In our first piece on the Memphis Energy Burden, we outlined the recent history of energy prices and proposed a program to address the Energy Equity problem, as a way of mitigating excessive energy costs. This is the next step.
We noted that per-unit energy prices, poverty and the energy efficiency of the housing stock were the major components of the Energy Burden, and made the initial assumption that energy prices, being dictated by TVA contracts, and poverty, being a systemic issue, could not be addressed.
By the time we had considered a massive energy equity program as the immediate solution, we found three things:
Due to the viciously cyclical nature of poverty, and its relation to energy burden, addressing the equity issue also addresses poverty.
The scheme as outlined assumes that political will, and the support of the Mayor and a majority of Council members would be required for the Energy Equity scheme.
We suggested that in the current anti-Trump democratic (small “d”) uprising, the MLK50 anniversary and the pocketbook appeal of the utility burden problem would make this politically possible, via campaign platforms in the 2019 City elections.
The outcome is, given these new assumptions, that direct action to reduce MLGW electricity pricing is now possible.
How electricity prices can be cut.
The TVA sold electricity to MLGW at 7.7 cents per KWh in 2016 (pdf), who sold it on to consumers at 9.4 cents per KWh on average. These numbers are taken from the MLGW 2016 annual report. These prices will rise. The $11.60 fixed MLGW monthly charge is averaged into these costs.
Clean Line Energy of Houston proposed a project to TVA which would bring 3.5 gigawatts (GW) of power to Shelby County. They proposed spending $2B on the project, including a transfer station at Millington budgeted at $240M. The price to TVA would have been two cents per KWh. This project died on the vine when TVA failed to engage.
The average peak MLGW system load was just over 2.5GW in June of 2012, so the Clean Energy supply seems to be approximately right for Memphis’s needs.
With the assumption that the political will required to implement the Energy Burden plan has been achieved, the following could happen:
MLGW provides the required five year’s notice of intent to terminate its TVA supplier contract. However, the MLGW distributor contract with MLGW is coming to an end in 2019 and this notice period may have changed by 2020, when the new City Council will be installed. Some TVA distributors (Nashville) have 10-year termination notice requirements. Proponents of the scheme might engage with MLGW to ensure that the contract termination notice is not increased in the new agreement.
MLGW enters into a contract with a reconstituted Clean Line Energy to take the majority of its supply, possibly selling some of it on to neighboring utilities. By the time MLGW solicits bids for the supply, it might end up being another vendor.
Clean Line builds the transmission line and a transfer station within City limits, investing $2B.
Changeover to Clean Line happens after about five years.
MLGW prices its energy to consumers at the 2 cents it pays to Clean Line plus its existing markup of 1.7 cents, or less than four cents per unit. That’s a 60% price cut.
JT Young has just started at MLGW and we don’t know what he thinks.
It’s not quite that simple.
The scenario above is complicated by a few factors.
Utilities need to have spare capacity ready to throw online at a moment’s notice in order to keep the system stable.
There are several ways this could be done.
Contract with TVA for spinning capacity at the Allen Gas Plant. TVA would otherwise have to send the output of Allen to Jackson and Nashville to sell it, and transmission is expensive. MLGW could negotiate for some of this capacity.
Contract with surrounding utilities to obtain spinning capacity. A swap with cheap Clean Line power might be negotiated into this.
Utility-size battery storage is available in the megawatt range, ideal for direct current sources and with instant availability.
Any type of potential energy storage would work. This Irish project at Turlough Hill pumps water into a reservoir at the top of a hill during periods of low demand, and runs the water back down the hill when instant capacity is needed. Flywheels and almost any method of storing potential energy would work here.
The Memphis energy demand peak is in summer and during the afternoon, so augmenting supply with solar power would be a good match.
The foregoing is included because the availability of peak spinning power is always an early objection to this scheme. We think this is an engineering /costing problem by nature and that good options are available.
The average cost of a unit of electricity will be a little higher than the two cents of the Clean Line proposal, as we need to figure that spinning capacity will come at a premium cost per unit. MLGW will need to invest in or contract for a portfolio of additional sources. Solar, at the industrial scale, appears to cost about 4 cents per unit. We’d estimate that if 90% of capacity is 2 cent wind energy and the remaining 10% costs ten cents per unit, the average cost per unit would increase to under three cents per unit, bring consumer prices to about half of current prices, and the 5.1 cents per industrial unit could drop to three cents or less.
The average annual consumer bill would drop from $1381 to about $690, an average savings of around $58 per month. We think that the extreme cost-savings measures used by poor customers might relax a bit in these circumstances, which would be the same as customers choosing to spend part of the savings on energy.
We find it hard to speculate on the combined effect of the energy efficiency program with the alternate sourcing. We’d guess that some of the incentive to save energy will go away, but, on the other hand, there might be increased demand for replacement of gas central heating units, water heaters and clothes dryers with electrical units. The savings would potentially provide an additional source of grant funds (as opposed to loans) to make an energy efficiency program more attractive. There is an environmental benefit to using less natural gas and more renewable electrical energy.
MLGW could also be allowed to keep some of the initial windfall by phasing in the price cuts and using the savings to upgrade outdated infrastructure and bury some power lines.
Renters will benefit fully from this scheme.
In any event, we don’t think many consumers would reject a 50% cut in electricity rates, even if they were making payments on energy efficiency projects.
Changing TVA as the main utility source, because of the notice period the TVA contract requires, is a project that would span at least two City councils and administrations. We can’t assume that the same political sentiment will exist at the end of the project.
On the other hand, at the end of a four year term, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contractual obligations would have been delivered and the cost of abandoning the project would be large.
Being able to provide industrial electricity in the region of three cents per KWh would make Memphis a very attractive location for various high-energy industries, including corporate data centers and cloud storage, bit coin mining, aluminum smelting, hydrogen production and companies desiring renewable energy. This brings jobs and economic development, and we would not need PILOTs to make this happen.
The consequences of the city saving a combined $600M annually on energy, of which $250M would be in consumer bill savings, would be considerable and positive. Project construction and the attraction of low energy prices for industrial development are significant drivers of industrial development.
The Clean Line proposal is currently shelved and we don’t know how the company will respond to a Request for Proposal from MLGW. At the same time, the utilities process will allow other potential suppliers to quote, so the ultimate cost is dependent on a lot of factors. Direct current transmission is unusual. It is a natural for solar power, as it is produced as direct current, but wind energy is created as alternating current, so it is converted at both ends of the transmission line. DC transmission has less energy loss than AC. It is a mature technology used since the 1930s.
High voltage DC is considered risker than AC from the point of view of safety. Electrocution injuries and fire hazards are worse with DC.
Memphis is not married to TVA. In many ways, despite MLGW being TVA’s largest customer, taking 30% of its capacity, Memphis has always been TVA’s bastard stepchild. MLGW is obligated in its charter to provide utilities at the lowest practical cost. It is obligated to review alternative suppliers.
