FBI Impersonating Conservative Groups

So the FBI has now admitted they are falsely representing themselves as fake leaders of real right-of-center organizations in order to chase leads on potential extremists who threaten violence against lawmakers. This is a pretty disgusting tactic because when the story is resolved and reported, the innocent groups are being smeared through association by law enforcement officials.

As the F.B.I. moved in on a man who allegedly threatened Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, because of her support for health care legislation, law enforcement agents faced a challenge: they needed to confirm that Charles A. Wilson, the man whose phone number was used to leave menacing messages on her office voicemail, was in fact the man who made the threats.

So they found a convenient way to get Mr. Wilson talking about the issue that seemed to be weighing so heavily on him. Special Agent Cory Cote of the F.B.I. called Mr. Wilson at his home number and, according to the criminal complaint, “disguised himself as a representative of Patients United Now, a group that was ostensibly attempting to have the federal health care reform legislation repealed.”

Mr. Wilson apparently was interested in what the group had to say: the call lasted about 14 minutes, according to the complaint.

Patients United Now is a real organization, part of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a conservative, antitax advocacy group, that has actively opposed the legislation and also runs a project called “Hands Off My Health Care.”

According to the report, the suspect had no connection with AFPF prior to the FBI’s actions. AFPF’s leader points out that they have condemned those who make threats, and the organization’s activities have focused on getting grassroots mobilized. They do voter education seminars which are copy cats of the NRA grassroots seminars that educate people on how politics and elections work and how the individual can get involved.

I think there’s a damn good question here: Why is the FBI impersonating leaders of real organizations in their stings? What are they saying to suspects that will ultimately be (falsely) attributed to right-of-center leaders? They could destroy an organization’s reputation with their sting actions when the actual staff and volunteers had nothing to do with criminal activities. There’s no reason the FBI couldn’t make up a new fake organization rather than trying to drag the successful small government groups through the mud.

19 thoughts on “FBI Impersonating Conservative Groups”

  1. “There’s no reason the FBI couldn’t make up a new fake organization rather than trying to drag the successful small government groups through the mud.”

    Yes there is. They’re trading on the existent organizations reputation and air of legitimacy.

    If the guy had known who PUN or AFPF was, it helps add depth to the agent’s cover. If he Googles it, he’ll come up with a website, a Facebook page, etc. All are legit.

    And it works both ways. You can’t just make up some name anymore. You need to create the online presence. And the lifespan of all that work will be tiny because the posts telling everyone that Federal Bureaucratic Inaction is an FBI front organization will percolate up through the Google listings in what, a few weeks?

    Do these organizations have a right to be angry? Yes.
    Should the FBI be able to do this? No. The FBI is essentially committing fraud. If they borrow an organization’s name enough, they’re going to taint it and thereby destroy it. People are going to assume all of PUN and AFPF’s calls are from the FBI, false positive rate of that assumption be damned.

  2. It’s not hard to set up an astroturf presence online. Believe me, I would rather my tax dollars go to that than to have the FBI completely falsifying associations and smearing groups in the media with those fake associations.

  3. Wyatt, I hate to destroy your fantasy, but the FBI was infiltrating peace and anti-war groups—none of which were involved in any illegal activities—all the way back in 2003, and the latest case we know of is in Iowa from 2008.

  4. So, can AFPF represent itself as the FBI now?
    Seems like their would be some information gathering and fund raising opportunities there.

  5. Infiltrating by impersonating. Well, maybe by “posing as.” I think “impersonating” is the wrong word to use—isn’t impersonating when you pretend to be a specific person? The agents in the above story didn’t portray themselves as people who actually exist either, they posed as imaginary people, right?

    How is claiming to be a member of [insert conservative organization] and not an FBI agent different from claiming to be a member of [insert anti-war group] and not an FBI agent?

    Point is, this is the sort of shit the FBI does all the time to varying degrees, and nobody on the right gave a shit when they did it to lefty groups, and I doubt many on the left will care now that they’ve done it to a righty group.* A handful of principled people across the political spectrum are consistent and oppose this sort of thing regardless.

    (*even though in this case they didn’t actually infiltrate a righty group to spy on people engaging in perfectly lawful activities, I am running under the assumption that they most likely are doing that and we just don’t know about it yet)

    1. They are holding themselves out as representatives & spokespeople, not just members of the same group. And no, impersonating does not have to be a specific person. Turning to my buddies Merriam & Webster, the original source of the word says, “to assume without authority and with fraudulent intent (some character or capacity).” They assumed the role of representative/spokesperson of an organization with intent that could be argued to be fraudulent. I understand things like going under cover. But when they call people up pretending to speak on behalf of real organizations, that puts it in a very different category than just joining a group and pretending to support the cause.

