Damage Control: The story of how one activist group kept ourselves safe and strong in the face of movement infiltration
light blue.png

4. Kicking Them Out

light blue - kicking them out.png

At this point we were as convinced as we could be that Kat and Alex were undercover cops (or some other sort of infiltrators) and we also felt that we were subjecting ourselves, our fellow organizers, and allies to unnecessary threat by continuing to associate with them. So, we decided it would be best to confront them and kick them out of MISN. We debated pretty extensively about the best way to kick them out of our group in a way that both minimized risk and maximized the likelihood of finding out what was really going on. We decided to initiate a Pan Am committee meeting at a café where Kate, Merle, and Rachel would confront them and ask a number of questions.

 The place where we kicked them out.

The place where we kicked them out.

To prepare for this, we met a bunch of times to plan out what roles each of us would play and compiled a list of questions (constituting a loose script) for us to ask them. We wanted to maintain the tightest control possible over the interaction and we felt that creating roles would help us stay calm under pressure and not freak them out to the extent that they wouldn’t answer our questions. Kate was designated as the “question-asker” and general driver of the conversation, Rachel was designated as the person to step in to smooth things over if anything got tricky, and the person to formally kick them out of the group, and Merle was to hang back so she could keep a cool head in order to ask the tough question: “Are you cops?” We agreed that no matter how the conversation went, we would make sure not to let it end before directly asking Alex and Kat whether they were cops or with CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada’s spy agency), and informing them that they would have no further association with MISN.

We were genuinely worried that we might be arrested if our “confrontation” was perceived as aggressive and Kat and Alex panicked. As a safety measure, we arranged for a friend of ours who worked in movement legal defense to sit quietly nearby so they could observe the interaction. Sam was also sitting in the café at another table. As an added precaution we also asked a friend of ours with no affiliation to our activism to sit nearby, uninvolved in the interaction, so she could contact friends and family in the unlikely worst-case-scenario that all of us were arrested. It turned out that, besides the owner, we were alone in the café; just Merle, Kate, and Rachel and our three friends who were all sitting at other tables minding their own business.

Kat and Alex eventually showed up to the “meeting,” but they were half an hour late. We audio-recorded this conversation using our cell phones and ultimately made a transcript of the entire interaction. What follows is an exact record of our conversation that evening, annotated with some of our observations.

[Text in this font represents our commentary on specific things that are said in the transcript, giving context and analysis to what transpired.]

Transcript:

Kate:     I just wanted to give you a heads up. I know that there was some, like, confusion around Sam, and I wanted to just warn you that they’re going to be waiting here at the café for me because we’re going somewhere after this. And I didn’t want you to be, like, thrown off before that got resolved or whatever.

[We had debated a lot whether Sam should be in the room when we confronted them. We wanted a pair of outside eyes that knew what was going on, but we were worried that Kat and Alex would freak out when they saw them. Saying this was our way of reducing that risk.]

Alex:     That... sorry? Who’s going to be waiting?

Kate:     My partner Sam.

Alex:     Oh, okay. Fair enough.

Kate:     Yeah, just so you know.

Alex:     Oh, okay. No, no.

Kat:      It was just weird... right? Like, it was just one of those things—

Alex:     [Interrupts] They spoke at a Christmas party, and then it was like... came and...

Kat:      Like, I went to go say hi and then they just... ran.

[this is not at all what happened.]

Alex:     Ran.

Kat:      Like, I thought... at first I was like, did I offend them? Or, like, were they... are they upset? And then I was like... is it because I’m... is it because [Alex’s] with me now? Like...

Kate:     I honestly have no idea—

Alex:     [Interrupts] I just—

Kate:     Maybe we can talk about it afterwards or something. We have a lot to kind of like... chug through.

Rachel:   [Unintelligible] before nine.

Kate:     That’s okay, things happen.

Merle:     You guys are going out tonight?

Kate:     Yeah, I just have plans with friends later.

[Coffee arrives, more small talk. Real talk starts again in a bit]

Kate:     So, yeah—

Alex:     [Interrupts] ‘Cause you said... it sounds like we’re... you’re gearing up... based on the email, so—

[In our email initiating this "meeting", we had said "Yes, we should definitely meet -- it's been awhile! Pan Am is coming up quickly and we should probably start working on an action plan. It looks like the membership of our committee is changing, too, so we should probably check in about how work is being divided."] 

