From the April 2010 issue of Townhall magazine: Brandon Darby learned something from Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. Once a hard-core radical who sided with progressive revolutionaries, Darby prevented a left-wing terrorist attack on the 2008 GOP convention. Now, this America-loving patriot is the target of the domestic extremists he once called “friends.”
Did you know that a courageous former radical helped to avert a planned left-wing terrorist attack at the 2008 Republican National Convention that might have killed who knows how many Americans?
Neither did I until recently.
That’s because if you disrupt a terrorist attack on Americans by Islamic fundamentalists as Northwest Flight 253 passenger Jasper Schuringa did on Christmas Day, you’re a hero; however, if you take the initiative to undermine a terrorist attack on Americans by supposedly well intentioned left-wing fundamentalists, you might as well be a terrorist yourself.
Brandon Darby, who in recent years also refused leftists’ invitations to get involved in Venezuelan communist subversion here in America and in anti-Israeli terrorism in Palestine, learned this unpalatable truth the hard way.
The Left-Wing Plot to Kill Republicans
After years of in-your-face protests, confrontational tactics and working with America-haters, Darby eventually experienced a political epiphany. He rejected the radical Left and its culture of political violence. He came to realize that America, for all its faults, wasn’t such a bad place after all.
“I felt I had a duty to atone after badmouthing my country for so many years,” Darby told me in an interview. “I love my country.”
But Darby didn’t always love his country.
Darby previously considered himself a revolutionary. His charisma and militant anti-Americanism made the intense Texan a larger-than-life figure among leftist activists in the South.
He openly called for the overthrow of the U.S. government, which he considered too corrupt and oppressive to be reformed. He expressed his hatred of police as guardians of the status quo. He consorted with eco-terrorist tree-spikers, radical feminists and black nationalists.
He was approached to rob an armored car and asked to commit arson to fight gentrification. He mouthed politically correct slogans and platitudes about the Bush administration. Government didn’t care about people, and in his eyes, the much-maligned response to Hurricane Katrina proved it.
But around the same time, the former radical community organizer was turning away from radicalism, and at tremendous personal risk, he undermined a leftwing terrorist plot to attack the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. If he hadn’t taken action, Americans exercising their free speech rights and police officers might have been killed.
Without informing his fellow anarchists, Darby offered his assistance to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and, at the FBI’s request, infiltrated a leftwing group known as the Austin Affinity Group. The outfit had joined with a larger coalition of progressive organizations that facetiously called itself the “RNC Welcoming Committee.” The committee hoped to lay siege to the GOP convention that nominated the presidential ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin.
The FBI sent Darby to meet with anarchists who were developing their plan at a bookstore in Austin.
“It was a group of people whose explicit purpose was to organize a group of ‘black bloc’ anarchists to shut the Republican convention down by any means necessary,” he explained. “They showed videos of people throwing Molotov cocktails, and they were giving people ideas.”
The two 20-something plotters on whom Darby informed, David Guy McKay and Bradley Neil Crowder, had made homemade riot shields and were ready to use them in St. Paul to help demonstrators block streets near the Xcel Energy Center in order to prevent GOP delegates from participating in the convention. The shields were discovered and confiscated.
But McKay and Crowder were undeterred by this setback. Together they manufactured instruments of death calculated to inflict maximum pain and bodily harm on people whose political views they disagreed with.
During a search of a residence, police found gas masks, slingshots, helmets, knee pads and eight Molotov cocktails consisting of bottles filled with gasoline with attached wicks made from tampons.
“They mixed gasoline with oil so it would stick to clothing and skin and burn longer,” Darby told me.
Thanks to Darby’s cooperation with the FBI, the two anarchist would-be bomb throwers are now languishing in prison. McKay entered a “guilty” plea and was sentenced in May 2009 to 48 months in prison plus three years of supervised release for possession of an unregistered “firearm,” illegal manufacture of a firearm and possession of a firearm with no serial number. A week before, Crowder cut a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to 24 months in prison for possession of an unregistered firearm.
McKay received the stiffer sentence in part because he fabricated a tall tale about Darby’s involvement in the plot.
During sentencing, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis went out of his way to make a specific legal finding that McKay obstructed justice by falsely accusing Darby of inducing him to manufacture the incendiary devices.
