Southern District of Iowa – Acting US Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, formerly Jeff Sessions’ Chief of Staff, served as US Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, from June 15, 2004 to November 25, 2009. During this tenure, his office engaged with FBI investigations around the 2004 and 2008 Republican National Conventions, and a Davenport grand jury probe that incarcerated a Minneapolis resident for four months without charges.
Hundreds of pages of FBI investigation documents, including multiple covert surveillance campaigns, turned over in two separate FOIA requests, showed that the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa (USAO – SDI) was involved with these cases.
Eight years after these FOIA requests came back from the FBI, David Goodner of Iowa City, Iowa, who released many of the confidential FBI documents about the 2008 RNC that he obtained to the public, told Unicorn Riot,
“Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker is a scumbag who built his career orchestrating political witch hunts against gay Democrats, animal liberation activists, and antiwar anarchists. We should expect the same strategy on steroids now that he’s the top cop for the Fascist-in-Chief Donald Trump.” – David Goodner, Iowa City, Iowa
A detailed report published September 20, 2010 by the Des Moines Register quoted Whitaker on the 2008 RNC investigations:
The Iowa City investigation, directed by the FBI’s Omaha office, was conducted with the knowledge of then-U.S. Attorney Matthew Whitaker of Des Moines. […] Whitaker, now in private law practice in Des Moines, said last week that he was aware the FBI was looking into potential criminal acts relating to the 2008 Republican National Convention, “but I don’t remember any specifics at all.”
“We worked very closely with the FBI on a lot of different things and interacted. They would ask us if we would work with them to investigate potential crimes. That happened all the time,” Whitaker added. Asked whether the FBI’s Iowa City investigation amounted to overkill, he declined to comment, saying he was not involved on a day-to-day basis in the investigation. – Des Moines Register, September 20, 2010
All of Iowa lies within the Omaha, Nebraska, FBI field office’s turf; Smaller “Resident Agencies” (RA) FBI offices include Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Grand Island, Lincoln, North Platte, Quad Cities, Sioux City, and Waterloo. The Cedar Rapids RA is mentioned in the FOIAs, including for stacking up
These documents were reported on in 2010 and 2012 by this writer, who obtained them from Goodner, in a two-part series, Cointelpro Gothic Part I & Part II; the documents are re-released and summarized in this report, with reprocessed OCR for searchability.
Grand jury investigations and prosecutions were a major feature of the Green Scare. A federal grand jury can demand a wide range of information and imprison people without charges for unspecified time periods if they don’t talk — including at the river city of Davenport, a key event at the end of Whitaker’s tenure as US Attorney during the first year of the Obama Administration.
2008 Wild Rose Rebellion / 2008 RNC
This 2010 FOIA gives details about the 2008 Republican National Convention related investigations in Des Moines. Case file 100A-OM-51967, eventually bearing the dramatic title “WILD ROSE REBELLION – A RESISTENCE BETWEEN TWO RIVERS – TERRORISM ENTERPRISE INVESTIGATION“, was a “captioned Terrorism Enterprise Preliminary Investigation” that started February 26, 2008.
The most detailed remarks related to the US Attorneys Office led by Whitaker are found here (part 2, p53-54):
“Representatives from the United States Attorneys Office (USAO) for the Southern District of Iowa (SDI) have been briefed on the investigation, the intended goals, objectives and strategies to be carried out in order to detect, prevent and prosecute the criminal activities of the WRR and its members. Based upon the information developed thus far and through consultation with the USAO representatives, the potential federal criminal statutes which may be most feasible to pursue have been identified as Title 18, USC 241 – Conspiracy Against Rights and Title 18, USC 245 – Federally Protected Activities. The USAO / SDI has stated their support of opening a criminal investigation into this matter and their assistance with the use of all appropriate investigative techniques to identify any criminal activity.” – Omaha Squad 6/ Cedar Rapids Iowa FBI Resident Agency, June 3, 2008
This FOIA is divided into three parts.
2008 Wild Rose Rebellion Part 1 (150 pages)
One of the first entries, on March 12, 2008, is a claim of statistical accomplishment by Omaha Squad 6 / Cedar Rapids Resident Agency, for talking to the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety about someone they found suspicious, and some graffiti (p12-13), as “positive terrorism (disseminated outside FBI)“.
