OWS: Disruptive Citibank protester was undercover cop

  • Published on October 19th, 2011

Occupy wall street demonstrator arrested at Citibank

Well, we now have more information about the foolish but well-meaning action by Occupy Wall Street at that Citibank branch in New York.

According to one demonstrator, they were all Citibank customers who intended to close their accounts except for one journalist and three others, Chase customers who went with the Citi group for moral support. All of them were arrested (See: DON’T close your Citibank account today. They’re arresting people.)


We have three insider accounts, one from Elana Carroll, published at Gawker (via Xeni), and another from Marshall Garrett, at the Village Voice.

The third is by Anindya Bhattacharyya, an actual socialist from Britain (where socialists aren’t an actual endangered species, as they are here in the US), wast here as a reporter (for a publication suspiciously titled “The Socialist Worker“). He had gone along to report on the action at Citibank and was swept up with everyone else.

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Here are his tweets, live from the scene:

in a branch of citibank now with a couple of dozen #ows supporters protesting against student debt.
police have arrived. they’re not letting us out. no warning given. #ows
angry scenes outside the bank between protesters and police. we’re being held inside and threatened with arrest. #ows
this is pretty surreal. #ows
okay we’re all being arrested now. might be the last tweet you’ll g
et from me for a while

After being released Sunday night, Bhattacharyya resumed tweeting, and posted a couple of stories to his Euro-publication (which of course you shouldn’t trust because it has the word “socialist” in the name). He describes how the demonstrators talked about how unfair the student loan process was, and:

The protesters were entirely respectful towards bank staff and customers. We were asked to leave at one point, but nobody said anything about arrests or police. Then, out of the blue, the bank doors were locked. Police arrived to cuff and arrest the lot of us.
One woman protester had closed her Citibank account as part of the protest and had left the building. She and her partner were rounded up by police outside the bank and bundled back in.
They had been spotted by an undercover police officer who had been with us inside posing as a protester. The police had been intending to arrest us all along.

Carroll’s tale is similar, although she says she thinks there were several account closings. Here’s what she says happened:

During this second speech we were asked to leave by management, but chose to keep on talking. We were not shouting or moving about at all–we were in a loosely formed circle in the center of the bank lobby. Another one or two people spoke briefly. As they spoke the doorway was slowly being filled with buff men in polo shirts. Our talk was slowing down and coming to a close. We had been inside probably between 10 and 20 minutes total when suddenly we heard “doors are being locked now!” from one of the men who’d been standing in the doorway.

We walked over to the front doors and were met by many cops. At least 6 were inside with us. “We would like to leave ” we said. “It’s too late” the cops said back. A woman in her 70s (who I later befriended while waiting at central booking) asked to leave again and moved forward. She was pushed back forcefully by one of the cops in the doorway. She did not react. Everyone remained calm. “You are all under arrest,” said a whiteshirt. These cops were mean…

So this was not like the demonstrators in other places, sitting down in the streets or blocking police access to tents, who know their actions are going to get them arrested, but do it anyway. These kids thought they would stage a little educational seminar for 10 minutes or so and then move on. And they were shocked when it all went bad.

Next page >> The “protester” who was a cop


About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.


  • For all you arm chair lawyers,

    Thinking because you are above the law because you are protesting is entirely wrong. When you enter private property to conduct the business at hand you are welcome to do so. When you turn it into a propoganda stunt you are no longer welcome at the discretion of the business. When asked to leave this private property you must do so as prudently as possible no matter your agenda immedietely. If you thin you need to finish your education session then you are in violation and therefore subject to arrest.

    Your primary intention wasn’t to close your account. Your primary intention was for propoganda to draw attention to your cause. You can enter any branch individually and respectfully close your account and deposit your money in any institution you deem fit which I support and recommend – vote with your dollars.

    Did Citibank double deal some clients with mortgage backed securities knowing they were junk? Absolutely! Should the people involved be put on trial? Absolutely! Should Citibank pay fines for these actions from their general fund? No! Should the legal fees be paid out of the general fund? No! These hurt the ordinary folks who have 401Ks invested with Citibank and the good employees of Citibank. These fines should be levied against the individuals who made the decision to double deal. How else will dishonest CEO’s learn not to do dishonest things? If they are motivated by money you can demotivate them by taking it away if they are dishonest.

    So the above paragraph describes an action that was dishonest right? Posting on your websites and facebooking and tweeting that people are getting arrested for trying to close their accounts at BOA or Citibank is also dishonest. They are being arrested for trespassing.

    The ends do not justify the means. You do not have my support OWS and will not have my support until you conduct yourselves in a civil manner, behave honestly, obey the laws and quit trying to provoke the police. I know you believe it will ignite your cause to have dust ups with the police, but they have a job to do, some have been injured. They didn’t cause the ongoing problems. They are taxpayers. Stop provoking them.

