Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Occupy Cleveland protesters recall men accused in bridge bomb plot

At the Occupy Cleveland tent on Public Square today, members of the movement were talking about the guys they knew as Tony, Connor, Brandon, Doug and Skelly – the five men arrested today and charged with plotting to blow up a bridge over the Cuyahoga River.

All five, they said, had frequented Occupy Cleveland’s tent, its protests, and its gathering place on the city’s West Side.

“I know all those gentlemen – I don’t want to call them gentlemen anymore,” said movement member Robin Adelmann. Some of them spent time with him, manning the tent. “I never really expected that from any of them.”

Protesters were reading the FBI affidavit about the five men and confronting the fact that five guys who’d joined their peaceful, loosely organized movement had been arrested by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and charged with conspiring to use explosives to detonate a bridge south of Cleveland.

“Occupy Cleveland is all about non-violence and spreading a message of love,” Adelmann said. “If we had any inkling of an idea, any time ago, we would have kicked these guys out, bar none.”

Anthony Hayne, known to the protesters as Tony, had started to upset some Occupy members, protesters said. Adelmann and another protester said they suspected him of stealing from the donation box in the movement’s tent on Public Square.

Michael Maples, an Occupy protester from Cleveland, says he hit it off with suspects Hayne and Brandon Baxter at first, until stories started to spread about Hayne getting arrested and Baxter getting involved in confrontations with police. Maples says he eventually came to see Hayne as shady, only out for himself. “I could’ve pegged him to do anything at all.” As for Baxter, he says he felt that “at some point, he was going to go a little nuts.”

Protesters recalled some of the suspects in a somewhat more positive light. Adelmann was trying to reconcile his good memories of Joshua Stafford, known among the protesters as Skelly, with news of his arrest.

“He was a really nice guy,” Adelmann said. “He used to come to me for relationship advice. If anybody ever tried mess with me, or anybody else, he’d jump in front, and try to help.”

The FBI began to follow the suspects in October, according the affidavit, when it dispatched a confidential informant to an Oct. 21 protest in Cleveland. The description matches the city’s Oct. 21 removal of the Occupy campsite from Public Square. (Since then, the protesters have maintained their tent across the street. They have a permit for it, but can’t stay overnight.)

The affidavit describes a small group of suspicious men joining the gathering. Some wore walkie-talkies around their necks and carried anarchist flags. Many were covering their faces with masks, scarves or towels. “The whole group appeared to be together and was constantly moving through the crowd expressing displeasure at the crowd’s unwillingness to act violently,” the affidavit reads.

When organizers “emphasiz[ed] that they wanted everyone to conduct peaceful civil disobedience,” one of the men “turned away and said ‘f—k that’ before the group of men walked away.”

At least one of the Oct. 21 anarchists, Doug Wright, is among the alleged bomb plotters.

Matthew Revelt, a Cleveland protester who said he was in Public Square on Oct. 21, said the affidavit’s description was accurate, except that the anarchists didn’t advocate violence. “They wanted to get people to get rowdy. They wanted to get people to get loud. They didn’t ask people to act destructive. We might’ve all turned on them [if they had]. They wanted people to get arrested that evening. They wanted to encourage that.”

Cleveland city councilman Brian Cummins, who has supported Occupy Cleveland, said he knew four of the five suspects from his time spent with the protesters. He bought supplies for the occupiers with Wright this fall, and had met Hayne, Baxter, and Stafford.

“They wore their anarchist beliefs on their shirt much more than anyone else did,” Cummins said. Baxter and Stafford didn’t talk to him, probably because he was an elected official, Cummings said.

“None were very much involved with the strategy of the movement,” Cummins said. “They were more fringe members of the group. People were perturbed with them occasionally.”

Like the guys in the tent today, Cummins had begun hearing that Hayne was a “troublemaker, a pain in the ass.” The councilman noted that the Occupy Movement’s open, often leaderless nature makes it hard to kick people out.

In the Occupy Cleveland tent and on a nearby fence, multiple banners sport slogans: a “Veterans For Peace” flag with a giant dove on it, an American flag with corporate logos for stars and the message “I’m down with takin down corporate America” in the flag’s stripes, and a red and gray banner that reads, “No War Except Class War.”

The protestors all emphasized Occupy Cleveland’s nonviolent approach to protest. Revelt said he’d joined to combat the foreclosure crisis and CEOs’ high salaries. Randy Ball said he wanted to oppose bailouts and outsourcing and protect Social Security and student loans. He recalled his talks with suspect Baxter.

“They were both peaceful conversations,” he said. “They were about outreach, mainly, street canvassing. Letting people know not by force, but having a one on one conversation that we’re all under the same umbrella. We want to be free. We’re done being oppressed.”

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