The infiltrator witch hunts now poisoning Occupy Wall Street really pisses me off, mostly because they're succeeding at turning people against eachother.
You don't have to be a genius to figure out that the New York City Police Department and other law enforcement agencies are infiltrating Occupy Wall Street with undercover investigators posing as activists. If for no other reason than to allow elected officials to issue generous surveillance contracts to their political donors in the private security sector.
So, that's a given.
And you don't have to be a genius to understand that the most damaging impact of an infiltration campaign on a transparent, nonviolent, loyal opposition movement like Occupy Wall Street is to make its members suspicious of one another.
Because there is just no way on God's Green Earth to disprove the charge, which recently has been leveled by so many Occupiers against their own. It's an allegation and like all allegations the burden of proof should rest with the accuser. Not the accused.
Sadly, that rarely happens in practice.
Trust me, I've thought it through many times. Because I'm periodically approached by people I believe are infiltrators and periodically accused of being an infiltrator myself.
The funny part is that I'm not even a member of the Occupy movement I'm supposedly infiltrating. Never claimed to be.
I'm just a fat, grumpy, middle-aged, old-school journalist who works for a fledgling nonprofit that is trying to cover the faltering middle class the way The Wall Street Journal covers rich people. That means writing about them and the things that interest them. Like Occupy.
By the way, that's a fake photo of me at right with political satirist Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents dinner in 2006. He probably still thinks I'm a real journalist. Boy did this "infiltrator" put one over on him.
Every time I write something about Occupy in The Cynical Times that displeases someone, such as my column in support of the Keystone Pipeline, I'm suddenly accused of being an "infiltrator." Likewise, when I write stuff that angers the Tea Party, such as my Andrew Breitbart obit, I'm a "commie pinko liberal hack."
And every time I visit Zuccotti Park without dressing like a Green Day roadie I'm miraculously transformed back into a potential "infiltrator." Just because I have a crew-cut, wedding ring, and ask people for their names when I quote them.
It's one of the dumbest things ever and there's a name for it. It's called "profiling" and it's wrong.
Look Occupy dudes and dudettes, let's start out by assuming that if I was really an infiltrator I wouldn't write anything that pisses you off and would try to blend in by looking just like you.
So, I'm sorry I don't have sexy six-pack abs, buns of steel and a full head of hair any more; I'm sorry I don't have tattoos, piercings and a home-rolled smoke between my lips; I'm sorry I didn't sleep in Zucotti Park instead of my own bed 10 minutes away in Jersey City; and I'm sorry I know enough to get the hell out of the way instead of getting arrested when you all go toe-to-toe with big blue.
Most of all, I'm sorry I don't make up quotes and stick fake names on them.
There's a collection of some of my fake media credentials below right.
Man, I've been at this infiltration scam a long time. Right?
The painful truth is that the best infiltrator is quite simply the person least likely to be suspected of being an infiltrator. So, it's a safe bet I'm not that guy.
It's more likely to be someone young and beautiful.
My money is on Messiah Hamid, the young Occupier who supposedly has nine arrests to her name and got her shirt torn off by NYPD on Saturday.
Do you really think she's 16 years old?
Come on. What an act.
Haven't any of you ever seen 21 Jump Street?
Messiah (left) is probably a captain. Probably a 20-year veteran of the force.
What about Iraqi War veteran Scott Olsen?
Maybe getting his skull fractured by a tear gas canister was all just a ruse to lift him above suspicion?
And those Occupy Marines – how do we know they're not still working for the man? Or the woman for that matter.
What about Ray Lewis?
Sure, he's a retired Philadelphia police captain who just happens to care about his fellow man.
What about Dorli Rainey (left), the 84-year-old woman who was peppered in Seattle. What a cover.
If I'm a suspect at 47 she must be nearly twice as suspicious at 84. Right?
How about "Professor Occupy," Lisa Fithian?
She's training people in nonviolence for chrissakes. Could there be a better license to infiltrate than that?
You can play this game forever.
It works in reverse too.
Let's face facts, has anyone ever done more for Occupy than New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg? With the possible exception of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan?
I think not.
And what about John Pike (right)?
He's the UC Davis officer who hosed down more than a dozen college kids with pepper spray on Nov. 18 like he was watering his lawn.
You know Pike has got to be working for OWS. He probably tripled your membership.
What about old blood and guts Anthony Bologna (below left)?
He's the NYPD deputy inspector who needlessly peppered a bunch of female Occupiers and the cops around them to set it all off back on Sept. 24, 2011. It's hard to believe anyone could be that stupid. You don't really think he's on their side do you?
Come on, he peppered his own guys.
Look, I'm trying to make a point, which is that the whole purpose of infiltrating a movement isn't just to gather intelligence. It's to make the members of the group under surveillance suspect one another and anyone and everyone who tries to join, support, or write about them.
In sum, the most insidious aspect of an undercover surveillance campaign is the damage you do to yourselves when you start leveling irresponsible accusations. Much as the people of the Middle Ages accused their neighbors of "witchcraft" in response to The Black Plague.
