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You lookin at me? Protester at the FBI building. Photo by: John Whipple

I Spy Protesters

“Got my file?” “Stop Spying on the Peace Movement!” “Political police, police state.”

Last Friday, as a kickoff before the large antiwar rally in New York City on Saturday, between 100 and 150 Capital Region residents gathered on the chilly, muddy patch of ground on McCarty Avenue across from Albany’s FBI building.

Though there was a strong antiwar theme in the signs and speakers, the focus of the event was clearly on the loss of civil liberties that followed Sept. 11 and the Patriot Act. A 15-foot-tall “big brother” puppet weaved through the crowd, and many participants had brought binoculars (and even one telescope) to “spy on the FBI.” Others wore badges that said “Citizen—the nation’s highest office.”

One speaker, a middle-aged woman with curly hair and a grey trenchcoat, identified herself only as “Special Agent Jane Doe.” “I was afraid to come,” she said. “I’m somebody’s mother. I’ve never done anything illegal. I don’t do illegal things. Why should I be afraid?”

Linda Hatt showed up because she was concerned about the Patriot Act’s provision that allows the FBI access to library records. “Just because you read Mein Kampf doesn’t mean you become a Nazi,” she said.

Other speakers recounted the abuses of the Patriot Act and the targeting of Muslims, and compared today’s FBI monitoring of the peace movement to the notorious COINTELPRO, in which the FBI infiltrated civil-rights movements in the 1960s and ’70s.

The mood of the day was mostly cheerful, though there was some tension with the police, three of whom sat on horseback across the street and trotted over whenever a protester put a foot onto the roadway. Early on, according to eyewitnesses, one man was arrested with little warning for playing soccer in the roadway. Later, on the other hand, one family attending the protest tried to bridge the gap by taking their child, who was in a wheelchair, across the street for a chance to pet the horses, which the officers seemed delighted to oblige.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

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