Kate:     Yeah, we’re definitely excited to have the chance to, like, start moving forward. And yeah, like, actually a pretty important agenda item today is we were hoping to ask you guys some questions.

Alex:     Sure.

Kate:     Because we’re, like, moving into actually wanting to get things done and we just realized we don’t actually really, like, know you very well.

Alex:     Sure.

Kate:     So, if that’s okay with you.

Alex:     Absolutely.

Kate:     And... it’s, like, kind of awkward, but... like, we know you guys are, like, in a relationship and your lives are super intertwined, but I’m hoping that you can kind of answer on behalf of yourselves? It’s really important—like, rather than answering for each other. Because it’s just, like, important to us that we get the chance to, like, know and trust you as individuals as we move forward.

[Because Alex had a history of speaking "for" Kat, we were hoping we could create conditions where they couldn't cover for each other -- where they both needed to speak on behalf of themselves. We thought that this would make it easier to spot inconsistencies in their stories.]

Alex:     Sure.

Kate:     And, like, as individual members of the group.

Alex:     Mmhmm.

Rachel:    It’s something that’s come up for us with couples before, where we’ve realized that we don’t know—like, if you’re not on different committees, we don’t know each person as an individual MISN member. But, like, there’s a whole history to that.

Kate:     Yeah, for sure. So... if that’s okay—

Kat:      What do you guys want to know?

Kate:     Um... yeah, we just had some questions about some things we’ve noticed, or like—just pieces of your history that we don’t necessarily know about.

Alex:     Okay.

Kate:     And, like—I know we’re friends on Facebook, and I was wondering why you both joined Facebook at the same time?

Alex:     Well—I’m not—well, I can answer. She was in a not-so—I’m new to it. And she was in a not-so-good relationship before, so it was kind of like—leave that behind.

[Despite promising to speak on behalf of himself, one of the first things Alex did under stress was to launch into talking about Kat's history of intimate partner violence on her behalf.] 

Kate:     Right.

Alex:     And I was new to it, so that’s why. I mean, we—you guys know we met in the summer, so... it was one of those things. All right? Am I speaking out of turn? I don’t want to... sorry, I probably shouldn’t have divulged her history, sorry about that.

Kat:      And to be honest, like, I don’t really want to get into that.

Kate:     That’s—you don’t have to.

Rachel:    Yep!

Kate:     That’s totally fine.

Alex:     Yeah. Sorry, I think I spoke out of turn. I apologize.

Kat:      No, that’s okay. Yeah.

Kate:     And is that the same answer as to why you have the same, like... not very many friends on Facebook?

Alex:     She’s the reason I got Facebook. That’s really—

Kat:      I dropped my life. Right? So.

Kate:     Okay.

Alex:     Mmhmm.

Kat:      That’s what it is.

Kate:     Cool. I’m wondering—did you go to the Anarchist Bookfair?

[Their Facebook profiles showed that they attended the Toronto Anarchist Bookfair.]

Kat:      Did I go to what?

Kate:     The Anarchist Bookfair.

Kat:      Yeah.

Kate:     Okay, and—

Alex:     [Interrupts] Which one?

Kate:     The Anarchist Bookfair.

Alex:     The Anarchist Bookfair [mispronounces it]? The one at... the one on Gould?

[He's playing ignorant, yet remembers the exact street that the fair was on.] 

Kat:      Anarchist Bookfair.

Alex:     There was the one on Gould... no—

Kat:      Like, U of—

Alex:     Yeah, it was at Ryerson.

Kat:      Yeah.

Alex:     Yeah, last year. Yeah, yeah.

Kate:     Okay. And I just know... I know both of you are, like... you’ve said before that you’re, like, pretty new to all of this stuff, so I’m just wondering how you found out about it?

Alex:     About...

Kate:     If you’re, like, new to social justice issues, how you found out about the Anarchist Bookfair?

Alex:     It’s open source. It’s open, right?

[kate: Of all of the things that they said during this interaction, this short sentence for me is one of the biggest pieces of "proof" that they're cops (or something similar). During this conversation I didn't know what "open source" meant in the context of policing and was confused about what the Anarchist Bookfair had to do with open source software. Now, looking back, it feels like a HUGE deal that he said this. He immediately corrected himself, to say "open" instead of "open source".]

