“New reports confirm that social justice activist DeRay McKesson was directly monitored by the Federal Department of Homeland Security and referred to as a “professional protester” in internal emails. “Mckesson’s Twitter and other social media accounts were being monitored by DHS last May during the height of the protests in Baltimore that followed the death of Freddie Gray,” Vice reports, who confirmed the government’s interest in the 25-year-old via a Freedom of Information Act request.
The newly-revealed Federal correspondence also notes that DeRay is a person “known to law enforcement,” and points out Baltimore protest rally information sourced directly from McKesson’s own personal tweets. Another FOIA request undertaken by The Intercept previously revealed that the Department of Homeland Security had culled information, including location data, from social media posts relating to Black Lives Matter protests in cities like Baltimore, New York City and Ferguson. Those findings revealed that even peaceful silent vigils were closely watched by government officials.
Vice notes that the emails concerning McKesson contained the subject line “FYSA,” shorthand for “For Your Situational Awareness.” Kade Crockford of the ACLU told the magazine that the term “is a cover that allows police departments and federal law enforcement agencies such as DHS to conduct “surveillance of lawful, First Amendment-protected political speech,” which includes tweets.”
McKesson’s profile and role in racial justice activities, including interviews, rallies and marches has risen significantly since August 2014, when he became a prominent peaceful protester in Ferguson. He, along with fellow Twitter standout and activist Johnetta Elzie were profiled at length by the New York Times Magazine earlier this summer. In that story, McKesson gives a vivid account of his time protesting in Ferguson, stressing ““I just couldn’t believe that the police would fire tear gas into what had been a peaceful protest…I was running around, face burning, and nothing I saw looked like America to me.”