A large part of the problem with TVA is the chilling effect it has on renewable energy generation. JT Young said, on WKNO’s “Behind the Headlines”, March 30th 2018, that Southern Corp, his former employer, sells 11% renewable energy. This compares with about 1% by TVA. This is a measure of the environmental damage TVA is perpetrating in the Valley. That alone is good reason for re-examining MLGW’s relationship with TVA.
Memphis has the highest energy burden of US cities. MLGW and TVA propose a series of rate increases. A new City program to invest heavily in the energy efficiency of our homes can address the energy burden, reinvest in our communities and reduce poverty. Continue reading “Memphis Energy Burden”→
This information is culled from 119 screen dumps of a Facebook conversation on Whitney Wood’s (now Flaherty) page, over five days in January 2016. Adam Guerrero dominated this exchange, appearing in over 100 of the screen shots and, according to other participants, was abusive. The 119 screen dumps may be downloaded. They are cross referenced according to the 35 people engaged in the conversation and the 21 categories of abuse flagged in the discussion.
We are almost apologetic for including this material. It is truly awful, like watching a train wreck, and we present it as an exercise in trolling.
Adam Guerrero tried to make the point that the story of Whitney’s assault is irrelevant, and only he possesses the bravery and friendship with Black people to be able to make relevant comments in a city which is 70% (sic) Black.
Towards the end of the interchange, Stephanie Diane Ford joined the conversation in screen shot 080. Stephanie Diane Ford, until recently, had been AG’s girlfriend, and SmartMule’s business manager. She recounted a story where three youthful charges of Adam Guerrero assaulted her at Guerrero’s house on 11/11/2015. Guerrero dissembles and obfuscates. Finally, starting in screen shot 111, for seven screen clips (until 117), Stephanie added seven screenfuls of information relating to the incident.
The incident involved two Guerrero proteges, JC and ST. These young men, who were about 19 to 21 years of age at the time of the incidents, were former students of AG from a previous teaching job. They were part of AG’s entourage. They had been coming to Adam’s house for almost six years in 2015, which puts the start of their relationship around their tenth grade.
The screen shots provide the story. Guerrero, JC, ST, and IG, JC’s girlfriend, were in Adam’s house, on the afternoon of 11/11/2015, per screen shot # 113. Adam left the house leaving the three lounging, partying and packing honey. Adam met with Stephanie and then they split up, Adam going to a store and Stephanie proceeding to Adam’s house. IG had been sitting on a sofa with her backpack on the seat beside her. Stephanie approached, moved IG’s bag to the floor, and sat down beside her. IG objected to her backpack being moved, and a melee involving all four people broke out, in which Stephanie was slammed into the wall. The police were called but Stephanie did not press charges and no arrests were made. Adam Guerrero arrived at the house after the police had departed.
Focusing on two of these screen dumps, we see, #113: in which Adam Guerrero says, as part of a 11/12/2015 Facebook conversation with Stephanie and his proteges: “Y’all might be the first case ever of being violent while being high on weed”.
It follows that Adam Guerrero, while in loco parentis, had fallen into the habit of allowing students to lounge in his house unsupervised. The November 2015 incident happened almost six years after they were his students, but the relationship had continued.
If the young people had been stoned when Adam got back to the house, and they had continuously been in the house since Adam left, in all likelihood they had weed when he left and had been getting high in his house.
Stephanie Diane Ford confirms that the young folks had been smoking a blunt when she arrived. When I asked her why the police who answered the 911 call did not smell the weed, she replied that she had kept the police outside in the yard.
Adam Guerrero is on record as favoring pot legalization. When I visited his house in November 2016, I noticed a few pot seeds and stems on his coffee table. I inquired if he had grown the pot and he denied it.
In conclusion, Adam had been in the habit of allowing young people, students and former students, unsupervised access to his house, and on at least one of these occasions, he knew that the young people were high on weed. He was their teacher, and “in loco parentis” when he first met these students, and, at the time of the incident, a mentoring relationship existed with the young people by virtue of their job description of “interns” at SmartMule LLC, Guerrero’s private business entity. When a practicing teacher has an intern, an “in loco parentis” relationship is assumed.
Guerrero was a teacher at Libertas Montessori School at the time of the incident. It is not known if very young children from the Montessori school had visited his house that year, or if his interns had smoked weed in their presence. In addition, in our previous SmartMule article, we photographed many very young people working for SmartMule and it is also not known of any of these young people visited the SmartMule business office while weed was present.
Adam Guerrero has been spoken of favorably by many of his students and former students. We don’t know how much his laissez faire attitude to his “in loco parentis” obligation contributed to his favorable student reviews. In this Change.org petition, many parents of his Libertas students and SmartMule juvenile associates sang his praises. Would those parents have been so supportive if they knew about Guerrero’s process for tempting his students into his home, and his attitude to supervision?
Incidentally, our first post on the subject came four days after he was fired from Libertas. The reason why Libertas fired him was not made public, but we challenge Adam Guerrero to release any documents Libertas gave him as part of his personnel file while firing him. Our information is that the reasons given for the firing were ample and adequately documented by Libertas management.
Note: We present these young people via their on-line pseudonyms, and the incident described is now covered by the statute of limitations. All potential criminal incidents in these texts are moot, either because there was a conviction, or charges were not preferred or because the statute of limitations has expired. These disclosures were public knowledge before I wrote this. No snitching is involved. Everyone involved in this presentation has taken a position for marijuana legalization for persons over 21.
The underlying discussion involved Adam Guerrero haranguing Whitney Flaherty because she was featured as an abuse victim and was not black, like the abuse victims that Guerero had braved Black communities to encounter. Stephanie Diane Ford proved that Guerrero had been involved in, and failed to prevent or redress, an acknowledged assault on her, a Black woman, while under his protection as a guest in his house. During his five days of trolling on the issue, he had performed at least a dozen different categories of abuse and engaged in shameless self promotion.
Guerrero is a U of M graduate who was separated from West Point after undergoing mandatory counseling.
Prior to Libertas, Adam Guerrero was an SCS high school teacher, but he was let go from Raleigh Egypt and from Pathways in Education charter school due to failure to meet professional requirements. Libertas is an ASD school and Adam Guerrero also ran the permaculture program there.
This story is difficult for us because Adam Guerrero is seen as a part of a loose social justice movement, and many activists see these disclosures as divisive. We normally fry bigger fish, but Guerrero gets support and cash from the community and his activities are very different to the narrative he projects.
In this post, we look at:
Adam Guerrero’s nine, mostly blighted, lots in North Memphis, with emphasis on his Shasta and Clyde Ave. locations,
How he skirts tax and employment law for his, often young, employees, and how he maintains unsafe workplaces for these young workers.
He has prominently featured Black people in his promotional material and fundraising, although his one remaining site overseer is a white supremacist.
Rather than combating blight, the Adam Guerrero property empire has seen an increase in blight around some of his lots,
his many former apprentices, interns and other unpaid help have not had a career benefit from their association with SmartMule.
We view SmartMule and Adam Guerrero as a concern, because his victims have included workers and neighborhoods in some of the most vulnerable communities in Memphis.
