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One Coyote, Three Anarchists and a Stool Pigeon

Still from the film, "Better This World"

Well, now it seems that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been attacked by one coyote and three “anarchists.” Quite the inspiring credentials for a presidential run, I’d say.

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Thursday linked the June, 2008 burning of the Texas Governor’s Mansion to an Austin “anarchist group” whose members included two young men convicted of making Molotov cocktails during the National Republican Convention in Minneapolis later that same year.

Maybe not-so-coincidentally, the DPS’s revelation comes a little less than a month before the March 12, South by Southwest Film Festival premiere of Better This World, a powerful new documentary about the two troubled Austin activists and the FBI informant who entrapped them.

Before going on, I want to make it clear that I condemn political violence of any sort, whether or not it has been encouraged by a government’s entrapping agents provocateurs. I am as repelled by ideologues on the left as I am by those on the right. You encounter them often in politics. They are not even fun to sit next to, much less work with. Closed minds make bad decisions and often discredit heroic efforts by the open-minded who happen to share some policy goals.

Discrediting, of course, is just what governments have done to anti-authoritarian movements throughout history, especially over the last 100-150 years or so. As Alex Butterworth details in his book, The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists, and Secret Agents, much of the violence pinned on “anarchists” was actually staged by government infiltrators.

As I noted here last week in “One Moment in the World’s Salvation,” I also regret the intentional deformation of the term anarchism, which was used by Russian Prince Peter Kropotkin, Leo Tolstoy, American philosopher William James and others to refer to a non-violent philosophy that placed the individual and community above hierarchy and authoritarian control. Today, anarchist means a violent enemy of the state. So it goes.

When I wrote the piece last week, however, I had no idea that Texas state troopers would just a few days later put anarchism back in the news. I hope they catch and convict the criminals who burned the Texas Governor’s Mansion. And I really hope an FBI informant or domestic spy didn’t put the arsonist or arsonists up to it.

When the mansion burned, it was being renovated. Gov. Perry and his family had already moved out of it and into a West Austin swankienda. It was near that home that Perry gunned down a coyote that crossed his jogging path. These days, coyotes get a rap almost as bad as anarchists. Bagging both species would make of Perry something like a domestic, great white hunter, I suppose, and embellish his presidential resume. Sarah Palin’s killing of a caribou seems pathetically wimpy by comparison.

A few points about the DPS statement. They don’t seem to be accusing either of the two men convicted of assembling firebombs in Minneapolis. The statement very carefully talks about “one of the men arrested in Minnesota.” Notice it does not say “one of the men convicted.” The Austin American-Statesman’s online headline, “Minnesota bomb plotters linked to mansion fire,” doesn’t fit the reporting.

In a follow-up story, the DPS is, once again, careful with its words, pointing to “an Austin-based anarchist group whose members were prosecuted…”

More telling, there was an FBI informer – Brandon Darby – in the midst of those the DPS connects to the Mansion fire. That’s pretty embarrassing. Darby is the informer who mentored and then fingered David McKay and Bradley Crowder, the two men convicted of making firebombs in Minnesota.

If what the DPS says is true, the FBI informer missed the burning of the Governor’s Mansion but helped entrap and bust the perps on fires that never happened. Crime prevention deserves praise, of course, but I’m just saying…

I also find it hard to believe that any members of this alleged “anarchist group” have been able to keep their secret about burning down the governor’s mansion. Clearly, the FBI has many individuals in mind for their virtual “anarchist group.” It appears that three of those fellows — McKay, Crowder and informant Darby — know nothing about it. Are we to believe that with two doing federal prison time, one actually working for the FBI and others under intense scrutiny, that none have yet spilled the beans?

What’s the point of all this? As Butterworth details in his book, the symbiotic relationship among secret police informers and their targets leads, in the end, to a great amount of stupidity on all sides. I suppose the cat-and-mouse game will be with us always.

I hope activists here and around the world will learn the lesson of Egypt. The Egyptians’ non-violent revolution is a model. People of great courage, discipline and commitment toppled a brutal regime, never taking the bait when assaulted by government police and overcoming the agents provocateurs in their midst.

Activist violence is morally deplorable and dependably ineffective. When the assembly of a me-against-the-world self-image triumphs over altruistic efforts at justice and freedom, the cause is lost. In the end, the authorities love that type because they are so easily undone.

Meanwhile, it won’t be long before Gov. Perry is on FoxNews telling viewers how he narrowly escaped an anarchist plot. The show goes on forever and the party never ends.

NOTE: While David McKay’s first trial ended in a mistrial because jurors were convinced he had been entrapped, McKay subsequently recanted the entrapment defense and pleaded guilty. Since Brandon Darby was McKay’s mentor and a government infiltrator in question, this means a court judgment found no entrapment by Darby.

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