I took my sign to the table, looking at him, but he fixed his gaze on his companion, the photographer from the park. I sat down at the table and, obviously very uncomfortable at my arrival in the office, Kuettner avoided all acknowledgment of my presence. Though I had recognized the back of Kuettner's head and his jacket, there was no doubt it was he who was sitting in the office of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. First, Occupy Detroit, and now, MWRO. What was going on here?
As we sat there, people came and went, because the office was buzzing with activity. The Central United Methodist Church had offered its facilities to Occupy Detroit protesters, and many people from the park had been using the restrooms and the kitchen. It flashed through my mind that Kuettner and his companions were here for a break from the protest, but I was still left with my questions from the park: Why was Evan Thomas Kuettner, president of the Warren Tea Party and known for his associations with white supremacist groups, at Occupy Detroit? There wasn't anything in the slightest there that related to his politics and views. If he wasn't a participant, what was he?
I broke the silence at the table. I said, "I've been trying to tell people why you're here at Occupy Detroit, but I don't know what to say." There was no response or even acknowledgment from the three.
Maureen had come into the office, so I called out, "Maureen, did you know that you have the president of the Warren Tea Party sitting in your office?" She acted as if this was nothing, replying that she'd talked to the head of the Willow Run Tea Party the night before as a panel member on Fox News' "Let It Rip."
I turned back to Kuettner and stated, "You're on the Michigan Racism Watch Website." This got a reaction. He snapped, "That Website's been taken down." (This turned out to be true, but I had archived data from it sometime before.)
Now I had nothing to say, so I pulled out my camera and took a picture of my tablemates. The photographer pulled her carry-on-sized bag up onto the table and blocked herself with it before I got the picture. If he wasn't happy before that I was there, he definitely wasn't now.
I got up from the table and went back out into the hall to talk to Marie. She'd heard my announcement, and she asked me if Kuettner was KKK. I replied that I didn't know. I asked Marie if she knew why he and the women were there, and she said she didn't.
Soon, the three came out from the office single file--the two women first and then Kuettner--as if it was choreographed. It seemed to me as if it was a defensive arrangement. Marie asked, "Is that him?" and I said yes.
She got up from her table and took some MWRO literature over to them, especially about the Resurrection march for the DTE Energy protests every Thursday. She had to run to catch up to them. While Marie handed out the literature, I took more pictures. I had to document this, and here was my opportunity.
Kuettner was sizzling mad as he took the fliers from Marie, but I wasn't feeling too great myself. Perhaps they left so quickly because they thought I had gone to get security, or maybe because I'd outed them they thought it was time to leave. He seemed angry enough to have spouted blazing fire if he'd spoken. Seconds later they were in the elevator and gone.
I spoke to the women I know there after they left, especially wanting to know if Kuettner had said who he was when he came in. I felt that in his position--certainly no supporter of welfare, let alone welfare rights--that he should have stated who he was, since he's a public figure, and what he was doing there.
Marie and Gwen, another volunteer, were disturbed about it, too, but Maureen took it all in stride, certainly having had worse encounters in her career. She was worried about me, because I was so upset. She said that now that she knows what he looks like, she can say hello the next time he came in.
We speculated some more, but reached no conclusions. But I am left still uneasy about the whole thing. I've since heard about other Tea Party people at Occupy protests, and I worry that they are trying to infiltrate the movement to discredit it. I wrote up a report about this incident, and I posted it as well as emailing it to my activist list.
I also heard Joe DiSano, from Main Street Strategies, on the Tony Trupiano show via podcast a few nights ago, and their discussion included the mention of Kuettner's being at Occupy Detroit. DiSano said he knows Kuettner and that he's a "troubled" young man. But he made a sobering prediction: The right wing is infiltrating the Occupy movement, under the guise of being protesters. They'll make trouble when they're embedded, he said, and this could too easily lead to violence.
I may have stumbled over the tip of an iceberg.
Leona McElevene serves as the PDA Michigan State Coordinator. Edited by Roberta McNair.
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