Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton defended his organization's claim that the Department of Justice "actively worked to foment unrest" during the fiery pro-Trayvon Martin protests of 2012, speaking both with Fox News and TheBlaze on Thursday. In the interviews, he adamantly disagreed that the proof put forward is not conclusive.
Speaking on Fox, he said: "By their own admission, [the Department of Justice] went down to organize the protests...They would show up at these meetings with DOJ jackets and hats on looking more like stormtroopers than facilitators and peacekeepers."
"The idea that the Department of Justice was a mediating force here is false," he continued. "They were promoting the protests against Zimmerman."
People hold up signs and bags of Skittles candy during a rally in support of Trayvon Martin at Freedom Plaza in Washington, on Saturday, March 24, 2012. (Photo: AP)
Using documents obtained by a number of Freedom of Information Act requests*, Judicial Watch has claimed a little-known division of the Department of Justice called the Community Relations Service facilitated the explosive pro-Trayvon Martin protests, spending thousands "to train protestors throughout Florida.”
But as TheBlaze has pointed out, the new information that Judicial Watch presented (part of the story is from April 2012) doesn't seem to explicitly support those allegations. For example, when the CRS says it spent $1,142.84 to "work" the protests, it could mean that the CRS was supporting the protesters, but could also mean they were there to keep the peace, as defined in their stated mission, and as the DOJ told TheBlaze.
Additionally, the charge that the DOJ has admitted to "organizing" the protests appears to be a stretch. They admit to attending the rallies in an effort to keep the peace, in addition to "providing technical assistance to the City of Sanford, event organizers, and law enforcement agencies."
At one point, TheBlaze asked Fitton over the phone about a complaint by the DOJ that the organization is inaccurately quoting the documents it received.
The widely-read Judicial Watch press release says the CRS provided "support for protest deployment," but the CRS says the documents it provided say "interregional support." The distinction appears to indicate support for fellow CRS members, instead of support for the protesters.
Fitton told TheBlaze "We didn’t change anything."
But comparing the press release with the raw documents on his website, there does appear to be a discrepancy:
(Photo: Judicial Watch)
(Photo: DOJ Documents Obtained by FOIA by Judicial Watch)
But Fitton said that even if the word "interregional" is there, "as best one can understand a word like that...government speak...[it] suggests that the advocacy was even broader than around the Sanford area."
When asked what direct evidence they have that the CRS was in violation of its mission to keep the peace and prevent conflict, Fitton said: "It’s clear when they were down there, it went beyond what they were seeking reimbursement for -- they were directing and mediating between the entities that ultimately prosecuted, and those who wanted [Zimmerman] prosecuted. They weren’t mediating, for instance, on the side of the police chief. They didn’t mediate on behalf of the Zimmerman family."
It should be noted, though, that it isn't certain what interactions the CRS may have had with Zimmerman or the former police chief.
At one point, Fitton cited the police escort a number of protesters received (presumably arranged by the CRS) as proof of the CRS' support.
But police keep criminals safe behind an escort if there is a potential for conflict, TheBlaze noted. Does such an action mean they are supportive of criminals?
In response, Fitton pointed out that there are plenty of pro-life protesters engaged in potentially hairy situations, and the DOJ doesn't give them a police escort. In addition, he said that it is peculiar that the Department of Justice is involved, period, when the investigation is ongoing.
"It’s interesting that the Justice Department is conducting a law enforcement investigation while pretending to play referee," he said.
For video, you can watch Fitton's complete interview on Fox, below:
American citizens have learned a lot about their government over the past year, much of it quite disturbing. Even if the documents released by Judicial Watch can't conclusively prove wrongdoing, that doesn't mean that none exists.
However, when making allegations, the burden of proof rests on the accuser.
As it stands so far, Judicial Watch has produced new and noteworthy documents from the CRS' actions in 2012, in addition to audio you can listen to below from a meeting with the DOJ peacekeepers.
But so far, the evidence is not conclusive that the CRS actively worked to "foment" unrest.
Fitton said Judicial Watch will continue to work on the case, saying there "may be more material that we’ll be able to disclose or uncover, by keeping at it or by suing."
They're "happy to respond to the disinformation coming from the Justice Department," he said.
*Editor's note: In our original report, we reported that Judicial Watch gained the information from a singular FOIA request. Actually, the information was gleaned through many of them. We've corrected the information.