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Monday, January 5, 2009

“Activist” Turns In Would-Be RNC Convention Firebombers

H/T Pat Dollard.



Social activist, organizer … and FBI informant

It was all about stopping violence, says Austin man who revealed alleged firebomb plot at GOP convention.

By David Hanners

ST. PAUL, Minn. — In a federal courtroom in Minneapolis this month, the public transformation of Brandon Darby of Austin will become complete.

In four years, he has gone from a never-trust-the-government activist to the confidential informant who helped the FBI arrest two Austin men on suspicion of building firebombs during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in September.

“I feel like, as an activist, I played a direct role in stopping violence,” Darby, 32, said in his first interview on his role.

Darby was the government’s chief informant in the case against David McKay and Bradley Crowder. The two are scheduled to go on trial in U.S. District Court on Jan. 26 on accusations they built Molotov cocktails during the convention. They are being held without bail.

Prosecutors say the two men built the firebombs because they were angry that police had seized a trailer filled with riot shields they had built and hauled to Minnesota.

In a conversation recorded by the FBI, McKay told Darby he planned to use the explosives on law-enforcement cars parked in a lot near the convention site, officials said.

“What if there’s a cop sleeping in the car?” Darby asked McKay, according to an affidavit by Christopher Langert, a special agent in the FBI’s Minneapolis office. “He’ll wake up,” McKay allegedly replied.

McKay also told Darby, “It’s worth it if an officer gets burned or maimed,” the affidavit said.

Darby had been working as an informant since November 2007, almost a year before the GOP convention , and in an e-mail sent to friends Monday, he said he was comfortable with that.

“Like many of you, I do my best to act in good conscience and to do what I believe to be most helpful to the world,” he wrote.

Darby’s admission shocked Austin’s activist community, which includes people who have worked with him on a variety of grass roots organizing efforts for years.

“Everyone that knew Brandon has gone through a whole range of emotions. Clearly, he’s betrayed the trust of the community, and all the communities he’s worked with,” said Lisa Fithian, a social-justice activist who worked with Darby in Austin.

A spokesman for prosecutor Frank Magill, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota, declined to comment.

McKay, Crowder and nine other people riding in a van with Darby had little reason to suspect he was a government informant. Darby long had been known for having a strong mistrust of authority, particularly police.

“He and I faced the cops with arms, ‘law enforcement’ (and some within our communities) view him as very antagonistic toward the cops and all their flavors,” friend Scott Crow wrote of Darby on an online independent site in November.

“He often tried to inflame situations,” Crow said in an interview.

It was in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina that Darby made a name for himself as an activist, organizer and, as he calls it, proponent of “service-oriented direct action.”

After Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, Darby and others started the Common Ground Collective, which began by delivering supplies to people in the ravaged city.

Darby said he saw firsthand what happens when government fails to protect its citizens. “When I showed up in New Orleans, I was very angry at my government,” he said.

But he said that while working there, he concluded that some activists seemed more intent on promoting radical agendas than helping people.

As for why he got involved with the FBI, Darby said it was because he discovered that people he knew were planning violence.

“Somebody had asked me to do something that would’ve resulted in hurting people, and I said no,” he said. “So they started asking other people. At that point, that’s when I went forward and contacted somebody in law enforcement.”