Brandon Darby: Reclaiming a Lost Narrative

On April 3, 2007, the Times Picayune published an article titled “Help Might Be One Call Away.”  The story featured the Common Ground Relief Shelter, and one of its co-founders, Brandon Darby.  The author of the article, Sheila Stroup, offered a favorable review of the shelter and Darby’s work with New Orleans residents struggling in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.   Similar outlets, including many left-wing publications like Mother Jones and AlterNet, also praised Darby and Common Ground at that time.  But in 2012, those same outlets are now critical of Darby; at least one has even gone so far as to scrub the positive coverage, and to replace it with a completely revised history of Common Ground – one that removes all mention of Brandon Darby.

The 2007 Times Picayune article began like this:

If you’re desperate, out of options, have nowhere else to turn, Brandon Darby wants you to call him. 

Really.  He handed me a business card with his new toll-free number on it and asked me to spread the word.

“I think using the director’s number as a help line is kind of unusual,” he said.

Brandon is Operations Director for Common Ground Relief, a grassroots group that formed in the first days after Katrina and keeps evolving to meet the needs of the New Orleans area.

The volunteers are probably best known for gutting houses, but they’re helping people rebuild their lives in many ways.

Brandon is a “buck stops here” kind of guy.  That’s why he wanted his number to be the helpline.

“There are solutions to almost every problem if we know what the problem is,” he said.

Today, that article is nowhere to be found online.  Like so many others regarding Darby before and after it in the media world, the article seems to have fallen down the memory hole, to be disappeared forever.

A cursory search of LexisNexis rediscovers the article, however.  The full piece is offered here for your own reading pleasure.

NOLA Time Picayune

Instead, what appears in its place are a series of articles that seem to be an exercise in history revisionism – articles by the same author, posted by the same publication, and the name Brandon Darby has been eradicated from existence.

Why?

Regular readers at Breitbart News recognize Brandon Darby as a fellow Breitbart contributor. A former left-wing activist, Darby was once a familiar face on the grassroots scene in Austin, TX and New Orleans, LA.  In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Darby formed Common Ground Relief with three others.

But that all began to change in 2008.

Darby turned to the FBI when he recognized that a colleague of his at the time, Riad Hamad, was attempting to funnel money from Hamad’s Palestinian nonprofit organization, The Palestine Children's Welfare Fund (PCWF), to aid enemies of Israel.  Hamad had been suggesting a visit to the Middle East that included proposals of violence.  Darby refused and was content to let the issue go, but when he realized that Hamad continued to try and convince others to join him instead, Darby knew that he had to inform law enforcement to stop that plan.

Soon after, Darby found himself working undercover as an informant with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, when activists from a fringe left group the FBI termed as the “Austin Affinity Group” - – which included David McKay and Bradley Neal Crowder - plotted to utilize explosive devices at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The details of just how involved and dangerous the Austin Affinity Group’s plans were can be seen in this 2009 press release issued by the Minneapolis Division of the FBI

Following a FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation, McKay was arrested by the St. Paul Police Department during the execution of a search warrant on Sept. 3 at a residence on Dayton Avenue. Police found eight assembled Molotov cocktails in the basement. They consisted of bottles filled with gasoline with an attached wick made from tampons.

According to trial testimony, the FBI in Texas began investigating the group, labeled by law enforcement as the Austin Affinity Group, in February 2008. McKay and Crowder were members of the group.

McKay admitted that on Aug. 28, 2008, he, Crowder and other members of the Austin Affinity Group traveled from Austin, Texas, to Minnesota. The group brought a rental trailer with them that contained 35 riot shields, made from stolen traffic barrels. The intended use of the shields was to help demonstrators block streets near the Xcel Energy Center in order to prevent convention delegates from safely reaching the convention. St. Paul Police seized these shields on Aug. 31.

According to trial testimony, McKay and Crowder, angered by the loss of the shields, purchased supplies for constructing Molotov cocktails at a St. Paul Wal-Mart on Aug. 31, including a gas can, motor oil and tampons. They also purchased gasoline at a gas station. They then manufactured the eight Molotov cocktails at an apartment on Dayton Avenue where they were staying.

Law enforcement learned through an informant that McKay and Crowder had manufactured the Molotov cocktails.

During a conversation overheard by law enforcement through electronic surveillance on Sept. 2, McKay told an informant that he intended to throw the Molotov cocktails at police vehicles parked in a lot near the Dayton Avenue apartment. The parking lot was used as a checkpoint area for vehicles entering the security perimeter around the convention site. It was visibly patrolled by the U.S. Secret Service, various police agencies and the military.

During the execution of a search warrant by the St. Paul Police Department at the Dayton Avenue residence where McKay was staying when he was arrested, officers seized a variety of items, including gas masks, slingshots, helmets and knee pads. Under the kitchen sink, officers discovered a two-gallon gasoline container identical to the one purchased by McKay at the WalMart on Aug. 31. In the basement of the residence, officers found eight assembled Molotov cocktails.

According to the full affidavit that was filed by FBI Special Agent Christopher Langert in the state of Minnesota for the case, McKay had expressed no concerns that a cop could potentially be inside one of the cars they planned to hit with Molotov cocktails, and remarked, “it’s worth it if an officer gets burned or maimed.”

After Darby publicly revealed his role as an informant and his involvement in the arrests eventually became clear, there was a coordinated effort to push the narrative that the activists were victims of entrapment, at the hands of Darby.  But in the same press release from the Minneapolis Division of the FBI, it was revealed by a judge that such charges were false.

