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Not So Fast Missy: How a Protester Exposed an Undercover Cop

| August 21, 2013

Nicole Rizzi, aka Missy.

Nicole Rizzi, aka Missy.

By Lacy MacAuley

She was an undercover cop who called herself “Missy.” When I first met her four years ago, I couldn’t have known that the small-framed woman with spiky brown hair and intense eyes was anything but a fellow activist showing up for a protest in Washington, D.C.

Lacy McAuley

Lacy McAuley

I certainly didn’t know she was actually Nicole Rizzi, an undercover cop ordered to secretly spy on peaceful protesters, violate our freedom of speech and assembly, and disregard our right to privacy.

Sure, I thought something was odd about her. She stared just a little too long. Her irreverent sense of humor made the hair stand up on the backs of a lot of necks. Her favorite t-shirt read “OBEY” and it wasn’t clear that she wore it for the irony.

When I looked at her rippling arm muscles, I wondered whether they came from workouts at some spy academy or a downtown yoga studio.

So sure, I did suspect from the start that she could be an FBI agent, a police officer, or something else. But if you start being suspicious of newcomers, every honest newbie will look like an infiltrator. I kept my paranoia mostly to myself.

It turns out that hanging out in bars every so often can make good things happen. One late night in November 2012, I was in a bar in D.C.’s bustling U Street neighborhood when a friend of a friend from out of town pulled up a Twitter account on her phone, @snufftastic. It belonged to a humorous motorcycle enthusiast and cop. She lives in the area, she said, asking if my friend and I knew her.

“I absolutely know who that is,” I said.

other-wordsThe Twitter account was shocking. There was “Missy” tweeting about he daily grind of working for the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department. There were photos of her at the shooting range and a photo of her giant walkie-talkie. There were tweets about “the academy” and “the new morgue.”

There was a comment about her working during Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration on “ninja assignment,” and a remark that reading Miranda rights isn’t actually required.

A “snuff007″ Tumblr account attached to her fan fiction site had a comment about her not dressing for “plainclothes assignments” but wearing “what would blend in.”

Spying on protesters is the worst violation of our freedom. It not only violates the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and right to privacy of the people who are being spied upon, it makes us crazed and paranoid.

One person who turns out to be an infiltrator can keep us pointing fingers at each other for years. It makes us distrustful of people we don’t know, instead of finding safe ways to welcome newcomers and building vibrant social movements.

Distrust can mean slow death for a group of any kind.

I started warning my friends that “Missy” was a cop. Most weren’t surprised. But could she be a police officer attending protests in her free time, I wondered? After all, like all of us, police have the right to protest. Then I noticed a Tweet that complained of working outdoors on March 21, when I saw her at a march to protest the Keystone XL pipeline.

On April 20, she complained again of working outdoors, and she showed up at a protest outside the World Bank.

That’s when I arranged a meeting with Jeffrey Light, a lawyer who works on police misconduct issues. Light brought in another lawyer, Sean Canavan, and the National Lawyers Guild. With the involvement of United Students Against Sweatshops, Light and Canavan filed the case. They also dug up information on “Missy’s” true identity. They concluded that she was an officer named Nicole Rizzi who joined the D.C. police force in 2003.

In early August, we filed a suit against the District of Columbia seeking an injunction to stop this police spying and to find out more about its infiltration program.

It’s the first case that promises to prove that the police systematically spies on activists in our nation’s capital.

Now that we’ve blown officer Nicole Rizzi’s cover, “Missy” won’t be snooping on any more protests. But our First Amendment rights will continue to be thrown under the bus unless we fight to defend them.

Lacy MacAuley is a grassroots activist in Washington and the Institute for Policy Studies media manager.

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17 Responses for “Not So Fast Missy: How a Protester Exposed an Undercover Cop”

  1. A.S.F. says:

    Maybe Nicole can go back to reading her Wonder Woman comic books and impersonating her in the privacy and comfort of her own apartment, behind closed doors, hopefully (or maybe she can join the security detail of Michele Bachmann’s campaign or, even better, move to Arizona and work for Sheriff Joe.)

  2. Sherry Epley says:

    Excellent article and an excellent point about standing up for our constitutional rights. There are many more than just the second amendment.

  3. RNYPD says:

    So “activists” should just be trusted and allowed to carry on in secrecy right here in our capitol? Yeah right!