The investigation officially begins on a memo dated March 14, 2008 (p14-25). After handing out copies of an FBI pamphlet titled “Extremist Symbols, Tattoos and Terminology” to the JTTF officers – Squad 6 requests statistical accomplishment again on March 31. However on an “OMAHA FIG” stamp there is an initial by “NO“, so it seemingly didn’t count as “positive intelligence (disseminated outside FBI)” in “Liaison with other agency“.
On an unknown day, an FBI special agent determined the garbage schedule in Iowa City to better plan when to search people’s garbage (p41-42), and gained approval on April 15, 2008, for “multiple trash covers” (p43-44). More statistical accomplishments get claimed on April 21 (p50-52) by Squad 6, this time approved by FBI Omaha FIG two days later.
A lot of intelligence gathering on the Iowa City Public Library schedule is presented in this FOIA (p72-75). Hand-written street surveillance notes and the covers of CDs and a videotape fill the rest of the file (p79-150).
2008 Wild Rose Rebellion Part 2 (62 pages)
A large block of typewritten physical surveillance (FISUR) summaries form the bulk of this file (p1-46), written by Squad 6 in Cedar Rapids Resident Agency, as well as monitoring the calendar events at the local library.
A long and heavily redacted report (p47-57) includes the large reference to Whitaker’s office’s possible prosecution strategy noted above. Its case ID is 266H-OM-NEW (pending), meaning a new “preliminary inquiry” is being opened here but has no serial number yet. Handwritten below on the cover sheet is 266H-OM-52112 near a “YES” initialed by OMAHA FIG (p47).
Some subjects get entered into the terrorist watch-list system, known as “VGTOF” and “TREX” (p58). They later seem to get cleared as the investigation gets closed without any actual criminal activity detected.
2008 Wild Rose Rebellion Part 3 (81 pages)
A heavily censored narrative written August 16, 2008 (p12-13) claims that Wild Rose Rebellion developed at “The Caucus of the Future” in Des Moines in January, 2008. The Ramsey County Sheriffs Office, led at the time by Bob Fletcher (who will be re-entering that office in 2019), was used as a data mining source (p23).
An officer from Squad 6 / Cedar Rapids Resident Agency claims credit for “POSITIVE TERRORISM” statistical accomplishment (p31-32). A large block of physical surveillance records includes photos, “drive-by surveillance,” handwritten observation notes, Iowa Department of Transportation records, garbage searches and at least one video of a “direct action skill share event” (p41-42).
On October 24, 2008, almost two months after the RNC had ended, the Cedar Rapids Resident Agency (Omaha Squad 6) requests help from the Omaha Field Intelligence Group (FIG) under a domestic terrorism heading (DT) heading — and a Case ID number that is still censored. It’s part of a new “spin-off” investigation of the previous one, an “anarchist extremist group based in the Iowa City, Iowa area, the WILD ROSE REBELLION (WRR)” (p43-46).
The Oklahoma City-based Squad 4 of the JTTF submits a report on November 14, 2008, on Case ID 266H-OM-52112 (p47-52) with what appears to be identification of two people.
The JTTF Omaha Squad 9 Field Intelligence Group/Des Moines Resident Agency reports analyzing four phone numbers on November 25, 2008, for case 266H-OM-52112 and found “two links to domestic terrorism” (p53-75). The information came from “Investigative Data Warehouse, FBI Telephone Application, Lexis-Nexus, [redacted] and Google searches[…]“.
On December 2, 2008, Squad 6/Cedar Rapids Resident Agency writes to several significant FBI sections, including “DT-OPS 5” and “Anarchists Team” in the Counterterrorism section (p76-77) closing out the investigation with little fanfare. “No specific criminal activities were identified as being attributable to [redacted] or the WRR at the RNC or otherwise (p79).” The writer claims that the investigation “did not focus solely on the constitutionally protected activities of captioned subjects [nor] the WRR group as a whole. […] No evidence has been retained in captioned matter and no leads remain outstanding.”
Significantly, acting Attorney General Whitaker’s office turns up here (p79):
“AUSA [redacted] of the Southern District of Iowa whose office opened a file to assist with this matter was telephonically contacted on 12/16/2008 and agreed with the closing of captioned matter.” – FBI Omaha Squad 6, Cedar Rapids Resident Agency – dated December 2, 2008
It’s not clear why the document indicates Whitaker’s office was contacted on December 16 but the memo itself is dated December 2 in several places. The cover also has markings “Received” on December 30 and an “OMAHA FIG” stamp seems to be initialed “YES” on December 31.