 Some of the Italian Socialist Party stuff from Alex's Facebook.

Some of the Italian Socialist Party stuff from Alex's Facebook.

Alex:     Facebook, and... you look at... I—it’s funny, I even have one of my—one of my followers is, like, the Socialist Party in Italy. Why? Because I’m just interested in that kind of stuff.

[what are you even talking about, buddy.]

Kate:     That’s—

Alex:     That’s really it.

Kate:     So you knew to just search for the Anarchist Bookfair, then? That’s how you found  out about it?

Alex:     No, I—it comes up. Do I keep track of how I...? No.

Kate:     Okay.

Alex:     Okay?

Kate:     Alex, I’m wondering how you know [name of friend from No One Is Illegal]?

Alex:     [Name]... yeah, he’s with No One Is Illegal.

Kate:     How did you meet him?

Alex:     I didn’t. He accepted—when I asked to join No One Is Illegal, he was the one who accepted me as a member, or whatever you want to call it.

[This doesn't make any sense. He seems to be saying that our friend automatically became his Facebook friend when Alex requested to join the NOII group.] 

Kate:     So then... you joined the group, and then you added him as a friend?

Alex:     No. He accepted... he just accepts it as a... No One... [name] as No One Is Illegal, or something.

Kate:     Okay.

Alex:     It wasn’t... it wasn’t a friendship. It came through No One Is Illegal.

Kate:     But you’re friends with him on Facebook.

Alex:     Okay. Then... it wasn’t a friendship request. It must have been via... through No One Is Illegal.

Rachel:    We’ve just never seen people with so few Facebook friends. Like, it’s really confusing to us... we’re just trying to get to know you guys, and just want to know why you have so few Facebook friends.

Kat:      I don’t know what to tell you, like... I’m barely ever on it.

Alex:     I follow some of the Italian things... you can tell that some of mine are Italian, and... that’s it. Really.

[The way he keeps saying stuff like this was really weird. It just felt like they sat down one day and were like "Okay, you be sure to follow Italian things on Facebook, so they know you're Italian!"] 

Kate:     I have a, like, similar question as to how you know—

Rachel:    [Interrupts] Would you be open to using it, like, for MISN purposes? I’m just thinking, like... with MISN, like, we organize a lot on Facebook.

[Kate: Rachel starts to go rogue and step out of role a bit at this point (from my perspective). I remember feeling like it was getting out of control and like we were going off-script. I wasn't sure what she was trying to do and felt really upset that she interrupted me to start asking questions that we hadn't talked about asking.]

[Rachel: In retrospect, I see why Kate felt this way. At the time, I think we had a different understanding of what my role was in the conversation. I felt that I was doing what I was meant to in terms of smoothing out some tricky parts of the conversation, and asking follow-up clarifying questions.]

Kat:      Yeah.

Alex:     Yeah.

Kat:      For sure.

Alex:     Other than reading some things, there’s no—I’m usually not on there. Really. And you know that I don’t post much. I just—it’s a form of some communication, it’s a form of searching things, but that’s really it.

Kate:     Sure, okay.

Alex:     I get notices from my Italian newspaper. It’s a quick way to read some of the... some more—

Rachel:    [Interrupts] But who are the people you guys hang out with in Toronto? Like, why don’t you have them on Facebook? Like, I just have never met anyone who has, like, so few Facebook friends.

Kat:      Well, I came to Toronto from Waterloo, right? And like I said, I left that whole life in the background, like...

Rachel:    Where’d you live in Waterloo?

Kat:      Do you know where the university is?

Rachel:    Yeah.

Kat:      The apartments on [street name].

Rachel:    Oh, okay.

Kat:      So... and I bounced around a lot there, too, so there were... like... some people that wondered where I’d gone, or wondered, like, what I was doing when I moved, but I’m just not ready to face that part of my life. And to be honest, like, I feel like a lot of these questions are kind of...

[we feel like this was Kat's "panic button" moment. She started acting really victimized and was trying to get us to back off by making us feel bad for asking "invasive" questions.] 

Alex:     [Interrupts] Personal.