    • Ayn Rand's Spleen says:

      I understand your concerns, it is a travesty that the American People would have the gall to organize and protest for a cause that they believe in. Certainly, the police should do everything they possibly can to break up this rabble, protests of any sort are definitely not constitutional and present a misuse of freedom that the American People.

    • Ray Thorne says:

      “Spying on protesters is the worst violation of our freedom.”

      Get real lady.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      Yea, where do they think they are, America? Substitute “Citizen” for “Activist”, because that’s what they are.

      Boy, I bet you miss pushing people around since you retired, huh?

    • Anita says:

      I’m sure that includes “secret” Koch brothers conclaves and Tea Party caucuses, so don’t panic.

  4. tom jack says:

    I for one see nothing wrong with her undercover work. I want police to infiltrate gangs, and yes protesters. They are there to protect us. If any crime has been committed, it was committed by you Ms .McAuley.

  5. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    While I don’t like the idea of cops posing as protesters, I’m not sure it’s actually illegal. What law are they alleging the Metropolitan PD broke? The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, but I think it’s a stretch to say that passive monitoring of assembly and speech by the Government therefore infringes upon it. The right to free speech doesn’t guarantee you can speak freely to only those who you want to hear it. As far as the right to privacy, does the author really think she has an expectation of privacy when she’s out protesting in the public square, the sole purpose of which is to bring attention to her cause?

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  6. jane says:

    Hey, anyone can be there, not just your bunch. You know, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” and all that doesn’t just mean your little crowd.

    On another note, she was stupid for posting/writing online – she blew her cover.

    But then, how do we know this story is true? It could be a work of fiction.

  7. Anonymous says:

    So “activists” should just be trusted and allowed to carry on in secrecy right here in our capitol? Yeah right!

    WELL SAID!!!

  8. Nancy N. says:

    All of you who think this is alright ought to consider moving to the other societies where this sort of spying on citizens is considered acceptable – like China, Cuba, Iran….then tell me again how much you enjoy having the police spying on peaceful, legal political activities.

  9. JR says:

    There are no apparent legal misconduct at all in this situation. As unnerving as it apparently has been for at least Ms. MacAuley.

    She writes, “Spying on protesters is the worst violation of our freedom. It not only violates the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and right to privacy of the people who are being spied upon, it makes us crazed and paranoid.”

    Using the word “spy” implies some back-room scullery and hushed conversations over bourbon and cigarettes. But, what she goes on to describe does not match that, rather, it presents a very public activity. The two identifiable events — a march protesting the Keystone pipeline, and a protest outside the World Bank — both occur in public locations. The courts have always upheld a right to privacy … on your own property, and beyond the scope of what is visible from the public view. For instance, I have no assertable right to privacy while in my front yard, within plain view of the public street. This absolutely applies to any public arena. Therefore, activists have no right to privacy while conducting public protests on, given that it is Washington D.C, likely public property.

    Next is the assertion that undercover police officers violate the rights to speech and assemble. As far as I can tell, the officer at no time made an arrest, or ordered the protesters to move or otherwise disperse. Otherwise it would not take shoddy Twitter posts to disclose the officer’s identity. So no activity has been made to hamper the protests.

    Finally, only you can make yourself crazy, but I think that has already happened.

    • A.S.F. says:

      You must have loved Nixon when he was in office. He and his gang liked to infiltrate and eavesdrop on people they liked to define as “subversive” forces too. Look how well THAT turned out for our country.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      Using the word “spy” implies… implies a no good undercover piece of shit who gets a Government paycheck and the worlds finest insurance program and retirement package to pretend to be your ally while she rats your ass out for having the balls to exercise your rights our forefathers fought for in America today. And I’m so fucking pissed at all of you nutless sheep commenting here sticking up for this fascist tool bitch and talking down to the person who loves her country enough to put her ass on the line for her beliefs.

      I hope all of you who are running your law n’ order mouths here live long enough to see your stupid ass children suffer and starve with a boot on their throats in the hell you are enabling with your phony patriotic bullshit opinions that are nothing more than the gargling of the sweat off the balls of your rulers.

      All of you should fuck off and die for your cowardice and stupidity. Your opinion here is something that I cannot possibly try to give an ounce of wit to because it does not remotely deserve it any more than you deserve the air you’re breathing, because it could be definitely better used by somebody else.

      …and that’s all I got to say about that.

  10. V says:

    Keep your friends close…And your enemies CLOSER !!!!! America use to EXECUTE spies. Then they themselves became what they feared the most.

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