Adam Guerrero’s Property Empire
Adam owns these properties in his own name. Click the links for photographs , documents and detailed site descriptions.
2267 Shasta: Guerreo obtained this lot through a $1 deed transfer from Memphis Tilth, a community oriented non-profit land cooperative. This property is severely blighted, unsafe, has a suspected racist squatter, and uses child labor.
0 Decatur: This industrial-zoned lot hosts the St Jude composting operation, see below.
0 Shasta: An untended and unimproved blighted lot. Nearby City-mowed lots are neater and trash free.
0 Clyde: An unimproved garbage-strewn and uneven lot which encroaches on Lucille Price Park.
2296 Hunter: An untended and unimproved blighted lot attracting local blight.
1107 and 1113 Breedlove: An untended and unimproved blighted lot with garbage and dogs.
Guerrero was formerly a Garden Leader and board member of Grow Memphis, which is now Memphis Tilth. SmartMule LLC is a member of North Memphis Farmers Collective. His level of involvement has recently been much lower than the 2015 peak, due to disputes with members of these organizations.
His total investment of $811 for the nine plantation lots has produced an assessor’s valuation of $39,100. All of the lots, except for the 2550 Hunter lots, are untended, contain blight and some are also hazardous to workers, local residents and the environment. Guerrero also owns his Townes Ave residence, which is now often unoccupied since his recent move to Frayser.
Guerrero’s level of involvement significantly declined after the 2015 peak due to disputes with member farmers. All original members of the Collective no longer collaborate significantly with or have ended business associations with Adam, after SmartMule took over the Kickstarter and most of its proceeds.
Guerrero was taken to court in 2011 for bad odors from improperly maintained compost bins; standing water, which was acting as breeding grounds for mosquitoes; alleged rat infestation and other pest-related issues at his Townes Ave. home. He answered his neighbor’s and Code Enforcement’s case with a social media blitz, and by parading three young African American children in court.
Guerrero was found guilty of failure to cut grass and failure to remove personal property in Environmental court, fined and assessed costs, on 11/29/2017. Case # 17501410, Shelby Co.
The Shasta Plantation
The property at 2267 Shasta Ave consists of one plot owned by Adam Guerrero, another owned by the city, and several owned by Sylvester Sullivan, an African American neighbor, on which a broken-down travel trailer is parked. It backs onto Cypress Creek at the southern edge of the property. Prior to purchasing his lot, Guerrero erected a fence around the entire area, seizing his neighbor’s land. An altercation over land rights, during which police were called, (pdf) occurred during this time.
As can be seen from the photographs, the plantation at 2267 Shasta is strewn with garbage and overgrown weeds. The broken down travel trailer has no water or sanitary connections. We are unaware of how human sewage from the trailer’s resident and from on-site workers, and slurry from the animals on the site, are handled to keep the adjoining Cypress Creek safe from contamination. There are also workplace safety hazards in the form of piles of construction junk, including boards with protruding nails, fencing material with cut wire ends, chemicals and the unfenced Cypress Creek.
This photo from County Register records, shows Adam Guerrero’s lot outlined in blue, with the hoop house mostly on County-owned property to the south.
This hoop house was purchased with the help of a $20,000 grant from Rhodes College to Grow Memphis, now Memphis Tilth. A chicken house to the east is also on County land. The hoop house and other improvements transferred to Adam Guerrero with the property title.
Failure to remove property from County land is an offense.
Andy Panda, Shasta Plantation Overseer
The occupant of the trailer is Andrew Burkett, who uses the pseudonym Andy Panda. He regularly propagates anti Semitic and white supremacist propaganda.
Andy Panda with child worker
Child labor at Shasta
Child labor at Shasta
Child labor at Shaste
These pictures show Andy Panda with child laborers at Shasta. The water is taken unpaid from a city supply on the street. (Photo credit Facebook)
Although Panda regularly oversees unpaid black children on the Shasta plantation, he uses racial slurs in his speech and social media postings.
These children are psychically and physically endangered at Plantation Shasta.
The Decatur Plantation and the St Jude Composting contract.
SmartMule signed a composting contract with St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in September 2016. The project involved building compost bins at Guerrero’s 0 Decatur property. Free and low wage labor from Black male youth was used for clearing the Decatur property and compost bin construction.
Clearing the Decatur property
Building compost bins
These photographs show young workers building compost bins with Adam Guerrero, and a tree-clearing crew at Decatur. (Photo credit: Facebook)
This purported North Memphis Farmers’ Collective Mailchimp post has some editorial about this project but also some authentic-looking contract documentation showing the amount SmartMule charges for this work, and the income deriving to Guerrero’s SmartMule LLC. The child in the bin-building picture is not equipped with protective equipment or gloves in a hazardous work environment. The tree clearing crew are not equipped with hi-vis vests or safety equipment. We assume they are not covered by workman’s comp as required for even small construction firms.
Bin with broken end
Bin with shredded paper
Broken glass hazard
Bin with exposed nails
At Decatur: Bin with broken end; bin with broken side and shredded paper; broken glass hazard; bin with exposed nails. (Photos: Fergus Nolan)
The St Jude contract, with a nominal value of $48K annually, was signed in September 2016 and compostingwork has recently started. Although several thousand dollars were paid to Smartmule, the Decatur property only contains a small amount of shredded paper trash, and none of the food waste envisioned in the contract. The two employees planned in the Smartmule projections have not been hired.
Smartmule’s Labor Payment Policies
Smartmule uses a large number of unpaid and underpaid, mostly Black children, and some adults on its plantations. These are variously referred to as “apprentices”, “interns”, Guerrero’s Guerillas or the Mules.
In this post on SmartMule’s Facebook page, Guerrero refers to an “apprentice” he has had for “nearly ten years”. He also refers to an incident in which some students, who had been lounging unsupervised at Guerrero’s home, had been involved in an alleged assault on SmartMule manager Stephanie Ford, who was his girlfriend at the time.
Note: the following Facebook quotes were made on a thread on Fergus Nolan’s home page. Adam Guerrero’s Facebook presence is currently suspended but the screen snips were taken on the dates noted.
SmartMule LLC is a single owner LLC #000794077 at the Tennessee SOS. Adam Guerrero said:
An LLC is a for profit entity. It files no financial disclosures, such as Form 990, as required by non-profits.
SmartMule is claimed to be a co-operative, but it is ruled by Adam Guerrero without any input from its workers.
Adam Guerrero runs his for-profit LLC as a regular business and “passed” on including his people in the decision-making process.
SmartMule LLC uses or has used the labor of numerous children and some adults. Many of these children are students or former students. When asked if he paid these children, Adam Guerrero is evasive and said he did not report their earnings to the IRS. We assume no W2s were filed, social security or medicare, workman’s comp as required for all construction work, unemployment insurance or sales tax.
Among SmartMule’s fundraising, this Kickstarter raised over $11K. The fundraiser was nominally for North Memphis Farmer’s Collective, but used Smartmule’s email and bank accounts. This SmartMule bank statement shows a $10,152.21 transfer to SmartMule from Kickstarter in August 2015. The bulk of the money was used to buy a tractor and accessories, against the wishes of the other NMFC members. This tractor is in the possession of Adam Guerrero, who stores it at 0 Decatur and uses it for City contract work mowing the Shelby Farms Greenline.