Davis told McKay he crossed the line between peaceful dissent and violent protest. “You were leading the charge. You and Crowder were coming up here [to Minnesota] to do anarchy against the system.”
But now the story takes a strange turn.
After Darby, who until the end of 2008 had been a confidential FBI informant, revealed that he had worked with authorities to pre-empt the violent conspiracy, he became the subject of a campaign of vilification by the Left.
Google Darby’s name and the words “snitch” and “rat” appear. Cyber-squatters appropriated his name and created a hateful Web site to defame him.
The floodgates of abuse burst open after Darby acknowledged in an open letter posted at an alternative news Web site that not only had he worked with the FBI, but he also “strongly” stood behind his decision to do so.
The irretrievably liberal New York Times ignored his heroism. A Jan. 5, 2009, article focused not on Darby’s lifesaving intervention but on the feelings of “betrayal” his former allies in left-wing anarchist circles were experiencing.
The paper showed how shocked and appalled Scott Crow, who with Darby co-founded the Common Ground Relief agency in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, was after learning about Darby’s cooperation with the FBI.
“I put it all on the line to defend him when accusations first came out,” Crow said. “Brandon Darby is somebody I had entrusted with my life in New Orleans, and now I feel endangered by him.” Why someone who presumably hadn’t committed a crime would feel “endangered” by knowing an FBI informant is unclear.
ACORN founder Wade Rathke (shown at left in above photo), who worked as a professional agitator for the violent Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s, would have preferred that Republican delegates be incinerated.
He denounced Darby for working with the authorities to disrupt the domestic terrorists. “It seemed so, how should I say it, ’60s?”
It’s “one thing to disagree, but it’s a whole different thing to rat on folks,” Rathke wrote on his blog.
This response to ideological apostasy is not altogether surprising. Leftists who abandon their faith are demonized by their former co-religionists. Relentless attacks on Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore and former radical David Horowitz continue to the present day, decades after they moved rightward.
Right-Wing Violence Bad, Left-Wing Violence Good?
Compare the treatment of Darby at the hands of the Left to the respectful– often groveling–treatment afforded ObamaCare architect Robert Creamer.
A HuffingtonPost.com contributor and husband of shrill socialist Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Creamer served prison time for kiting checks and failing to pay withholding taxes for his leftist nonprofit, Illinois Public Action Fund. Just like his liberal friends in Congress and the Obama administration, he refused to roll back spending and instead created a modified Ponzi scheme in order to continue drawing his full $100,000 salary.
This crusader for social justice and political consultant to Democratic Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and impeached Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich even whined at his 2006 sentencing that he received a five-month period of incarceration, well below the 30 to 37 months called for in federal sentencing guidelines. The media failed to call him on it.
Convicted cop-killing activists Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal are legends on the Left. Black Panther Abu-Jamal in particular enjoys a cult following among radicals even though no serious person–including Abu-Jamal himself, who failed to claim to be innocent at his trial–contests that in 1981 he shot and killed Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in cold blood.
Creamer, Peltier and Abu-Jamal are all heroes to the Left no matter what they did, and to some precisely because of what they did.
This is because on the Left there is a presumption of good intentions even by fellow-traveling terrorists. As left-wing talk radio host Thom Hartmann told me last year: “My left-wing crazies are better than your right-wing crazies.”
“Your right-wing crazies are incited to violence based on fear and hate of people because of whom they are, because they’re gay, because they’re Catholic, because they’re Jewish, because they’re black, because they’re Hispanic. And our left-wing crazies are incited to violence because they’re trying to create a better world. They’re trying to save the environment in the case of the eco-terrorists. They’re trying to end the Vietnam War in the case of the Weather Underground. They’re trying to bring about civil rights in the case of the Symbionese Liberation Army and some of the other black terrorist groups that were operating in the 1970s” (emphasis added).
To the Left, violent acts aimed at desirable ends are worthy of praise, especially if aimed at the other side.
Internationally known Marxist author Naomi Klein has praised the riots that took place during the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle and openly called for violence at the 2004 Republican convention, urging protesters to bring the Iraq War to the streets of New York City. The Canadian writer wasn’t ostracized by the Left after her outrageous statement; if anything, her public stature has only grown since 2004.