2004-2007 Crimethinc Iowa & Minnesota investigations (525 pages)
This 2010 FOIA gives 525 pages covering the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, and FBI Case IDs 266A-OM-49939, 66F-HQ-C1384970, 66F-OM-A49378. On August 3, 2004, a “full investigation” was “opened“, meaning all the tools including wiretaps, opening mail, covert searches, and tracking cars are available to the agents.
The FBI claimed the investigation was justified “to take proactive steps to deter any possible criminal activities being commited by logical domestic terrorist targets within Iowa and to obtain intelligence/evidence regarding any planned criminal activity carried out” (p8).
The main target of this investigation involved the anarchist publishing network Crimethinc, or people suspected to be involved with Crimethinc (p9). Today Crimethinc defines itself as “a think tank producing inflammatory ideas and action, a sphinx posing questions fatal to the superstitions of our age“.
FBI Omaha says they became suspicious of Crimethinc after a 2002 event in Des Moines (case 100-OM-C43559), and blamed people involved with those meetings as likely involved with a mink farm release August 18 that year, and tagging the sign of an insurance company that worked with notorious animal testing company Huntington Life Sciences on August 21. FBI Omaha claimed so-called “domestic terrorism” (DT) groups such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF) could be involved. (p9)
FBI Omaha aimed to surveil a Crimethinc gathering scheduled for August 20-26, based partly on information provided by a “private industry watchdog group” called The Fur Commission, which monitored what the FBI called “animal extremists“. They honed in on a “purported independent video store” in Des Moines. A part time Iowa Division of Criminal Intelligence (IDCI) Joint Terrorism Task Force member tipped FBI Omaha the event was happening. (p10)
This FOIA also points to related investigations (such as 300A-NY-284132 with a Miami source (p11)) forming a kind of operational mesh directed at leftist organizing nationwide. FBI Chicago had its own file, 266A-CG-118232, investigating people organizing against the Iraq war. In this investigation FBI Omaha aimed to “prevent any planned domestic terrorism” and “conduct appropriate outreach” with private businesses, and “obtain FBI source coverage” of the convergence. (p13)
A sprawling surveillance campaign starts on page 19. Iowa’s drivers license database and JTTF officials are leveraged to snoop on people they believed were involved in the convergence. Handwritten minute-by-minute notes of an FBI surveillance team follow (p30-75).
An alert for possible denial of service or other electronic attacks sent out widely to FBI offices dated August 11 follows (p89-94), connected to 300A-NY-284132, this Omaha investigation, 66F-HQ-A1275997, and 66F-HQ-C1384970. Discussed was a Crimethinc presentation at DEFCON called “Electronic Civil Disobedience and the Republican National Convention” (FBI file 266A-CG-118232 again).
On August 10, a detailed report (p95) covers the attempt to run an inter-city informant operation and manage other coordination. The FBI Miami office offers to arrange to have an informant from the Miami area fly up to Des Moines on August 10. On the next page (p96), an Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) from Whitaker’s Southern District of Iowa US Attorney Office is mentioned in the case updates:
“Presently, on 8/11/2004, a local briefing will be held by the FBI JTTF in Des Moines, IA, with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and AUSA [redacted] U.S. Attorney’s office, Southern District of Iowa, in order to raise the awareness of the potential for criminal activities during the scheduled Crimethinc convergence.” – FBI Omaha, August 10, 2004
The file then notes that the Des Moines RA is supposed to coordinate with FBI Miami to send an informant (p100). The plan specifies managing the informant’s data through the JTTF after they infiltrate, managed by a Special Agent from Miami (p104).
The FOIA covers more particulars of the surveillance campaign in detail, including aerial photography of a campground on August 22 (p184).
While this investigation 266A-OM-49939 didn’t produce any serious criminal charges, included with the FOIA are several “Accomplishment Report” forms and registrations of “statistical accomplishments“. The ones on p255-271 claim credit for an FBI agent on the JTTF in contributing to a misdemeanor plea bargain in Polk County (Des Moines area), which is asserted to have “disrupted” “CrimeThinc (Anarchist DT Group)” (p263). Similarly (p386-387) reports to “Claim statistical accomplishments” including “Terrorist group identified – liason within FBI” netted credit for someone on FBI Omaha “Squad 8” because they wrote up “Intelligence Information Reports” (IIR’s).
A report closing out the investigation (p283-291) brags about three people catching small local charges, and claims that via an internet posting in Las Vegas, everyone lost their ride to New York due to FBI interference.
On August 18, 2005, the DOJ Office of the Inspector General contacted FBI Omaha to get all interviews conducted by FBI Omaha around the 2004 national conventions (p359-363). On p379 a separate investigation of a Crimethinc convergence in Des Moines around July 11 2005 starts. More statistical accomplishments for Squad 7 / Des Moines RA / JTTF are netted for FBI Omaha agents (p389-390) for “Positive intelligence (disseminated outside FBI),” including liaison with other agency, within FBI, and performing physical surveillance.
A preliminary investigation by FBI Minneapolis into a Winona, Minnesota summer Crimethinc convergence (p. 400) was opened on July 21, 2006. Reports from the Winona police using drivers license records and physical surveillance notes follow. (case 266I-MP-67951, linked to 266I-NY-C268023 and 266I-NY-283240, p478). More statistical accomplishments for FBI Minneapolis Squad 4/Domestic Terrorism are requested (p495-497) including “Positive intelligence (disseminated outside FBI)” in “Liaison with other agency“; again (p. 499-500) for “non-lookout platform intelligence” in “Liaison with other agency“.
On January 26, 2007, the preliminary investigation run by Minneapolis got expanded to a full investigation (p510), long after the convergence had ended. On February 9, 2007, again someone from FBI Minneapolis Squad 4 claims statistical accomplishment by calling the Rochester, Minnesota, RA and “several railroad representatives” to tell them there will be another “anarchist convergence” in Winona on March 29, 2007 (p512-513), claiming “Positive terrorism (disseminated outside FBI)” in “liaison with other agency“. Similarly someone from Squad 4 claims statistical accomplishment for calling the Buffalo County Sheriff’s Office in Wisconsin, across the Mississippi River from Winona, to tell them the same (p514-515).
On March 23, 2007, Minneapolis Squad 4 requests that the investigation be changed from 266I to 266H which “more clearly identifies Crimethinc as an anarchist extremist group rather than an Animal Rights/Eco-terrorism extremist group” (p520). On April 20, 2007. the investigation 266I-MP-67951 is closed after the spring convergence is canceled and “there is no information suggesting that this local cell will be sponsoring any future anarchist events.”
The common factor among the FBI Omaha investigation which Whitaker’s office attended at least one meeting, and the later FBI Minneapolis investigation (which has no Whitaker link), is that Crimethinc’s network is considered by the FBI as a “domestic terrorist” (DT) organization, and anything that ‘disrupts’ that organization is a worthy goal which can grant statistical accomplishments for the agents involved. Similarly, calling local police or private businesses about these supposed domestic terrorists can also generate statistical accomplishments.
Davenport Grand Jury: Southern District of Iowa Imposes Imprisonment without Charges (2009)
In the final weeks of Whitaker’s tenure leading the Southern District of Iowa, another spinoff of the 2008 Republican National Convention was the late 2009 grand jury harassment and prosecution his office led around two animal rights-related incidents, thought to be spurred by evidence obtained in the series of raids on political activists in the days just before the national event in the Twin Cities.
According to the Davenport Grand Jury / Scott and Carrie Support Committee, in October 2009, Carrie Feldman was subpoenaed by the Southern District of Iowa US Attorney’s office to a grand jury investigating an Animal Liberation Front (ALF) raid that occurred at the University of Iowa in 2004, when she was a high school student in Minnesota. She told the federal prosecutor and jurors “that she would not be testifying, citing the historical use of grand juries to repress political movements.”
In November 2009, Scott DeMuth was also subpoenaed. A few days later, both traveled to Davenport and refused to testify, and were brought to a judge who “found cause to jail them for civil contempt of court because of their refusal to cooperate.” This type of incarceration is not a charge, a pretrial detention or a sentence — it’s a tactic to hold people indefinitely and force them to talk.
On November 18, 2009, just a week before Whitaker left office, DeMuth was indicted for conspiracy under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) (pdf). He was released two weeks later with an ankle bracelet before trial. At pretrial hearings, Whitaker’s subordinate, Assistant US Attorney Clifford Cronk, claimed that DeMuth is “an anarchist and therefore a domestic terrorist,” which as seen in the FBI documents above was a common assumption among Iowa’s federal law enforcement circles at that time. The support committee argued that “Cronk’s vague indictment relied almost exclusively on DeMuth’s political beliefs, such as his support for other political prisoners, rather than evidence that would actually connect him to the 2004 ALF raid at the UofI.”
