Minneapolis, MN – Conflict Resolution Group (CRG) has not generated many headlines in the local press, yet the private security firm run by ex-mercenaries and hired by property owners, has assaulted, detained, threatened, and surveilled community members while providing armed patrols in Uptown Minneapolis. “It’s an evolution in repressive tactics,” says Michelle Gross, President of Communities United Against Police Brutality.
Private security firms previously made the news toward the end of the 2020 Presidential Election when backlash kept Tennessee-based Atlas Aegis away from ‘guarding’ polling locations. But now that mercenary boots are actually on the ground with CRG confronting and dismantling a protest encampment following the killing of Winston Smith, and with their abusive interactions with activists and passersby alike, there has been a dearth of coverage.
After federally deputized agents in a task force killed Winston Smith on June 3, protests erupted in Uptown. Weeks of continued demonstrations occurred, along with an aggressive police response. The night of his death, fires were lit in the street and roves of hooded youths ransacked West Lake T-Mobile after police pulled up with their laser sight shining at the crowd and violently arrested several protesters.
Protests continued daily with community members gathering near the parking ramp and the one-block-long pedestrian walkway on Girard Avenue, on the eastside of Seven Points, formerly-named Calhoun Square shopping center. Activists renamed the walkway as Wince Way in homage to Winston Smith, and over the next weeks painted it and the concrete on the parking ramp with anti-police slogans.
Ten days after Smith was killed, 35-year-old Nicholas Kraus attacked the protest site with his vehicle by driving at a high speed through several barricades and into a car on Girard Ave. and Lake St., killing Deona Marie and injuring others. Kraus was charged with murder and has his next court date on November 3.
Two days after the car attack, Minneapolis Police, along with sheriffs and officers from a litany of departments, cleared barricades around the protest site. Dozens of people were arrested and several were injured through the night from police violence.
A community-run memorial garden named the Wince-Marie Peace Garden was then erected on Lake St. and Girard Ave. and self-managed by those seeking justice for Smith and Deona Marie (there was also an ongoing vigil site at the place of Marie’s death).
The Peace Garden had repurposed the vacant lot that barely sustained patches of grass into an ongoing vigil site showcasing vegetable gardens, protest slogans, free meals and was a functional home for a number of community members.
Welcome to the Wince-Marie Peace Garden at Wince Way on lake and girard pic.twitter.com/rrg31vvwvZ
— Nero NoGames (@NeroNogames) June 21, 2021
Portions of the location that were included in the memorial were not privately owned and extended onto surrounding sidewalks and similarly public land. Northpond Partners, headquartered in Chicago, is the owner of the lot that extends from Girard to Fremont Avenue and the adjoining shopping center called Seven Points, which sits from Girard to Hennepin Avenue.
CRG Arrives During Eviction Led by We Push for Peace, in Conjunction with MPD
CRG’s initial arrival to Wince Way was shocking to many in the community. On July 14, activists holding the space at the garden were given little notice in the pre-dawn hours that they were about to be violently shoved off of the property.
“At around 4:00 a.m. we noticed five vehicles back behind the space with 8-10 white guys amidst them. They claimed to be making a music video,” explained Mattie, a protester and eyewitness to the CRG eviction. When Mattie and others approached the vehicles, they quickly drove off.
Soon thereafter, crane vehicles loaded up with jersey barriers and fencing arrived. This was followed by the arrival of several We Push for Peace members backed by CRG, who were in turn backed by Minneapolis Police.
Mattie explained, “We Push for Peace told us we had five minutes to gather our belongings before we’d be arrested. They threatened to throw my phone in the fire for taking pictures.” Concurrently, several MPD chaplains removed the memorial for Deona and everything the protesters could not carry with them was “bulldozed and trashed,” said Mattie.
Although complying with the requests, Mattie and others said they were harassed and assaulted by We Push for Peace members, who allegedly made multiple threats including telling one protester “to die” and explicitly threatened to murder another. When Mattie confronted them, one of the members slapped Mattie across the face, resulting in their phone being knocked to the ground.
We Push for Peace is one of seven groups hired by the City of Minneapolis’ Office of Violence Prevention. Activists have called them counter-insurgents hired by the city to do anti-protest work in a similar fashion to contracting Agape during the city’s removal of barricades at George Floyd Square or Minnesota Freedom Fighters during protests for Daunte Wright. We Push for Peace founder Trahern Pollard says their job is to “bridge the gap between law enforcement and our community” and provide employment. Since they’ve started street patrols and a contract at Cub Foods in St. Paul, there have been numerous reports of violence against the community perpetrated by their members, including two separate members being charged with different assaults on customers in Cub in the last few months.
Following the assault on Mattie by a We Push for Peace member and other squabbles in the early morning hours of the Peace Garden eviction, many of the activists decided to film and observe from a distance.
As the eviction was happening, the men who had said they were there making a music video showed up dressed in fatigues with vests and helmets on, many donning pepper spray, firearms, zip ties, and glow sticks. Members of We Push for Peace can be heard on a video posted to social media completely unaware of the identity of the armed guards from CRG who had just arrived.