Adam Guerrero also received $3,500 from Memphis Tilth when they deeded the 2267 Shasta lot to him in September 2017.
While still owned by Grow Memphis, a $20,000 grant from Rhodes College was used to develop the 2267 Shasta lot, which “improvements” were transferred to Adam Guerrero’s personal ownership when he was deeded the Shasta plantation. As this hoop house, and a nearby chicken house, are mostly located on City property, this structure is subject to removal of personal property orders from the City.
Adam Guerrero is evasive when asked if he had parental release forms or other paperwork on the kids who worked for him.
Stephanie Diane Ford, a former unpaid SmartMule manager, said:
Consistent with historical patterns of resource expropriation, Adam Guerrero has been using the images, knowledge and labor of black people to obtain resources (grants, sales income, employment income, income tax deductions and land transfers (via Memphis Tilth)) for more than 10 years with no measurable improvements to the socio-economic status of any black people he has ever worked with or claimed to be helping. (Facebook, 11/29/2017).
Adam Guerrero and/or SmartMule uses young Black men and children for agricultural and construction work, and for eye candy in their publicity materials.
He maintains hazardous workplaces, does not provide appropriate safety equipment, and employs Andy Panda, an abusive racist as an overseer of young Black children.
He does not file required employment tax, sales tax, social security, medicare or workman’s comp for his enterprise.
He represents his for-profit enterprise as a charity or a co-operative, soliciting funds and managing public opinion via a heavy-handed social media presence.
His Shasta Ave. plantation is strewn with garbage and is an environmental risk factor for the nearby Cypress Creek. This and other Guerrero properties have been reported to Code Enforcement many times. All his properties, except for 2250 Hunter, are blighted, contain garbage and are improperly maintained and mowed.
The neighborhoods he operates in were already fragile, blighted and savaged by unemployment before he bought in. Now they’re worse and many pockets are lighter.
Caissa Public Strategy operates behind the scenes. Their stable of client politicians dominates City Council, they’ve worked for Mayor Strickland’s administration and they have a host of business clients, for whom they perform a range of services, from reputation management to marketing to “crisis management”. They are one of the best-connected entities in town.
The first section here “The Caissa Seven” is an analysis of the contributions received by each Councilor and their expenditures with Caissa. It clearly shows how the Caissa Seven dominates Council. This is motivation for a closer look at some of Caissa’s other activities.
The second section, “Caissa Client: Fellowship Memphis and the Rick Trotter case” shows how Caissa orchestrated the “crisis management” of a previous Rick Trotter sex offense at Fellowship Memphis. Trotter was fired in 2010 from his job at Fellowship Memphis when the church elders found he had been secretly videoing women in a bathroom at the church. He then went to Downtown Church, who had been told of his Fellowship history. In 2016 he was arrested for upskirt photography at his new church, and indicted in October 2017. Caissa Public Strategy were called in by Fellowship Memphis and engaged in “crisis management”. The ongoing police investigation of the Fellowship case has apparently stalled. The insight into how Caissa manages client reputations behind the scenes is revealing. A further post is planned, a deeper dive into the shenanigans at Fellowship Memphis. David Bonner termed Fellowship a “cult or cult-like” entity.
Our third section includes basic biographical details on Caissa’s owners, Brian Jefferson Stevens and Paige Walkup.
Caissa, with their massive and mostly secret network, pops up in odd places, generally when an official document has to be filed. Everyone in the media sees their hand in occasional flashes, and knows they are there, but we see few attempts to document their scope and influence. This series of articles is an attempt to gain some insight into what they do, and how.
Note to viewers: I expect some of the links in this article to go away. Not to worry, I have copies of everything. Please inform me of broken links and I’ll annotate them with an alternative source. In this story, broken links are a part of the narrative.
The Caissa Seven.
Above: Frank Colvett, Berlin Boyd, Reid Hedgepeth, Kemp Conrad, Worth Morgan, Bill Morrison, Philip Spinosa. (City of Memphis)
Fig. 1 was created by totaling all contributions, and all expenditures to Caissa Public Strategy, filed at the Election Commission for the period January 1st 2015 to June 30th 2016, for all Council incumbents.
Reid Hedgepeth did not use Caissa in this election cycle. He was first elected in 2007, before Caissa was founded, and had his own campaign habits set. We include Hedgepeth in the Caissa Seven on the basis of this Daily News article featuring a Brian Stephens interview, which identifies Hedgepeth as part of the Caissa contingent. He also donated $5000 to the Republican Party on his Pre-General 2015 campaign disclosure, and Republican affiliation is another marker for the Caissa Seven.
Kemp Conrad’s expenditures for the Pre-General 2015 disclosure are not on file. We estimated $30,000, based on other candidate’s patterns. All the other numbers were taken straight from the campaign disclosures.
We can see a clear breakdown of City Council. The Republican-oriented mostly white Caissa Seven had average contributions of $146K while the African American opposition group had average contributions of only $34K. The Caissa Seven netted five times the money of the opposition, and spent even more, because some Caissa candidates also loaned large amounts to their campaigns, including Worth Morgan’s $50,000 loan.
Although the opposition group is a recognizable subset of Council, they don’t vote as a group and Edmund Ford has a lot of similar, big money contributions to the Caissa Seven. They are an individualistic group.
On the other hand, the Caissa Seven share a common agenda, and tend to vote as a bloc on issues critical to the big money politics of the Memphis white power elite. This can be clearly seen in policing-, zoning, budget and property related issues. Some latitude is allowed on non-critical agenda items, including Berlin Boyd’s and Kemp Conrad’s divergent votes on Berlin Boyd’s Marijuana measure in August 2016. The Commercial Appeal called it a “rare split vote”.
Violations of the Open Meetings Law have been alleged. We don’t know what mechanisms might have been used to apply an apparent whip to the Caissa Seven, and, in many cases, the other Councilors. The only apparent linkages are some shared staffers at City Hall, Allan Wade, the Council Attorney, and their handlers at Caissa, all of whom would have had legitimate reasons to talk to multiple Council members. We don’t want to speculate on whether there was a Whip or how it might have been applied, but we also don’t understand how complex resolutions suddenly formed from whole cloth.
As Caissa operates behind the scenes, the existence of their own “party” in City Council is reason for concern. Caissa also worked in the Jim Strickland Mayoral transition in 2015. Their influence, which they exert on behalf of their private clients, is pervasive in City Government.
Bill Morrison worked for Caissa as George Flinn’s campaign manager. Those campaign disclosure documents are missing from the Election Commission site, but two knowledgeable sources confirm.
Caissa also worked for County Commissioners Heidi Shafer and Willie Brooks. The 2014 County election cycle candidate disclosures are so incomplete that we don’t want to infer anything , except that Caissa’ influence in the County is also strong.
Caissa Client: Fellowship Memphis and the Rick Trotter case.
