Freedom of Information Act Does Not Apply to ‘Known Anarchists’

G20 Anarchists

Photo: Kashfi Halford (CC)

Site editor’s note: This post from D.J. Pangburn originally appeared on death + taxes.

Mo Karn, alias of a ‘known anarchist,’ filed a Freedom of Information Act requrest with the Richmond, Virginia police.  The department delivered the documents, now they want them back.

Karn (a member of Richmond Copwatch) and others filed under the Freedom of Information Act to learn police procedures during protests, so that they could better plan and coordinate their efforts in direct action.  According to Karn’s (she is a member of the anarchist collective The Wingnut), the group “wanted to get copies of the police protocols so we could know when the police are breaking their own rules.”

Perfectly legal, it would seem. We should all know when police are breaking their own rules or the law.

However, the documents weren’t merely standard police protocols but homeland security and crowd control guides.  Essentially a how-to manual on how to control protests. Wingnut published the police protocols on their website around Christmas.  Richmond Police then filed an emergency court order on January 4th to stop Karn and Wingnut from publishing the documents, but it was already too late: the documents had been downloaded and posted elsewhere on the internet.

Richmond Police Chief Bryan Norwood claims in the court documents that he did not give permission to Angela Harrison, Program Director at the Richmond Police Department, to release certain of the protocols (those dealing with police tactics in emergency situations). Norwood and the City of Richmond claim in the court order that the release of this information endangers his police force.

As citizens in a democracy, it could be argued that we have the right to know how the police conducts itself in emergency situations. History has shown that police do not always ‘protect and serve’ in legal ways. In protests, in fact, they are used as storm troopers and often initiate or escalate violence themselves. See the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999 (“The Battle in Seattle”), in which protesters who were sitting peacefully were hit with pepper spray.

But why was Karn served with the court order? According to the court documents, ”Defendant Mo Karn is a known and admitted anarchist.”

Even if Karn and the members of the Wingnut collective are anarchist by philosophy and action, as Americans they do have the right to file a FOIA and to have that request honored by authorities.

It’s highly unlikely that these documents will endanger the Richmond Police Department. Many of America’s police department’s tactics have been observed by protestors for years and exploited for counter-tactical or comical effect (check out Abbie Hoffman’s “Steal This Book”). Wingnut’s knowledge of police tactics during protests (or “emergency situations”) will only allow them to escape without taking a baton to the head or gas to the face.

And what of Norwood’s request for the return of the documents? It seems rather absurd. Karn actually put it best:

“Apparently they want their information back. I don’t think they understand the internet. You can’t really get that information back. We’ve got it, the internet has it, and hundreds of people have looked at it.”

Touche, Karn. Just the latest battle in the war for free information.

Every little act counts.

[Read More on death + taxes]

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  • Hadrian999

    this story makes me picture Det. Dan Stark

  • Hadrian999

    this story makes me picture Det. Dan Stark

  • Butter Knife

    There has been an ongoing political and legal battle against “anarchists” in this country for over 100 years. Glossing over the landmark Civil Liberty cases pretty much turns up the same two groups:anarchists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as the perennial victims of un-Constitutional and unlawful persecution. Obviously there are some other groups in the mix as well, but given what a tiny minority of the population actually identifies as either of those things they are stunningly over-represented.

  • Butter Knife

    There has been an ongoing political and legal battle against “anarchists” in this country for over 100 years. Glossing over the landmark Civil Liberty cases pretty much turns up the same two groups:anarchists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as the perennial victims of un-Constitutional and unlawful persecution. Obviously there are some other groups in the mix as well, but given what a tiny minority of the population actually identifies as either of those things they are stunningly over-represented.

  • 5by5

    This is stupid on two fronts.

    One, as an American citizen, they of course have the right to a FOIA request, and the notion of “giving the info back” afterwards is completely absurd, because you can’t unring that bell. It’s as stupid as the Bush Administration’s policy of going back and “re-classifying” (at considerable taxpayer expense) all those documents that had been de-classified in the preceding years following the fall of the Soviet Union. Once it’s out in the wild, it’s out. Suck it up.

    Two, what’s absurd about this “anarchy” nonsense is that having witnessed enough protests against globalization (I lived in downtown Seattle in 1999, so I seriously don’t need any lectures from some halfwit who wasn’t), the truth is half of those little black-hooded goobers are government agent provocateurs anyways, so it’s a bit like someone whining about how they can no longer be free from the spying they do on themselves.

    • Nothanks

      Living in Seattle, downtown or otherwise, during any era, cannot be made as an appeal to authority; ever. I do agree with your points however.

      • demagogue

        What exactly do you mean by that? If he lived in downtown Seattle during that time, he is definitely more of an authority with these matters than you are.

  • 5by5

    This is stupid on two fronts.

    One, as an American citizen, they of course have the right to a FOIA request, and the notion of “giving the info back” afterwards is completely absurd, because you can’t unring that bell. It’s as stupid as the Bush Administration’s policy of going back and “re-classifying” (at considerable taxpayer expense) all those documents that had been de-classified in the preceding years following the fall of the Soviet Union. Once it’s out in the wild, it’s out. Suck it up.

    Two, what’s absurd about this “anarchy” nonsense is that having witnessed enough protests against globalization (I lived in downtown Seattle in 1999, so I seriously don’t need any lectures from some halfwit who wasn’t), the truth is half of those little black-hooded goobers are government agent provocateurs anyways, so it’s a bit like someone whining about how they can no longer be free from the spying they do on themselves.

  • Nothanks

    Living in Seattle, downtown or otherwise, during any era, cannot be made as an appeal to authority; ever. I do agree with your points however.

  • http://twitter.com/ThePrissAnn Ælfgifu

    So an act, which is essentially a law in all but name, doesn’t apply to someone because of their political beliefs?

    Go ahead and set that precedent. I’d like most laws in this country to NOT apply to me, thank you very much.

  • http://twitter.com/ThePriss April Coble

    So an act, which is essentially a law in all but name, doesn’t apply to someone because of their political beliefs?

    Go ahead and set that precedent. I’d like most laws in this country to NOT apply to me, thank you very much.

  • Nostratic

    “Anarchist collective” is an oxymoron.

  • justin

    no, you’re a stupid prick. even the basic etymology of the word indicates specifically a lack of hierarchy, not a lack of organization. smug shitheads like you make me seriously question my faith in my fellow humans.

    I get it, i was 14 and thought i knew better than everyone else too, but the rest of us grew up and got over it. the fact is that anyone who has spent any time experiencing the real world, and the events and politics thereupon, knows much better than your narrow, self absorbed ass that absolutely NOTHING is as simple or as binary as you seem to believe, least of all a concept so abstract and broad-reaching in implication as anarchy and anarchism.

    in short, eat dicks. a whole bag of ‘em.

  • demagogue

    What exactly do you mean by that? If he lived in downtown Seattle during that time, he is definitely more of an authority with these matters than you are.

  • Neoadamsapple

    interesting .

  • Neoadamsapple

    interesting .