Kat:      Personal.

Alex:     They really are.

Rachel:    Yeah, they’re totally personal, but like...

Kat:      You know? And, like, the fact that... I don’t know, I just feel really awkward.

Alex:     It is. It is feeling a little—

Kat:      Like, it took a long time—

Alex:     [Interrupts]  —of an inquisition, it really is.

Kat:      —for me to be okay to, like, come out to things like this, and now I just feel like we’re kind of being attacked.

Kate:     We’re definitely not attacking you. This is like... it’s really important to us to know the people that we’re organizing with, and like... we all get asked really similar questions when we started organizing.

Rachel:    All activist groups in the city are the same way, right? Like, once you get into really organizing with people, like... we wish we didn’t have to, like, feel this way, but it’s just sort of a fact of—

Kat:      But, like, what does Facebook have to do with—

Alex:     [Interrupts] You have to... I mean, I’m going to be blunt about it. Let’s be honest. This came up after they walked away from us [points at Sam].

[This was Alex's "panic button" moment. It felt like a last-ditch effort to try to shift the topic of conversation away from the inconsistencies in their stories. In the moment, it felt SO transparently desperate.]

Kate:     Sorry, what came up?

Rachel:   What came up?

Alex:     This desire to ask us all... we’ve been together many times.

Kate:     For sure, and—

Alex:     [Interrupts] Right?

Kate:     And—

Merle:     But we haven’t really done very much organizing together, to be honest.

Alex:     But we’ve been in your home. And this was never an issue.

[Kate: It still makes me angry to read this. "But we've been in your home" was being used as a way of legitimizing himself and mobilizing a sense of trust.]

[Rachel: I kind of shivered when he said this. It's clear that the implication he was going for was "and therefore you seemed to trust us before," but it felt like an underhanded threat to me.]

Kate:     This is just... it’s an important next step.

Alex:     Fair enough.

Kate:     Like... I think that we can all speak to the place that we’re in right now—

Alex:     Absolutely.

Kate:     —we can speak to where we’re at with Pan Am, and it’s just important that we can move forward trusting you guys.

Alex:     Absolutely.

Kate:     Yeah. And building trust is a crucial part of community organizing.

Alex:     Absolutely. I agree. That’s cool.

Kat:      But what don’t—I don’t understand why you don’t trust us. Like, what—

Kate:     Oh! That’s not what we’re saying. We’re not saying we don’t trust you. It’s just that we don’t know enough about you to trust you yet. And that’s a thing—

Merle:     Yeah, we want to build trust, basically.

Kate:     Yeah.

Alex:     Fair enough.

[They calmed down at this point. they probably heard us say "build trust" and saw it as an opportunity, like maybe if they went along with these questions they'd learn things about what we were planning that they didn't have access to before.]

Kate:     For sure. So one question that I have is... it’s been a thing that’s kind of come up many times in the meetings that we’ve had, where you’ve pretty persistently asked us about MISN’s tactics, and I’m just wondering why you’ve asked that.

Alex:     In...

Kate:     In meetings.

Alex:     I’ve... I’ve never been... I don’t think I’ve been specific to it. I’ve asked you more as in... if I’m going to bring ideas to the table, I have to know what you guys... right? I’m not... never asked specifics.

Kate:     I see.

Alex:    I haven’t. I... what are... and I admit it, there are... I put myself out there saying I don’t know, and I’m here to help. But... it was like... what do you guys... I know what you do, like I mean, as far as, you know, the Barrick stuff, and... but it’s one of those things... how... I just wanted to know... everybody’s got different ways, and I was nothing specific. So. Realistically, I didn’t realize I was speaking out of turn, but...

Kate:     Okay, cool. And why have you consistently asked us for minutes and documentation from meetings you weren’t invited to?

Alex:    No. The one time I asked, and Merle replied, was—remember our meeting? We had our subcommittee meeting—

Kate:    [Interrupts] I do remember.

Alex:     And then—it was on a Tuesday. You were gonna go to the committee and you said... you put it out yourself. That you were gonna give them.

[He said this as though he had caught us in a logical fallacy or something. Kate had said that she was going to send the minutes out, but that doesn't make it any less weird that he kept going out of his way to ask for them to be sent.] 