If right-wing terrorists plotted to attack a Democratic National Convention, whoever foiled the conspiracy would be immortalized in film, literature and song as a savior of democracy.
“If you flip the equation around and it had been a group of conservatives threatening to use force to prevent those on the Left from meeting, everyone would expect the government to infiltrate them and they would also expect the FBI to stop them and charge them with crimes,” Darby said.
“But when it’s leftists that organize to prevent Republicans from being able to meet, then all of a sudden it’s considered government oppression. There’s something wrong with that, and no one points that out, and it’s really offensive and damaging to our system.”
Social justice-oriented terrorism isn’t ugly and anti-American, according to the nation’s entertainment-media complex; it’s downright praiseworthy and hip. So it should come as no surprise that Crowder and McKay are in the process of being rehabilitated by the Left.
Early on, the duo became a cause célèbre for the Left, dubbed the Texas 2. Now documentary filmmakers are currently making a movie about them called–you guessed it–“Better This World.” The documentary, which is reportedly in the post-production phase, received an HBO Documentary Films Fellowship.
No doubt there will be more praise heaped on them as they ascend to the Left’s pantheon of social justice champions, joining Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn and the Unabomber.
The Journal Away From Radicalism
But no one is singing the praises of Darby, a genuine American hero.
Born in Pasadena, Texas, in 1976, Darby’s efforts in post-Katrina New Orleans were highlighted favorably in the media, most notably in a Jonathan Demme documentary that was shown on the “Tavis Smiley Show” on PBS.
When Darby learned people were suffering in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he moved there, defying police orders not to enter the stricken city. With $50, he co-founded Common Ground in the home of Malik Rahim, a veteran community organizer and former Black Panther who did prison time for armed robbery.
“When we started, everyone in the city was armed, everyone was scared, and there was a complete lack of law enforcement,” said Darby. “The few roving bands of law enforcement that were present didn’t like us very much because of the fact that we were involved with people like Malik Rahim, who to this day continues to advocate for those who have attacked law enforcement personnel.”
“We were young, we were caught up in the fervor of helping others and fighting injustice, and at that time, we couldn’t see why people like law enforcement didn’t like Malik,” Darby said.
Common Ground was no mere relief agency. It was a group of far-Left revolutionaries who viewed their work as an extension of their politics.
In a promotional video, Rahim thunders to volunteers: “You are showing this government that the people, that the people in this country do care for peace and justice and that we will stand for peace and justice and that we will do what it takes to restore peace and justice back to America.”
When Common Ground was threatened, the radical Left mobilized to defend it. Police were “freaked out because there were all these Black Panthers who’d had shootouts with the police years ago, and they’re in this house and they refused to leave, so it turned into this really stressful ordeal,” Darby explained.
Despite many obstacles, Common Ground quickly became a successful nonprofit group that helped alleviate the suffering of poor people in the devastated city, especially in the hard-hit 9th Ward.
Supported by donations that flowed in from across the country, in its first three years 22,000 volunteers worked for Common Ground. A magnet for outraged radicals ranging from garden variety collectivists to militant vegans to pagan lesbians, the group gutted flood damaged houses without bothering to obtain permits and provided free health care and meals.
The group was profiled by ABC’s “Nightline,” and the media treated Darby as a savior. With its contributions to the city, the group began to wield political influence, Darby said. Even its initial detractors begrudgingly admitted Common Ground’s positive impact on the Crescent City.
Over time, a lot of the things Darby experienced with Common Ground led him to question his political beliefs, and these experiences offer a window into what happens when the radical Left takes over an area.
In bed with real-estate developers, New Orleans wanted to use eminent domain to condemn many vacant flood damaged houses. According to Darby, many anarchists refused to join his fight to protect the property rights of homeowners, because they didn’t believe in private property.
“I just started putting the call out, and all these libertarians, Republicans and Democrats, started showing up. And what we would do was any time there were bulldozers we would just get in front of them and wouldn’t let them work,” he said.
“We had our lawyers file lawsuits, and so next thing you know, they backed away from it. And they started to work with us to identify where the residents were, and we’d ask the residents if they wanted their place demolished or not.”