By the way, that's a photo of me below right conning several TSA officers into thinking I was a real journalist with The Associated Press back in 2009. Boy did I have them fooled.
I was also present on the grassy knoll in Dallas in 1963.
Can I promise you that there isn't a real Occupy infiltrator somewhere posing as a reporter?
The painful truth is there probably is because there's so much money being thrown at the intelligence consulting community right now.
It's just not me.
Not unless I was so damn smart that I decided to start The Cynical Times in June of 2011 on the off-chance it would enable me to infiltrate a group that didn't even exist yet.
I wish I was that smart.
I am smart enough to realize that a bit of a clique has grown up around the people who actually slept in Zuccotti Park in the first three months of Occupy.
They're assumed to be above suspicion. However, the painful truth is the only way that criteria for non-infiltrator status is useful is if you really believe law enforcement didn't know anything about infiltration or Occupy until 2012.
That's pretty unlikely.
A lot of decent people who are now working for the greater good did not sleep in Zuccotti Park or get shot at in Cairo's Tahrir Square. When doing so becomes the criteria for involvement in OWS, your grassroots movement is going to get pretty damn small, pretty damn quick.
The best way to deal with the prospect of infiltration is to just assume everyone is an infiltrator and not care. Especially when there's nothing to hide.
OWS is loyal opposition to the two ruling political parties. It's not some fascist organization trying to launch a coup d'etat.
So, who cares if an infiltrator sees what's going on?
They may even like it and come over from the dark side.
That's why transparency is so important and that's why we try to be as transparent as possible at The Cynical Times.
We realize the even-handed manner in which we cover Occupy and our aggressive scrutiny of Czar Mike and the 1 Percent is worrisome to those who benefit financially from the status quo. We also realize we're not doing anything wrong.
There's nothing we can do about would-be infiltrators, except become so paranoid we penalize everyone else.
By the way, that's a fake pic of me at right, standing next to Newark Mayor Cory Booker and two "real" journalists" in 2009. I can't put anything over on you folks.
I got hit up at least three times on Facebook in November and December by would-be infiltrators posing as attractive women (those are two of their fake Facebook profile pics below). Presumably for covering Occupy fairly and accurately.
The intelligence community's term for this tactic is "honeypot" and its been repeatedly and effectively employed against critics of Wall Street greed ranging from Wikileaks Julian Assange to prosecutor Eliot Spitzer to former IMF head Dominique Gaston André Strauss-Kahn. It works best when the target is married, like me, and subject to blackmail on that basis.
Of course, it's possible the people who approached me online were just identity thieves.
It's also possible there actually may be a group of attractive young women someplace who thinks overweight, balding, married reporters like me are smoking hot. I know I do.
My solution to being approached by these attractive strangers was to joke with them, and it worked.
They'd instant message me out of nowhere to ask what I did for a living. Then I'd see that their Facebook profile had one photo and three friends and say things like "I create employment opportunities for intelligence consultants."
Smartass stuff like that.
I also promptly posted a transcript of each exchange on my own Facebook wall to make sure they didn't have any leverage over me with the wife. Eventually, they went away.
The point is that you don't have to be nasty and you don't have to be defensive.
So, why am I writing this column now?
Well, I was making my way through Zuccotti Park on March 23 when I was approached by two young guys who saw that I was press and wanted to talk to me.
I gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed they were Occupiers. Even though they could have been James O'Keefe and Michelle Malkin for all I knew.
After a short chat, the one on the near right – we'll call him "Genius-1" - decided I was a potential infiltrator.
Who can blame him?
After all, anyone can make up a press pass and anyone can buy a reporter's notebook.
What really seemed to set him off - other than the fact that I was interviewing his buddy and not him - was that I started the interview by asking Genius-2 for his name, age, hometown and occupation.
You know, all the things real reporters are supposed to request to disprove the notion we just make things up.
"What do you need that for," said Genius-1 (green shirt at right).
"I'm just doing my job," I said. "Good journalists ask for that kind of information so people know we're not making stuff up."
"The New York Times didn't ask me for that," Genius-1 said, brushing his long brown rebel bangs from his unshaven rebel face.
"Fuck The New York Times," I said reflexively
Just as I have throughout a 22-year career spent beating their overpaid staffers like a pair of bongo drums.
That was pretty much the beginning of the end for that interview. Mostly because Genius-1 knows diddly about journalism.
If he did, he would have known that most journalists want to work for The New York Times someday. The Gray Lady pays well and has the resources and reputation to do a decent job.
Doors open for her people and their calls get returned. That doesn't always happen for the rest of us and it's frustrating to have to work so much harder for so much less.
So, here's a hint: anybody with a reporter's notepad who says "Fuck the New York Times" is probably a real journalist.
Possibly someone who runs a publication that didn't spend the first two months of the Occupy movement marginalizing it with garbage stories, as the Times did, but actually risked their own reputation and professional standing to tell the truth.
That's another fake photo of me at right, graduating from the Columbia University School of Journalism in 1990. I stole a gown and snuck in, just on the off chance I might need this pic 22 years later so I could infiltrate Occupy. My professors included the Times own Mary Anne Giordano and Marty Gottlieb, who are seated in the foreground.
