Written by Justin Burnell
Tuesday, 20 January 2009 13:07
Bradley Crowder and David McKay sit in jail awaiting trial because of a plan to attack the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. It’s likely that they wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for ex-Common Ground leader and co-founder Brandon Darby. Darby says it was “trying to choose the lesser of two evils.” He also assumes that if he didn’t take action at the least the two twenty-somethings would be dead.
Brandon Darby left New Orleans after his break with Common Ground in 2007. Despite the good he accomplished with the organization he became disillusioned with co-founders Malik Rahim and Scott Crow after he was sent to Venezuela to request aid from Hugo Chavez to help the Lower Ninth Ward. “Look at Lisa (Fithian), Malik (Rahim), and Scott (Crow); it’s the people they train that go to jail.” Darby said. “It was my 25 year old ass that they sent to Venezuela to violate U.S. policy. As my views changed, I just backed away from people when theirs didn’t.”
Darby moved back to Austin, TX and for a period split his time between there and New Orleans. He hoped to keep up the work he started here, while beginning anew in Austin. Distancing himself from such an active part in the leftist movement, he lived on a small farm, stopped drinking, and began “to work on [his] own demons.”
Sometime after his move to Austin— “It hasn’t been 18 months, but a little more than a year”—Darby began to work with the FBI as an informant. It’s unknown what information he provided before the RNC, but it is the planned attack on the St. Paul Convention that revealed his surreptitious acts and boosted him into the national spotlight. According to Darby, one of the charged had selected a specific tree line at the top of a hill adjacent to a small parking lot designated for police and secret service. From this location he would be sure to hit cars and officers with Molotov cocktails with napalm-like qualities without being seen. This was to be done in accord with the RNC Welcoming Committee’s “black bloc.”
A “black bloc” is a radical protest in which members dress in all back—to appear as one mass, and prevent identification—wearing combat boots, hoodies and black bandanas covering their faces. Members also carry makeshift shields. It is not uncommon to for participants to arm themselves with truncheons. A simple YouTube search yields videos endorsed by the RNC Welcoming Committee on how to turn orange road barrels into body shields and tongue-in-cheek references to Molotov cocktails.
“When they (the FBI) first asked me about [the Welcoming Committee] I said, ‘no,’ but when I thought about it logically and ethically, I realized that this is a group of people—five hundred out of thousands of protestors—who ‘by any means necessary’ wanted to deprive a group of their constitutional right to meet. What if it was a group of female health care providers, trying to help with reproductive rights who wanted to meet and voice themselves on T.V.?” Darby rationalized his decision, going on to say that he didn’t necessarily agree with the Republican Party, but he knew he would’ve acted if it were a group he did agree with.
Beyond this, Darby states that he was acting in the best interests of the leftist movement. It was “not an attack on leftist culture. My actions were to defend it.” He referred to the group he acted against as “a splinter group” that damages the reputation of “the real activists who try to better daily lives.” To his mind the situation has been mishandled. “The Common Ground could have responded by saying that this is why we do need police. That we can’t police ourselves.” Thinking of the possible head line: “Former Common Ground Director Stops Bomb Plot,” he explained that instead their politics got in the way of presenting a positive message. He says that the problem is “the social justice movement tends to see what they want.”
He asserted that he will not testify on charges of terrorism, and thinks it incredulous to group McKay and Crowder under the broad banner of “terrorism” with groups like Al Qaeda. He does believe in “lengthy prison sentences for people who bomb and burn shit.” It’s small groups of “people playing to their anger and not seeing the good attributes” of society, government and law enforcement, that hurt the movement he proposes.
The fallout has been significant. Scott Crow, a long time friend of Darby’s and a co-founder of the Common Ground, was quoted saying, “Brandon Darby is somebody I had entrusted with my life in New Orleans, and now I feel endangered by him.” Darby takes this with his usual calm demeanor. “I’m okay. The revisionism has started, ‘he’s a monster; he’s always been a monster.’” Nonetheless he openly admits it still gets to him. “You walk into a room with 90 people who like you, and 10 that hate you, you’re still in a room with 10 people who hate you.”
Despite the leftist backlash and sites like BrandonDarby.com that feel he has sold out his peers and wedded himself to the government, Darby believes that he still retains some of his friends and allies. “My friends are my friends . . . I’ve had a few friends who’ve said, ‘Man, Brandon this is hard to take. Do what you have to do.’”
Now his sights are on the future. He doesn’t think his role in the case will greatly hinder his ability to play a part in the leftist movement. Moreover, he sees this as a time when he will gather more support than ever. “I believe the majority of Americans agree with my decision,” he said. He, like many police officers, maintains that open and transparent groups and individuals have nothing to fear from him: if you’re not guilty, then you shouldn’t fear police, FBI or any other law enforcement agency.
“I’m on the precipice of a bigger message than I’ve ever had” says Darby. Now that he has isolated himself from more radical groups, his focus is on everyday people. “I think the majority of people would get involved [in social justice] if they didn’t have to subscribe to the radical ideology.” He holds that now that he is more aligned with the “family in suburbia that’s as dependent on the next paycheck as anyone,” he will be able to garner more support and fundraising for the issues he fights for. Whether or not any one will take that risk is questionable, but as usual Darby is confident that as to his character, his actions leave no ambiguity.
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