Darby defied the politically correct “consensus” method of group decision making and riled feathers by daring to tell aimless volunteers what to do. After vegan volunteers took over the Common Ground kitchen and tried to inflict their dietary preferences on the poor, it occurred to Darby that the leftist-anarchist approach with its aversion to hierarchy would never work in the real world.
“Like most people driven by a strong dogma, the majority of the people who took over were from Berkeley, and they came in under the guise of helping,” he said.
“They tried to use the experience to ‘correct’ the culture and lifestyle of the working-class poor. They tried to use the black residents of New Orleans as lab rats and guinea pigs, and I didn’t like that at all–and the residents didn’t like it either.”
For example, some of the activists tried to organize the residents into “collectives,” and another group of gay activists took over part of a church that had donated its space to help relief efforts. “We were helping to rebuild the church, but then some radicals took over and started using over half the space and designated it as a ‘queer safe place,'” Darby said.
This infuriated the church leadership who were already uncomfortable with being associated with so many radical activists.
“It’s not about you coming here and creating your utopia,” Darby explained.
“It’s about helping these residents and making them feel comfortable. The radicals wanted to make residents sit through political orientations in order to get fed. I objected and that got me called a dictator.”
Common Ground leaders continued to insist on indoctrinating young volunteers and on continuing with in-your-face protest tactics, which lost their usefulness after the group became well established and had connections with people in the city, Darby said.
“The people making decisions for the city about how aid was distributed and about where FEMA work crews and search-and-rescue crews operated, developed relationships with us,” he explained. “They were completely open to hear our perspective and wanted us to participate in what decisions were made, but unfortunately many of the other community organizers were stuck in a fight-the-power dogma, which ultimately hindered their ability to serve those in need. There was no official of local government there that we couldn’t call on their cell phone and set up a dinner meeting with or enjoy a cup of coffee with.”
After initially having rocky relations with the New Orleans Police and other local authority figures, Darby came to realize that, in the hurricane-ravaged city, relief volunteers and the authorities were on the same side–both sides wanted to help people.
Darby’s “eureka” moment came as he began to accept the idea that not everyone in government was a villain.
He credits Maj. John Bryson of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) with helping him to stop viewing everyone in government as the enemy.
Bryson (pictured above), who, in the wake of Katrina, was the NOPD’s 5th District commander, an area that encompassed the especially hard-hit Lower 9th Ward, observed Darby’s transformation over time.
When Bryson first met Darby, he was “so up in my face it was unbelievable,” Bryson told me. “Radical” was too weak a word to describe Darby, Bryson said.
When the two first met, Darby promised that his fellow activists would be videotaping police and that they wouldn’t hesitate to report anything they didn’t like to the media. Bryson helped to improve the relationship by giving Darby his cell phone number and told him to contact him directly if police officers misbehaved.
Bryson offered to help Darby but cautioned him that “if we find that you are not here to help our citizens, then we’re going to have a problem,” Bryson explained, “and that was our agreement.”
Over time, the two, who had been filled with mutual distrust and hostility, began to get along, even to like each other as friends.
Bryson watched Common Ground–which, in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, he said, had more people on the ground than the federal government–begin to flourish. The group opened shelters for women, families and children, offering services to locals that governments at the time were unable to provide.
As relations with the police improved dramatically, Darby confessed to Bryson that he had never had this kind of positive relationship with any kind of law enforcement personnel. The feeling was mutual.
Bryson praised Darby for cooperating with the FBI:
“Everybody [on the Left] hates Brandon because he did the right thing for the right reasons. Anytime anyone in this country, in this state, in this city, or even in this world is going to do some horrible things to innocent people, if a good man does not stand up, or a good woman for that matter, then we’re in trouble. And Brandon stood up and did the right thing. He stole my heart as he said, ‘I thought about you and how well you worked with us, and I couldn’t see innocent people getting hurt.'”
Although Darby’s positive experiences with New Orleans police had forced him to begin questioning his anarchist beliefs, a trip to Marxist Venezuela helped to kill off his remaining radical impulses.
The trip came as the U.S. government was taking a beating in the media for its post-Katrina relief efforts. At the time, Venezuela’s communist strongman, Hugo Chavez, began trying to embarrass the Bush administration by offering aid to the Katrina-hit Gulf Coast.
