The spying began late in the summer of 2007, after police in St. Paul discovered an amateur video online. It showed youths dressed in black, their faces covered with dark bandanas, tossing home-made fire bombs and seeming to prepare for an assault.
The group called itself the “RNC Welcoming Committee.”
For authorities in St. Paul, the whole thing seemed like serious business. The city was deep in preparations for the Republican National Convention, scheduled to take place in September of 2008. Security was their paramount concern, and nothing worse than a terrorist attack could happen during the four-day event.
In the year leading up to the convention, police would spend countless hours working to identify those behind the video and others who might be planning to disrupt the Republican Party’s nominating bash. They would draw on a new domestic intelligence infrastructure and take unprecedented advantage of laws expanded after 9/11 that give police more intrusive authorities to halt potential subversives and terrorists before they attack.
But far from yielding major revelations, some police work prior to and during the RNC resulted in a series of missteps, poor judgments, heavy-handed tactics, and inappropriate detentions, according to interviews and a review of official documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Critics say many of the police actions were unconstitutional and a judge called one seizure illegal after the fact. Law enforcement officials a year later continue to defend their handling of the convention, arguing it was the only way to keep extremist hoodlums from disrupting the RNC and prevent violent incidents.