Groups File FOIA Lawsuit Against FBI and DOJ Demanding Information On Warrantless Spying on Activists During Post-Katrina Effort
November 16, 2011, New Orleans - Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), in collaboration with the Loyola Law School’s Clinic in New Orleans, filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation demanding records related to Brandon Darby’s collaboration with the FBI during his involvement with Common Ground, a New Orleans relief organization that provided supplies and assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and worked on rebuilding the New Orleans community from the ground up. Darby, who notoriously infiltrated protest groups at the 2008 Republican National Convention, co-founded Common Ground only to then infiltrate and disrupt the group. The lawsuit, filed in the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on behalf of New Orleans community organizer and Common Ground Relief founder Malik Rahim, follows repeated unsuccessful requests by Mr. Rahim to have the FBI release documents detailing warrantless surveillance that he and other activists might have been subject to while working alongside Mr. Darby.
Said Davida Finger, Assistant Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School in New Orleans, “The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives the public access to all federal agencies’ records and is an important tool for community activists. Unfortunately, in this case, the FBI is choosing to withhold critical information. Brandon Darby has spoken at length to the media about his involvement with the FBI, including during his time at Common Ground. We believe that Malik Rahim, Common Ground, and our community deserve to know the full extent of Mr. Darby’s relationship with the FBI while doing post-Katrina work.”
Said Malik Rahim, “I and other members of the New Orleans activist community were shocked and saddened by the revelations of Brandon Darby’s extensive collaboration with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. In the difficult times following Hurricane Katrina, we welcomed Mr. Darby into the community and shared everything we had with him. Mr. Darby inserted himself as a leader of Common Ground but, looking back, many of Mr. Darby’s actions appear to have intentionally caused rifts within the organization and the community. In retrospect, he was doing everything you're supposed to do as a government agent in that situation – making an effort to divide and conquer. Accordingly, we have filed suit to compel the FBI to release all information concerning any collaboration with Mr. Darby during his time working with Common Ground in New Orleans.”
As thousands of FOIA documents released over the years have revealed, government surveillance and infiltration of activist groups is a widespread practice in the United States. Indeed, crackdowns on Occupy Wall Street and related protests across the country and the recent revelation of a New York security consultant’s infiltration of the Zuccotti Park encampment suggest that government efforts to suppress dissent and disrupt peaceful protest continue. Mr. Rahim and his lawyers have filed this lawsuit to enforce the government's obligations under the Freedom of Information Act to provide information to the public about government conduct. The requested information will shed light on the FBI and other law enforcement activities in New Orleans during the tumultuous months and years following Hurricane Katrina.
The legal team in the case also includes co-counsel Julie Hurwitz and Bill Goodman from Goodman & Hurwitz, and Miles Swanson.