Local activists cry foul over FBI 'terror' alert
John J. Monahan
Matthew Feinstein speaks yesterday at Elm Park about plans to show a movie to help an imprisoned environmental activist raise money for an appeal in Oregon. (T&G Staff / JIM COLLINS)
WORCESTER- City police detectives in concert with other state and federal police agencies have begun an undercover investigation of local environmentalists, based on apparently false FBI reports that targeted the environmentalists as possible terrorists.
The investigation began last week when the FBI put out a national terrorism alert regarding environmental activists in 10 cities across the country - including Worcester - they suspected may be planning what they consider terrorist acts.
The alert focused on plans by several local environmental activists to show a movie Friday night at a private art studio. The movie that includes an interview with Jeff Luer, a man convicted of burning two sport utility vehicles in Oregon five years ago.
The video, "Green with a Vengeance" was produced by an Australian television network and has already been broadcast throughout Australia.
The Worcester showing of the movie, as listed on a Web site supporting Mr. Luer's cause, was being presented by a small group of local activists to raise funds for Mr. Leur's appeal this July of convictions for arson that resulted in a sentence of 22 years in Oregon state prison.
Yesterday some of those who organized the fund-raiser arranged to meet with several local reporters at Elm Park to comment on the FBI alert that targeted them, and announce they had changed the location of the movie Friday.
During the press conference, a woman wearing blue jeans and a pink tank top who appeared to be walking casually through the park at a distance began taking photographs of the meeting with reporters.
Later, the woman, when asked, identified herself as a Worcester police detective and said she had been assigned to photograph the meeting for the Worcester Police Department. Three police cruisers also staked out the event and parked across Russell Street observing the small meeting.
Matthew Feinstein of Worcester told reporters that he is not a member of Earth First, a radical environmental group, and said the group showing the movie were just unaffiliated local environmentalists. He said they wanted to "clarify" what they were doing and respond to federal accusations that they could be terrorists.
He said the movie was planned to be shown in the studio of local photographer John Bean, and only eight or 10 people were expected to attend. In light of the highly publicized national FBI alert they got caught up in, he said, the group has decided to make it "a more public event" and will show the movie at 6 p.m. Friday in Room 001 at Jonas Clark Hall at Clark University.
"We hope people will come out and see the movie and participate in a discussion. There will be an open microphone," he said.
"We are hoping there won't be any more fear spread about people who are just trying to address issues that are of concern to them," he said.
He said the FBI and Worcester police response to the FBI alert was aimed at creating fear about local environmentalists.
Worcester police reportedly advised numerous car dealerships they had information that activists might try to burn their cars at their car lots last weekend and urged them to take precautions.
"The accusations that were made were totally off-base," Mr. Feinstein said. He said the FBI alert was apparently part of "a government plan to generate fear," and that he suspected it was supported by the logging industry and possibly automakers worried about activism in protest of gas-guzzling cars.
He said the concerns about terrorism were completely unfounded. "This is an absurd accusation. We are just showing a film and having a discussion," Mr. Feinstein said.
Mr. Feinstein said he and other people who organized the movie showing were among a group that protested the cutting of old growth forest at Wachusett Mountain to build ski trails. Some of the group, he said, supported two demonstrators who sat in trees at the mountain last fall to protest new ski trail development around the old growth forest area there, and that it was a "legal peaceful nonviolent protest."
Mr. Feinstein said he has also been involved in other community activities in recent years, having supported the Worcester nurses' strike at the Worcester Medical Center hospital several years ago, walking the picket line there in support while the nurses were on strike.
He has also helped set up community gardens in several neighborhoods of the city, working with the Regional Environmental Council, and said he passed out leaflets in support of the AmeriPride Linen workers during a union issue there in the past.
He said he and some of the people organizing the movie showing have also worked with the group Food Not Bombs, which has distributed food to needy in the city, and with political activities of the Worcester Global Action Network that has opposed the NAFTA free trade agreement and other federal foreign policy actions.
Acting City Manager Micheal V. O'Brien was caught unaware of the nature of the police response to the FBI alert yesterday.
Mr. O'Brien said that while he had been told of the FBI alert last Friday, he was not aware that the police were undertaking an undercover terrorism investigation of local environmentalists and were using surreptitious surveillance.
It is unknown whether police or federal investigators plan to photograph or keep records of people who attend the movie showing at Clark University on Friday.
Worcester police have a history of surveillance of civil demonstrations and protest events in the city as well as of tracking politically active citizens.
The operations are conducted in part under little-known and longstanding provisions of the Worcester Police Rules and Regulation that call for police to conduct investigations, file reports and maintain dossiers on citizens not involved in any reported crimes, but whom police believe may commit a crime in the future.
Mr. O'Brien said he had not authorized the investigation by city detectives and uniformed officers. "At this point in time I have to work to get the relevant facts. I think it warrants a full review," Mr. O'Brien said.
A person answering the telephone at the FBI Boston office of the Regional Director of Community Relations, identifying himself as Frank Amoroso, said he had "no idea" what the investigation in Worcester was about.
A spokesman for Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said yesterday the attorney general "was not brought in on this" and did not comment on the appropriateness of the investigation.
John J. Monahan