Police Waste Immense Amounts of Money and Years of Work on COINTELPRO
Because this story has to start somewhere, let’s begin on any given night in early 2009. It’s probably drizzling, and a cluster of people is standing outside the wooden apartment building on the corner of 11th Avenue and Pike Street, the one with motel-style exterior hallways and severely chipped paint. A lightbulb above one door is glowing green, a signal that visitors are welcome. When the lightbulb glows yellow, visitors are supposed to come back later. When the lightbulb glows red, they are supposed to keep away.
Sometimes when visitors enter the apartment, they’re asked to hand over any weapons they might be carrying—hardly anybody ever is—and sometimes there’s a cursory pat-down. Inside the apartment are a lot of artists, plus a military guy or two on a night away from the base. Some are sitting around a card table playing poker. Others are sitting on couches and chairs, smoking and drinking.
There’s Mia Brown, in the corner, who is into scuba diving and spends her days working with the homeless. There’s Jake, a musician. There’s Jimmy the Dwarf, an actor and model who works with a local circus troupe. There’s Brady McGarry, who has devoted his free time over the years to political and environmental causes. There’s DK Pan, a Butoh dancer, performance artist, and curator. There’s Jaybird, a skinny kid in leather quietly trying to peddle small bags of cocaine. There’s Thoren Honeycutt, who has a few priors for theft, including theft of a firearm. And there’s Rick Wilson—tall, broad-shouldered, wearing a suit. This is Rick’s apartment, called Rick’s Cafe (un)American during Rick’s after-hours parties.
For a time, some members of this crowd threw these after-hours parties at a place called the Cthulhu Building, just three blocks uphill from Rick’s. Later, some members of this crowd will throw after-hours parties at a place in Belltown called Cafe Corsair. Attendees often referred to them as speakeasies, although the people running them merely thought of them as private parties in private places. Court documents would later call them “underground illegal gambling enterprises (concurrent with illegal liquor sales).” A lot of people went to these parties—they were big events with bands and burlesque dancers. Guests were encouraged to dress up and usually did. Sometimes it seemed like half the city was there in suits and vintage dresses: artists, activists, politicians, cultural bigwigs, musicians, computer programmers, soldiers, criminals.
A lot of these parties happened because Rick’s good friend Bryan T. Owens had money and connections. Not everyone liked Bryan, but because he was Rick’s good friend he was often around—drinking Maker’s and Coke after-hours, playing poker, telling stories. He had a bald head and a goatee and a blustery bro-dude personality—one of the party regulars described him as a “mini–Fred Durst”—but he was a trust-fund baby and he was generous with his cash.
One day, Brady McGarry showed up at the Belltown space. The day before had been a long, weird day for him, and he and Bryan got to talking. Brady had been helping stage a protest at the Weyerhaeuser headquarters in Federal Way—a “lockdown” some friends from California had come up for. “It was mostly a symbolic protest,” Brady remembers. “We blocked an entrance for an hour or so, just long enough to make the papers.”
Colleen Rowley, who was an FBI agent for 24 years, says she saw a dramatic change in the agency after 9/11. “It’s a repeat of the COINTELPRO programs at the end of the Vietnam War,” she says. “They are targeting groups just for political dissent. It’s history repeating.” When she saw this shift after 9/11, Rowley became a whistle-blower—and very unpopular at the bureau. She retired in 2004.
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