SBI kept secret list of Silent Sam protesters for arrest, surveillance

By Ari Sen

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, in collaboration with the UNC-Chapel Hill police, kept a secret list of persons to look out for at protests, Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood confirmed in a phone call.

The confirmation of the list corroborates suspicions held by prominent anti-racist activists for months, saying law enforcement officials tracked and targeted certain individuals at protests. If the list is shown to contain students, it would also represent an increase in the use of intelligence tactics normally reserved for suspected serious criminals on outspoken campus activists, with potentially chilling effects for free speech.

In a meeting between Blackwood, his Chief Deputy Jamison Sykes, Orange County Hate-Free School’s Coalition Founder Latarndra Strong and Calvin Deutschbein, a 26-year-old graduate student activist, Blackwood said SBI identified certain “outside agitators” prior to a protest on Sept. 8, 2018.

In a recording made during the meeting, Blackwood can be heard saying authorities identified individuals based on presence at other “violent events” and criminal history. He also said none of the people identified were students.

When asked later about the meeting, Blackwood said SBI gave him a list of individuals in a briefing before the protest on Sept. 8, but he couldn’t remember who was on the list – or whether they were pro- or anti-Silent Sam because he returned it to SBI after the briefing.

When asked about the list, SBI Public Information Director Anjanette Grube refused to confirm or deny whether such a list existed.

“That potential information would fall under criminal intelligence information and therefore is not public record,” Grube said in an email. “With that said, we did provide intelligence information to assist local law enforcement agencies.”

A 64-page Silent Sam “after-action” report – created for the UNC Board of Governors by the law firm Parker, Poe, Adams & Bernstein LLC, and law enforcement consultants Hillard Heintze – makes several references to UNC police collaborating with the Fusion Center, also referred to as the Information Sharing and Analysis Center, which is run by the SBI.

“The University Police often work with ISAAC and the Fusion Center when preparing for major protests like the one on August 20, 2018,” he report reads.

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A statement signed by former UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, former UNC System President Margaret Spellings, Board of Trustees Chairman Haywood Cochrane and Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith released on Aug. 21, 2018, said UNC asked SBI to assist in the investigation of the statue being toppled.

During a confrontation with activists on February 6, UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken said he was sure SBI maintained no list, but he wouldn’t know if they did.

But in an apparent contradiction, McCracken also said police might rely on SBI for intelligence on individuals during protests.

“If we are in the middle of an event where someone is in the crowd, whether it be from what you would consider the Right or Left, it could be a concern to us. We might ask for information if they (SBI) know anything,” McCracken said in response to activists questions.  “If they have it they’d give it to us.”

UNC administrators refused to comment on the specific allegations in this story, but said in a statement they collaborate with other agencies and anticipate who will come to protests.

“As is best practice in law enforcement, UNC Police participates in routine planning and information sharing with partner agencies before any high-interest event,” UNC Spokesperson Kate Luck said in a statement. “Part of that planning includes being aware of who might be attending.”

Deutschbein said he was told at a community policing event that, though UNC maintains no SWAT team of its own, it has one available on-call from the SBI. The state SBI website says the agency maintains a “Special Response Team,” which “provides quick service to SBI investigations as well as to other law enforcement agencies” for “high-level security events.”

Photographic and video evidence, as well as news reports, show UNC Police also called upon several other police departments for assistance -including officers from Chapel Hill, Greensboro, UNC-Greensboro, Charlotte, Appalachian State, UNC-Wilmington and Fayetteville State University, as well as Durham and Orange County sheriff’s deputies.

Greensboro, Chapel Hill and Charlotte police refused to comment on whether they were given a list, referring back to the force in charge. As of the publication of this story, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Wilmington, Appalachian State and Fayetteville State had not responded to requests for comment.

Deutschbein began looking into  on-campus police conduct shortly after attending a protest on August 25, 2018, where he said he saw officers behaving strangely towards certain protesters.

“It seemed to me there was a specific individuals the police were trying to arrest, where they would watch and monitor and point at and discuss certain people and those people would get arrested for no clear reason,” he said.

