Why do the governor’s critics keep finding themselves targets of strange police scrutiny?
The San Francisco Bay Guardian
Criticizing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can be risky business these days. It’s a lesson that a small but growing number of activists have learned in recent months, after speaking out against the governor’s policies and being subjected to unsettling police scrutiny.
The most recent incident was exposed by the San Jose Mercury News, which obtained evidence that the National Guard monitored members of CodePink and the Raging Grannies, families of soldiers killed in Iraq, and others who attended a small Mother’s Day protest in Sacramento May 8 calling on the government to bring the troops home.
The proof was e-mails providing details about the rally that were sent to high-ranking National Guard officials.
“Forwarding same to our Intell. folks who continue to monitor,” read a reply e-mail by Col. Jeff Davis, who was charged with, among other things, overseeing a new intelligence unit until his retirement four weeks ago.
National Guard public affairs director Lt. Col. Douglas Hart assured the Bay Guardian that the monitoring was limited to watching local newscasts of the Mother’s Day event. But we may never know: The Guard erased Davis’s computer hard drive on the very day California senator Joseph Dunn indicated he was launching an investigation and called on the Guard not to destroy any evidence related to the intelligence unit.
Hart said they always clean and reissue the computers of former employees. “We do this anytime someone leaves the National Guard,” he said, adding that they’ve since retrieved most of Davis’s hard-drive data. The National Guard’s inspector general, judge advocate general, and “intelligence folks at the national level” conducted investigations, Hart said. “My understanding is that they didn’t find [any violations].”
Although the story got picked up by several TV newscasts, most accounts failed to note that the National Guard was alerted to the Mother’s Day rally by none less than the governor’s press office.
Schwarzenegger assistant press secretary Julie Soderlund told us that her office regularly tells other agencies about events so they can be informed if they receive calls from the media.
“It’s standard operating procedure,” she said.
The Mother’s Day rally called for National Guard members serving abroad to be brought home, so naturally the Guard should be informed, she argued, adding that the e-mail was cut and pasted from an Associated Press Daybook entry and sent by a low-level press aide. CodePink activists suspect there may have been more to it than that.
“CodePink has been very outspoken ever since Schwarzenegger announced he was running for governor,” Natalie Wormali told us. A cofounder of CodePink’s Davis chapter and one of the activists present at the Mother’s Day rally, Wormali is blind, wheelchair-bound, and suffers from multiple sclerosis — not exactly the prototype of a potentially dangerous terrorist. “But I’m a lawyer,” she said, “so that’s a threat.”
Weird and disturbing as it might be, the Mother’s Day monitoring doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident.
Five months ago Kelly Di Giacomo, a registered nurse at Kaiser hospital in Sacramento, was detained and questioned for an hour by California Highway Patrol officers providing security for the governor.
Her crime: attending the premier screening of the Hollywood blockbuster Be Cool in her nurse’s uniform. Schwarzenegger was also at the film showing, and members of the California Nurses Association protested outside.
“I had no intention of rushing the stage, shouting at the governor, or anything like that,” Di Giacomo recounted. Yet several days later she received what she described as a “harassment phone call” from the CHP asking her the same questions they’d put to her before.
Earlier that month, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department had grounded a small plane towing a banner that read, “It’s no party for nurses, patients and students — Arnoldwatch.net,” after it had made its first pass over Schwarzenegger’s home in Brentwood. It was Feb. 6, Super Bowl Sunday, and critics of the governor were holding a demonstration outside his house as he hosted a Super Bowl party.
Two days later Donna Gerber, director of government relations for the California Nurses Association, said she saw two uniformed LASD deputies photographing activists at a press conference and rally at the steps of the state Capitol, in Sacramento.
“That’s something no one has ever explained to our satisfaction,” Carmen Balber, a consumer advocate with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, told us. Balber said she made numerous calls to the LASD over a 10-day period immediately following the two incidents, and filed a complaint.
“I never received any follow-up calls or written proof that they even pursued it,” she said.
The LASD deputy with whom Balber filed her complaint did not return our calls for comment.
To make amends and alleviate Big Brother fears, the National Guard took members of CodePink and others involved in the Mother’s Day rally on a tour of its facilities July 5. The staff there seemed dangerously unaware of California’s more stringent laws restricting domestic surveillance, Wormali told us. Questioned by the Bay Guardian, Hart likewise failed to mention state laws, which clearly ban any type of monitoring without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
California voters amended the state constitution to include these stricter rights to privacy in 1972, after details about COINTELPRO started surfacing. And Attorney General Bill Lockyer similarly instituted clear orders banning such monitoring after activists with Peace Fresno discovered they’d been infiltrated by an agent working for the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center, an agency that facilitates information-sharing among state, federal, and local police agencies.
The National Guard has seven officers working for CATIC. Their jobs, Hart said, are limited to “analytical work on information that is brought in from other state agencies and other law enforcement agencies, and they use this information to determine potential terrorist targets and the vulnerability of those targets.”
E-mail Camille T. Taiara at: [email protected]