Occupy Eureka Has Bombs(?)

If you've driven past the Humboldt County courthouse any time in the past few months, you've seen Occupy Eureka.  The 1/12/12 copy of the Times-Standard, Humboldt County's paper of record, ran a front page article (under the fold) by Grant Scott-Goforth.  "County emails outrage members of Occupy Eureka," the story's byline reads.

To note: The Eureka Police Department has made it quite clear that it is fed up with the Occupy Eureka movement.  On the local NBC affiliate (KIEM), Interim Police Chief Murl Harpham even suggested that he had been told by some demonstrators that they were "paid" to be there, thus discrediting an entire movement that is largely already discredited in many people's eyes.  Of note is the fact that Harpham has said time and time again in various media that he supports people's right to free speech.  Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos has said the same thing, including the article in the 1/12/12 paper.

Whatever your opinion of the various Occupy movements across the country (or the one in Eureka, California), the article deserves some attention as to its unveiling of how the minds of Humboldt County's justice system think.

As well see, logic takes a back seat and rational thinking is nowhere to be found.

The article concerns a series of e-mails that Gallegos wrote that were "part of the discussion that led to police action against the Occupy Eureka encampment."  These e-mails, obtained by an Occupier using the California Public Records Act, were never meant to be public. 

According to Goforth's article, on 11/2/11, Gallegos wrote to "county officials" that he believed the "continued presence of tents outside of the courthouse presents a profound public safety risk."  What is that risk?  Gallegos continues, "While I do not suspect that any of those tents contain any explosive or other dangerous materials, I cannot confirm that they do or do not and I do not believe that we can allow the risk of such an occurrence to continue."  Again, this is the District Attorney.  A man who tries cases.  By his logic, any kind of police action is acceptable in almost any sort of situation because if you "cannot confirm" something, you can't "allow the risk" of something happening.  One cannot confirm whether or not Gallegos has cocaine and guns in his car, therefore it should be searched ... or so one would think by following Gallegos' logic.

The article continues with "Gallegos siad he did not think that any Occupy protesters had explosives."  Perhaps not, but he planted the idea in officials heads that it was a possibility and should be acted upon.  "He said, as with natural disaster planning, it was his and other officials' responsibility to prepare for and prevent worst case scenarios" such as, presumably, a dirty bomb on the courthouse lawn.

Gallegos, who stated he did not believe protestors had explosives, wrote on 11/18/11 to 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace, "Having tents outside our building pose an immense public safety risk.  All you need is 1 McVeigh guy."  Gallegos goes on to say that enclosed tents or trucks (the very thing that "McVeigh guy" used to blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City) wouldn't last three minutes in front of a federal building.  Perhaps he is right, but his concern only seems to be tents.  Even as of today, vehicles, including trucks, were parked on all four sides of the courthouse building.  Any one of them could've contained explosives, something that Gallegos could or could not confirm.  I have yet to hear of any reports of any of these vehicles being towed for being threats to public safety.  A brief history of rogue terrorist bombings shows that vehicles and people, not tents, are the most popular methods of transport. 

None of this is questioned in the article, though protesters were reported to be "outraged" and express concern over the idea that if the Occupy movement "was associated with terrorism" that it would put a severe limit on dissent.  That is a valid worry.

Gallegos insists he has the protesters best interests in mind.  Goforth reports that Gallego was "worried that it was possible for people not directly associated with Occupy Eureka to use the group as cover for illegal activity."  One presumes the illegal activity in question is bomb detonation based on prior e-mails.  Something that on the surface seems absolutely ridiculous and not based on any Occupy history so far.  Gallegos, in citing McVeigh, knows how easy it is for some to infiltrate a group, as McVeigh received all his training in the military while harboring radical views and later worked as a security guard much like the kind employed by the Humboldt County courthouse.  One wonders whether Gallegos was referring to them infiltrating the Occupy movement.

Gallegos has stated that the e-mails were not meant to be public, as if that somehow makes it more acceptable.  Regardless, they were used as impetus to arrest members of the public engaged in civil disobedience.  In case anyone thinks Gallegos is some sort of anti-freedom District Attorney he points out that he supports the Occupy movement.  "Unfortunately," he is quoted, "here it has been somewhat co-opted locally by our local protesters."  For someone who supports the movement he shows very little understanding for what it entails.  Why would non-local protesters engage in an Occupy Eureka movement when they have their own in their own hometowns?  Is it a case of "not in my backyard," or is he so removed from what is going on that he has little understanding of what makes up the movement.  One imagines it's the latter.

Gallegos has a telling quote toward the end of the article.  "I find that most hyperbole doesn't warrant a response."  Or at least that is what he hopes ... especially when it is one's own hyperbole linking a largely peaceful (though disruptive) movement to terrorism and Timothy McVeigh.  There would be nothing better than for this indiscretion to go away, and that seems very likely to happen.

The Times-Standard article reported this on what seems like an unbiased basis.  Gallegos, however, was given more print space and was able to defend his actions, while protesters were given far less column inches to air their concerns.  If the reporter would've actually challenged Gallegos on his own delusional statements, one could reasonably say the paper was attempting to maintain some journalistic integrity.  Instead, this article was printed with a straight face and easily avoided questioning a public official who is supposed to uphold the law, not randomly speculate. The article states that "more than 50 people" have been arrested in connection with the movement in the past few months.  How many of those arrests were prompted by e-mails like the ones uncovered by the movement?

Regardless of what one thinks of the protesters, Gallegos' words are important.  They show that the man charged with upholding the law thinks nothing of fear mongering.  What's more telling is that this speculation wasn't shared with the public, though it was important enough to Gallegos that he called it out in various e-mails.  The press release (read it here) makes no mention of the possibility of bombs hidden in tents or terrorists infiltrating the movement.  Those are very serious charges, and if one believes they have any merit they should have been made public.  Instead, Gallegos did it secretly and police used it to help justify arrests.  There is never any good to come out of public decisions reached in secret, and one can only hope that is something Gallegos will learn first hand ... though one doubts it will be a lesson dealt out by the paper.

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