Colorado Rights Blog



  • Executive Director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley spoke at the marriage equality rally on March 3rd

  • Leisel Kemp, whose brother Jason was killed by CSP after they entered his home without a warrant, spoke at the 2013 Bill of Rights Dinner about the ACLU’s legal advocacy on behalf of her family.

  • Out of Sight, Out of Mind is an original short film from the ACLU of Colorado about a man who has spent 17 years in solitary confinement and now suffers from debilitating mental illness.

What is a “Criminal Extremist”?

The Spy Files revealed that the Denver Police Department’s Intelligence Unit was falsely labeling many peaceful activist organizations as “criminal extremist.” The groups labeled as “criminal extremist” include the American Friends Service Committee, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), and the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

During the ensuring controversy, the Denver Police Department never provided a definition of the term “criminal extremist,” nor did it explain the meaning of the label or the consequences to organizations who are labeled as “criminal extremist” in the intelligence files.

At one point, police department officials blamed the use of the “criminal extremist” label on the Orion computer software that the Intelligence Unit began using in 2000. The database software provides a field labeled “group type.” A pull-down menu permits the data entry worker to select from a list of possible group types, which include “criminal extremist,” “civil disobedience,” “protest group,” “anti-government,” “militia,” and “outlaw biker.”

Documents obtained by the ACLU demonstrate, however, that labels such as “extremist” and “criminal extremist” did not originate with the Orion software. The terms are widely used among law enforcement agencies that collect and disseminate political intelligence.

Denver is a member, for example, of the Law Enforcement Intelligence Network (LEIU). The Constitution and Bylaws of the LEIU state that it exists “to promote the gathering, recording and exchange of confidential information not available through regular police channels” and “to establish a central clearinghouse for information regarding organized crime and terrorism and to provide for its dissemination to the membership.” The bylaws list “criminal extremists” as one of the categories of groups that are the subject of LEIU intelligence collection and dissemination.

The term “extremist” is frequently used by intelligence officers to describe the targets of their politically-motivated intelligence gathering. For example, the Denver Police Department’s Intelligence unit participates in the Multi-Agency Group Intelligence Conference (MAGIC), which describes its meetings as “limited to sharing of information on extremist groups (left-wing, right-wing, foreign).” Although MAGIC provides no definition of the term “extremist,” agendas for its meetings reveal plans to discuss “environmentalists,” and “the Green Movement,” as well as the American Friends Service Committee and Amnesty International.

In 2002, the FBI announced that numerous categories of “extremists” had been added to a computer database known as the Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File. The FBI memo referred to categories such as “black extremist,” “animal rights extremist,” “environmental extremist,” “domestic extremist,” “radical Islamic extremist,” “European origin extremist,” “Latin origin extremist,” and “Asian origin extremist.” No definitions were provided in the FBI memo.

In a declaration submitted in connection with the Spy Files case, a Denver police department intelligence officer who works full time for the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force states that he instructs Denver police officers about the “criminal protest tactics” employed what what he refers to as “protest extremists.

During the Spy Files litigation, none of the Denver police officers deposed by the ACLU were able to supply a definition of the term “extremist” or “criminal extremist.”