Occupy Cracks Down on Cameras As Secrecy Replaces Transparency

One of the ways Occupy Wall Street has spread its message so broadly is through live streaming video, but after a well-known live-stream operator got accosted on Sunday, it's starting to look like some Occupy protesters are becoming pretty touchy about who controls that live feed.

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One of the ways Occupy Wall Street has spread its message so broadly is through live streaming video, but after a well-known live-stream operator got accosted on Sunday, it's starting to look like some Occupy protesters are becoming pretty touchy about who controls that live feed. After Sunday's dust-up, one of the movement's best-known documenters now finds himself branded a "snitch" and receiving what he sees as threats. The changing relationship between the movement and the guy dedicated to portraying it reflects the movement's own change from a radically transparent "model community" -- in which members advocate for change by living it as they did in Zuccotti Park -- to a much more secretive network of activists who plan direct actions.

On Sunday Tim Pool, a live-streamer who gained fame for exhaustively documenting the movement's biggest actions in New York, had his camera knocked out of his hand by a masked person while filming a protest march, an incident he described in a Pastebin statement. Later, the Occupy Wall Street Twitter stream said he was trying to get a protester arrested. Now, Occupy organizers say Pool's betrayed them by capturing protesters when they didn't want to be filmed, and breaking solidarity with Occupy Wall Street by not turning off his cameras when asked. Pool, for his part, presents himself as an independent journalist and not an occupier, saying he never claimed to be part of the movement and should only respect his subjects' requests in the way normal codes of journalistic ethics require.

Despite his claim that he's not participant in the Occupy movement, Pool has occasionally acted like one since he arrived from Chicago and first started broadcasting in mid-September, living and eating with protesters in Zuccotti Park. Back in September, Pool's live-stream The Other 99 seemed very much a part of Occupy, though he stresses it was funded independently by donations, as is his current channel, Timcast. When he broadcast pretty much every minute of the big protests on Nov. 15 and Nov. 17, he was portrayed as the voice of Occupy in Time magazine and Fast Company.

"People are asking me if I’m in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Strong answer: No, I am not. I am in solidarity with the 99 percent, and that’s different," Pool told The Atlantic Wire on Tuesday. "I never got involved with the decision-making process. But that doesn’t mean I don’t support [Occupy], which I do." Occupy has offered to provide Pool with a security detail for his future live streams, he told us, but he said he refused.

Pool said he didn't support the movement's tendency toward secrecy in some of its planning. "Since day one, the Direct Action working group has had a veil of secrecy, and that’s really scary. I’ve been down here since day four, I know everybody, and I still have never seen them … To hear these names over and over again and to never have seen them, it’s worrisome because there’s no accountability," Pool said. "If this movement is claiming to fight for the 99 percent, then the world should see what it’s doing."

In the early months of Occupy Wall Street, protesters were really vocal about how Zuccotti Park was a microcosm of the world they wanted to create. That's what they told us when we covered the launch of their Occupy-specific social network, known as NYCGA.net, and that's what they kept saying through early November, as they battened down for the winter and tried to use their own infrastructure to promote their values such as safety and transparency. But a sea change started within the movement after it lost Zuccotti Park. And that's around the same time its members started becoming suspicious of Pool. When cops evicted protesters from Zuccotti Park. Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson referred at the time to "the movement's post-eviction shift from radical transparency into something more akin to stealth mode." On Monday the Village Voice's Nick Pinto wrote about "an ongoing tension within Occupy Wall Street, as many protesters and organizers embrace radical transparency, while others -- especially those involved in planning direct actions -- see a need for secrecy and strict security culture to protect the movement from the government infiltrators almost everyone agrees must be within the movement."

Organizers have told us that no real organizing happens on NYCGA.net, which ostensibly serves as a portal into the movement's decision-making process. And while meeting minutes are posted online, the doings of the working groups aren't well represented there. Plans for direct actions such as Saturday's "Occu-Party" at a Brooklyn condominium site, or December's Occupy Homes were kept strictly secret right up until they happened.

On November 15 when a few activists chained themselves in Zuccotti Park and let the air out of cops' tires as the police cracked down on the camp, some people told Pool not to film but he did anyway, organizer Patrick Bruner said. "Ever since then there’s been questions about whether he’s an ally, standing in solidarity with the movement. Many individuals don’t want to be filmed by him, including me," Bruner said. "The larger issue is the ethics of filming someone without their permission." Another occupy organizer, Jason Ahmadi, said the fact that Pool had never been arrested made people suspicious of him. "I think that the growing sentiment among people is that Tim, specifically, is putting people in danger and is serving as a tool for the police, whether he’s aware of it or not." Ahmadi made the point that by filming people in real time, rather than the delay that usually comes with print, television, or even online reporting, Pool's stream was an especially strong tool for police. Both organizers, however, said the attack on Pool was inappropriate and out of keeping with Occupy's values of non-violence.

For the record, it's fine to film people doing newsworthy things like protesting, especially when they're on a public street. Television news crews know all about this kind of thing. They have teams of lawyers dedicated to it. You're basically allowed to film anybody doing whatever could reasonably be considered newsworthy in public, said NY1 spokeswoman Nikia Redhead. "Our policy is, if something happens in a public place we the right to capture and report it but that doesn’t necessarily mean we will report it," Redhead said.

One irony about this whole thing is that Occupy protesters don't tend to object to mainstream news cameras covering them nearly as much as they do to someone who seems like one of their own. "They’re not going up to NBC and smacking the satellite cameras out of their hands," Pool said. "They're smacking cell phones out of people's hands."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.