Volunteers at Berkeley's Long Haul Infoshop were flummoxed Wednesday after UC police, Alameda County sheriff's deputies, and at least one FBI agent raided the anarchist depot, which houses a vast library of political tomes and was home to a free computer center where anyone could obtain Internet access without a password. Alleging that Long Haul computers had been used to commit a felony — or at least contained evidence thereof — police broke through the back door and confiscated about thirteen computers, plus a couple additional hard drives and a USB flash drive, along with miscellaneous CDs and diskettes.
"We can't say what the investigation is for because it's ongoing," said UC Berkeley spokesperson Robert Sanders. "All I can say is that we tracked down threatening e-mails to computers at this site, so we got a search warrant to seize the computers and try to track down the individuals who are sending these threatening e-mails to our faculty and staff." The search warrant, granted by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Judith Ford, authorized police to seize all electronic data and storage devices, as well as any written, typed, or electronic documents that identified who had used the Long Haul computers.
"They struck in the dead of day, when we were all asleep," said a Long Haul volunteer with a dyed-green mustache who goes by the name of B. The "dead of day" was about 10:15 a.m., when police arrived at the office of the Northern California Land Trust, which abuts Long Haul on the north side.
"A big group of armed folks in body armor just show up at the front door," said Land Trust executive director Ian Winters, whose organization owns the building in which the Long Haul conducts its operations. When Land Trust employees refused to give police a key for lack of a search warrant, Winters said, "out came the break-down-the-door route."
Long Haul volunteer Kathryn Miller, who arrived at 10:45 a.m., said police entered with guns drawn via the homeless shelter that flanks Long Haul on the south side. They cut a chain on the back door and let themselves into the building. Miller, who holds some kind of official position at the collective but isn't really sure which one, said she let herself in and asked an officer to see a search warrant. The officer said she could see it when they were done searching, then shooed Miller back outside. "We could tell that they had broken the locks on the doors to all these offices," Miller said.
According to Miller, the police were looking for logs of people who had used the Long Haul computers, but the volunteer staff doesn't keep that information. Miller said she's not sure what the police were investigating, or what exactly they procured, other than a lot of materials belonging to Food Not Bombs, bicycle activists, East Bay prisoner support groups, Slingshot zine, and the other organizations that conduct work out of the Long Haul.
"My first thought, because of the UCPD, was they were harassing them for supporting the tree sitters," Winters said. "But then ... I thought that somebody there had something to do with the animal rights — whatever it was that was going on at Santa Cruz." Several weeks ago, two UC Santa Cruz animal researchers were bombed by animal-rights extremists and several other researchers were named as targets in a pamphlet left in a popular cafe.
"From what I saw, the over-broadness of it did not make sense to me," said human rights lawyer James Chanin, who works about a block away from the Long Haul and went over there shortly after it was raided. Chanin also thinks the search and seizure had something to do with the animal-rights activist bombings in Santa Cruz.
"That particular place is a conglomerate of various independent groups," Chanin said. "There were prisoner rights groups there, there were needle exchanges there, there might have been animal-rights activists there. They took it all. Now clearly the other people had nothing to do with animal rights. These groups have a reasonable expectation of privacy, as long as they're law-abiding." Chanin put the Long Haul volunteers in touch with the National Lawyers Guild.
Volunteer B said he is pretty annoyed, especially since the next issue of Slingshot was close to completion. Now it will probably be held up for several weeks. Then again, he said, they'll have a good story to put in it.