Deutschbein said he now believes police kept a list of activists based on observations he made at protests and conversations with other student activists, Blackwood, Folt and Kevin Guskiewicz, the current interim chancellor and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Deutschbein said he believes police generated the list before August 25 and used it to target, arrest and trespass people who received medical training in responding to pepper spray.

At another protest five days later, Jonathan Franks, a captain in the Greensboro Police Department used a pepper fogger on protesters shortly after a contingency of pro-Silent Sam demonstrators left campus. The pepper fogger caused several anti-racist demonstrators, police and journalists to experience difficulty breathing, temporary vision loss, extreme burning sensations and vomiting.

Deutschbein said he stood next to activist Maya Little when Franks directed the pepper fogger towards her. Police previously arrested Little on April 30, 2017, when she poured a mixture of blood and red paint on the Silent Sam monument.

“They immediately targeted the most prominent activist, and in fact the only person of color who was in the front line against police,” he said. “The people that would have treated the students that got pepper sprayed had been trespassed off campus. They were a quarter mile away but we couldn’t get to them.”

In photos and video footage taken at the event, officers can also be seen using bikes to push journalists and protesters, while shouting “move back.”

Deutschbein said he saw police target certain individuals again at a protest on Sept. 8, 2018. Images and footage from the protest show police shoving, grabbing and wrestling some protestors into the ground before being bringing them into Graham Memorial Building. Law enforcement officers, wearing a mix of neon safety vests and bulletproof armor, also deployed a purple smoke bomb before clearing all protesters and media off McCorkle Place, where the monument stood.

Lindsay Ayling, a graduate student and activist, said in an interview that an officer rolled another smoke bomb towards her during the protest, but it didn’t go off.

“I saw people walking by the smoke bomb and I was wondering why is he not, you know, doing anything about this? Why is he just leaving this smoke bomb that hasn’t gone off in the middle of the grass where anyone can step on it?” Ayling said.

“Looking back on that,” Ayling added, “I wondered if what that officer really wanted was for me to kick the smoke bomb so he could arrest me.”

During a grading strike staged by graduate teaching assistants and faculty members in response to the UNC Board of Trustees plan to create a $5.3 million center to house Silent Sam, Deutschbein spoke with Guskiewicz while serving as a representative for his department. Guskiewicz allegedly told students present that he learned about a list of “repeat offenders” kept by campus police in a cabinet meeting.

On Feb. 6, Interim UNC System President William Roper selected Guskiewicz to serve as interim chancellor after Folt resigned. In a letter announcing her resignation on Jan. 14, Folt ordered the removal of the Silent Sam pedestal from campus. A forklift operator and a team of facilities workers removed base starting shortly after 11 p.m. on Jan. 14 and didn’t finish until the early hours of the next morning.

In another meeting with elected student representatives, Deutschbein said Derek Kemp, UNC’s associate vice chancellor for risk and safety, spontaneously denied the list but then pointed out him and fellow graduate student activists Ayling, Little, Tim Osborn and Alyssa Bowen.

“so i have Thoughts but the biggest is that the top cop gave a list of names of activists to explain that he doesnt keep a list” Deutschbein tweeted on Jan. 22.

Deutschbein said he believes Kemp could have pointed to him, Ayling, Bowen, Osborn and Little because they are all frequent targets of abuse and threats on social media websites popular with the alt-right like Gab. The after-action report also makes several mentions of UNC police and administrators monitoring social media sites, including “emerging” platforms.

Documents obtained by WRAL  show UNC police used a program called Social Sentinel to monitor social media for threats to campus safety. Social Sentinel’s website says the program can scan public posts for “language of harm,” including localized language. In the confrontation with activists, McCracken also said police monitor social media for certain keywords and phrases but denied knowing what Gab was.

UNC police’s surveillance efforts may go beyond social media monitoring. In 2016, The Daily Dot reported SBI acquired, maintained and upgraded an IMSI catcher device, known as a StingRay, which would allow law enforcement to intercept texts and phone calls sent between devices.

