In the past 24 hours, FBI agents in Seattle and Olympia have reportedly been showing up at people's houses, jogging locations (a park), schools (Seattle University), workplaces, and at least one nonprofit (which serves street-involved youth), asking: "Do you want to talk about May Day?"
They're also asking about people's coworkers, roommates, romantic situations, and general social-mapping questions. (All the sources wished to keep their anonymity, for the moment at least.)
The agents are asking about May Day 2012, but it's difficult to believe that their timing, when May Day 2013 is just around the corner, is pure coincidence. We're all aware of the crap the FBI, US Attorneys, and other law-enforcement agents have been willing to drag activists through, as well as their fondness for "we know where you live, we know where you work, we know who you know" leverage—even when they're encouraging people to participate in criminal activities that are far outside their normal interests and patterns of behavior.
The Seattle agents, according to people who were present for the conversations in the past 48 hours, are primarily two guys in a gold SUV wearing jeans, button-up shirts, and vests (perhaps polar fleece). "Honestly," one source about the agents on the front steps, "at first I thought they were salesmen—maybe lawn service."
The agents were mostly chummy with the people they contacted. As one woman talked to agents, another housemate described their manner as "jokey and flirty—I almost thought they were gonna ask her out!"
Flirty or not, they identified themselves as members of the FBI's domestic terrorism unit. Apparently, the vandalism of May Day 2012, and the potential demonstrations on May Day 2013, are terrorism investigations. (Which, frankly, seems to me like a grave insult to anyone from Boston to NYC to Kandahar who's been a victim of, or lost a family member to, actual terrorism.)
In one case yesterday, the agents reportedly turned up at a public park to intercept two joggers. The joggers said "no, thanks" and went home. About 20 or 30 minutes later, the agents reportedly showed up at a house, apparently still looking for them.
In other cases, people approached have refused to give their names or any information (sometimes politely, sometimes not so politely). As of yet, that has not generated any push-back from the FBI.
If the agency was really gathering evidence about May Day 2012 or 2013, I'd guess they'd be more low-profile, waiting and watching and quietly gathering evidence. This little blitz of visibility seems calculated to freak people out and perhaps chill people's participation in any upcoming May Day demonstration. (But what do I know? I'm just a journalist.)
Ayn Dietrich, a spokesperson for the FBI, said she could not confirm or deny anything about the visits. "We do all kinds of routine activities throughout the state on any given day," she said. "If we have people out there, it could be community outreach, emergency response, or investigative work... We sometimes knock on doors when there's an issue of a missing child. We're around the community, especially with ethnic minority groups, to let them know they can come to us to report hate crimes."
Good to know.
Meanwhile, please enjoy this bit of homemade activist comedy about these kinds of FBI visits (in activist circles, they've become a trope), courtesy of independent journalist Will Potter (who I got to know when he spoke at the 2011 Smoke Farm Symposium).