FBI agents interview activists

About five Columbians were questioned, spokesman says.
Sunday, August 22, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:09 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

An investigation that led FBI agents to the doors of several Columbia residents has yet to be resolved.

“I believe our investigation is still open,” Jeff Lanza, spokesman for Kansas City’s FBI office, said Friday. “Whether or not we do any more interviews is still undecided.”

Lanza confirmed that federal agents visited Columbia during the last weeks of July as part of a nationwide response to a threat to destroy media vans at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. He declined to identify anyone the FBI interviewed and would not say what brought the FBI to Columbia.

“We attempted to interview about five people,” Lanza said. “We were doing our job, and I can’t say why anyone was chosen.”

He said he was unsure if agents reached all those sought for interviews. The Columbia Police Department has not been involved, he said.

Dave Strano of Kansas Mutual Aid Collective, a Lawrence, Kan.-based group that represents political activists, said he has been in contact with people around the Midwest whom the FBI has interviewed, including five to seven Columbia residents. He would not divulge their names and described them as anti-war and anti-globalization activists who range in age from early 20s to late 40s.

“I’m friends with some of them,” Strano said. “I don’t think they’re on the fringe. These are people that are part of the community.”

Strano said the interviewees refused to answer a series of questions about planned disruptions at the Democratic convention and other upcoming political events.

“To our knowledge, no one from the Midwest cooperated with the FBI,” Strano said.

At a news conference Friday in Washington, Attorney General John Ashcroft defended his department against allegations it was attempting to intimidate potential protesters.

Three Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee, led by Michigan’s John Conyers, said in a letter Tuesday that the investigation — which a senior U.S. law-enforcement official said was based upon an informant’s claim that Midwestern anarchists were plotting to firebomb television vans with Molotov cocktails — appears to be the “systematic political harassment and intimidation of legitimate anti-war protesters.”

“We interviewed a very limited number of people that we believed were either participating in a plan to criminally and violently disrupt the Democratic National Convention, or individuals that might have known something about that plan,” Ashcroft said Friday.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last week that three Kirksville men who were planning to protest at the Democratic National Convention were put under FBI surveillance and served subpoenas to a St. Louis grand jury investigating terrorism.

Mark Haim, director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, which operates the nonprofit store and activists’ hub Peace Nook in downtown Columbia, said he doesn’t know anyone in Columbia who’s been contacted by the FBI.

“It’s absolutely outrageous that our government is conflating legitimate dissent and terrorism,” Haim said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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