Chavez had already been running what political scientists call a “public diplomacy” campaign in the U.S. to help bolster American support for his regime. The propaganda effort consisted of funneling discounted home heating oil to former U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy’s, D-Mass., nonprofit group, Citizens Energy Corp. The nonprofit then distributed the oil to poor people, and Kennedy (pictured above behind lectern) went on TV to berate the Bush administration, which he said “cut fuel assistance.” Kennedy boosted his benefactor, boasting in a commercial that “CITGO, owned by the Venezuelan people,” had helped poor Americans while their own government stood idly by.
Darby traveled to Caracas in 2006 as part of a Common Ground delegation to the Chavez government to seek funding to keep Common Ground afloat.
“I had this idea of having ‘Chavez trailers’ for displaced residents to live in. This would embarrass FEMA into supplying trailers,” he said.
Darby said he didn’t realize when he came up with the concept that using money from abroad to influence the U.S. government might be illegal, but Chavez government officials he met with insisted it would violate U.S. law.
“They told me I would get in trouble, and they wanted to work out a way to make the project happen,” he said.
In the month he was there, Venezuelan officials introduced him to executives of PDVSA, the government-owned oil company that owns CITGO, which operates a chain of gas stations in the U.S. They pressured Darby to journey to neighboring Colombia to meet with a group aligned with the narco-terror organization FARC and to visit another revolutionary group in Maracaibo, Venezuela.
According to Darby, Chavez wanted to create a terrorist network in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. This is the same Chavez who blamed the recent earthquake in Haiti on the United States and who called President George W. Bush “the Devil” during a United Nations speech, so some might find his efforts at subversive activities in the United States hard to take seriously. However, it’s important to remember that Chavez has close ties to Iran and Cuba and allows terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah to operate offices in Caracas.
(Long before he learned of the RNC plot, Darby reached out to the FBI to undermine terrorism. A longtime Texas friend, the late Riad Hamad [pictured above], had tried to hijack Darby’s plan to provide medical assistance in war-torn parts of the world. Darby wanted to create a group called Critical Response that would have sent medics into war zones to help civilians caught in the crossfire in places such as Lebanon and Darfur. Hamad, founder of the much-investigated Palestinian Children’s Welfare Fund, told him he wanted to send medics to Israel and put explosives on motorcycles and boobytrap ambulances in order to kill Jews. Hamad also hatched an elaborate plan to funnel money to Hamas and Hezbollah. Around the same time, Darby viewed a very graphic Israeli first responders’ training video. “At the time I was conflicted about what to do, but seeing the dead bodies of Israeli children in that tape made the so-called Palestinian activists’ chant ‘no justice, no peace,’ take on a whole new meaning. I decided the only ethical thing to do was to tell law enforcement what I knew.”)
To Darby’s astonishment, during his stay in Caracas, senior officials in the Chavez government and in PDVSA told him they wanted him to create a revolutionary army of guerrillas in the swamps of Louisiana.
“At the very last meeting they ramped up the pressure,” Darby said. They taunted him, saying, “What? You’re not a revolutionary?”
Despite intense pressure from his Venezuelan hosts, he refused. This was the last straw for him.
“I realized I didn’t like Venezuela, the authoritarianism of it, and I started to realize how brilliant and miraculous the American system of checks and balances was,” Darby said. “There was still something brilliant about the fact that this nation had institutionalized a system of checks and balances that has been working since this nation was founded. I realized just how hard a task that is.”
Common Ground, divided by radical factions with harebrained ideas constantly warring with each other, was a living example of left-wing radicalism in action.
“When I would leave Common Ground for a few days I would be worried that a power vacuum could develop and factions could displace me while I was away, and that’s just the way things are in places like Venezuela,” he said. “It is actually absurd to want the United States government to go away, and that’s when it really hit me that my ideas were wrong.”
Darby said he’s still proud of his Common Ground experience on the whole. “I’m proud of helping people, but I’m ashamed of what I used to believe,” Darby admitted.
“Thankfully, I had the honor of serving my country by working undercover with the FBI and participating in efforts to protect the safety and civil rights of others.”
(This article appears in the current issue of Townhall magazine and is posted here with the magazine’s permission.)