyer to the Grand Rapids Police Department.

03/20/2003 – Notes Announcing Officers Assigned to GVSU

After GVSU faxed a copy of an antiwar flyer to the GRPD, police officers were assigned to monitor the rally. At the start of the rally organizers realized that the police had been informed due to the presence of marked and unmarked police vehicles circling the Pew Campus. The notes mention that the protest can occur but that surveillance cameras on GVSU’s campus would be used to film the protest.

Undated Notes Describing GRPD Infiltration of Meeting at IGE

These notes describe the infiltration of a direct action planning meeting held on the first day of the invasion in Iraq at the Institute for Global Education (IGE). The officer mentions that he was assigned along with another officer (a third officer is referenced in other documents) to “gather any info possible regarding civil disorder” in response to a flyer “that eluded to more violent type demonstrations.” The officer mentions discussions of blocking roads and the fact that activists recognized that there were undercover officers in the room. Finally, the memo describes an unsuccessful attempt to infiltrate a second direct action planning meeting held a week later.

03/21/03 – City Memo Detailing Likely Antiwar Protest Charges

This memo details the three most likely violations of laws the GRPD would see at antiwar protests.

Undated Notes on a March 21, 2003 Demonstration

This memo identifies a person with Women In Black whom the GRPD determined had communications with Jeff Smith, a local organizer who is singled out repeatedly in the FOIA documents. The memo references a planned “crosswalk action” that was discussed at a meeting held at the IGE and infiltrated by undercover agents from the GRPD. According to the memo, the GRPD was attempting to enter a dialog with “protestors” to “discuss protests and each other’s expectations.”

03/26/03 – “Safety Risk” Memo on Undercover Officers

This memo shows the GRPD admitting that they placed undercover members of the GR Vice Unit in protests to monitor crowd activity to prevent “civil disorder.” The memo cites the fact that antiwar activists were aware of the police monitoring of protests and meetings and explains how the GRPD believed that one activist, who worked as an interpreter for the at the courthouse, was identifying undercover officers (she was not). It also contains confirmation of the officers talking to her and warning her not to identify and “endanger” officers by pointing them out to other protestors. This incident was the subject of an article on title “A Thousand J. Edgar Hoovers”.

03/27/03 – Email Regarding Volatile Pro-War Protestors

This email shows that a GRPD officer passed along information to others at the GRPD regarding Tomas Ojeda, a local “protest warrior” being armed and threatening protestors. While the officer says that the “information comes from the anti-war side so put appropriate weight on it,” he does mention that it is important to note for “safety reasons.”

04/03/03 – Memo Announcing Protests

This memo announces that there will be both a pro-war rally and an antiwar protest on Saturday, April 5, 2004. The memo outlines the officer assignments for the antiwar protest and justifies the small number of officers assigned due to the absence of information about “potential violence” at the protest. The memo also explains that the author will continue to monitor antiwar websites to gain more information.
04/07/03 – Memo Describing April 5 Rally
The memo describes how the GRPD felt that the event “went well” due to the presence of GRPD officers and the protestors’ deference to them.
Undated Flyer Announcing Planning Meetings for 2004 Visits by Bush and Kerry
A flyer that announces a planning meeting for protests outside a July 30, 2004 visit by President Bush and an August 2, 2004 appearance by John Kerry. As best local organizers can tell, no attempt was made by the GRPD to infiltrate the meeting.
07/28/04 – Critical Mass Web Site Print Out
This printout identifies the monthly Critical Mass bike ride as a potential problem for President George W. Bush’s July 30, 2004 visit to Grand Rapids. Critical Mass flyers and printouts from the Critical Mass website are found throughout the FOIA documents, spanning the time from March of 2003 to July of 2004. Apparently, the GRPD determined that Critical Mass would not be a threat as the ride was not harassed by the police.
07/28/04 – Michigan IMC Web Site Print Out
According to a note attached to this printout of a protest announcement posted by the Grand Rapids Republicrat (un)Welcoming Committee on the Michigan Independent Media Center web site, the GRPD officer assigned to find information on planned protests outside of President Bush’s July 2004 visit was unable to gather any intelligence of value from online postings.
07/29/04 – Michigan IMC Bush Demo Print Out
This document is a printout of an “organizing update” published by the Grand Rapids Republicrat (un)Welcoming Committee and posted on the Michigan IMC. Handwritten notes indicate that the GRPD took the call for “autonomous actions” seriously and contacted the Grand Rapids’ offices of Bush’s corporate donors and warned them of possible protests.
07/30/04 – Media Mouse Web Site Print Out
This printout shows that the GRPD was particularly concerned about public calls made by protest organizers to avoid the so-called “free speech zones” setup outside of President Bush’s campaign stops.
07/30/04 – WMJPC Web Site Print Out
The GRPD visited the West Michigan Justice and Peace Coalition (WMJPC) web site and printed out information regarding their plans for a “peaceful demonstration” in response to President Bush’s visit.
Undated – Flyer Announcing Bush Protest
A flyer announcing a protest outside of President Bush’s October 30, 2004 visit to Grand Rapids and a planning meeting for the protest.
11/02/04 – Notes on Bush Protest
This document consists of the GRPD’s notes on the protest outside of Bush’s visit to Grand Rapids on October 30, 2004. Based on the contents of the memo, they were watching a specific organizer and made a point to speak with him during the protest. There is no mention in the notes of the fact that multiple protestors were physically assaulted by Bush supporters when a small group of protestors stood outside of the DeVos Hall as the event was ending.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media //