Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Spies I Have Known

I've sometimes thought it might be entertaining to join an organization espousing political views completely different from mine. The idea would be to attend enough meetings to start fitting in and then begin "innocently" provoking other members; the challenge would be to provoke as much conflict as possible without getting kicked out.

So I really had to laugh when I read Mother Jone's recent expose of Mary McFate, the anti-gun activist who was actually a paid spy for the NRA: 

This is the story of two Marys. Both are in their early 60s, heavyset, with curly reddish hair. But for years they have worked on opposite ends of the same issues. Mary McFate is an advocate of environmental causes and a prominent activist within the gun control movement. For more than a decade, she volunteered for various gun violence prevention organizations, serving on the boards of anti-gun outfits, helping state groups coordinate their activities, lobbying in Washington for gun control legislation, and regularly attending strategy and organizing meetings.

Mary Lou Sapone, by contrast, is a self-described "research consultant," who for decades has covertly infiltrated citizens groups for private security firms hired by corporations that are targeted by activist campaigns. For some time, Sapone also worked for the National Rifle Association.

But these two Marys share a lot in common—a Mother Jones investigation has found that McFate and Sapone are, in fact, the same person. And this discovery has caused the leaders of gun violence prevention organizations to conclude that for years they have been penetrated—at the highest levels—by the NRA or other pro-gun parties. "It raises the question," says Paul Helmke, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, "of what did she find out and what did they want her to find out."

But here's what interested me most: In 1993 or 1994 Mary showed up in several of my political science and history classes at Grove City College. She also joined our chapter of Pi Gamma Mu (the social science honor society), of which I was local treasurer. It's tough to miss a nearly 50 year old woman in a class full of undergrads--especially one who answers all the questions and regularly contradicts the professors. Nevertheless, I'm not sure I would have remembered her name after so many years except for this description of her other underground activities:

She infiltrated an animal-rights group in the late 1980s at the request of U.S. Surgical, and befriended an activist who was later convicted in a pipe bomb attack against the medical-supply business, U.S. Surgical acknowledged in news reports at the time. U.S. Surgical had come under fire for using dogs for research and training.

As I remember it, she claimed to have infiltrated eco-terrorist and animal-rights groups for the Federal government as well. Her stories of last minute excuses and ankle "sprains" to avoid actually breaking the law with the eco-terrorists were especially interesting.

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