FBI agents come calling on Lawrence anarchists
Investigators fear violent disruption of Democratic convention
FBI officials Friday went door-to-door in Lawrence and neighboring cities trying to find and interview members of a local anarchist group.
Members of the group said they thought agents were trying to find out if they knew of any plans to disrupt the Democratic National Convention next week in Boston. According to national news reports, FBI officials said Friday they had “unconfirmed information” that a domestic group planned to violently disrupt the convention by targeting media vehicles with explosives or incendiary devices.
Citing unidentified sources, ABC News reported Friday the group whose statements triggered the warning was “made up of college-age members based in the Midwest.”
Members of the Lawrence anarchist group say that, as far as they know, no one from their group is planning to go to the convention. They accused law enforcement agents of “scare tactics” and said they felt they were being harassed.
“I think they’re exploiting people’s fear about terrorism as much as possible so as to neutralize opposition,” said Scott Pinkelman, 20, who said agents paid a Friday morning visit to his parents’ home in Shawnee and called his father at work.
Pinkelman and about a dozen friends spent all day at the Lawrence anarchist headquarters near 14th and Massachusetts streets, a building with red signs outside that say “Solidarity — Revolutionary Center & Radical Library.” Group members smoked cigarettes, ate bagels, talked on cell phones and clutched hand-held cameras to use for documentation in case agents arrived.
“Unfortunately, we are kind of scared,” said group member Vanessa Hays.
Hays said FBI agents went Friday morning to her mother’s home in Topeka asking for her and saying she might know someone who was planning a violent act. Hays said she thought such visits were an attempt to put pressure on protesters by getting family members involved.
“I’m in the phone book,” Hays said. “If they wanted to find me, they could find me very easily.”
Jeff Lanza, an FBI spokesman in Kansas City, Mo., confirmed agents were in the area “to conduct interviews pursuant to a federal investigation,” but wouldn’t elaborate. He said agents typically tried to contact family members if they were having difficulty finding someone.
As of Friday afternoon, Lanza said, no one had been arrested in Kansas and no search warrants had been served as part of the investigation. Anarchist group members said they learned Thursday that two people they knew in Denver had been arrested, but Lanza said he couldn’t confirm that.
Some of the anarchists said they feared their headquarters would be raided. Lanza said that wouldn’t happen unless investigators had probable cause and a warrant signed by a judge.
Group members said they contacted a local attorney, Richard Frydman, who agreed to represent them if need be.
Neighbors of one of the anarchist group members said that on Friday they saw two different sets of plainclothes officers come to the neighbor’s door in the 1600 block of Tennessee Street. The second group of agents asked if they’d seen the neighbor lately and asked where she worked.
The agents left behind a note on the woman’s dry-erase board with a phone number and the message, “Please Contact FBI Wichita Office.”
“It’s creepy,” said one of the neighbors, Leslie Witherspoon, who said she sympathized with anarchist views. “It’s a little too Big Brother for Lawrence, Kansas.”
In the past year, anarchists here have protested various issues, including the Iraqi war, a $500-a-plate dinner at the Dole Institute of Politics dedication and the length of the prison sentence given to an Oregon man convicted of setting fire to SUVs.
Members of the group said they thought they were being painted as terrorists even though they were philosophically opposed to violence.
“It’s a crime when it’s nongovernmental, but it’s a war when it is,” said David Strano, one of the group members.