Call it intuition, a sixth sense or just fashion sense. When a camouflage-clad, eco-sabotage book-toting man who appeared to be in his late 30s approached teenage activist Jeremy Parkin at a Utah Animal Rights Coalition (UARC) meeting with the pick-up line, “Militant minds think alike,” Parkin suspected this radical’s rapport and appearance were more acting than activism.
“Immediately, Jeremy expressed his suspicions to me,” said Sean Diener, UARC president, of the man who identified himself as Richard Stone. “And now that I think about it, Richard always criticized Jeremy after that. So, from the beginning we thought this big guy looked FBI or something. But we allow anyone to attend our meetings because we’re not doing anything wrong,” Diener said. “Anyway, we didn’t know if he was an infiltrator for law enforcement, so we had to let him participate.”
Stone began attending every meeting, but very few of the group’s demonstrations. “What began to irk us was that he was taking notes on everything we were planning and asking questions about everyone in the group,” Diener said. “He was building a profile on each of us.”
UARC members say Stone told them he was an ex-Navy Seal who had fought in Desert Storm, and had worked for Exxon in Alaska. It was in that most northern state, he told them, that he saw the aftermath of clubbed baby seals and converted to the animal rights cause.
“He bragged about killing Iraqis, then mourned the killing of seals,” Diener said. “I found that hypocritical, since our organization values all animal life, human and non-human. He didn’t strike me as a man who cared about animals.”
Stone dropped other hints like breadcrumbs, leading members to believe he was deliberately disrupting the group. “Many felt that he was trying to pit members against each other, and he tried to turn me against Jeremy [Parkin],” Diener said.
Parkin, who was recently arrested for his participation in a protest more than a year ago, urged members to oust Stone after he witnessed a bizarre incident last autumn. Stone was driving his Suburban with Parkin as a passenger when they were stopped by a police officer for a mud flap violation. Stone refused to give the officer his driver’s license, Parkin recalled. When that didn’t work, Stone told the officer his name. After checking his name, the officer let Stone go saying, “This is above us.”
Breadcrumbs continued to fall. Stone had a handcuff key on his key chain, and told Diener it was there in case he became handcuffed. Mysteriously, Stone would only provide a cell phone number and his sister’s address to UARC, yet recorded extensive personal information about members of the group.
“He was a name dropper, who used his affiliation with UARC to cozy up to other social justice groups,” Diener said. UARC members found it ironic that he flirted with an environmental group yet drove a gas-guzzling Suburban.
When the Utah affiliate of the ACLU and groups like the Green Party, labor unions and homeless advocates met to discuss protesting at the “500 days until the 2002 Olympics” party, Stone insisted on hosting another meeting where only “serious demonstrators” could attend.
Janelle Eurick, ACLU staff attorney, recalls the meeting. “He wanted everyone to spell out their demonstration plans. But everyone was uncomfortable with him, so no one said anything. Later, I found a note in my office from him asking me out to dinner so we could discuss the demonstrations. I never returned his call,” she said. “Whether he was an agent or an informant … or just an activist, I don’t know.”
After numerous phone calls, Stone left a recorded message at City Weekly from New York City, where he said he was conducting personal business. Stone denied any ties to the FBI.
“I was never given an opportunity to meet the individual who accused me, and I was never allowed an opportunity to explain things to UARC membership. That’s really unfortunate, and I’ve seen this happen in other movements throughout the country,” Stone said in his message. “Here we are protesting for the rights of others and the rights of animals, and we basically cannibalize our own people.”
Stone went on to say that he’s “an individual who’s innocent of all he’s been accused of.”
But last month, John Ouimett, a UARC member, was invited to the Salt Lake City FBI office to look at protest photographs. There, he said he spotted Stone working at a desk. Diener said Stone rejected the implication when confronted with mounting evidence that he might be an informant. Stone then threatened to sue members if he was barred from attending the group, Diener recalled. Later, Stone called Diener and reassured him that the whole matter was a misunderstanding and cautioned him that paranoia plays into the government’s hands. Unimpressed, Diener asked Stone not to return to the group.
Why would law enforcement care about a group of boisterous but basically peaceful young idealists, who hold lawful protests with an occasional act of civil disobedience? An act like the one last August when Diener dressed in a pig costume and drove a truck to the National Democratic Convention, where he dumped four tons of manure to let politicians know that their policies on the environment and animal rights stink.
Bill Matthews, special agent and spokesman for the FBI, said he has never heard of Richard Stone, but admits he wouldn’t confirm anything if Stone were working for them. Also, he said he wasn’t aware of any operations relating to UARC, but again, said he wouldn’t confirm it if there were. He did say he wasn’t familiar with UARC and offered some insight into how the FBI works. “We only infiltrate groups when we have complaints against them for conducting illegal activities,” he said. “According to the guidelines established by the Department of Justice, we don’t investigate groups that are simply exercising their free speech.”
Concerning the alleged Stone sighting at the FBI office, Matthews offered another theory. “Maybe someone in the group doesn’t like Stone and wanted to make a case to get rid of him,” he said.
The ACLU’s Eurick believes monitoring potential protest groups, even law-abiding groups, may be part of the 2002 Olympic security plan. “Certainly, law enforcement has an obligation to protect the games against terrorism, but I hope there is not a plan to chill free speech rights at this forum.”
Another UARC member, Eric Ward, thinks the FBI is trying to quell groups it finds annoying. He was charged recently for crimes allegedly committed during a protest. Ward was charged with disorderly conduct, but the charges were compounded with gang and hate crimes enhancements. “This is an effort to intimidate us, and maybe or maybe not, Richard Stone is a part of that.” Ward’s hate crimes enhancement was dropped, just as the ACLU and civil rights activists were about to clamor outside the prosecutor’s door.
Civil rights attorney Brian Barnard has his own spin on infiltration and informants. “Law enforcement agencies infiltrate groups all the time, good and bad ones, and are within their right to do so,” he said. “Of course, it would be easy to put an agent into a group like UARC, because it’s open and friendly. It would be much harder to get in a closed group that does heinous crimes.
“Perhaps, an informant could get in touch with more radical elements through this group, since anyone can show up at a meeting,” Barnard said. “However, if an informant has infiltrated the group, I would wonder if this [law enforcement] resource wouldn’t be better served in another group. These are just passionate activists, not criminals.”
Two weeks ago, Stone called Diener to plead his case one more time. He claimed he was in Cincinnati at a protest during the time he might have been spotted at the FBI office. “I can’t let him come back. No one trusts him,” Diener said, who admits he can’t be sure if Stone is an FBI agent or informant, but knows morale is important for any social justice group and suspicion is demoralizing.
Besides, if Stone is just a victim of circumstance and bad vibes, he would probably find his return to the group unbearable—because they’d be watching him as much as he’s been watching them.