Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

March 10, 2022

COLORADO -- Colorado Springs Cops Attempt to Entrap Activists: Denver Spy Files Revealed Police Spying for a Decade

Russell Means, Colorado Capitol, Columbus Day Protest Denver

Columbus Day Protest Denver

Censored News is republishing our coverage of the Denver spy files, which spanned a decade, following the current exposure that an undercover cop in Colorado Springs attempted to entrap activists.

Undercover cop attempts to entrap activists in Colorado Springs with illegal firearm purchases: March 2022

An undercover, pink-haired undercover cop in Colorado Springs, attempted to create crimes, and ensnare activists in illegal firearms purchases. Even a mutual aid group was targeted. This current case in Colorado is a reminder of how Denver cops spied on everyone who supported Big Mountain, Peltier and AIM, in the 1990s. Even a grandmother with a Peltier bumper sticker and their attorneys were followed. The documents came out during discovery during a court case. The current Colorado Springs covert operation reveals how undercover cops target organizers, and attempt to entrap them, including those in Black Lives Matter, and shows that COINTELPRO continues.

Related: Standing Rock: Targeting of Denver AIM, by The Intercept

The targeting of Denver AIM continued at Standing Rock in 2016, when FBI operative Heath Harmon of Fort Berthold set up Red Fawn, resulting in her long prison sentence.

Related: 'In the Beginning, There was the Denver Spy Files' by Censored News

American Indian Movement, Big Mountain Support Group, Sen. Abourezk -- targeted in Denver Police Spy Files, which spanned a decade

By Brenda Norrell
Published in 2002

DENVER, Colo. – The “Denver Spy Files,” given the name by the ACLU in a federal lawsuit, reveals that the Denver Police Department Intelligence Bureau kept secret files on American Indian leaders and their allies, including Wilma Mankiller, John Echohawk, and former South Dakota Sen. James Abourezk.

“I didn’t like it and I think there should be a law against it. It should be stopped,” said Abourezk, an attorney in Sioux Falls.

Abourezk, who served on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said he doesn’t have a clue why he was spied on, even though he now has a copy of the file. The documents simply indicate his name and that Denver police were watching him.

Abourezk said years ago he encouraged the formation of the Anti-Defamation League of American Indians in Denver and supported the formation of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, a civil rights group.

“I haven’t been in Denver in 15 years,” Abourezk said.

Glenn Morris, a political science professor and AIM member who coordinates Columbus Day protests in Denver, said American Indian leaders targeted include Wilma Mankiller and Vine Deloria, Jr., former board members of the Anti-Defamation League of American Indians in Denver.

Documents released show Russell Means, Winona LaDuke, John Echohawk, John Mohawk, George "Tink" Tinker, Wallace Coffey, Ward Churchill, Dennis Banks, the Leonard Peltier Support Group, Big Mountain Support Group, Colorado AIM, and the Native American Rights Fund were also targeted and spied on by Denver police.

Morris said, “This is the Indian equivalent of having a police spy database in the Black community that consisted of files on Web DuBois, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Thurgood Marshall, Jesse Jackson, NAACP, the Black Panthers, Cornell West, John Hope Franklin and Angela Davis, all at the same time.”

Means called it another incidence of “Big Brother” keeping an eye on everyone.

“It is certainly symptomatic of the secret society and Orwellian,” Means said of the covert surveillance done by Denver police. (Orwellian refers to the philosophies first articulated by George Orwell in his prophetic novel “1984.”)

After the spy files were exposed, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb intervened and the subjects of those files were able to obtain copies. Webb said he was once the target of unlawful FBI surveillance because of his stance on civil rights.

Morris, among those targeted, points out that the Denver Police Department never voluntarily disclosed the existence of the files. Recently, six new file cabinets of the Denver Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau were revealed.

Morris said the “spy files” were revealed by the All Nations Alliance, which was the umbrella alliance for Transform Columbus Day, and the American Civil Liberties Union in March of this year. The files were exposed in another criminal case, when the Denver Police Department shared the spy files with the Golden, Colo., Police department.

“We are not sure with whom else the files have been shared, but in Russell Means’ and my file there are references to some sharing with the FBI,” Morris said.

The "files" that have been released to date are not files at all, but computer indexes of hard copy files that the Denver Police Department said did not exist, Morris said.

“In September, after the Denver Police Department said that all the files that the Intelligence Bureau had were disclosed, they ‘discovered’ six new file cabinets of photos, videos and hard copy files that were never disclosed.”