Today’s sentence included a finding by Judge Davis that McKay obstructed justice at his January trial by falsely accusing a government informant, Brandon Darby, of inducing him to manufacture the Molotov cocktails.

Judge Davis told McKay that while it was acceptable for people to peacefully protest, McKay’s activities took him down a different path, one of anarchy. “I saw you on the videotape,” Judge Davis added, referring to evidence shown of McKay during a recording of a violent protest. “You were leading the charge. You and Crowder were coming up here (to Minnesota) to do anarchy against the system.”

Darby had ultimately decided to come forth and testify against one of the two bomb makers. Admittedly, this seemed an awkward place for Darby – not only had he been part of the activist left, but like many others in the New Orleans area, he hadn’t always placed his trust entirely with law enforcement personnel.  But as Darby’s concerns about radicalism in the activist left grew, as did his relationship with the FBI, he began to realize that those around him for all these years did not reflect the principles or the political viewpoints he truly espoused.

Darby was named as the key witness in a related case on December 29th, 2008.  The New York Times went into narrative changing mode – rather than focusing on the alleged crimes of Darby’s fellow activists and the physical evidence detailed in the FBI reports, the newspaper instead focused on the perceived betrayal by Darby in the eyes of leftist activist circles.  Almost overnight, posters sprung up all across communities in which Darby lived, denouncing him.

In all the scorn of Darby from activists and media on the left, the narrative that eventually came to be was a false one.  It neglected one of the single most important admissions made by defendant David McKay to the court in his second trial:  he lied about Brandon Darby.

"My belief was that Brad [Crowder] was going to say something that was not true to protect himself," he told [Judge] Davis. But he admitted that he'd done the same thing. "I embellished -- I guess actually lied -- that Brandon Darby came up with the idea to make Molotov cocktails."

Darby’s FBI involvement was neither celebrated nor appreciated by activists and media on the left. Though thousands of activists had come through Darby’s Common Ground organization in New Orleans, many of them bloggers, not one negative story about him or his character had surfaced in the multitude of media stories that existed about him or his organization prior to the public revelation of his FBI involvement.

But now, all of Darby’s prior accomplishments were taken from him.

Lisa Fithian, the infamous Occupy organizer and paid labor union agitator, began claiming that Darby was only “nominally involved” in New Orleans and hadn’t co-founded Common Ground Relief at all, a statement that even fellow organizer Malik Rahim – who himself was disappointed to learn of Darby’s informant status - disputed in the same January 6, 2009 Democracy Now interview. Fithian portrayed Darby as a sex-fiend who hated women, never acknowledging Darby’s role in founding a women’s shelter. Another Common Ground Relief co-founder, Scott Crow, denounced Darby and claimed he didn’t start the organization, despite having publicly credited Darby as a co-founder previously.

The facts that were presented by Darby, and subsequently the FBI, jeopardized the image that the broader movement had been trying to portray for itself - that it was a movement of non-violence.  In order to save face, they would have to change the narrative.  Darby was recharacterized, reinvented by his fellow activists - not as someone who did the right thing in the face of a difficult situation, but as someone who preyed on helpless young activists on the left and actively “infiltrated” and “entrapped” them into breaking the law.

Unable to defend himself against this revisionism due to the upcoming trial, Darby’s character was smeared and damaged in what appeared to be a concerted effort to discredit his testimony against the accused activists.

 

Brandon Darby was labeled a “snitch” and since 2008, his story has been revised and retold time and time again by many on the left.  To this day, he endures countless attacks on his character, many of them citing the false representation of the facts in that trial.  Despite whatever other history may have existed amongst Darby’s circle of activists before this time, the facts are in the court documents – something that media rarely highlighted.

And so this began much of the revisionism that we see today in Darby’s history.  Not only have negative stories been plastered about him all across the internet, including a New York Times article that prompted Darby to sue the publication for defamation in March of 2011, but we now see another instance of a positive piece that accurately depicted Darby and his work with the Common Ground Relief and Women’s Shelter has been scrubbed from the internet.

This turn of events initiated the life-changing transformation of Darby’s conversion from political left to right.

I’ve spoken with Brandon Darby about this time in his life, and about his political conversion.  He maintains that not much about him as a person has changed – he’s always believed in leveraging fellow members of the surrounding community to provide assistance to those in need – but the people with whom Darby surrounds himself has.  While he once thought that the left stood for his ideals, his personal experience has taught him that he saw the right in a false portrayal.  He’s since found that other activists and organizations on the right have been a far more suitable fit for his ideology and his goals.  When I asked Brandon how he reconciled this shift, he explained:

Life provided me with experiences many don't get to have. I was able to participate in basically being "the government" in Katrina's aftermath until actual governmental agencies returned. I was able to actually work with and see the character of many of the Left's heroes and leaders; I was able to taste the fruit of left-of-center methodologies. The result was an appreciation for our system of checks and balances, how it was institutionalized. I began to think it strange that others called for more of people relying on governmental aid. I began to feel the solutions were in less governmental control of lives and more of personal responsibility.

Darby’s story is unfortunately not all that uncommon.  Others at times have also found themselves in his shoes.  Too often, the facts don’t fit the narrative, and invested parties – including media – will rewrite their own.  I suppose some may see this post as doing the same.  Perhaps it’s balance.


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