Author Kristian Williams sat down with anarchist activist Scott Crow for an emotional and in-depth accounting of how he came to know and work with a man for many years, who was later discovered to be a paid FBI informant. Brandon Darby became well known nationally as an activist when he became a spokesperson for the Common Ground Relief organization in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He has often been credited as a co-founder, but during the interview Scott set the record straight about Darby’s role in Common Ground, and how he was absent when the organization was founded and got going, only to join the effort later.
While acting as interim director of Common Ground Darby was already working as an FBI informant. Not surprisingly his tenure in that position was marked by strife and division. Darby was responsible for firing numerous unpaid organizers and shutting down some of organization’s aide programs. It’s unclear when exactly Darby began working as an informant, but it happened at least as far back as 2006.
Crow relates putting aside serious concerns about Darby to join him in responding to the emergency situation left in the wake of the storm, and how the trauma they experienced in a city littered with dead bloated bodies, racist white militias and unaccountable police run amok bonded the two. Common Ground according to Scott was operating under a siege mentality as they were being targeted by state authorities using heavy handed COINTELPRO tactics against them.
“COINTELPRO repression was in the back of all our minds. Homeland Security was everywhere in all of their incarnations. We we’re asking ourselves, are there informants? Provocateurs? What’s wingnut behavior, and what’s targeted destruction? All in this incredible crisis; not in a rational, reasonable, or safe place to sort it.”
Darby was known for machismo and militancy and often spoke of his fantasies of carrying out acts of what he saw as revolutionary political violence. One plan involved an attack against a small independent bookstore that stocked some nativist and anti-immigrant books. “Brandon developed this plan where he wanted to set off smoke bombs or something — I don’t know the details — and then the sprinklers would go off and ruin all of their inventory. Then we’d ride off on his motor scooter in the alley. I think I literally responded with, ‘That’s fucking stupid! Strategically, this is a dumb idea. This bookstore is nothing. There’s a long list of things I would burn down before I ever tried to burn down this bookstore.’ Also this building has a lot of people in it who are not related to that bookstore. What if something happens to them? He pressured me and I refused to do it. I didn’t do it, so he tried to enlist this friend of mine instead…She said flat out, ‘I’m not going to do that. That’s just fucking dumb.’ She’s a long-time anarchist organizer who could see the stupidity.”
It wasn’t until 2008 that Darby was successful in convincing some younger impressionable youths to actually consider carrying out such an act. Austin activists Bradley Crowder and David McKay were arrested after purchasing materials used to construct Molotov cocktails that were never used. Brandon Darby had set them up and before long a reporter published in a local paper exposing him as an informant.
As for what he would have done differently Crow says: “I wish that when he had acted on bad behavior, I just had cut him off and just gone with my gut instinct, which said that this guy’s problematic. Don’t let him in. No matter what he does, just don’t let him in. Because I think things would have looked different.”