FDL Movie Night: Informant
Informant follows the engrossing and disturbing story of Brandon Darby, the handsome, impassioned radical activist turned FBI informant and Tea Party hero whose work with the FBI led to one man’s death in Austin, Texas, and the trial and imprisonment of two anarchists during the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Our guest tonight, Director Jamie Meltzer, has crafted a taut tale with re-enactments that break the fourth wall, conflicting accounts of key incidents, and an unreliable, perhaps confabulist, narrator.
Involved in Austin’s radical left scene, Darby earned his stripes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when he and fellow activist Scott Crow drove to New Orleans to find their friend and fellow activist Robert King Wilkerson, a former Black Panther. A standoff with Army Rangers leads to Wilkerson’s rescue, and Darby, who at one point said,
If I’d had an appropriate weapon, I would have attacked my government for what they were doing.
He joined other activists in the Ninth Ward to create Common Grounds Relief, funding a health clinic and providing food, water and other aid to citizen in the devastated neighborhood. Darby thrived on being an alpha-male and reveled in revolutionary mythos, and grew frustrated with consensus building. He devised a plan to embarrass the United States government into doing more for New Orleans: He visited Venezuela to “study revolution” and solicit funds from their oil companies to provide additional funding for aid effort in New Orleans. And while there, according to Darby, a senior government official tried to lure him to Colombia to meet members of FARC. Concerned this might be some sort of set-up, he declined and returned to New Orleans where he had a developed a relationship with John Bryson, the head of the police division in the Ninth Ward.
This connection proved pivotal when Darby returned to Austin and was allegedly approached by Palestinian activist Riad Hamad. Darby claims that Hamad suggested Darby set up a business to which Hamad would funnel money, and in turn that money would go to Hamas to fund suicide bombings in Israel. Darby turned him down, and according to Darby, Hamad discussed this plan with others in the activist community who urged him to just avoid Hamad. But, again according to Darby, Hamad began to solicit other younger people in Austin for the same scheme, and supposedly outraged and concerned, Darby contacted his pal on the New Orleans Police force who hooked him up with an FBI handler.
The FBI and IRS raided Hamad’s home. A few days later his body was found floating in Lake Austin, an apparent suicide. In front of Meltzer’s camera, Darby claims horror and sorrow drove him into the arms of his FBI handler who commiserated with him. They bonded, and when the handler asked Darby, who claims he grew up with a huge distrust of authority figures, to infiltrate meetings at an Austin activist bookstore, where anarchists (allegedly) were planning actions for the 2008 G.O.P. Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, Darby felt compelled to agree. Darby worked for the FBI from at least April of 2007, sending in reports on his friends, including Common Ground Relief co-founder Scott Crow.
These activists were ten years younger than Darby. And once in St. Paul, he tipped off the FBI about homemade shields and other protest supplies they had in their trailer. Police opened the trailer without a warrant and confiscated the goods. And according to Darby, two of the young anarchists wanted vengeance. David McKay and Bradley Crowder went to Walmart (ah, the irony) and collected the necessary materials to make Molotov cocktails, and according to Darby, planned to throw them into a parking lot full of cop cars. Darby said that as an informant, he couldn’t talk them out of the plan. But he did manage to stop them.
The FBI “wired” Darby and transcribed a conversation he had with with McKay, who later claimed that he and Crowder had second thoughts and stashed the homemade explosives in the basement of the house where they were staying. The FBI raided the house, found the MCs and arrested the duo. They both served time on plea deals, and Darby was unmasked as the informant, and admitted in a letter reposted on Indybay that he had worked as a government informant. Darby claims he refused the Federal Witness Protection Program and was not paid.
But Darby found a far more lucrative, and ego-rewarding position: He became a poster boy for the late Andrew Breitbart, who gave Darby a spot writing for Big Government.com and trotted him out at various right wing events. And it’s at these rightwing conventions that Darby’s skill at self-aggrandizement reaches new heights: Suddenly the abandoned plans to torch cop cars becomes a plot to bomb convention delegates.
Meltzer juxtaposes Darby’s self-serving narrative with his former compatriots’ version of events, and what emerges is a portrait of man more interested in being the hero of his own adventure than in working for change. The director’s use of reenactments and breaks in the fourth wall expose Darby’s carefully crafted narrative which ultimately falls apart in his own hands. This movie is must-see for anyone in political movements on either side of the fence.
And in a side note, Darby now claims that he had been working undercover for the FBI in human trafficking cases, but has recently cast aside his work because once again he feels They (meaning whatever group he has chosen to give his allegiance) are doing it wrong:
It’s no secret that I have retained relationships within the FBI and that I have utilized these relationships for the purposes of helping citizens report crimes or terroristic activity. I have not discussed the fact that I was reactivated as an operational human source for the purpose of aiding the FBI’s efforts to stop human trafficking. In other words, I went back undercover. I am now speaking out without the approval or consent of the FBI due to the gross lack of concern or action from the Justice Department overall to stop known cases of children being trafficked by criminals for the purposes of sex and profits…It is unfortunate that my conscience now mandates I speak out about the leadership’s decisions and priorities. It is unfortunate that I must break from keeping with the culture of silence so prevalent in federal law enforcement agencies under the DOJ.