Caissa is a company of secrets, and their client list is one of the biggest of those secrets . We defer discussion of their clients for a future article in this series and focus on a single case here, Fellowship Memphis.
Wondering Eagle blog has done numerous pieces about Trotter’s career over the years. In this August 2016 post, David Bonner talks about Caissa Public Strategy’s involvement in the Trotter case.
According to a joint statement by Downtown Church and Fellowship Memphis, Trotter’s previous employer, “Trotter was employed as a Worship Director by Fellowship from August 2005 to February of 2010. In February 2010, it was reported that Trotter was engaged in inappropriate conduct”. Trotter had made video of people using a bathroom at the Church.
From David Bonner’s August 2016 blog post: Asterisks are inserted by us and refer to the notes at the end of the extract.
“.…In the case of Fellowship Memphis the hiring of a PR firm to supposedly “investigate” the situation creates a number of questions that deserve asking. … Fellowship Memphis recently hired a PR firm called Caissa Public Strategy. … Caissa is led by Brian J. Stephens * and I am hearing from my sources that the investigator is Jessica Muntz**. Jessica is a graduate of Mississippi State University, and you can see her background in LinkedIn right here. While Caissa is referred to as a public relations firm in this Christian Post article it says that Fellowship Memphis hired a PI firm. The reality is that it can be both. In this interview you *** can hear Brian J Stephens talk about how Caissa works. They help clients win and do what it takes to win and allegedly teach organizations and companies that crisis can also be an opportunity. …
For a church to go and hire a PR firm signals a couple of things for me. First is that this place is very cult like or cultish. Second is that its (sic) very much and (sic) indicator that it still is committed to maintaining the alleged cover up. I wonder if the reason why Caissa is hired is because of their knowledge of the news media and if that is a response to the articles about Fellowship Memphis in the Commercial Appeal. …
If you live in the Memphis area and you are contacted by Caissa this is my advice to you. First of all remember that this firm is not neutral. They are not there to get the truth out. They have been compromised in this one way. Money has exchanged hands and this firm is dedicated to defending the client, which in this case is John Bryson and Fellowship Memphis. It should be stated that you have your rights and you do not have to cooperate with them if you are approached. Their goal in the end is to plug leaks and to do damage control for Fellowship Memphis. When it comes to allegations of criminal activity there is one organization you should go to first and that is the Memphis Police. It’s my understanding that the Memphis Police are investigating the situation with Rick Trotter. They have three years of recordings to go through and they have a lot of victims to identify. But remember if you are approached you are free to walk away and not cooperate. You have done nothing wrong, this behavior is more indicative of what you would see in the dark underworld of the mafia. I also would suggest that you not get angry at Jessica Muntz as she is just doing her job. Be polite, cordial and treat her with respect but remember you do not have to talk with her and anyone from Caissa. If you have knowledge of an alleged crime I again would implore you to go to the Memphis Police. They exist for that purpose and are trained to handle these kinds of issues. If any of you guys have any experiences with Caissa you are free to post them here on this blog.
* Brian Stephens’ bio on the Caissa website. At the time the blog was posted, the “Leadership” page clicked through to individual biographical pages. These individual pages have since been removed and Bonner’s link is showing a “HTTP 404” error, indicating that the page was not found. As of 10/28/2017, none of the Leadership individual entries click through to an underlying bio page. This is how Brian Stephens bio looked on July 14, 2016, courtesy of Archive.Org.
** Jennifer Muntz’s bio on the Caissa website has been removed since this blog was posted. Muntz has left Caissa’s employ. Here’s Jessica Muntz’s Caissa bio, as it appeared on 9/2/1026, at Archive.org.
*** This link pointed to a post in LPBC.com. The Lipscomb Pitts Breakfast Club is a volunteer outfit run by Jeremy Parks. The post in question is a radio show broadcast from 1/14/2014 entitled “Gestalt Community Schools: Copeland Coaching and Caissa Public Strategy featuring an interview with Brian Stephens. We retrieved the Stephens interview segment from Archive.Org. Streaming audio here.
Although the removed links are fairly trivial, the fact presumably Caissa chose to change their site and also that Parks redacted his own site is interesting. This is the sort of thing an expert in “reputation management” does all the time.
Caissa was called in to perform “crisis management” when the Fellowship story blew up again at the time of Rick Trotter’s August 2016 arrest.
The screen snip above right is from Watch Keep blog post dated 8/22/2016. The phone number is Jessica Muntz‘s cell number.
JB Martinez, one of the alleged victims of the Fellowship Memphis alleged voyeur, writes about her experience. She describes steps taken by Fellowship Memphis to hide evidence and to browbeat victims to not report the alleged crimes.
Because the Trotter video has been hidden, and was seen only by two Fellowship elders, the alleged victim list is hard to compile, but we do have a list of people who used the bathroom at a time when Trotter was known to be videoing, which we will share with media.
The proof of Caissa’s effectiveness is that, until now, Rick Trotter, despite being fired for sexual impropriety at Fellowship Memphis, was able to go to Downtown Church and continue photographing women up-skirt for another six years, despite Downtown being notified of the reason why he was fired at Fellowship. The sorry episode resulted in no prosecutions and only a few media mentions.
We have recently seen signs that Caissa is actively pursuing “reputation management” in the late-October – early November timeframe. Caissa operatives have been contacting Fellowship Memphis alleged victims.
On November 2nd, a mention of Caissa in a post apparently resulted in a Caissa employee joining the group, less than two hours later.
We are seeing heightened activity.
We invited Brian Stephens to comment on this article, but he did not return two calls to his office and cellphone. His book title is “Only Morons say No Comment”.
Caissa Public Strategy is headed up by Brian Jefferson Stephens and Paige Walkup. Caissa have removed their personal bios, which were clickable from their Our Team page. Here’s an archived version of the team page from 2016, where the potted bios are still visible, courtesy of Archive.org
Brian Jefferson Stephens attended Marion Military Institute from 1988 to 1992, was awarded a BS by Appalachian State University 1992-1995, and has a law degree from University of Tulsa College of Law, 1995-1998.
He worked as an attorney at Allen, Scruggs, Sossaman, and Thompson from 1998 to 2003, Tennessee Law license 1999, operated a lawn care business as Ecosystems Inc (SOS Control # 000460890) from 2004 to 2010, was Executive Director of Rebuild Government in 2009 to 2010 and started Caissa Public Strategy with Paige Walkup in December 2010.
Stephens was awarded the Army Achievement Medal, according to his Linkedin page. This is only awarded to lower ranks in the military, so we conjecture that he had an Army Reserve deployment somewhere in his career. 60,000 of these were awarded since 2001.
Caissa was registered on 12/28/2010 to take over the business of The Stephens Group Law Firm. Paige Walkup is the co-owner and Managing Director
Paige Beverly Walkup attended North Carolina State University from 1990 to 1992, has a BA from Elon Univ (1993 to 1996) and an MA in Applied Anthropology from University of Memphis (1997-1999).
