On a warm May night in 2011, a group of local activists gathered in front of a vegan restaurant during First Friday to discuss upcoming Occupy Phoenix plans, unaware that an undercover cop may have sat in their midst.
A report released this month by Center for Media and Democracy, a non-profit reporting group focusing on exposing corporate spin in government, and DBA Press, an online news publication focusing on private and public sector corruption, reveals this detail and others, causing a stir among community members.
After a year-long investigation, the report “Dissent or Terror: How the Nation’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, in Partnership with Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street,” written by Beau Hodai, details Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center, or Arizona Fusion Center, and police actions during Occupy Phoenix.
The Fusion Center consists of 25 state and 16 federal agencies focused on “counter-terrorism” and “all-hazards” resources and information sharing, according to the report.
But one of the most dissident aspects of the report among downtown residents is the use of social media surveillance, undercover cops and an email sent to police by Cindy Dach, MADE art boutique owner, Changing Hands Bookstore owner and co-founder of Roosevelt Row CDC.
The email alerted police of an Occupy Phoenix meeting at Conspire, a former vegan cafe and art space, according to the report. The email was sent with the intent of maintaining security during First Fridays on Roosevelt Row, Dach said.
“In 2011, there was a lot of public safety issues on First Fridays,” Dach said. “We wanted to ensure an event that reflected the great arts community in Phoenix and that was also a safe event for attendees of all ages.”
After discovering Dach’s involvement, many wrote on Changing Hands Bookstore’s Facebook wall or commented on various posts that contained a link to the report.
Robert Diehl, a 59-year-old retiree, described people’s posts and comments as a “feeding frenzy.”
Media contact for Occupy Phoenix Diane D’Angelo said Changing Hands Bookstore had a reputation for being reasonable and supporting counter culture.
“People were really freaked out that it was somebody they knew from the community,” D’Angelo said.
After reading the report, Dach said she was surprised by how the police used her email. She then wrote an apology on Facebook.
“I am truly sorry. It was never my intention to provide an intelligence-gathering tip to local police, or attempt to disrupt free speech,” according to part of the post.
“I have been involved in community development all my life and now I realize that sometimes one set of intentions can be used for other purposes,” Dach said in an interview.
Many have responded favorably to the apology, according to both Dach and D’Angelo. Some have deleted their initial posts, Dach said.
When she first learned of the email, D’Angelo said she and others felt betrayed.
“I was already upset because another friend of mine, who was a police officer, I found out, was using our relationship to report on me. I had been sitting on that news for about 6 months. It’s really devastating to find that stuff out,” D’Angelo said.
Undercover officer attended Occupy Phoenix meetings like Saul DeLara who “presented himself to activists as a homeless Mexican national,” according to the report. Previous Occupy Phoenix organizer Joya Scott said the use of undercover police is alarming.
“People now are looking around the room at a meeting when they want to talk about something going on in their community and wondering, ‘Is somebody here an undercover cop? Is somebody going to be pretending to be someone they’re not, gathering information to hold in a file somewhere?” Scott said.
On a Facebook event page Community Forum to Discuss Repression in Phoenix, which was spurred by the report, individuals expressed concern about ACTIC Terrorism All-Hazards Analyst Brenda Dowhan, who gathered information on Occupy Phoenix activists through social media sites, according to the report.
Dubbed by the report as “Brenda the Facebook Queen,” Dowhan received logs with “social security numbers, physical descriptions, driver’s license/state identification numbers and home addresses of citizens who had been given ‘warnings’ in relation to Occupy Phoenix activity,” according to the report.
D’Angelo, formerly a chair of Phoenix Human Relations Commission and a part of the city manager’s task force to improve relations between the police and community, said she was upset that the government investigated her and other activists.
“Why is it okay with Greg Stanton and City of Phoenix PD to be using anti-terrorism tactics on its own citizens, including myself?” D’Angelo said.
Valley Anarchist Circle created the community forum event, which will take place Monday and will discuss working with the police, future solidarity, infiltration and collaboration, after the “revelations” from the report, according to the Facebook page.
“Dozens of activists, organizers and friends met up and decided to call for this forum,” the event page says.
The event will be at the ARTS Market lot near Roosevelt and Fifth streets. The event page invites Occupy Phoenix and pro-immigration activists and arts community members.
But it adds, “If you are a cop or an undercover cop, you are not a part of this community and you are not welcome.”
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Clarification: May 25, 2013
This article has been changed to clarify that the undercover police officer attended meetings prior to Cindy Dach’s email. It’s also not certain if the officer attended the May meeting.