The ACLU, representing several plaintiffs including members of All Nations Alliance, filed a class action suit under a federal law that allows public officials who have violated one's civil rights to be sued in federal court. The suit is proceeding now, but has not yet been set for trial.

In the spy files are home addresses, the names of friends, car license plates, handwritten notes and mailing lists of human rights groups. There are home addresses and personal descriptions of peaceful protesters. The addresses of residences visited by individuals frequently are included.

A “Free Leonard Peltier” bumper sticker landed Great-grandmother Helen Henry, 82, in the Denver spy files.

The spy files list those "seen" at a demonstration protesting the celebration of Columbus Day in 2000.

Tink Tinker, Osage author, and professor was also targeted by the Denver Police spy operation. Tinker, an activist who spoke at Columbus Day protests along with Morris and Means in recent years, found 17 pages on his activities recorded in the Denver Spy Files.

Not only was Tinker targeted, but the religious graduate school where he is professor of American Indian Cultures and Religious Traditions was also targeted.

It is the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

Tinker said, “Now the school where I teach -- a largely White, Christian (Methodist) graduate school of theology training ministers -- is also suspect of criminal activity!”

Tinker said the spy operation was underway long before last year’s incidents leading to the Patriot Act.

“Since this pre-dates the September 11, 2001, events and thus pre-dates passage of the Patriot Act, it demonstrates a considerable history of the disallowing of dissent in the United States -- a clear violation of constitutional intent in our so-called constitutional democracy,” Tinker said.

Tinker said spy files on Native Americans and human rights activists are now emerging across America.

“These ‘spy’ files -- which are not just a Denver phenomenon but are now coming to the surface in other cities from Portland, Ore., to New York -- also point to a particularly nagging problem with respect to the impunity enjoyed by police in this ‘free’ country that the president bragged about shortly after 9-11-01.”

Tinker said he expects the situation to worsen.

“It seems that freedom extends especially to the police in their increasing control of civil society in the United States,” Tinker said.

“What has been happening since 9-11-01 is even more scary. I predict that we will see an ever-increasing demonstration of police power, police impunity, disallowed dissenting voices, and control of civil behaviors.”

Mayor Webb intervened said he knows how it feels to be targeted.

“I, along with other elected officials, local civil rights and labor leaders were the subject of an FBI spy operation in the '70s and I know what it feels like to be the subject of an intelligence-gathering operation,” Webb said in a written statement concerning his political activities in Colorado.

Mayor Webb announced the Denver Police Department Intelligence Bureau had computer files on 208 organizations and about 3,200 individuals.

Webb’s statement came on March 13, 2002; two days after the ACLU made the first public declaration of the spy files. Since that time, the second batch of secret files was revealed.

Webb and the City of Denver issued new policies, initiated an independent probe and required police to purge the files. Police were required to notify subjects of spy files and release documents beginning Sept. 3.

The ACLU, however, says that instead of notifying the victims, police are requiring individuals to go to the police station and request the files. Once there, police require personal data.

The “new McCarthyism,” is what the Quaker’s American Friends Service Committee, the plaintiff in the suit, is calling the spy files that targeted the Nobel Peace Prize winners. “McCarthyism” refers to the 1940s and 50s when Americans were blacklisted as communists without supporting evidence.

"First there were Salem witch trials. Next came the red scare of the 40s and 50s. Then it was targeting of Martin Luther King Jr. and members of the civil rights movement,” said Mary Ellen McNish, general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee.

“Today it's hundreds of groups and individuals who exercise their First Amendment right to speak out and express their views and opinions that are unfairly targeted and labeled.

“When will we learn from the mistakes of the past?"

The federal lawsuit, American Friends Service Committee v. City and County of Denver, was initially filed in Denver District Court on March 28, 2002.

The Chiapas Coalition and other Latin American human rights groups are among that police labeled “criminal extremist.”

Denver police kept secret files on speakers at Amnesty International meetings and protesters at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington, D.C.

There are comments written in the spy files, like those of plaintiff Sister Antonia. Police wrote, the Sister said, "global financial policies are responsible for the uprisings in Chiapas, Mexico.”

On the lighter side, were the comments of Native Americans protesting outside the Denver federal building on Columbus Day, Oct. 12, 2002. It was after the spy files were revealed.

Outside FBI offices and the U.S. Courthouse, protesters yelled violations of American Indian rights over a bullhorn as federal officials peered from a glass door. A mock black coffin was held high by protesters wearing white masks.

Native protesters said to one another, “If we didn’t have a secret file before this, we sure will now.”

Copyright Brenda Norrell, Censored News.

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