About a week and a half ago, Occupy Denver protester Tanner Spendley became the main character in a situation that could easily be a bar joke. Three days before the local group occupied the Walmart distribution center in Loveland, Spendley heard a knock on the door of his Denver apartment. When he opened it, he says, two men in trenchcoats introduced themselves as FBI agents.
Although Westword could easily write a post a day detailing rumors regarding Occupy Denver, Spendley's story only started with rumors -- it did not end with them. The two other occupiers inside his house at the time have also confirmed the visit from agents, who began their time with the protesters by questioning them about -- you guessed it -- rumors. This particular batch started on Twitter in preparation for Occupy Denver's plans to shut down the Loveland Walmart.
"They said, 'We're with the FBI,' and I said 'I know,'" Spendley says. "They asked how, and I said they looked like FBI agents. Then one of the men proceeded to show me his badge, and it was very surreal."
Although he doesn't have a Twitter account, Spendley's name had come up via conversations on the social media site covering potential strategies for the group's time at Walmart -- particularly regarding which actions are legal and which are not. One Twitter user asked about the possibility of blocking the port with cars (illegal), then abandoning the cars and setting their tires on fire (also illegal) before the thread eventually ended. Neither of these actions were actually taken in Loveland.
But government officials didn't know this yet. "Because my name was mentioned at the beginning of the thread, this person inferred that me and two other people were planning some crazy fucking act," Spendley says. "Someone wrote an e-mail accusing me of violent behavior, and I got five phone calls in ten minutes asking me what the hell was going on. It went from a blockade to car bombs: Obviously, when the FBI hears car bombs, of course they're going to investigate."
Both of the officers Spendley spoke to identified themselves as members of the organization's domestic terrorism unit, he says, and they spent 45 minutes in his home discussing the situation; one officer sat facing him, the other sat next to him, and two other occupiers sat on the couch. Spendley says he denied any plans to commit arson or use car bombs, and instead showed the officers a chain of e-mails involving plans to the contrary.
"I figured the FBI would be involved at some point, but I didn't think it would be this soon -- or because of petty Internet rumors," Spendley says. "As soon as they left, we had this 'what the fuck' moment. Did the FBI really just show up at my house?"
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Spendley notes that the officers were civil and respectful and intentionally distanced themselves from the Denver Police Department and its relationship with local protesters. He has not heard from the FBI again on the issue, which quickly dissipated and ended with thirteen protesters charged with minor offenses. (Two protesters remain in the Larimer County Detention Center.) But he's still amazed that the probe started with yet another string of rumors populated by the Internet.
"There were a lot of accusations made against myself, and someone posted something on Twitter, and it was like a real-life game of telephone," Spendley says. "That's the reason for this: People are talking online and spreading rumors rather than meeting people in person and starting relationships to know what someone would and wouldn't do. There's a big difference between being paranoid and being vigilant."
And when the officers finally departed from his place, Spendley says, it was with a warning: "They left with our contacts and said, 'If you guys are aware of any crazy plots going on you think would harm the movement, please give us a call.'"
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver's latest eviction ends in flames, arrests and Tebowing (photos)."