      Yes, if they were calling people pretending to speak for MoveOn and then smearing real MoveOn with false associations, I would condemn it. But that’s different than going to a MoveOn rally as a pretend member of the organization.

  6. So when an FBI agent pretends to be a member of an anti-war group, they are impersonating anti-war activists then, right?

    Is going undercover not itself inherently fraudulent?

    1. Yes, it is to some degree. However, pretending to have a personal opinion that does not accurately reflect not your own is not the same as pretending to speak for a group for which you do not speak.

      It would be like me telling you my favorite color is red and I’m a member of the I Love Red Fan Club. It’s not, and I am not on their mailing. But if I tell you it is, I am only misrepresenting myself and my personal membership. And if I go to the press after you’ve been arrested for telling me about how you want to kill all of the blue lovers in the world, I only tell them that I said I liked red, joined a red lover’s organization, and that was enough to trigger you.

      If I tell you I represent the Democratic National Committee and I’m calling on behalf of them to talk politics with you, I am misrepresenting who I am, my personal opinions, your affiliation with the DNC (assuming it did not exist before, as the case here), and the DNC’s staff. That’s a much bigger line they are crossing when they then go to the press saying they are calling people pretending to speak as a representative of a group.

  7. Yes, it’s not identical, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily worse. I see the argument, but on the one hand, we have an FBI agent pretending to be a representative of a group in order to solve a crime/catch a [potential] criminal—which is much more similar to actual police undercover that we all pretty much is acceptable to stop crimes, and on the other hand, we have FBI agents pretending to be members of a group in order to spy on them even though the group is doing nothing unlawful, and was never accused of doing anything unlawful.

    Furthermore, in the latter case, the agents were active in the group, potentially affecting their activities in a positive or negative way, whereas in the above case, the only person that was actually deceived was the target of the investigation himself.

    So yes, different. Worse? I don’t tend to think so.

    It’s not like the agent made public statements, they had a private conversation with one person, if I understand this correctly, no? Since they don’t seem to be trying to hide the fact that they pretended to be this non-existant representative on this single occasion, I fail to see how it could reflect poorly on the organization itself.

    1. Now wait a minute, you said before we should presume that the FBI is doing this more often than we know about. So, if you’re going to assume they are pretending to be members of a group more often than they admit, why assume they aren’t calling more people and pretending to represent a group? You want us to assume the worst when they only misrepresent personal affiliations, but assume everything is on the up-and-up when they pretend to speak for right-leaning groups? I’m going to be forthright and say there’s just no logic in that at all.

  8. No, what I said I assumed they were doing was infiltrating righty groups in the same way that they infiltrated lefty groups. But as it’s just speculation, I am not going to get all hysterical about it unless we find out for sure that they have agents embedded in conservative groups that they have no reason to believe are engaged in anything illegal.

    In this case, they did have reason to believe the person targeted was engaged in something illegal. Likewise, if they had reason to believe that some lefty group was not a peace group, but was instead making pipe bombs, then I am not going to whine if they put an agent in there.

    Is it possible that they are doing this call thing more than just in this case? Anything is possible. But I tend to think that if this was an ongoing tactic they wouldn’t have been so public and forthcoming with the details about how they got this guy, and I am not going to get all hysterical about it unless we find out that this was the rule, and not the exception.

    And like I said, I think an FBI agent being an active member of an organization is potentially far more damaging to the organization that calling a suspect of a criminal investigation and saying you’re an active an active member.

  9. “Wyatt, I hate to destroy your fantasy, but the FBI was infiltrating peace and anti-war groups—none of which were involved in any illegal activities—all the way back in 2003…”

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! You whippersnapper!

    Try the 1960s! (They were infiltrating “com-symp” groups a decade earlier, but didn’t expand to the harmless political groups until then.)

  10. “Likewise, if they had reason to believe that some lefty group was not a peace group, but was instead making pipe bombs, then I am not going to whine if they put an agent in there.”

    Of course, if they are exposed, they can always CLAIM the pipe-bomb thing. I mean, turns out David Koresh wasn’t making machine guns after all, but, hey — he was molesting chillllllldren and owned actual VIDEOS CRITICAL OF THE BATF!

Comments are closed.