ARIC Informants Have Watched Local Leftists for Years

Secret police intelligence “Antifa affinity groups”

Today's Marxist-aligned groups are referred to as "Red Guards," after the now-defunct Maoist group that spawned the scene, pictured here marching in 2017. (Photo by John Anderson)

The Chronicle has described the Marxist-aligned direct-action groups working in Austin as part of "a hard-left activist ecosystem." Longtime community organizers refer to them as "Red Guards," after the now-defunct Maoist group that spawned the scene. The Austin Regional Intelligence Center, Central Texas' organizer and purveyor of secret police intelligence, uses its own bit of shorthand, common to law enforcement across the country – "antifa affinity groups."

While some Austin activists self-­identify as "antifa," others ridicule the notion that such a thing even exists. Without doubt, on several occasions, "Red Guard" groups have enthusiastically confronted fascists in the streets. Such efforts as Serve the People, Popular Women's Movement, Frente de Liberación Inmi­grante, Stone­wall Militant Front, Fire the Abusers, Defend Our Hoodz, and most recently the Mike Ramos Brigade are opaque by design and don't broadcast their histories or membership. But as shown in the documents collectively known as BlueLeaks, a hack of police intelligence centers across the U.S. that the Chronicle has studied since June, local law enforcement has been surveilling the groups for years.

"The Red Guards Austin is an organization that promotes anti-government and anti-law enforcement," reads an ARIC bulletin from Nov. 16, 2016, shortly after the group's leader was arrested at a protest of Donald Trump's election. (The RGA officially disbanded in 2018.) "Comments members have posted on open source websites indicate that they are frustrated with the lack of change that comes from peaceful protests. In planning for protests, they provide tips on how to 'de-arrest' (a tactic which involves using distractions and sheer numbers to attempt to pull arrested subjects from officers), how to counteract the effects of pepper spray, and how to prepare for going to jail."

ARIC's so-called Threat Liaison Officers – most of them sworn law enforcement, but some of them private citizens – are the ones who gather information for ARIC's database. ARIC then analyzes the information and makes its analyses available to police around the country. Per ARIC's privacy policy, all information gathered must have a "criminal nexus" – that is, be associated with a potential crime. As the bulletin on the Red Guards shows, "potential" is often viewed broadly to encompass activities protected by the First Amendment.

However, many tips regarding the "antifa affinity" groups do spring from actual lawbreaking, often incidents of property damage. For example, TLOs submitted multiple reports throughout 2017 and 2018 on Defend Our Hoodz's campaign to shut down the Blue Cat Cafe on East Cesar Chavez. "A local business was spray painted with the words 'get out' and other vulgar phrases that referred to the business as 'gentrified scum,'" a bulletin from June 7, 2017, reads. "During this same incident, the key holes were filled with glue, preventing entry into the business."

TLOs also filed reports on efforts by DOH (now a chapter of the United Neigh­borhood Defense Movement) to stop the 4700 River­side residential development, dubbed the "Domain on Riverside" by DOH, and slated to replace four existing large, affordable apartment complexes with upscale mixed-use properties. One bulletin describes DOH's action against Mike Piano, a developer spearheading the project. "Graffiti text in red paint was found on the premises of a private residence indicating: 'NO DOMAIN ON RIVERSIDE,'" reads a "Situational Aware­ness" bulletin from Jan. 29, 2020. "In addition, the front façade of the residence was covered in red paint and two rocks were thrown through the living room window."

Many bulletins describe graffiti; activists have for years tagged buildings – especially in the Riverside and Bolm/Springdale areas – with slogans such as "Elec­tions no, revolution yes," and "Don't vote, fight for revolution." The graffiti often appears on the homes and businesses of political opponents. The Jan. 29 bulletin continues: "Graffiti, including a Soviet-style hammer-­and-sickle logo and text in red lettering, was found on the façade of two Armed Services recruiting stations in Southpark Meadows. U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force Reserve offices were all similarly defaced. Text in red lettering indicated: 'FIGHT U.S. IMPERIALISM WITH REVOLUTION STAY OUT OF IRAN!!' and 'COMBAT & RESIST U.S. IMPERIALISM.' Large red 'X' symbols were painted on exterior doors and windows."

ARIC also watches the alt-right, including the Texas Confederate Militia, Patriot Front, and others. Since Trump's election, bulletins have predicted violence between the far left and far right, such as this one from July 7, 2017: "The ARIC assesses that anti-fascist (antifa) criminal activity and public disruption will continue to escalate. ... We expect to see an increased number of armed members on both sides during future protests. Demon­strat­ors on both sides have indicated a willingness to use firearms if sufficiently provoked."

Firearms have indeed become more common at protests. In late July, Garrett Foster was shot and killed at a Black Lives Matter march by an active-duty Army sergeant with suspected alt-right sympathies. Foster had marched that night with the Mike Ramos Brigade, the subject of an ARIC bulletin from June 2 warning: "A recent community meeting hosted by the Mike Ramos Brigade emphasized anti-police sentiment and potential targeting of officers, to include the following statements: 'We're gonna kill police,' 'We're gonna make police lives living hell,' [and] 'We must kill some f***ing pigs.'"

We asked an MRB spokesperson in June whether an undercover officer could have been present at one of their meetings. "There could have been a cop there, you know," the spokesperson said. "It's a very large group and mostly not organized protesters but people who care about the issue, right? You can't run around trying to vet every possible person that passes through." The spokesperson denied that the MRB targets police.

Two years earlier, a TLO report of a possible left-right confrontation (that ended up being a false alarm) included a tipster's call for ARIC analysts to scrutinize the right as vigorously as the left, noting that right-wing groups are responsible for practically all political violence in recent years, while left-wing groups generally limit themselves to property damage.

"I know how closely you document left wing activities in this area, and how little you document right wing extremism locally, and it's pretty repulsive considering how statistically right wing extremism leads to death far more than any other form of terrorism," the tipster wrote. "Though it's to be expected given the amount of cooperation and intelligence sharing officers on the ground have been observed engaging in with these groups because of their personal sympathies, especially when it comes to the militia groups."

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