She taught at Univ. of Memphis from 2000 to 2009, was Resource Development and Marketing Director at United Housing from 1998 to 2009, Project Administrator at Rebuild Government from 2009 to 2011, and was a founder of Caissa Public Strategy in December 2010.
*confirmed still at Caissa. **Confirmed to have left Caissa
Conclusions and Summary
Caissa’s political clients and allies, the Caissa Seven, dominate City Council by a one-vote majority, and also dominate in raising political contributions. Caissa also has hooks in Jim Strickland’s administration and in various City programs and functions.
Caissa has played a role in helping the elders of Fellowship Church hide from the consequences of their alleged involvement in covering up a sex crime, and enabling the alleged perpetrator, Rick Trotter to work at another church, Downtown Church. Fellowship Memphis failed in their duty to report the alleged crimes to the authorities, and Downturn Church, despite being informed of Trotter’s firing for sexual misbehavior, failed to protect their own members from similar abuse.
At least three links in the original David Bonner blog, all relating to Caissa, have been removed since the blog was posted. Caissa conducted interviews with victims and some of those victims have not cooperated with official inquiries. Evidence in the case may have gone missing. MPD were never noted for efficient handling of sex and domestic abuse cases . The seven year delay in handling the Fellowship Memphis cases, despite some victims filing complaints, for a case not involving rape kits, is excessive. We have questions.
We like to characterize this Fellowship mess as an onion. There’s an outer layer consisting of Caissa’s “crisis management” of the troubles of the church elders. The second layer is the role of the Fellowship management in dealing with the Trotter case, which seems to include activities around the disposition of physical evidence and possible interference with victims and witnesses. This started when the Trotter activities were first reported in 2010 and involved Caissa more recently. The inner layer of the onion is the alleged crimes of Trotter himself. It’s three different sets of behaviors, occurring in different time frames and involving three different sets of protagonists. If there were crimes involved, some of them may have statutes of limitation issues.
We think another layer of “crisis management” is in the process of formation at the time of writing, November 2017.
Next post: Caissa’s clients and contracts. Coming soon.
Ryan Poe’s Commercial Appeal article on the Boyd Scandal on September marked a watershed in Memphis politics. This is Ryan’s well-deserved scoop, but I am pretty sure it could not have been written two years ago.
During the 2015 election cycle, the Boyd article to the right appeared in the CA. The piece, written by Kyle Veazey, who has since left the CA to work for the city, contains two factual errors, which, incidentally, have never been corrected by the CA.
An anonymous source circulated a packet of information at the time, showing that Boyd’s realtor license had expired more than a year before. It went to most of the media, and to Anthony Anderson and Thurston Smith, Boyd opponents in the District 7 election.
Although posing as a realtor without a license contravenes Tennessee Real Estate Commission (TREC) rules, this story got no play whatsoever. We know the source of this leak and have a copy of the packet that was sent.
The next attempt to out Boyd came in the Facebook page, Memphis Raise Your Expectations. (MRYE). This October 2015 post garnered 427 comments and had a charmed life. MRYE incubated Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens and has broken significant news stories.
After being dormant since the November 2015 election, this thread started up again, on November 2, 2016, and hundreds of new comments were added. The new posts had a lot of new information. The thread was closed in November 2016 and this new Boyd thread continued the discussion. Warning: The MRYE Boyd posts contain adult content).
The information was not picked up by the media, but it did ignite a discussion on MRYE, in which the media got called out and somewhat forcefully reminded of the role of the fourth estate.
I can now reveal that the Boyd exposes were not all my own work. They were the product of a group that was started in August, 2016. Let’s call it the Boyd Study Group. Because the crew contains confidential informants, I will continue to protect its anonymity. I was the scribe so I by-lined the posts in MemphisTruth.org. This was in accordance with the site’s stated policy on protection of confidential sources. I composed the first drafts of the pieces, based on group discussion, they went through a group editing process, and all salient information was fact checked by me and citations provided.
Activist study groups had sprung up during the Greensward disputes of 2016 and the technique has been widely adopted in activist circles. This is one of a dozen such groups that I know about.
We could have done like Woodward and Bernstein did with Deep Throat, and had clandestine meetings in parking garages, but instead we chose to integrate our confidential sources into the group. I can say that the Boyd Study Group has white, African American and Latino members, men and women, believers and skeptics. We decided that these groups work best when small, a maximum of five members and ideally four. We use encrypted media. I have never met one member, met another only once and we have cell-based operational security.
MRYE had the scoop on the Boyd Papers. In an unrelated event, I uncovered the A-list and broke the story in MemphisTruth.org and MRYE. The media seized on this story and it ran in February and March, yielding several court cases, notably the ACLU case against the City and MPD. Mayor Strickland and Director Rallings squirmed for the cameras.
The media, specifically the CA, had been challenged to perform its role as the Fourth Estate. The A-list controversy, coming at time of cutbacks in the press, highlighted something important that both the media and the activist community held in high regard. We could all get behind the First Amendment. In the backwash of the Trump presidency, these things suddenly seemed important. Activists worked with the media, and mutual respect was garnered. The media had changed, even the august, pro status quo CA, scalded by cutbacks in the press room, could no longer get by without contributions from citizens media. The news and politics got interesting. The accession of Mark Russell to the Executive Editorship of the CA seemed to bring a new era of journalistic openness at the CA. He was heard to say that we had been giving his guy Ryan Poe a hard time, and that was OK with him.
The Boyd Scandal Erupts
Ted Evanoff of the CA posted this early news of Boyd’s $280,000 contract on September 11th. Then, Ryan Poe published his first piece on Berlin Boyd’s failure to recuse himself from a conflict of interest in his contract with Beale St Merchants Association. The stalwart Bill Dries of the Daily News pitched in, and MRYE buzzed with the news. Even City Councilor Worth Morgan added his criticism. Behind the Headlines discussed.
The pivotal point in the discussion came with Bernal Smith’s Open Letter in the Tri State Defender. This was a scathing rebuttal of Boyd’s excuses, which did not pass Smith’s “smell test”. Notably, Smith quoted several MRYE comments in his letter. Boyd even came on MRYE (I think for the first time) and engaged in a long discussion on the 15th.
Paul Morris, former interim manager at Beale St., posted twice on Facebook, on 09/14/2017 and 09/15/2017. In the second post, he raised a red flag at the corruption potential of the Allen Wade legal opinion, which opened the door for all City Council members who wished not to declare conflicts of interest.
Ted Evanoff penned this piece in the CA on September 16th, a rare defense of Boyd. The CA editorial on September 19th was a scathing criticism of Boyd, likening it to a Trump shenanigan. The CA editorial team set the tone of the debate, and, hopefully forever, officially placed the CA on the side of transparency and accountability. We view this as one of the main achievements of the Boyd Scandal.
Social Media was on fire. Retired veteran reporter Les Smith contributed, MRYE was livid and a twitter feed, @BoydAndAss and hashtag #BerlinBoyd appeared, as well as a short-lived Facebook page misleadingly labeled Boyd-Associates.
The same day the CA editorialized, Boyd announced he would be “rescinding” his Beale St. Merchants Association contract. We believe that Boyd had being discussing the issue with his handlers and had not wanted to give up the lucrative gig. Media pressure made him do it.
