CORRECTION: This story in Wednesday’s edition of the Daily should have said that Ben Royal is an organizer for BAMN, not a campus advisor.
The American Civil Liberties Union has released documents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirming that several activist groups in Michigan and at the University were investigated for terrorist ties.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the ACLU asked for records to determine whether the state and local joint terrorism task force was investigating issue advocacy groups in Michigan.
On Aug. 29, the ACLU released a document from the FBI, a synopsis from a domestic terrorism symposium hosted by the Michigan State Police on Jan. 23, 2002.
The symposium was intended to educate local, state and federal law enforcement agencies on organizations with possible ties to terrorism. BAMN, a national organization in support of affirmative action that has a chapter at the University, and Direct Action, an anti-war group, were named at the meeting.
The ACLU also used a FOIA to find information on whether the same groups were under investigation by the Michigan State Police. The state police has not yet released any documents that confirm it investigated the organizations.
Shanon Akans, public affairs section manager for the state police, said the department has reviewed the FOIA request but at this point in time cannot fulfill it.
In a press release, the state police defended its discussion of advocacy groups.
“It is common police practice to anticipate and plan for protests in order to ensure not only the safety of the public, but the protesters themselves,” the press release said.
Steinberg said he is looking into filing a lawsuit that would force the state police to release the information on behalf of peaceful organizations. He added that he believes the investigation of Michigan’s advocacy groups constitutes not only an invasion of privacy, but also a drain on the police’s time and energy.
“We think that spying on people engaged in legitimate political dissent is a tremendous waste of police resources, and we’re also concerned that police monitoring of activist groups will have a chilling effect on students and others that want to protest lawfully,” he said.
Sara McDonald, a member of Direct Action, said the group is now considering a lawsuit to force the Michigan State Police to release any documentation of the surveillance of the organization.
“We’re a group for social justice and are absolutely not terrorists,” she said.
The documents the ACLU received did not indicate if investigations of Michigan’s advocacy groups were ongoing.
The state police press release claimed the information on the advocacy groups discussed at the terrorism symposium was obtained from public sources such as websites and newspaper articles.
But Julie Hartman, a sociology graduate student at Michigan State University and former advisor to the East Lansing Animal Rights Movement, which was also named at the symposium, said that only through covert methods could such specific information about her organization be discovered.
“Since the (FBI) document estimates 12 to 15 people were in the group, somebody had to come to a protest or meeting since our list server pointed to upwards of 40 members,” she said.
Hartman described the now-defunct group as having only two or three “circus protests,” where approximately 12 people handed out leaflets and held up signs.
“I was disappointed in that there are better things for police to be doing. We are at a large university where sexual assault and other crimes are occurring. We were just a group advocating for change,” she said.
Ben Royal, a second-year graduate student and campus advisor of BAMN, said he also felt his rights were violated by the surveillance.
“(BAMN) stands up for educational opportunities, for black and minority educational equity and for that to be a reason to single us out is completely unacceptable,” he said.
LSA junior Brandon Adkins, who is also a web designer for the conservative campus group Young Americans for Freedom, said the investigation on BAMN for terrorist ties was not surprising and possibly even warranted.
“The name says it all,” he said, referring to BAMN. “It’s not like they are trying to hide the tactics. It doesn’t seem laws and proper ways of doing things are any restraint to their actions.”
Sara McDonald, a member of Direct Action, said the news of surveillance of her group has not diminished support in the organization, but has instead galvanized the effort.
“If anything, it has re-energized people, and now people are more angry and more passionate than before to fight for what they believe in,” McDonald said.