Though the “after-action” report makes no reference to these devices being used, it contains several redacted portions and mentions police had difficulty estimating the crowd size because protesters likely used encrypted messaging apps, which would be undetectable with a StingRay.

“Several officers also suggested that the size of the crowd was difficult to anticipate because the protesters probably used specialized mobile applications like Telegram, an encrypted cloud-based communications application, to secretly communicate with one another,” he report reads.

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The SBI website says it maintains a technical services team which “provide expertise in audio, video and other surveillance to law enforcement agencies” and operates out of a mobile command post. The report mentions that during the Aug. 20, 2018, protest, UNC Police operated out of a similar mobile command bus.

When asked about whether they used a StingRay, SBI said it was criminal intelligence information and was therefore not public record.

In addition to digital surveillance, the report said police also stationed at least one officer at or near the Silent Sam 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from August 2017 to August 2018, and maintained two live-streaming cameras so they could monitor the statue remotely.

In November of 2017, activists discovered a man, who posed as an auto-mechanic and called himself Victor, was in fact Hector Borges, an undercover UNC police officer sent to surveil them. The report mentions the use of at least one other undercover officer around the statue, who helped move on-lookers out of the way as protesters yanked it down on Aug. 20.

Despite the pedestal’s removal, demonstrations have continued.

Before an appeal of Little’s Honor Court ruling in February, a group of student activists placed two monuments on campus to victims of racial violence at UNC: one in the Pit to honor James Cates, a black man who was murdered by a white supremacist motorcycle gang there, and another on Franklin for the “Negro Wench,” whom Julian Carr said during the 1913 dedication speech for Silent Sam he “horse-whipped…until her skirt hung in shreds.”

But just as quickly as both monuments were erected, they disappeared.

UNC-Chapel Hill administrators said they removed the monument to Cates, citing a facilities-use policy which prevents temporary structures from remaining overnight or being placed on lawn space below the drip-line of trees.

A video posted to the Confederate 901 Facebook page on Feb. 15 shows two men bragging about stealing the monument to the “Negro Wench.” Chapel Hill officials said they recovered the monument, but were unable to return it before it was stolen again by another group of neo-Confederates.

On Feb. 23, the two groups clashed in a demonstration beginning near where Silent Sam once stood on McCorkle Place. The protest soon spilled onto Franklin Street, where a crowd of anti-racist demonstrators surrounded the flag-waiving neo-Confederates, shouting “go home racists” and “One, two, three, f–k the Confederacy.”

Several police officers from both UNC and Chapel Hill could be seen walking alongside the groups and monitoring from a distance. Police also were stationed inside the Chapel Hill courthouse and post office building as well as under a white pop-up tent on the roof of the building containing Time-Out and Linda’s restaurants.

Deutschbein said he’s suffered psychological consequences from the belief he is being surveilled and has also been more reluctant to speak publicly on issues he cares about because of police harassment.

“I’ve had to be extremely careful about what I say, which was somewhat surprising,” he said. “I definitely didn’t realize that I was someone that could be afraid to speak out about certain things.”

Deutschbein and Ayling also said they would be incredibly unlikely to call on the police, even in cases of violent crime, because of the harassment they’ve received and because it could threaten their physical safety.

“I’ve had a police officer follow me at a town hall after I spoke to the town council about something related to the police, which is just like a terribly bad experience. Like I didn’t know why he was following me, I didn’t know why he was yelling at me to stop,” he said.

“There was like a tone to that interaction, and presumably a competent police officer would have been aware of that tone— this is me threatening someone, making them unsafe, placing their health at risk.”

Despite the alleged harassment, Deutschbein and Ayling say they are going to continue working on their primary goals— supporting fellow anti-racist activists, fighting for social justice and working to prevent the police from killing people on-campus.

Their fears are not entirely unwarranted – a security guard shot and killed a North Carolina Central University student outside an off-campus apartment complex last September.

“There are a few specific times it got very close and didn’t happen but could have,” Deutschbeinsaid of the Silent Sam protests. “I think something that’s happened a lot is we’ve gotten lucky.”