Berlin Boyd is not the only Council member who engages in questionable practices. The use of public money for private gain is rampant. This “Ethics Petition” from 2014 has details.
The Boyd study group is currently examining our methodology. We have learned some lessons from Ryan Poe and our efforts with the Boyd scandal. We have relied on confidential sources and the media following the money. We have had some learning curve. We have seen how one self-enrichment scheme works, and how it is narrowly defined as legitimate by Allen Wade, the City Council counsel.
We plan to make our next project more efficient, and rely less on chance to find patterns of corruption. We’ll report back on what we find.
The Boyd Study Group continues its work, and continues to be secret to protect its embedded sources. To use an analogy from government spying, we substituted human intelligence sources for a range of possible technical information gathering methods. Alternative techniques exist for this sort of work, including neural network based text mining applications and crowdsourced citizen searching of available public records. We are currently analyzing our methods and data with a view to improving future corruption research, and will publish our findings. We are spawning new study groups focused on other targets in the city. The swamp at City Hall needs to be drained, and no incumbent seems interested in doing that.
Updated 9/27/2013 to add Paul Morris links and the contract amount.
On Friday July 21st 2017, a group of less than twelve people started assembling in Health Science Park, at around 5 PM. The park is the location of the grave of Nathan Bedford Forrest, surmounted by an equestrian statue. The Sons of the Confederacy had been at a meeting in the Mason Hall across Union.
The earliest police presence was an unmarked black Suburban parked in a front corner of the Office Depot parking lot. The occupants of this SUV never got out, and at some point this vehicle departed. As the Sons’ meeting ended, a couple of hundred Sons straggled across Union and congregated at the Forrest statue.
The story of the event is in the video. There were about five marked UT police vehicles parked and moving around the park from the beginning. Gradually, unmarked Suburbans of the MPD TACT unit started arriving, blue lights flashing, until there was a total of nine TACT SUVs, parked on the north side of Union in front of the park.
After reading this ‘The Intercept’ article our theory now includes the possibility that the MPD brass is aware of a large number of KKK and other hate group “Ghost Skin” members in their ranks, and they were afraid that, if the Sons of the Confederacy had resorted to armed violence, that the MPD supremacists might join in the slaughter. This is the subject of ongoing investigations, by us and by others.
TACT officers turned up at, at least, two previous political events this year. Two vehicles with five officers were at the MLK celebration on February 4th and two vehicles with four officers at the May 1 Immigration March. We assume that TACT also attended the Valero protest on January 15th but have been unable to confirm this. The mustering of the entire on-shift TACT complement on July 21st is, as far as we know, unprecedented.
All the TACT vehicles are black Suburbans, no visible police gear except for half-moon hubcaps. The vehicles have very dark window tinting, so you can’t see the occupants. When the TACT unit is deployed, one TACT officer stays with the vehicle at all times, probably because they have full-automatic weapons, explosives and other gear stored inside. As there are usually two officers per vehicle, that means it takes as many vehicles as deployible TACT officers, hence the nine seen at the Sons of Confederacy event, which was probably the entire on-duty TACT unit, about 18 soldiers. The MPD TACT unit includes one major and two lieutenants.
At MLK march, 4/4/2017 (snipers deployed from one of these vehicles, which had a three man crew) Shelby civilian tag number Z49-55J and one other unidentified TACT vehicle with alloy rims rather than the half-moon hubcaps seen on all the other Suburbans.
At the Immigration March, 5/1/2017 Shelby civilian tag number Z49-27J and one other unidentified TACT vehicle, with four officers.
At the Sons of Confederacy event, Health Science Park, 7/21/2017 Shelby civilian tag numbers: Z49-27J, C85-34S, 136-NLT, 420-VWC, 0F4-3W5, 1960-GA and three unidentified others, where TACT uniformed police were seen enter or leaving the vehicles.
153-SYI is the tag number of the surveillance vehicle in the Office Depot lot. We did not see the occupants of this vehicle and they may belong to some other undercover unit.
If the deployment of the entire TACT force at Health Sciences Park suggests that MPD is doubtful of the loyalty of some of their members, this is a concern in future confrontations. We presume that the TACT members have undergone psychological testing and deeper background investigations and that the MPD brass is more sure that they can count on the actions of this unit.
We are taking steps to obtain additional information and will edit this post when more becomes known.
About nine armored TACT paramilitaries joined the UT cops, and remained until the Sons of the Confederacy members departed, in three coaches parked on the west of the Park. At this point, the TACT soldiers started leaving, and the first uniformed MPD units arrived, blue lights flashing. By 6:30, all the TACT guys had departed, leaving about a dozen marked MPD units.
The reason why so many TACT officers were at the event has been the subject of speculation. If MPD is aware of alt-right “Ghost Skins” in their ranks, we need to know. Soon. Before lives may be at stake. Watch this space.
DHS (the Federal Department of Homeland Security) lists 53 state and territory fusion centers. Tennessee Fusion Center is at 901 R.S. Gass Boulevard Nashville, TN 37243 and it has four branches, including one in Memphis.
One of the initial purposes of the Fusion Centers was to roll out computer systems, based on NCIS (National Crime Information System) in order to allow information sharing between local LE units. This role seems to have morphed into a real-time help desk operation sharing information of sometimes dubious provenance.
US Senate Rejects Fusion Centers
Many concerns have been raised, from the points of view of both efficacy and civil rights violations. The United States Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report said “Despite reviewing 13 months’ worth of reporting originating from fusion centers from April 1, 2009 to April 30, 2010, the Subcommittee investigation could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot”. This translates, roughly, to “Fusion Centers don’t work”.
ACLU “Surveillance Society” from Fusion Centers
A 2007 ACLU report raised concerns with four areas of fusion center aspects, and said that that the fusion centers were creating a “total surveillance society” in the US. They suffered from “ambiguous lines of authority”, meaning that the fusion process “allows the authorities to manipulate differences in federal, state and local laws to maximize information collection while evading accountability and oversight through the practice of ‘policy shopping’.” The ACLU was also concerned with the private sector and military participation in the surveillance of US citizens through these fusion centers. Finally, the ACLU report argued that fusion centers were likely to engage in poorly contained data mining because the “Federal fusion center guidelines encourage wholesale data collection and manipulation processes that threaten privacy” and that the centers were “hobbled by excessive secrecy”.
This report lists various notifications made to MPD and other LE relating to events around the July 2016 commemoration of the killing of Darrius Stewart a year earlier.
On 16th July, 2016, Nashville Fusion Center analyst Lizbeth Hale circulated a memo entitled “ Potential for increased violence towards Tennessee Law Enforcement in response to recent events”. The threats were “non specific in nature”. Referring to the numerous protests planned, “There exists potential for domestic extremists, homegrown violent extremists and criminals to incite or carry out attacks / acts of violence using the legitimate, legal protests as cover”.
