The Anarchists’ Datebook
When 21-year-old Nate Hoffmann called his roommate, Jeff Kinder, and told him that the FBI was looking for him, Kinder thought Hoffmann was being paranoid. He reconsidered when a black Ford Explorer tailed him as he pulled into his West Plaza driveway.
When Kinder stepped out of his truck, two men in dark suits approached him. They introduced themselves as Ryan C. Lamb and Eduardo D. Velasquez from the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. They asked where Hoffmann was.
It was around noon on Friday, July 23, and Kinder, also 21, had just returned from classes at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Hoffmann wasn’t home, which was normal; he has two jobs. He works at the Applebee’s on Rainbow in Kansas City, Kansas — and he’s one of the organizers of the collectively run Crossroads Infoshop at 1830 Locust, which sells leftist books and posters and serves as a meeting place for a mostly high school- and college-age clientele.
The agents asked Kinder three questions that anyone who hangs out at the Infoshop can now recite in various forms: Do you know of anyone planning organized violence at the Democratic National Convention, the Republican National Convention or the elections? If you did know, or if you were to find out about such plans in the future, would you tell us? Do you know that if you did have such information and failed to tell us or were involved in such activities, you could be charged with a crime?
Kinder said he doubted that anyone he knew would be planning anything violent. And he wouldn’t say whether he would report such information to the FBI if he did have it. “I wanted to be as blunt as possible,” he says. “With me, [the conversation] had a reasonably respectful tone. I was trying not to be overly arrogant or defensive.”
Bob Herndon, an agent at the FBI’s Kansas City office, says local agents conducted interviews after the Boston bureau office informed them of a possible plan to firebomb media trucks at the Democratic convention. “Of course, preventing any terrorist act on U.S. soil is the number one priority of the FBI right now,” Herndon tells the Pitch. “So that’s why we were out there conducting interviews.”
When he heard the FBI was looking for him, Hoffmann and his ex-girlfriend, fellow Infoshop worker Erica Wiggins, 24, were riding their bicycles. They pedaled to the Infoshop and conferred with their comrades. During the half-hour Hoffmann spent debating what to do, Lamb and Velasquez called him four more times. Hoffmann reasoned that the agents would find him eventually, so he answered their next call and arranged to meet them at the Broadway Café in Westport. A dozen or so of Hoffmann’s friends agreed to meet there, too.
The black Explorer was parked in front of the Broadway Café when Hoffmann arrived. Lamb and Velasquez sat coffeeless at a corner table. Hoffmann was nervous at first, and when he sat down, he started laughing.
“They asked me whether they’d said anything that was funny,” Hoffmann recalls. “I finally said I was laughing because I thought the situation was so ridiculous.”
The agents asked him the three questions. “I’ve been politically active long enough to know that the only thing that can come from answering the FBI’s questions is trouble,” Hoffmann says. So he told them that he wouldn’t respond without a lawyer present.
“They told me that usually when people don’t answer, it’s because they have something to hide,” Hoffmann says. He says Velasquez handed him his card and told him that when he got a lawyer, Hoffmann should call him. He added that if Hoffmann failed to call within the next two days, the agents would find him again — by Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Wiggins called her parents to warn them that the FBI might be calling. When her mother came home from work, she says, there was a message from Special Agent Donald S. Albracht asking Wiggins to call him. Four days later, early Tuesday morning, Wiggins’ parents found Albracht’s blue FBI business card stuck in their screen door. On the back was the instruction “Please call me, Erica.” Wiggins has not responded.
The feds didn’t make good on their advisory to Hoffmann that they’d find him again — the following Tuesday passed without a visit. But the FBI also questioned anarchists in Lawrence, Columbia, Kirksville, Topeka and St. Louis, according to the KC Direct Action Network, a Web site that aids local activists. In Kirksville, agents served several anarchists with subpoenas, ordering them to report to a grand jury on the same day they had planned to go to Boston to protest the Democratic National Convention, says Kansas City lawyer Fred Slough.
“We know the FBI has a history of simply disrupting dissenting groups and trying to discredit them,” says Slough, who was contacted for advice by one of the Kirksville anarchists. “There’s no problem with the FBI wanting to talk to them. That’s the FBI’s job. But these kids have no duty to speak with them and shouldn’t be harassed if they don’t. They’re exercising their constitutional rights.”
“I’m not in Boston — I’m here,” Wiggins says. “That’s part of why this situation is so ridiculous. I’m not going to that farcical protest so I can sit in the protesting pen next to the media pen. I’m doing other things. I’m talking to people, I’m working with labor unions, doing other things to try to talk to folks about the world we live in. That was legal, last I heard, to talk to people.”
Hoffmann says he believes that the FBI questioned neighbors of Wiggins’ parents, Hoffmann’s neighbors near the Plaza and Hoffmann’s manager at Applebee’s. They showed Hoffmann’s neighbors a picture of him and asked Wiggins’ neighbors what kind of car she drives.
“People can lose their jobs. Their landlords can kick them out over stuff like this,” Slough says. “Stuff like this could hurt these kids.”
Still, if a radical bookstore’s success can be measured in how soon it gets a visit from the FBI, then the Infoshop, which opened July 2, is doing well.