    As long as were talking about honesty… no one gets a pass if they are doing what you are against. If you want money out of politics go after the unions, Democrats and even Obama for accepting money. Why is billionare George Soros off limits? He is part of the so called one percent.

    In conclusion, be intellectually honest. We have some common ground.

    • I think the particular situation is pretty unclear as to whether the individuals were violating the law, but you could argue either way.

      Beyond that, you seem to think that OWS is part of the democratic party, which contrary to what the MSM would have you believe, it isn’t. A lot of people involved in the movement are equally pissed at both parties, (like me). Also, I personally can’t stand unions as they tend to do nothing to actually protect workers’ rights. Both parties are guilty of catering to Wall Street. We have more than common ground, I think we have pretty much the same view.

    • Dave, you claim that a minority of Citibank employees are bad/ double dealt. And you are right.
      I claim that OWS is not giving unions, Democrats, Obama, or Soros a free pass. I claim that most OWS participants conduct themselves in a civil manner, behave honestly, obey the laws and don’t provoke police officers. And I’m right.

      The most authoritative statements about what OWS is about come from the founders of the movement, and the !votes at General Assemblies.
      The founders only expressed goal for the movement is to end the corrupting influence of money in Washington (well exemplified by the financial industry, which is the biggest donor, and for which Wall Street is its symbolic center). If you support that, then you are welcome to not only support, but be a part of OWS.
      To the extent that OWS has policy, it is set at GAs, where violence gets little support.
      Bank management actions, on the other hand, were that those who raised concerns about mortgages were dismissed, while double-dealers were rewarded.

  • Hi, I’m the British journalist you mention in the article. Thanks for rounding up all these accounts and for your commentary.

    I pretty much agree with your take on events. However, I don’t think these bank protests are “foolish” — on the contrary, I think they play a valuable role as propaganda stunts in getting the message about debt and the economic crisis out there.

    The protesters explicitly modelled their action on similar ones in Britain pioneered by the UK Uncut network. These have been very successful in highlighting how companies like Vodafone and Top Shop avoid paying their taxes.

    So to be clear: the absurdity lay in the fact that we were arrested for this, not in the action itself. And as you point out, there were plenty of similar bank actions that day elsewhere in the city. Goodness knows why we were singled out for arrest.

    But talking to other non-protesters inmates in the cells with us, it became clear that getting banged up for entirely trivial reasons is an everyday occupational hazard for many ordinary New Yorkers, especially if you’re Black or Hispanic.

    A cardboard placard I saw at Occupy Wall Street quotes Frank Zappa’s dictum that the US is a nation of laws “badly written and randomly enforced”. Seems appropriate.

    Oh, and since you ask — the martini was delicious.

  • Um, did someone say WRONGFUL IMPRISONMENT? The banks CANNOT lock the doors with customers inside unless the police (badge wearing only, no security) think every customer inside that bank is a suspect in an ongoing bank robbery.


    • Quite the contrary, it is private property and all protesters were asked to leave as evidenced by the accounts above. When they refused, all protesters were then engaging in a criminal act. If you commit a crime, and leave the scene, you are still responsible for that crime. Police have a right (and a duty) to pursue you and bring you to justice for your crime. By locking the door, the staff were aiding in a police investigation and the apprehension of those engaging in criminal acts. This is similar to being detained by security at a mall or retail store for attempting to steal items. After engaging in criminal activity, you cannot simply leave the scene and have your slate wiped clean. I also work for a credit union and we are told to get the robber out of there as soon as possible. After he leaves, we are to lock the doors and not allow anybody in or out (staff or customers) until police arrive and give them the “okay”. At no point in time would we ever want to lock a robber inside with us.

      • Police do not have an obligation to pursue every violation of every regulation that everyone in this country commits.
        If they did, we would ALL be behind bars, or spending half our time fighting lawsuits in court.
        Police, with limited resources, instead selectively enforce those laws and regulations that they think are most important.
        And as should be clear, so far in this society people who steal billions through financial fraud, destroy peoples’ jobs and take their homes, go scott free.
        People who object to that, and are asked to leave by a bank manager, get the full weight of the law brought down on their heads.
        THAT is why people are protesting.

      • Had the woman who made it outside actually committed a crime I would agree, but since her “crime” was “not leaving when asked to” and they locked the doors to keep people from leaving, there is a hole in this argument: From the accounts given there was no time limit or punishment specified. Therefore, we can assume that the time limit was however long the left the doors unlocked (from the accounts given, this was just long enough for the people inside to be satisfied that they were going to be able to finish their speeches and leave safely, which stinks of entrapment). Since the woman was outside, she clearly left before the doors were locked. In other words, before the time limit. Therefore she committed no crime. If she did, then everyone better start using the drive-through window because apparently just walking into a bank to conduct business is a crime.

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