Feldman was incarcerated for four months without charges, and suddenly released on March 19, 2010, after refusing to cooperate with the grand jury the whole time. Cronk issued a new indictment that seemed to link the 2004 ALF raid with a separate ALF action that happened in Minnesota in the spring of 2006. Cronk offered a plea that DeMuth could plead guilty for the 2006 Minnesota action and serve a short sentence (ultimately six months), while “eliminating the risk that he might be falsely convicted of involvement in the 2004 UofI action and serve three years in prison“. DeMuth took the plea bargain, at the same time sparing Feldman and another alleged witness of possible criminal contempt charges for refusing to testify at a trial.
Reporters and researchers continue to explore more about the background of acting Attorney General Whitaker, currently the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in the United States. Other stories from his tenure are attracting more attention from reporters, including the 2006 investigation of Iowa State Senator Matt McCoy, who recounted his experiences days ago in Politico.
Eleven years before Whitaker became acting US attorney, in 2007, David Yepsen, a writer at the Des Moines Register observed,
“it appears the U.S. attorney, Matt Whitaker, is aggressively going after the city’s south-side Democratic organization and the way it does business. […] Whitaker is a Republican. And not just any Republican, but a socially conservative one who ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 2002 and could well be a candidate for office again. He recently was in the news when he was scheduled to emcee an event for the Iowa Christian Alliance, a successor group to the Iowa Christian Coalition.
After first granting him permission to host the event, Whitaker said the Justice Department revoked it after objections from liberal groups. Instead, he just attended the meeting. Active involvement in ideological political action groups like that is rare for U.S. attorneys in Iowa — and even the Justice Department higher-ups seemed to think better of it. For good reason. McCoy is a Democrat. And not just any Democrat but an openly gay one. So we now have the specter of a politically ambitious, evangelical Republican with ties to the religious right going after a gay Democrat. Does this seem fair? Even if Whitaker has the goods on a south-side political kingpin like McCoy, there will always be those who wonder whether his actions are driven more by his desire to ferret out public corruption, his own political ambition or a dislike for McCoy’s sexual orientation.”
Whitaker subsequently ran for US Senate in 2014. Whitaker and Sam Clovis both lost the 2014 Republican US Senate Primary in Iowa and Whitaker chaired Clovis’ run for Iowa state treasurer later that year. According to a Washington Post report Thursday, Whitaker has faced calls to recuse himself from managing the investigation led by former FBI director Robert Mueller due to his friendship with Clovis, a key witness, who led presidential candidate Donald Trump’s foreign policy team in 2016. During that time Clovis was a key contact for George Papadoupolos, who later pled guilty to lying to the FBI, and Carter Page, who had a secret intelligence warrant placed on his communications.
After a stint in the private sector involving the marketing of “alleged Bigfoot, toilet, [and] time travel scams“, Whitaker has now found himself in charge of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).
These documents shed some light on important questions. As acting Attorney General, what tactics against left-wing and anarchist political activity is Whitaker likely to sign off on?
Given the critical role of FBI career advancement “statistical accomplishments” in these documents, does that shed any light on how acting AG Whitaker will make decisions about FBI and DOJ promotions? As these FOIAs illustrate, by falsely labeling swaths of people as “domestic terrorists,” FBI agents can collect career “statistical accomplishments” simply by calling local law enforcement and private businesses about activities supposed to be protected by the First Amendment. Will this kind of activity, which happened within SDI during his term in office there, recur on a national scale?
People involved in the massive ‘J20’ Trump inauguration protest trials have pointed out the question of what will happen in the DOJ’s career advancement system to federal prosecutors like Jennifer Kerkhoff at the federal DC Superior Court, who oversaw a case that was sanctioned by the Chief Judge for failing to provide adequate discovery to defendants in those cases (covered extensively by Unicorn Riot). Under a Whitaker DOJ, will prosecutors be held accountable in their DOJ career advancement for misconduct in trials and probes of left-leaning defendants and targets?
Cover photo illustration by Dan Feidt. A derivative image of photographs by Andrew Harnik and Marion S. Trikosko/Library of Congress, are also included here under Fair Use.