Nathan Seabrook, pictured above, is the head of CRG and is listed as an ex-police officer and an army veteran. He created CRG in the wake of the George Floyd uprising and he’s expressed contempt for Minneapolis in a now-deleted podcast calling the city a “shit hole.” Logos seen on some of the CRG member’s shirts lend credence to claims that the group is composed of former Special Operators which the company advertises. More on Seabrook in the next part of this series.
Photo 📸 Thread 🧵
Here is a series of photos captured on Tuesday, July 13th, the day before all of it was gone… pic.twitter.com/5Iet2Krn5A
— Nusha 🍂 (@Nushuhhh) July 22, 2021
CRG Targets, Assaults, and Detains Activists
Within the first couple days of patrolling the five-level parking ramp, members of CRG had already detained and assaulted protesters, leaving one with a traumatic brain injury after punching them in the head. This assault caught the attention of the ACLU and the National Lawyer’s Guild, who joined activists at a press conference to denounce the actions of the security firm.
“We’ve got three people with grievous injuries. I’m working with an individual who has gotten a traumatic brain injury as a result of being punched in the head by these people just for merely walking on their little driveway, and asking them a question. This conduct is unacceptable, and more unacceptable is the fact that they appear to be in league with the Minneapolis Police Department.”Michelle Gross, President of Communities United Against Police Brutality
The main assault occurred around 10:15 p.m. on July 14, the first night of CRG’s patrol. A community member named Hayley attempted to ask what the security personnel were doing in her neighborhood and within minutes she was accosted, pushed to the ground, punched, and then detained before CRG let her go amidst backlash from witnesses who were recording the incident. Multiple angles of video showing the CRG assault made the rounds on social media.
The next day many community members came to the site with some attempting to gain answers from CRG as to what happened the night before. CRG, in turn, detained several people for trespassing and arrested Link, a human rights advocate.
Link and another person detained by CRG spoke publicly about their experiences during the July 20 press conference. Community member Tony Nordby said he went near the parking ramp around 1 p.m. on July 15 and was “physically grabbed” and detained by Nathan Seabrook and two other CRG members. They went through his pockets, took his phone, I.D., and other belongings. He was eventually let go after being given a trespassing ticket.
A little over an hour later, CRG detained Link and handed him over to the police to arrest him. Link explained during the press conference and in an interview with Unicorn Riot afterwards, that he went to the parking ramp with the intent to speak to a supervisor about the assault that had occurred the night before, and within seconds, he was grabbed and detained by Nathan Seabrook while other security personnel surrounded Link with weapons. A Minneapolis Police officer was present during the incident and eventually brought Link to Hennepin County Jail for trespassing.
“[Seabrook’s] telling me I’m under arrest. An MPD officer who’s there from the jump walks up nonchalantly casually, ‘Link, you’re under arrest, Link stop resisting’ – His buddies come out of the parking structure hands on their weapon and one of them comes out with like a marker round shooter … I dropped to the ground, they get to like, roughing me up or whatever, trying to put me in zip ties and stuff. The police is like ‘Yeah, Link, you’re under arrest; so then they picked me up put me in the parking structure.”Link, human rights advocate detained by CRG and arrested by Minneapolis Police
Before Link was brought to jail, he was detained in the parking ramp by CRG, who took all of the items out of his pocket and mentioned personal information about him, signalling that they’ve been surveilling him.
“The supervisor of the security company stated details about me … He’s taking my personal property out of my pocket pointing out and talking about it and basically saying identifying things about me and correlating it to my property … like, ‘Yo, How do you know that about me bro, you’re a private security company’ you know what I’m saying?”
Link said that interaction with them made sense after the “community did that investigative work” to find out who CRG was. (More on that in our second part of the series).
“We have mercenaries affecting arrests of community members who are not engaging in any kind of messed up activity, they’re going up and asking who they are. Link was attacked by these people, because he asked for the name of the supervisor. And it was in fact, the supervisor who attacked him. This is unacceptable. And we need to get these people out of here. And we need people to know what’s going on.”John Barham, attorney for Link
Watch the full press conference along with three interviews of activists impacted by CRG’s actions below.
CRG Intelligence Gathering
“Their folks are operating a shadow fusion center” which signals this is a “new level” of repression and intimidation to have private mercenaries “addressing people by their names,” Gross said. Within the first day, CRG had already begun naming individuals present, making it clear that they have knowledge of their social media activity. Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT) gathering was how the North Star Fugitive Task Force located Winston Smith at Stella’s Fish Cafe prior to gunning him down in the parking garage across the street. Smith had posted an image of drinks from Stella’s on Instagram and the restaurant’s menu on SnapChat, which revealed his location to anyone monitoring.
