Taking a page from the FBI’s COINTELPRO program of the 1960s, “intelligence analysts” from Mall of America in Bloomington, Minneapolis set up a fake Facebook account to identify and monitor local Black Lives Matter activists, who were later arrested and charged for a holiday protest at the mega mall, according to The Intercept.
The Intercept’s investigation revealed that a fake Facebook page created by security employees from Mall of America “monitored local Black Lives Matter organizers, befriend[ed] them, and obtain[ed] their personal information and photographs without their knowledge.” With that information, the Mall was was able to create files or “dossiers” on activists which were turned over to Bloomington officials who later charged them.
On December 20, thousands took part in a “Black Lives Matter” protest at the Mall of America during one of the busiest shopping seasons of the year. The New York Daily News reports that Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson vowed to have protesters personally pay for the “staggering costs” lost by the mall, city and stores.
The city eventually charged 11 protesters with criminal misdemeanors, and and are seeking over $65,000 in restitution for police and mall expenses.
“Many of us, as experienced organizers, were aware that MOA employs ex-military and law enforcement officials so this type of surveillance is always expected,” said Lena K. Gardner, member of Black Lives Matter in Minneapolis, to NewsOne via email. Although Garner was not charged, she did participate in the protests and is closely aligned with the case. Gardner says there is documentation proving surveillance from the MOA was shared with Johnson, including a dossier compiled on her, which she told NewsOne she has not seen.
“We have nothing to hide, we operate all of our trainings publicly and with the full knowledge that the eyes and ears of the state are everywhere. Which is why it is so surprising that they missed the central focus of the training that this was a peaceful demonstration,” said Gardner.
Most of the intelligence gathered against the activists were gleaned through a “Nikki Larson” Facebook page, replete with a widely (and dubiously attributed) Martin Luther King Jr. quote and a black woman’s face. Nikki Larson “liked” the Black Lives Matter Minneapolis Facebook group, and friended other Black Lives Matter activists, and other anti-racism and anti-police brutality groups.
Turns out Nikki Larson was really “Sam Root,” whose Facebook account lists his profession as “Intelligence Analyst at Mall of America.” Root apparently lifted the profile photo from one of his friends on Facebook a la the MTV show “Catfish.” When contacted directly by The Intercept, Root says he ended his employment with the mall in January.
“I think this sets a dangerous standard, punishing people for speaking out against state violence and an unjust criminal system by colluding with private corporations,” Gardner said to NewsOne. “It is wrong and a testament that our democracy is falling apart.”
Gardner continues, “I wish as much time, resources, and energy went into fixing the racial inequity problems and racial profiling that plagues our state (as well as the Mall of America) as went in to investigating us and continues to be used against those charged.”