Here's how the deal works with anonymous sourcing in journalism. The practice gets abused a lot by scrub reporters who use the phrases "anonymous sources" and "sources said" to avoid doing their work.
Anonymity is supposed to be used sparingly. It's supposed to be a last resort to protect sources who could lose their jobs or face imprisonment if they were identified - like Bradley Manning. Or be subject to physical harm - like victims of a violent crime.
You could make an argument that every Occupier needs to be
quoted anonymously in the press, because they could all be hurt by the 1 Percent. I try not to do so for two reasons.
First, stories that rely on too many anonymous sources are suspect and have less credibility in the public forum. In short, they carry less weight.
And you folks want to change the world. Right?
Second, because once you're arrested you're pretty much in the system and the 1 Percent knows who you are. Most veteran occupiers have been there.
Citing them anonymously protects nothing. All it does is cast doubt on whether they actually exist at all.
I tried to explain all this to Genius-1, but he wasn't really interested. He was still buzzed by the power of leveling an unfounded accusation at someone.
What fun, huh?
So, then I tried to explain to Genius-1 that he could check out The Cynical Times, which has been covering Occupy full force since Sept. 24, and see whether I was an infiltrator for himself at http://www.cyncialtimes.org.
I also gave him the address of my personal website at http://www.victorepstein.com and explained to him that it had byline stories dating back to 1987. That's the year when I conducted a jailhouse interview with Larry Davis (below left) in the old Bronx House of Detention for allegedly shooting six police officers.
I did this as a college student, documenting Davis' jailhouse wounds. You know, classic right-wing, neocon stuff.
Genius-1 gave me a blank look in reply.
Then I asked him if he had read about the 35 senior citizens who died inside St. Rita's Nursing Home during Hurricane Katrina and explained that I had broken that story and actually led the body count. There's a fake photo of me at the top of this story, doctored to make it look like I'm wading through New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
There's another fake photo of me above right, pretending to stand outside St. Rita's after the contaminated floodwaters claimed my last T-shirt.
At which point Genius-1 said something to Genius-2 which still amazes me.
"That's part of the infiltrator profile," he said. "Making grandiose statements."
There was a long pause.
"So, what am I supposed to do if I actually did that stuff," I asked. "Pretend I didn't?"
I never got a chance to tell him that my investigative reporting secured the first finding of an improper shooting in Georgia State Patrol history in 1994. Or that I exposed institutional racism in the South, and the exploitation of migrant laborers, or any of the 20 or so other major accomplishments which mark the life of this committed public service journalist.
What would be the point?
That would be grandiose, right?
Especially when you're dealing with someone who thinks the concept of public service began on Sept. 17, 2011. By the way, there's another fake photo of me above right conducting a fake interview on the third floor of a fake riverfront home in Bainbridge, Ga. This one was taken after that river town was flooded by fake Tropical Storm Alberto in 1994.
It's just amazing what you can do with Photoshop these days.
I've been a working journalist for more than 20 years. During that time I've been threatened with everything from shotguns to advertising pulls.
However, I've never been subjected to trial by excellence before.
I rank the experience right up there with the old "ordeal by water." It was used by medieval judges who needed to determine whether women were guilty of witchcraft or not. They reached this determination by tossing the accused into rivers, and ponds with their legs and arms tied.
Those who floated to the surface were guilty. Those who sank were innocent.
In my case, if I'm actually an accomplished journalist then I must be an infiltrator. Because no decent journalist would come anywhere near the Occupy movement.
That's the fatally flawed logic, right?
Like I said, homeboy is a friggin genius.
"You guys realize that you approached me, right," I said, drawing blank stares. "I didn't ask you for an interview.
"All right," I told Genius-1 and his partner after a long pause. "Do me a favor and just check out the websites and see for yourselves and get back to me. You've got my card."
"Sure," he said.
This is the part of the column where I savage Genius-1. Not because he treated me like a suspect, which I despise, but because I spotted him the next day at the Occupy rally in Union Square.
"Hey man," I said. "Did you check out the websites?"
"Nope," Genius-1 responded.
See, now that really pisses me off. Hence this column.
It's one thing to accuse me of something in a world morphed by the politics of fear. I understand where that kind of suspicion comes from.
It's quite another to falsely accuse me and then make no effort to determine whether you're wrong or right after receiving evidence to the contrary.
That garbage doesn't fly.
It's not that I'm not for sale. I'd sell out Occupy in a minute for the right price. Every name, every email, every phone number.
All I ask in return is one night of ecstasy with Salma Hayek, circa 1995, in the flesh. That's the Salma from the film "Desperado."
However, until my price is met I would really appreciate it if no one else who is new to the public service game accuses me of being an infiltrator. Because I don't deserve it.
If it happens again I am going to take immediate punitive action by stripping off my shirt, sagging my jeans, and walking around like a Green Day roadie until a suitable apology is proffered.
Swear to God.
And trust me, Occupy pundit Jesse LaGreca ain't got nothing on me in the belly department. I've been growing my pony-keg steadily since the photo at right was taken in 1998.
It's pretty friggin grandiose.