Occupy protesters must ask serious questions about their open-arms policy in light of charges brought against five of their members accused of trying to blow up a bridge, a top Cleveland, Ohio, official said on Wednesday.
The five were charged on Tuesday with plotting to bomb a bridge linking two wealthy Cleveland suburbs by placing what they thought were real explosives at the site and repeatedly trying to detonate them using text messages from cellphones, according to an FBI affidavit.
The FBI said the suspects bought the fake explosives from an undercover employee and put them at the base of a highway bridge. After they tried to initiate the explosives using a text-message detonation code, they called the person who provided the bombs to check the code when it failed, according to the FBI affidavit.
The affidavit also discussed the suspects’ desire to destroy signs on banks as a protest against corporate America, but said they did not want to be seen as terrorists.
Cleveland authorities declined to renew the Occupy group’s downtown encampment permit on Wednesday, a denial planned before the bridge plot arrests were announced on Monday, said Ken Silliman, chief of staff to the Cleveland mayor, but made with the allegations as a backdrop.
“I think a fair question to ask of Occupy Cleveland, is, if you have portrayed your organization up till now as welcome to all-comers — the tent will accommodate anyone and everyone — how does that change when something like the events of yesterday happen?” Silliman said. “How does that change when some of the people you’ve welcomed into your decisionmaking are now accused of such serious felonies?”
That question must be asked even if the city accepts the organization’s statements that it is non-violent and was distancing itself from those charged in the plot, Silliman said.
Occupy Cleveland, which received its encampment permit in October last year, planned to protest the tent’s dismantling by police, but do not think they will be arrested, said group spokesman Joseph Zitt said. The group has said the accused men do not represent Occupy Cleveland and were not acting on its behalf. Silliman’s statements are something the group must discuss, Zitt said.
“When things like this happen, we discover there might be factors that we had not necessarily thought of before,” Zitt said. “Questions arise, they get discussed in assembly, we come to consensus on it. We’re learning.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio questioned the timing of the permit revocation, saying it was concerned Jackson’s announcement was an attempt to connect the entire Occupy movement to the bomb plot.
“Individuals are responsible for their own actions, not the groups they affiliate with,” ACLU of Ohio legal director James Hardiman said in a statement.
“City officials should not be in the business of condemning an entire group of people based on the actions of others,” he added.
Bill Dobbs, a spokesman for Occupy in New York, also said that the arrests have nothing to do with the Occupy Movement that began last fall.
“This incident has nothing to do with Occupy Wall Street, which explicitly stands for non-violence. Before there’s a rush to judgment, facts need to come out. Those charged are entitled to a fair trial and due process,” Dobbs said.