CRG admits to employing SOCMINT, namely through leveraging a platform provided by EchoSec Systems. EchoSec is a Canadian based firm that “was built to provide mission-critical information about digital and physical threats for security and intelligence teams. Our corporate security clients are primarily in-house security teams in retail, oil and gas, healthcare, e-commerce, and manufacturing. Our public sector clients are intelligence agencies, fusion centers, and government security teams.” CRG also claims to deploy drones as part of their operations, however none have reportedly been used in Uptown.
[UPDATE | November 16, 2021: Echosec reached out to Unicorn Riot and has denied CRG is a client: “CRG is not a customer of ours, and in fact, this is not one of our supported use cases. Please remove the section about Echosec Systems as we are not working with this organization.” We are awaiting a response from CRG.]
Concrete Barriers, Fencing, Surveillance, and Razor Wire
Since the eviction on July 14, the area has been fortified with concrete barricades, fencing, large spotlights, surveillance equipment, and armed security.
A couple weeks after the separate CRG assault and detainments occurred, a protest calling for justice for Winston was held at the site on the two-month anniversary since his death. During the August 3 gathering, Unicorn Riot interviewed a security personnel from United Protection Agency, a separate firm hired to work at Seven Points. They said they had no knowledge of CRG’s transgressions against the community and that they were there to “protect the shoppers.”
Protecting shoppers, property, and profits have become a large racket in Minneapolis since the police killed George Floyd over a fake twenty dollar bill, with many security firms like CRG, who formed after the uprising, benefiting.
Along with the uptick in private security, the use of concrete barriers and fencing has been seen extensively through the Twin Cities since the uprising. A small portion of the uses have been for protection from vehicles at memorial spaces like George Floyd Square, while a larger use has been to close off public spaces and vacant lots like the one that held the Wince Marie Peace Garden or the Lake Street Growth Space on 17th Ave and Lake St.
On October 3, during a vigil for Winston Smith on the fourth month since his death, armed CRG security members were filmed flashing strobe lights at protesters, mockingly playing an MLK speech, yelling at people by name, and attempting to incite the community. CRG also reportedly had a military-type truck parked on 31st St. and Girard and poured bleach into candles that were on site preventing community members from re-lighting them.
CRG (yes it is still CRG) recorded us, played MLK speeches & music to drown out our voices, shined spotlights in ppls faces, harassed folks who were holding space, addressed ppl by their names, have already tried to take the memorial down tonight, and threatened to shoot us. https://t.co/WqBSLyz1UO
— Aisha Kaylor (@AishaKaylor) October 4, 2021
As the community gathered on Girard Ave and Lake Street to pay respects to Smith and Deona Marie, at least two people were called out by name by CRG: Link and Marcia Howard, who’s a mainstay at George Floyd Square. Screaming from the parking ramp to Link, a CRG member specified personal information about Link and said “we’ve been watching you.” Released video also shows an armed CRG member yelling at protesters from behind a fence while wearing a mask.
— Comrade Link ☭ (@ViolentLeftist) October 4, 2021
After initially using concrete barriers and fences, CRG fortified the perimeter fence surrounding the vacant lot with razor wire, which is prohibited by Minneapolis ordinance and labeled as hazardous. Casper Hill, a City of Minneapolis official, explained that typically the Zoning Enforcement Division will only act after receiving complaints from the public and will impose fines on violators.
“If a property is found to be in violation we use the standard City citation schedule, starting with $200, then doubling to $400, $800, $1,600, then on to $2,000 for each additional citation after that.”Casper Hill, official for City of Minneapolis
Northpond and Seven Points have not responded to multiple requests for comment over the phone and via email about the use of razor wire and numerous other issues.
CRG did not respond to our requests for comment or interviews. We will update this article if they choose to comment.
Since July 14, CRG has provided armed patrols in the multi-block radius of Seven Points and from the now-fortified parking ramp where Winston Smith was killed. They’ve assaulted, detained, surveilled, and threatened community members as well as helped to eradicate a community garden and grieving space, all while in concert with the Minneapolis Police. Since the first day of CRG’s violent interactions with the community, activists have called for answers and accountability for their actions and for CRG to cease operating in that space.
As of October 27, 2021, CRG continues to occupy the parking ramp and vacant lot. In the second part of this series, we‘ll delve a bit more into CRG and Nathan Seabrook.
Unicorn Riot's Coverage of Winston Smith:
- One Year Ago, Winston Smith Was Killed By a Federal Task Force - June 3, 2022
- Police Investigative Report Implicates Sheriff’s Deputy in Winston Smith Shooting - October 29, 2021
- Private Mercenary Group Targets, Assaults, & Detains Anti-Police Protesters in Uptown Minneapolis - October 27, 2021
- No Charges for Unnamed Federalized Deputies that Killed Winston Smith - October 18, 2021
- Unanswered Questions Fuel Protests Against Police in Minnesota - June 17, 2021
- Car Attacker Who Killed Deona Marie Charged With Murder - June 16, 2021
- Woman Killed After Driver Slams into Winston Smith Protest - June 14, 2021
- Federal Task Force Kills Winston Smith Leading to Sustained Protests - June 10, 2021