An internal memo from the mayor of Pittsfield, Massachusetts obtained by WAMC says state police have been deployed to the city to head off what they say is the threat of violent Antifa protesters.
Mayor Linda Tyer’s June 1st email to city councilors alerted them to the presence of “a large contingent” of state police situated at the city’s Second Street Emergency Operations Center.
“The process involved an emergency Zoom meeting with the chiefs of police and the state law enforcement agencies where information was shared with local chiefs of police where information was shared with local chiefs of police about intelligence regarding disruptions to peaceful protests,” said the mayor.
According to Tyer, state police think there is a threat of “Antifa interference” spreading outside of metropolitan areas as protests continue following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
“There were a number of potential groups that have been identified as disruptors, so I can’t speak to Antifa as a group – but I do know that there is information about a number of groups who have been known to disrupt peaceful protests,” she said.
Antifa has served as a bogeyman for President Trump since protests began in May, with the president blaming the thinly-defined leftist group for violence. On May 31st, he tweeted that he would designate it a terrorist organization. On the same day, an FBI field report published this week by The Nation indicated that there was “no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement/presence” in the protests in Washington, D.C. NBC reported Monday that a fake Antifa Twitter account created by a white nationalist group made waves across social media, specifically stoking fears around reprisals in suburban communities – claims echoed in the intelligence state police shared with Tyer.
“I do feel that whatever we learn of a possible threat to public safety, whether it’s to our peaceful protestors or the broader community, that we have an obligation to put a plan in place and prepare for what may occur," said the mayor. "So I think it’s important to be fully engaged in those plans and what we received on Monday was a statewide plan, and so we were offered assistance.”
Tyer acknowledged the city can reject or question the offer to bring more law enforcement into Pittsfield.
“The state police do have jurisdiction in certain parts of our community and we consider them to be a public safety partner, and so it would certainly require some sort of an extreme circumstance in order for us not to accept their help,” she told WAMC.
The Massachusetts State Police did not respond to a request for comment.
To date, Pittsfield demonstrations against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been peaceful. Tyer was asked if she felt there was a real threat posed to the community by groups like Antifa as per the state police claims.
“Well I sure hope that we do not need the added reinforcements to protect our city," she responded. "I sure hope that we don’t have experiences like what is happening in Boston and in major cities around the country. I think that we have spent a lot of time in Pittsfield building trust between our community and the police department and I hope that that foundation is strong. I also think that we can put measures in place to protect public safety and support the police department. Those things do not need to be mutually exclusive.”
Reached by WAMC, Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn began the interview by confusing the mayor’s email and the station’s reporting.
“I have to clarify that your statement that the State Police have taken up in Pittsfield – that’s inaccurate and it’s an exaggeration,” he said.
Corrected by WAMC, Wynn said that “more than a dozen” state troopers are now working out of the city. Wynn says that in Monday’s statewide meeting, intelligence was shared from the weekend’s protests in Boston.
“Among the information they shared was that they had additional information and intelligence that some of the destructive disturbances that had occurred in Boston may be moving to more rural areas of the commonwealth, and that in response to that, the state was developing a plan to put augmented forces in each of the state police troops,” said Wynn.
He says the state was not specific about that augmentation. Wynn said that he learned later that day that Pittsfield would not be included in the statewide plan – but that a localized contingency plan would be put in place.
“And that plan was, they would hold over some dayshift troopers and they would have some plainclothes personnel in uniform and they would make them available in the county in the event of an emergency,” said the chief.
The forces gathered on Second Street at the city’s Emergency Operations Center on Monday.
“That meant at about 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon, there was a good sized group of state troopers showing up in the city – and I thought it was important that the mayor know that,” said Wynn.
That group remained at the site throughout the day and did not perform patrols. On Tuesday, a smaller group was dispersed throughout the county.
Wynn says Pittsfield’s inclusion in that statewide plan is still a possibility.
“If the Troop B augmentation occurs, if we find out that occurs, then I’ll have to deal with what that looks like when we find out for sure that it has happened," he said. "But right now, we’re working with the same troopers we always work with – they’re just working longer hours.”
Wynn admitted that the use of Antifa as a specific threat had little foundation.
“Information and intelligence changes all the time, and can I say specifically that what that conversation yesterday that we were referring to Antifa is in fact the threat? Information has evolved in the last day, day and a half, that maybe that name has been co-opted,” he told WAMC.
Tyer says the city shared Monday’s email with community partners, including the Berkshire Chapter of the NAACP, Multicultural BRIDGE, Berkshire Interfaith Organizing, the Berkshire Immigrant Center, and Berkshire Community College “so that they would be aware that we would have this added police presence in our city for the purposes of protecting them if they wanted to continue to peacefully protest and to protect the broader community if there were any disruptions to those protests.”
Tyer was questioned about the need for increased law enforcement at a time where images of violent police repression of peaceful protest have proliferated.
“I see what is happening in places across the country, and I am aware that there are clashes – inappropriate at times – by police in response to protesters,” said the mayor.
“What authority would you have to the state police should they intervene in a protest in Pittsfield?” asked WAMC.
“I… don’t have an answer for that,” responded Tyer.
You can hear the full inteview with Mayor Linda Tyer below: