Occupy Cleveland Distances Itself From May Day Bridge Bomb Plot

The five alleged anarchists arrested by the FBI Monday night after allegedly plotting to blow up a bridge in the suburbs of Cleveland to send a message to the corporations, the government and the one-percenters were confused.

Accompanied by a source cooperating with the FBI they allegedly drove to Cuyahoga National Park and placed two IEDs at the base of one of the columns of the Brecksville-Northfield High Level Bridge. They’d known the informant who’d help bring them there since October and thought of him as a friend and someone who shared their beliefs. Several of them also thought of him as an employer: he’d hired several of them for odd jobs in his roofing business.But the detonation code they sent to the cell phones attached to the IED devices weren’t working, according to an FBI affidavit. So they tried calling the phones and even called the undercover FBI agent who sold them the bombs to make sure they were texting the right number. Still nothing. Then an FBI swat team arrested them at around 10:45 p.m.

Equally confused were the protestors at Cleveland’s Occupy movement when they awoke to the news Tuesday morning that the five individuals, all with ties to their movement, had been arrested. At least one of the suspects, 20-year-old Brandon Baxter, had even canvassed downtown to promote Occupy Cleveland’s May Day protest, an event members of Cleveland’s small Occupy movement quickly decided to cancel.

“Obviously it was pretty dumb,” Occupy Cleveland’s Johnny Peskar, who personally knew several of the suspects, told TPM. “They didn’t show any signs of being violent, they weren’t bad people, I have nothing bad to say about them, but what they did, what they were going to do, it’s been denounced all around.”

Protestors with Occupy Cleveland had long suspected it had an infiltrator in their midst. One of the suspects, 35-year-old Anthony Hayne, wrote on his Facebook page on April 7 that “Snitches get stitches and dumped in ditches” and explained that they had “a snitch living at the warehouse that openly admits it,” an apparent reference to a warehouse used by Occupy Cleveland. He wrote in a separate Facebook post that the warehouse was in his name.

“We’ve had some intel that we had somebody in here that was some sort of infiltrator of a sort, we have a few people that we’re looking into,” Peskar told TPM. “There has been one for awhile now. We’re still unsure who it is.”

But a spokeswoman with the FBI’s Cleveland office insisted in an interview with TPM that the bureau never targeted Occupy Cleveland. Rather the FBI “gained intel” about the protest from the cooperating source. She didn’t say whether the FBI’s cooperating source — who is on probation for writing bad checks and has a 22-year-old cocaine possession charge on his record — was instructed to attend the Oct. 21 protest where the source first encountered the group.

The FBI also said it did not reimburse the informant for the work that the suspects did for his roofing business, with a spokeswoman saying it was not full-time work, just “an odd job there and there.” They also said they did not tell the informant to hire any of the suspects to develop his relationship with him.

The alleged leader of the plot, 26-year-old Doug Wright, had actually been suspected of being an infiltrator himself by other Occupiers. He was a roofer and worked with at least two of the other protestors. The FBI affidavit says the suspects worked in construction and implies that at least one of the suspects had arranged to do work on homes belonging to the FBI’s cooperating witness. Not much more about the cooperating witness is known other than the fact that he rebuffed the suggestion that his car be used as a bomb and suggested they use Hayne’s bike instead.

FBI officials reject the assertion this was a setup. It was “definitely the suspects who developed the plan to fruition,” spokeswoman Vicki Anderson told TPM. “Our concern was that if we didn’t supply them they’d get it somewhere else. It was their idea.”

That may be true, but the FBI definitely provided all the mechanics to make the plot possible. The FBI’s cooperating source provided transportation, picking up Wright, Baxter and Hayne in downtown Cleveland when they went to pick up the bombs on Sunday. The cooperating source provided the location, arranging for a motel where they’d meet the source. The cooperating source provided the connection to the undercover FBI agent, and the undercover FBI agent sold them the fake explosives as well as a duffel bag filled with smoke grenades and gas masks for just $450.

Members of the group seemed suspicious they were being set up all along, according to the affidavit. Wright had to assure the others that the cooperating source wasn’t with law enforcement and they were suspicious of the undercover agent.

One of them put an alarm clock there in the trash can at the motel in case it was a recording device. They turned on the TV and air conditioning unit to try to “baffle” any recording devices and all three suspects put on latex gloves. On the way the undercover FBI informant asked why Wright moved the clock, and Wright explained that he believed someone might have found the room and bugged it.

The FBI’s source reassured Wright on their ride back downtown, saying they wouldn’t have been able to drive off with real C4. Wright agreed.

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