Report: Army monitored interfaith St. Louis coalition that organized protest trip to Fort Sill

Photo: Kayla Steinberg
The Heartland for Human Justice coalition sings, chants and waves signs at Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla. 

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

The U.S. Army was monitoring a largely Jewish group of protesters who traveled in August from St. Louis to Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla., to protest the planned detention of migrant children at the facility, according to a report in The Intercept.

The digital news organization cited an internal Pentagon government document that provided information on a number of domestic protest efforts, including the St. Louis trip, which was organized by National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis, the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, Congregation Shaare Emeth, Central Reform Congregation, United Hebrew Congregation, ADL Heartland and the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association.

“An identified group plans to protest the detention for families and children at Fort Sill,” states the document. “An identified religious group in St. Louis, MO, sponsors the group and is subsidizing travel expenses for protestors. The group is charging a 65.500-225.00 USD as a donation to ride a bus to Lawton.”

The document also includes a “threat estimate” for the various groups. 

Jake Laperruque, senior counsel for the Constitution Project at the Project on Government Oversight, told the Intercept, “The ‘threat estimates’ focused on protesters are highly disturbing. Cataloging individuals protesting government policy creates serious risk of abuse, and even without misconduct, monitoring protesters is likely to chill the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

Defense Department spokesperson John Cornelio told the Intercept, “DoD works closely to support Federal law enforcement agencies along the Southwest border. Law enforcement agencies share information regarding migrant caravans and protestors with DoD consistent with applicable laws and policies for DoD force protection purposes.”

After the story was published, NCJW, CRC and JCRC sent a letter to participants informing them of it.

“We are in discussion with a number of individuals and security experts on this matter,” the letter states. “At this time, we have no reason for concern for any of the participants and there is no action that needs to be taken.”

Ellen Alper, executive director of NCJW, told the Jewish Light, “When I first heard about it, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But I understand that they are watching all kinds of groups, doing all kinds of things. Does it make me happy? No, because I think our federal government doesn’t need to be looking at groups like ours that are there basically trying to exercise our free speech on an issue that we believe in and is important to us.”

More than 100 participants participated in the trip. 

Alper said at the time, “As Jews in particular, having gone through the history we’ve gone through, we should never idly stand by and let something happen to someone else.”