Kate:     Sure.

Alex:     That’s all I asked. So then I asked in preparation for the next meeting, “Was there anything we should know?” And you said that, “At this point, I’m...”—one of you replied saying “It’s not important.” So, there you go. That’s why I asked. Remember?

Kate:     Yeah.

Alex:     You asked—you said you were gonna put them out there.

Kate:     Okay. And Kat... one of the first—actually, I think the first Pan Am committee meeting that you came to, you suggested that we start a Facebook thread with a list of targets—Pan Am targets. I’m just wondering why you did that.

Kat:      Pan Am targets? I don’t even remember what you’re talking about right now.

Kate:     Okay, that’s fine.

Kat:      Like, when we were at the bakery, you mean?

Kate:     No, at my house. The first—the very first meeting.

Kat:      ‘Cause I remember suggesting setting up a Facebook... like, a Facebook messaging group so that we could email back and forth that way. But I don’t remember what you’re talking about, targets.

Kate:     Okay. Cool. So, the last—actually, I have one more question, and... I’m wondering if you called the cops at Christie station after our last meeting?

Alex:     No.

Kate:     You didn’t?

Alex:     I told you, we went to the Dufferin... Dufferin and Bloor medical centre, it was closed. And we went into the pharmacy, and that was it. And then we went home.

Kate:     You didn’t go into Christie station?

Alex:     Christie? Yeah, we went to Christie.

Kate:     You went to Christie station.

Alex:     Went over to Bloor and Dufferin—Dufferin and Bloor...

Kat:      To the walk-in.

Alex:     To go to that walk-in, it was closed, we went into the pharmacy, and we went, uh... then we went home.

[For those unfamiliar with the area, what they're saying is geographically VERY confusing.] 

Kate:     And so when you were in Christie station, did you call the police?

Kat:      No.

Alex:     No.

Kat:      I told you, after that I had thought about it, because I was freaked out about what had happened. And quite frankly, I’m not that comfortable with... [gestures back to Sam]

[Panic button, trying to make us feel bad for her, treating Sam like they're dangerous/unsafe.] 

Alex:     The part that was... is that we were standing at the stairs waiting for the subway...and when I walked towards the stairs I didn’t know who they were. Until they came down to the platform and she recognized them. But I could see that they tucked in behind the wall. I didn’t make anything of it until she told me who they were, and that’s when we knew something was up.

[This is not what happened.]

Kate:     But you didn’t call the police?

Alex:     No.

Kat:      No.

Kate:     And so my question is, if you didn’t call the police, why did they show up very quickly? 

Alex:     I have no idea.

Kat:      No idea.

[They never denied that the police were in the station, suggesting they were themselves well aware that they came in, despite being down on the platform where absolutely nothing was happening.]

Alex:     We were on the subway. We were on the subway.

Kat:      In hindsight, I should have. Right? Like, I was not feeling safe, and if I had been by myself I probably would’ve. Right? But we got on the subway, there’s no way of calling on the subway. And we didn’t do it while we were there.

[She was definitely ramping up the concern-mongering here.] 

Alex:     Yeah, right. There’s no reception on the subway anyway.

[He seemed grateful that she thought of this excuse. But Sam clearly saw him talking on his cell phone.] 

Kat:      And if I had called the police, like... we wouldn’t be here. Like... right? You told me that everything was fine, and I’m trusting that, and I don’t know why that happened, but it happened and it made me extremely uncomfortable. And I think that the reason that I didn’t call the police is because you told me that everything was fine, and I trusted that. Right?

Kate:     Okay. All right, that’s what I have.

Alex:     [To Rachel] You’re... you look puzzled.

Rachel:   Yeah. It doesn’t make sense to me that you would see someone you’d met before, and your instinct would be “I should have called the police.”

Alex:     Because they ran.

Kat:      Because they ran!

Alex:     They ran away from her!

[They started getting really escalated here, and started making no sense.]

Kat:     I went to go say hi and they took off! And then Alex said “That’s the same person that was ducking in, like, halfway up the stairs.”

[sam: Kat did not try to speak to me after Alex saw me on the stairs. She never approached me.] 

Rachel:   And your instinct is to call the cops?

Kat:      Because they were watching us from the stairs!

