ST. PAUL Law-enforcement authorities say a series of raids targeting protesters of the Republican National Convention turned up items including a gas mask, metal pipes, axes and buckets of urine as part of an investigation into a “criminal enterprise” aimed at causing havoc at the four-day event.
The raids, which began Friday night and continued through Saturday, were the result of an ongoing investigation into the activities of the RNC Welcoming Committee, a self-described “anarchist/anti-authoritarian organizing body” that authorities say plans to disrupt the convention by blockading delegate buses, breaching venue security and injuring police officers.
But members of the committee and others planning to protest at the convention, which begins Monday, say the raids were pre-emptive attempts to intimidate protesters and added that they will not be deterred.
“I think what our concern is, that the authorities are trying to create an atmosphere where people think it’s not safe to go out and protest the RNC,” said Steff Yorek, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, which hopes to draw a crowd of 50,000 for a Monday rally and march on the convention. “We think that it’s an attempt to stop people from protesting in whatever form they want to protest in.”
Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher - whose department has been the lead agency in the majority of the five raids - said the efforts were part of an ongoing investigation into 35 members of the Welcoming Committee.
At least five people, ages 21 to 26, have been arrested in connection with the investigation on charges of conspiracy to riot, conspiracy to commit civil disorder and conspiracy to damage property. Officials said they were being held at the Hennepin County Jail.
“They have recruited assistance in their criminal conspiracy from other anarchist groups throughout the country,” Sheriff Fletcher said. “Through their plans and actions, they have exhibited a blatant disregard for the law and the safety of others.”
The FBI, St. Paul Police Department and Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office also have participated in the series of raids, the first of which took place Friday night at a St. Paul property used as the committee’s “convergence space.”
Three other raids took place Saturday in Minneapolis at 8 a.m., and another in the afternoon in St. Paul, said Sgt. William Palmer, a spokesman at the convention’s Joint Information Center.
The items seized during the raids were delineated by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office in a press release. But Bruce Nestor, chapter president of the Minnesota National Lawyers Guild, said he was present where the urine buckets were taken and that none were identified in a search warrant inventory as urine.
He said two of the buckets were used to flush toilets and conserve water, while another was taken from an apartment that did not have a bathroom but was unconnected to the Welcoming Committee. He accused Sheriff Fletcher of staging a “political stunt.”
“Police seized political literature, cell phones, computers, cameras, personal diaries and many common household items such as paint, rope and roofing nails,” said Mr. Nestor, whose organization will defend the suspects. “These items are present in almost any home in south Minneapolis and are not evidence of a crime.”
A statement on the Welcoming Committee’s Web site said the raids “will not deter us from our plans to protest the RNC on September 1st. … See you in the streets.”
Ms. Yorek emphasized that her group has a permit for its activities and has “tactics different” than those of the Welcoming Committee.
Still, “we respect their choices,” she said, and “we expect we’ll be respected by the police.”