The report listed a car load of armed white supremacists traveling to Memphis to protest at Nathan Bedford (now Health Sciences) park. They did not appear. They also listed several reports of local Vice Lord and Gangsta Disciples tasked to shoot law enforcement, which also didn’t happen. These threats were anonymous, unsourced and ultimately unreliable.
On the strength of these rumors, there was a flurry of emails back and forth, involving Stephanie Juneau of the Memphis fusion center at 225 N. Humphreys Blvd, Suite 3000. There is a cluster of Federal and State law enforcement offices near that address. These emails describe gatherings on Winchester and at Health Sciences Park where protests were uneventful and almost rained out. Other gatherings at shopping locations, the National Civil Rights Museum, various churches and the Commercial Appeal offices featured real time email updates from police who were surveilling protest participants. These events also involved protests at Graceland and the I-40 bridge.
Many of the individuals at these protests later turned up on the A-list. There is clear evidence that Facebook feeds were involved, with quotations from Frank Gotti’s facebook page, and it was also noted that when participants were asked not to publish times and places of events, the presumed Geofeedia information was not available to help MPD. But we also believe that photographs were made, from unmarked vehicles, and it is possible that the MPD Stingray cell-eavesdropping technology might have been deployed. We count at least a dozen A-list members, including Mary and Terry Stewart, the mother and aunt of the slain Darrius Stewart, whose MPD file probably started around this time.
We conclude that, last July, the Tennessee Fusion Center relied on inaccurate, unverified and ultimately false reports of possible criminal players who might or might not have had an interest in using the protests as cover for unlawful events. These bogus reports were used to justify unlawful collection of political intelligence and the creation of MPD files on political activists. We saw these files surface in the extract we call the A-list.
MPD Confidential Sources reveal ‘threat’ policy
Confidential sources with direct knowledge of MPD operations confirm that whenever a threat exists, files can be opened on individuals based on the threat. The threat does not have to be from a known or credible source, and, even when the threat is proven to be false, the MPD files remain. Political intelligence on anyone remotely connected with the time and place of the threat can be collected and filed, and there is no mechanism to automatically remove these files if the threat is later proven false.
Corroboration: Diamond Pipeline “Con”Fusion
Further support for the theory that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) / fusion centers play a role in providing pretexts for political surveillance is in this Washington Examiner piece. A report produced by DHS, and the state fusion centers of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee, cited vague threats. Without any specific threat, they mention the peaceful protests mounted against the Diamond Pipeline. “While most opposition activity related to pipeline construction remains nonviolent and lawful protest activity, some violent extremists may take advantage of lawful gatherings to attempt to threaten, incite, or commit violent acts against public safety officers or facility staff.” They say that extreme loner offenders might attach themselves to legitimate protest groups. They cited “Ecoterrorism” in generally and no specific person, group or threat. This is actually a broad surveillance threat to most activists in Memphis, as the Diamond protestors are closely allied to many umbrella groups, including CCC.
If previous experience with the Tennessee fusion center holds true, we expect that this report will be used to justify political intelligence gathering against the Diamond / Valero protesters, which will pull in associations with a large swath of local activists, with whom the Diamond activists are highly integrated.
In Conclusion, the Fusion Center concept, even though it was determined by the Senate to be useless against the terrorist threats for which it was created, staggers forward years after its failure. The Tennessee Fusion Center creates false reports of gangster and domestic terrorist activity and promulgates these into local LE criminal databases, including those of MPD. These spurious reports are then leveraged to provide excuses for MPD to participate in prohibited collection of political intelligence gathering.
MPD Pol Intel, 66 years and still with us
MPD never needed such an excuse. The 1978 ACLU consent decree documents one undercover MPD agent who infiltrated the Civil Rights movement starting in 1951. When ACLU challenged MPD on its failure to implement the consent decree in 2010, Larry Godwin, the MPD director, instituted rule DR 138, more than twenty two years too late. As the Tennessee Fusion Center was in operation by that time, it seems that MPD rolled right over to using the spurious anti-terrorism pretext of the Fusion Centers to continue its illegal political intel gathering unabated.
MPD has been, for over 66 years, the most serious threat to civil liberties in Memphis. The Tennessee Fusion Centers, and the other nationwide Fusion Centers, may well be the worst threat to civil liberties in the nation.
MPD is under a 1978 consent decree, which forbids it from collecting intelligence for political purposes. It is also constrained from so doing by its own DR 138 departmental rule.
Nonetheless, MPD owns a surveillance van, disguised as a traffic division vehicle. It was first noted during the January 20th Immigration March. It has only been seen at political events and its dome camera usually aimed at the protesters. We can imagine no purpose for this vehicle other than to collect photographic and electronic intel on political protesters. It’s markings as a police traffic van would make it useless for undercover criminal investigations.
The bogus traffic van next turned up for the Mayday “Day Without Immigrants” march, at 7:50 PM May 1st 2017. Here it is parked near Clayborne Temple.
It’s a Ford E-350 cutaway van with a highly modified box body. The van has a camera dome at the rear, with a steerable camera inside.
We danced around it for a while and it followed us around. We discovered that it could not see you if you were right under it. It only turns downward so far.
Two crew members got out and fiddled with the camera mount. They said that they were police and with the ‘Real Time Crime’ unit. This group is in the Special Operations Division, and is part of the Blue Crush information center, the one with all the monitors and the Blue Crush data feeds. Not traffic enforcement.
The van has these fish-eye view ports on all sides. It has a full set of dome lights and sirens. The antenna in the picture on the right resembles a Stingray antenna. The City has several contracts with Harris Corp, the makers of Stingray, here, here, here and here. Stingray is an eavesdropping device which emulates a cell tower and intercepts cell phone traffic.
This monitoring of cellphone traffic is a broad search, as all cellphones in the area automatically connect to the bogus cell tower in the Stingray unit. ACLU considers this to be unconstitutional, and Harris Corp, the makers, require all customers to remain silent about ownership and usage of the devices, which we take to be a sign of guilt.
This curious device on the roof of the van appears to be a wave guide. It looks to be of a size appropriate for microwaves. We have not been able to identify what this elaborate antenna is for and would welcome any information. The antenna to the right looks Stingray compatible. The focus was on the wave guide.
The van is fitted with plumbing.
The crew jumped back in the van when I took pictures of them. One of them raised this crate to prevent me taking photos of the equipment in the interior of the van. They stayed in the van and followed me around with the dome camera until everyone got bored with that game.
At about 8:20 PM, the crew darted out of the back of the van into the cab and drove to the end point of the march, at the National Civil Rights Museum. When they got there, they trained the camera on the crowd in front of the museum.
The drone was not flown that day. A drone seen near the Civil Rights Museum was identified as that of a supporter.
We have one additional clue to the provenance of this vehicle. Although it was first noted on the streets of Memphis in 2017, it seems older than that, from the general aging of the fittings.
This decal is on the left front of the cab. The map of Tennessee has a faded yellow spike above Dyersburg and another extension around New Albany. The letter “Y” has a washed out “A” to the left and a “T” below. We don’t know what this means but would welcome any ideas.
This vehicle is designed and used specifically for political intelligence collection and has no other use.