2 of 5 essays: Was DHS behind the eviction of Occupy LA?

A week ago I published a series of essays to the Occupy Los Angeles list serv about our eviction from the Los Angeles city Hall Park on November 30th. They evoked a lively discussion on the list. My plan is to use this material in a larger piece designed for a more distant readership. However with the holidays fast approaching and the press of other matters, it is not clear when that piece will get done and I have been convinced that there is some value in publishing them here now in this more raw form.

Hopefully my earlier reporting here about Occupy LA as well as material from OccupyLosAngeles.org, OccupyLA.org, LosAngelesGA.net and @OccupyLA can provide enough context.

So I will publish them here as I did to the list serv, one a day for the next five days:
Monday: Did 1st Amendment protect OLA encampment @ City Hall Park?
Tuesday: Was DHS behind the eviction of Occupy LA?
Wednesday: What's the real reason Villaraigosa kicked us out?
Thursday: The Demonization of Mario
Friday: How Occupy LA got itself evicted

Cities have been shutting down occupation encampments all across the country. After shutting down Occupy Oakland, Mayor Quan spoke of a conference call involving 18 big city mayors to discussion the various occupations and how to deal with them. Some people believe there is a nationwide mandate to shut down all the occupations that is being driven by Department of Homeland Security or some other federal agency and Occupy LA was shut down as part of that effort. When Matt Szabo of the LA mayor's office was asked about these conference calls, he swore Los Angeles had not been involved.

Naomi Wolf has emerged has one of the leading proponents of the theory that the federal government has been behind the raid on the occupations. In her November 25th article in the Guardian, The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy, she says:

The violent police assaults across the US are no coincidence.
US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week.
But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened.
The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on "how to suppress" Occupy protests.
I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors', city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.
For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance.
In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

For the DHS connection Wolf links to Allison Kilkenny's November 16th article Did Mayors, DHS Coordinate Occupy Attacks? which says:

In addition to conferring with their fellow mayors, it appears city leadership also received an assist from the Department of Homeland Security, according to journalist Rick Ellis at the Examiner. Ellis spoke with a Justice official, who claims each of the Occupy raid actions were coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI, and other federal police agencies.

The official, who spoke on background to me late Monday evening, said that while local police agencies had received tactical and planning advice from national agencies, the ultimate decision on how each jurisdiction handles the Occupy protests ultimately rests with local law enforcement.

Critics have pointed out that Wolf's conclusion, that the local crackdowns on Occupy movements have been ordered at a Federal level is not supported by the facts known so far. Even the Guardian, in its follow up reporting on Wolf's article, which went viral, said:

Several of these external critics alluded to the fact that Rick Ellis of the Examiner, who had reported DHS involvement in coordinating Occupy policing, had revised his story substantially. Wolf, they said, seemed to have over-relied on his initial report, ignored his subsequent qualification, and then built a larger conspiracy theory on top of that.

Probably the best critque of the article is Joshua Holland's Naomi Wolf’s ‘Shocking Truth’ About the ‘Occupy Crackdowns’ Is Anything But True

The difference between local officials talking to each other — or federal law enforcement agencies advising them on what they see as “best practices” for evicting local occupations — and some unseen hand directing, incentivizing or coercing municipalities to do so when they would not otherwise be so inclined is not a minor one. It’s not a matter of semantics or a distinction without difference. As I wrote recently, “if federal authorities were ordering cities to crack down on their local occupations in a concerted effort to wipe out a movement that has spread like wildfire across the country, that would indeed be a huge, and hugely troubling story. In the United States, policing protests is a local matter, and law enforcement agencies must remain accountable for their actions to local officials. Local government’s autonomy in this regard is an important principle.”

But there has not been a single report offered by any media outlet suggesting that anyone – federal officials or police organizations – is directing or in any way exerting pressure on cities to crack down on their occupations. Instead, there have been a lot of dark ruminations that such an effort is underway – notably by Naomi Wolf in an error-filled blog-post and a somewhat bizarre column for The Guardian in which Wolf takes an enormous leap away from any known facts to suggest that Congress is ordering cities to smash the Occupy Movement in order to preserve their own economic privilege.

What we do know about national co-ordination of the occupy crackdowns is this:

1. Five major occupations were evicted in different cities in a span of less than a week. Many more have been evicted since, including Occupy LA.
2. A police membership organization called the Police Executive Research Forum, PERF, organized two conference calls between local law enforcement officials to share information on OWS groups, including, presumably, how best to evict them.
3. The US Conference of Mayors organized two conference calls between various city officials to discuss the same issues.
4. DHS vehicles were spotted near the eviction in Portland. Occupy Portland involved Federal property.

This is a long ways from showing that there has been anything like a Federally mandated crackdown on the occupy movement. AngryBlacklady summed it up:

"The bottom line is this: Irrespective of Ellis's lingering questions, Naomi Wolf assumed "violent federal coordination of crackdowns" as fact, and then spun a web of conspiratorial acts and nefarious deeds by individuals at the highest levels of the government. And based on what? NOTHING.

There has yet to be revealed anything like a shred of evidence that the eviction from city hall lawn of Occupy Los Angeles was ordered by anyone above the level of mayor. If anyone has any such evidence, I am all ears. Other than that, I won't go there. I live in a fact-based world and all the facts appear to support the conclusion that the decision to evict Occupy Los Angeles from the city hall lawn was made by the mayor.

In the next essay I will examine the motivations of Mayor Villaraigosa.