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SWAT Team Raids Occupy Organizers’ Apartment in Seattle

Seattle police officer at Occupy Seattle action on May Day (photo: Dan Morrill)

Early in the morning, on July 10, a SWAT team from the Seattle police department raided an apartment where organizers from the Occupy movement have been living. A warrant shown to the four people that were sleeping in the apartment at the time indicated the police were looking for “anarchist materials” and the raid was part of an ongoing investigation into militant action that Occupy engaged in on May Day.

The organizers raided are also known to be members of the Red Spark Collective (or the Kasama Project). A press spokesperson for the Red Spark Collective, Liam Wright, told Firedoglake the Seattle Police Department used a “battering device” to knock down the door of the apartment. They went inside. Some kind of a “flash bang grenade” was thrown. Tactical rifles were drawn. They then proceeded to tear apart the apartment destroying a book shelf and tearing down a curtain. Every door they could find was opened. This went on for about an hour and a half before they left the apartment.

Phillip Neel lives in the apartment that was raided (in the topmost unit in the building). He was in the apartment when it was raided with three others (one who lives in the apartment). He told Firedoglake he woke up and thought fireworks were going off. He then heard calls from police over a loudspeaker. He was able to put on some clothes, get on his knees and put his hands behind his head before they got into his bedroom.

When the SWAT team came in his bedroom, Neel asked an officer if he had a warrant. A SWAT “grunt” told Neel a detective would be coming up to the apartment to show it to him. He asked if the SWAT team had broken down the door and if they had knocked first. Neel didn’t get a satisfactory answer.

He and others in the apartment were put in zipties. Police then swept the entire unit. They tore up his room. They went through the upstairs loft. They mostly went through clothes, books and paperwork because, as the warrant showed, they were interested in finding “black hoodies, face masks, goggles,” etc. They were also looking for weapons or incendiary devices but no weapons or incendiary devices were in the apartment.

The police seized property. They took a “zip-up hoodie,” which belonged to Neel’s girlfriend. They took one glove from an upstairs closet. They took a pair of sunglasses that can be worn over another pair of glasses. Fliers and a pamphlet that anyone could’ve picked up at any Occupy action were seized. The police also took a notepad that had his girlfriend’s handwritten notes, which she wrote when she was a Chase 5 defendant. (The Chase 5, who were accused of trespassing during a bank protest, won their case in March.)

One flier was taken, Neel said, because it had the word “anarchist” on it. Someone Neel said works with forensics also verbally noted the organizers in the apartment had pamphlets or materials on anarchists being targeted in FBI entrapment schemes but they were not seized by police. (Slog posted an even more detailed account from Neel on what happened.)

Also, Detective Wesley Friesen, who was previously pulled over by police for drunk driving in Snohomish County and threatened to kill two troopers in 2004 was present during the raid. (He only drew a 20-day suspension and was allowed to keep his job as one of Seattle’s finest.)

The police account of the raid is much more banal:

Early this morning, SWAT and detectives served a search warrant to a residence as part of the ongoing May Day investigation. Just before 6:00 am, detectives contacted four individuals inside the residence in the 1100 Block of 29th Avenue South. The search resulted in evidence that will be useful in the investigation. The detectives are continuing to work toward identifying suspects in the May Day riot. There may be more search warrants in the future. The four individuals contacted inside the residence this morning were cooperative with investigators and after being interviewed, were released from the scene. The May Day investigation continues. Anyone with information is asked to contact SPD’s May Day tip line at (206) 233-2666 or

It is doubtful that organizers would think the police were simply contacting individuals to further an investigation. A flash bang grenade was thrown and a door was broken down. Plus, people were were put in zip ties for over an hour.

Seattle police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been investigating organizers in Seattle since May Day because during actions that took place commerce was disrupted, windows were smashed and tires on vehicles were slashed. A police statement says they raided the apartment so they could get closer to “identifying suspects in the May Day riot.”

Nothing appeared to be found that would specifically tie the individuals to property damage that occurred downtown on May Day. They do not know if this means they will be arrested and charged with committing any crimes. They could be subject to further police action, which is why the organizers who were raided met with lawyers today to prepare for whatever authorities might do in the coming months.

This isn’t the first time that Occupy organizers have been targeted by law enforcement. In June, the Puget Sound Anarchists reported:

Over the past few weeks the FBI has contacted and spoken with at least two individuals who have been involved in Occupy Seattle. In both instances, the agents have threatened to take these individuals away from their loved ones. From what is known, these individuals were contacted because of the events surrounding the May 1st General Strike.

It is unknown what specific allegations and accusations the FBI is leveling against these individuals, but the standard tactic of the FBI is to exaggerate the seriousness and consequences of an offense in order to scare someone into cooperating with them or becoming an informant. We would like to remind everyone involved in Occupy Seattle that under no circumstances should anyone talk to the FBI. Anything that is said to them, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can potentially put someone else at risk. [emphasis not added]

Wright viewed what happened as being a part of ongoing and active suppression of radicals—anarchists and communists—within the Occupy movement. Authorities have been trying to “divide out the good activists from the bad activists.” For example, law enforcement infiltrated the Occupy movement in Cleveland and charged five individuals, all allegedly anarchists, with allegedly plotting to blow up a bridge on May Day. Law enforcement also charged five Occupy organizers—again, all allegedly anarchists—with plotting to commit terrorist acts of violence ahead of the NATO Summit in Chicago.

The Committee to Stop FBI Repression condemned the raid:

…In the United States today the forces of repression and reaction, ranging from the FBI to local police forces are trying to intimidate those who are standing up for peace, justice, equality and liberation. The examples are many, including the repression directed at Arabs and Muslims, the coordinated attacks on the occupy movement, and FBI raids on anti war and international solidarity activists.

We condemn this act of political repression and send our solidarity to all those who were targeted in this raid.

The Committee primarily consists of just over twenty antiwar and solidarity activists who were raided by the FBI in 2010 and face a federal grand jury investigation for allegedly providing “material support for terrorism.”

Neel said authorities are clearly trying to send a message to the Occupy movement in Seattle. He also notes that many of the organizers were just going through puberty when the September 11th attacks. Since then, a police state framework in society has slowly taken over (with the Patriot Act, Homeland Security, TSA, etc). Those in the apartment knew not to struggle. They are aware that this is just what police do to movement organizers in a post-9/11 world.

Furthermore, Wright concluded, as movements are ebbing this kind of repression starts to become much more obvious. This is when authorities “oftentimes go after organizers” when there aren’t “thousands of people in the streets that can act in reprisal to what the state is doing.”

These organizers have challenged austerity, corruption, politicians and capitalists who have robbed people around the globe, Wright added. Because they’ve engaged in this activity, he believes they can no longer feel safe in their own home. Seattle police will break down their door and engage in violent repression. And there really isn’t anything that can be done to stop them.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."