Documents obtained by The Intercept indicate that security staff at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota used a fake Facebook account to monitor local Black Lives Matter organizers, befriend them, and obtain their personal information and photographs without their knowledge.
Evidence of the fake Facebook account was found in a cache of files provided by the Mall of America to Bloomington officials after a large Black Lives Matter event at the mall on December 20 protesting police brutality. The files included briefs on individual organizers, with screenshots that suggest that much of the information was captured using a Facebook account for a person named “Nikki Larson.”
Metadata from some of the documents lists the software that created them as belonging to “Sam Root” at the “Mall of America.” A Facebook account for a Sam Root lists his profession as “Intelligence Analyst at Mall of America.”
The fake Larson account featured a profile photo that a Google reverse image search shows is identical to a photo associated with a woman who is Facebook friends with Root.
The account, previously found at this url, was deleted soon after The Intercept contacted the Mall of America for this story.
On December 11, as news of the planned Black Lives Matter protest began to spread, the “Nikki Larson” account was updated with a banner image of an (apocryphal) Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” At some point, the Larson account “liked” the Black Lives Matter Minneapolis Facebook group.
After the December 20 protest, the city charged 11 protesters with six different criminal misdemeanors. The city and mall are seeking over $65,000 in restitution for police and mall expenses.
Information collected from Facebook was used by the Mall of America security team to build dossiers on each activist. A document on Nekima Levy-Pounds, one of the activists charged by the city, includes screen grabs of her Facebook account. Levy-Pounds, professor of law at the University of St. Thomas, told The Intercept that the Larson account befriended her in December.
Another dossier profiling activist Lena Gardner contains pictures, a timeline listing where to spot her in videos from the protest taken by protestors and by Mall of America security, as well as information scraped from her social media accounts. Similar documents were created for at least eight other activists.
The Larson account appears to have been created in 2009, and had 817 friends, many of whose pages showed they were involved in Minnesota political activism. The account also “liked” Facebook groups associated with Ferguson activists, the American Indian Movement Interpretive Center, Occupy Minneapolis, SumOfUs, the SEIU Minnesota State Council, and Communities United Against Police Brutality, among others.
A mass of demonstrators chanting, “Black lives matter,” converged in the Mall of America rotunda Saturday as part of a protest against police brutality that caused part of the mall to shut down on a busy day for holiday shopping.
The group Black Lives Matter Minneapolis had more than 3,000 people confirm on Facebook that they would attend. Official crowd estimates weren’t immediately available, but pictures posted to social media by local news organizations showed the rotunda was full. Organizer Mica Grimm estimated about 3,000 people participated.
The rally is part of protests happening nationwide after officers weren’t charged in the deaths of unarmed black men in Missouri and New York.
During the rally, protesters shouted “While you’re on your shopping spree, black people cannot breathe” — a reference to the chokehold police placed on Eric Garner, who died in New York. As they were dispersing, they walked down the hall with their arms raised, shouting “Hands up, don’t shoot!” That saying has been used in Ferguson, Missouri, in protests against the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, and in demonstrations elsewhere.
Bloomington police said 25 people were arrested, mainly for reasons such as trespassing. Commander Mark Stehlik said he was not aware of any injuries or property damage
Hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters gathered inside of the Mall of America rotunda in Minnesota today despite warnings displayed throughout the the mall that they would be arrested. Protesters demanded the release of video showing the Nov. 15 shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark by a white police officer.
Update: BLM chapters in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay Area have declared December 23rd, 2015 Black Xmas and issued, in part, the following statement:
“Black Xmas is here and there will be no business as usual until we get accountability for our dead, and justice for the living. Instead of buying gifts to fuel this system, Black Xmas is a day of action to reject the degradation of Black families and communities by police, politicians, and predatory companies, and declare our inherent worth. We will disrupt business as usual until city, state, and federal budgets stop funding Black death and start funding Black futures.
Whether cisgendered, trans, or queer; women or men, elders or children – our Black families refuse to live trapped between poverty and police state violence. From slavery to segregation to the rampant state violence of the 21st century, Black communities have lived under the boot of state repression and corporate power for too long. Today, on Black Xmas, in solidarity with migrant, Palestinian and all oppressed people, we proclaim our humanity, reclaim our streets, and exclaim for the world to hear: Black Lives Matter.”
If you’re annoyed the protest ‘disrupted shopping’, you are saying that inanimate objects hold more worth than a once living, breathing, human being who was murdered unjustly. You are saying that your shopping was more important than the lives of innocent people.