Alex:    They were watching us from the stairs. And then when we got to the top of the stairs... we were coming up the stairs –

Kat:      [Interrupts] They ran down.

Alex:    They ran down—

Rachel:   [Interrupts] Do you understand why—

Alex:     [interrupts] No.

Rachel:   —it does not make any sense—

Kat:      [Interrupts] No, I don’t.

Rachel:   —for us to be... feel comfortable organizing with people who I think are going to call the cops on my friends?

Kat:      Your friend? Followed me.

[This was the most intensely we'd ever heard her speak to us.] 

Alex:     It’s—

Rachel:   I don’t know what happened, but—

Kat:      [Interrupts] I’m telling you.

Alex:    I’m telling you what happened.

Kat:      We were standing on the—

Alex:    [Interrupts] Would you like to ask them? They’re right there.

[He turns around and points at Sam at this point.] 

Rachel:   I’m explaining why I looked skeptical.

Kat:     Why don’t you invite them over here and ask them? How about—they’re videotaping us right now.

[sam: I was - attempting to - record the interaction on my cell phone.] 

Rachel:   I think this is what’s going on—

Kat:     [Interrupts] I don’t feel comfortable with this, because they’re videotaping us right now.

Kate:     Why would you say that?

Kat:      Because they’re holding up their cellphone, videotaping us.

Rachel:   Videotaping? Like, this is the sort of thing that we are having trouble having trust around with you. Like, that you say these kind of things. Like, this is why we’re having this conversation.

Kat:      It’s freaking us out too.

Alex:     I think... think it’s time to go?

Kat:      Yeah.

Alex:     I think it’s time.

Merle:     I just have one final question for you. Are you cops, or are you with CSIS?

Alex:     No.

Kat:      What?

Alex:     I don’t—

Rachel:    Are you cops, or are you with CSIS?

Alex:    [Gets up in Rachel’s face] NO. NO.

[Rachel: For a brief second, I thought he was going to grab me while yelling at me.] 

Kat:      No! Like...

Alex:     I think we’re done.

Rachel:   Yeah. Okay, well you’re no longer MISN members, and we do not want to have any contact with you in the future.

Alex:     Great.

Kat:      Okay, your friend followed us. And I didn’t call the police.

Rachel:    And we don’t want to hear from you, and you’ll no longer have any association with MISN. 

Kat:      That’s fine.

Alex:     Okay. Grab your stuff.

[Silence. They gather their things and get ready to go.]

Kat:      As females, I would have thought that you guys would understand a little bit better.

[Kate: I will remember this moment for the rest of my life.] 

Kate:     Thanks.

Kat:      Like, a person follows us into the subway? Whatever.

End of transcript

After they left tensions were still high. We went for a beer to debrief and to breathe a collective sigh of relief but we were still really worried about what might happen next. We also felt proud of ourselves and excited that we had pulled it off. We knew it was just the beginning of a longer process though; we wanted to be able to talk to other groups as well as our friends and families about what we had experienced without putting them at risk.

Over the next few days, we stayed in touch with each other pretty closely. It wasn’t until a week or so later that we re-listened to the recording together. On first listen we were struck by how much we sounded like total assholes and were pretty relieved that there hadn’t been any strangers in the café listening to that conversation. We also felt pretty angry about how manipulative they had been; especially the last comment that Kat made to us around expecting more from us as “females.” We had some conversations about how moments of letting ourselves step outside of our roles had possibly escalated the tension of the conversation. We decided to wait on having a larger debrief to process our emotions until we had gotten our story out in the media. Writing this zine has been a powerful opportunity to do a lot of that processing.

While listening to the recording we noticed a few pretty illuminating pieces of evidence that further led us to believe that Kat and Alex were cops. We noticed that Alex had used the term “open source” to refer to a Facebook event. We knew that this was a common way for police to refer to certain kinds of information (see the section below called “Open Source Information: Using Social Media Against Us”), especially online information. When asked about the Anarchist Bookfair they seemed confused but also remembered the street it was hosted on almost immediately. While these pieces of information on their own didn’t seem like much, they added to a bigger picture of misrepresentation.

We have not seen or spoken to Kat or Alex since, and their Facebook profiles are still up but haven’t been updated since they were kicked out.

Continue onto 5. Going to the Media...