Watching the Detectives 

Local Activists Figure Out How to Battle FBI's Spying

Last Wednesday evening about 20 activists gathered in a church basement in Northeast Portland. They had been brought together by a shared paranoia over the ever-lengthening reach of the FBI into local policing of so-called terrorists.

In late November, Portland's City Council hastily enacted two ordinances; the first allows the FBI access to local police files, while the second jumpstarted a Joint Terrorism Task Force, a collaborative effort between several FBI agents and a dozen Portland police to monitor local activists.

Fearing that these ordinances have placed their organizations, from animal rights to socialist groups, directly in the Task Force's crosshairs, the activists have gathered together in an effort to figure out how to best circle their wagons. Wednesday evening's meeting was intended to cement their solidarity. But what should have been a rousing roundtable of local activist lynchpins turned out to be about as dangerous as a Cub Scout meeting.

With 20 or so headstrong down-with-the-system activists trying to develop a functioning, coordinated organization, the meeting bogged down with logistical quandaries and vast ideological differences. Nearly two hours passed with meandering and oftentimes heated debate over remedial issues. By late evening, although the group had raised plenty of fears about FBI infiltration, they had yet to formalize even a first step towards dismantling the newly formed Task Force.

After fractious--if not needless--debate over whether to vote by majority or consensus, one member finally wrestled the issue to the table for a vote. "I want to second the motion," a surly woman, dressed head to toe in black declared. "Let's fucking vote," she added. "Right now!"

Eventually, one newcomer wandered in late. After about ten minutes, he became visibly agitated. When he finally spoke, he identified himself as Bob and urged the group to focus their attention on lobbying Mayor Vera Katz. Wearing a weathered jacket and two days of stubble on his face, he looked despondent, but spoke succinctly. The group needed to set specific goals and agendas instead of wasting time on worrying about being spied on, he explained. Bob then shrugged his shoulders and strolled back into the rainy evening.

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