In response to complaints from a local anti-Confederate monuments group concerned that its members may have been spied on by a private security firm working for the city, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration said Friday that the security firm did not target groups from the New Orleans area on either side of the debate over removing four Jim Crow-era monuments.
However, Tyronne Walker, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s communications director, would not go into detail about who was surveilled by the Trident Response Group, a Dallas-based firm hired to provide security and monitoring during the removals and associated protests.
Walker's comments came after Take 'Em Down NOLA, an activist organization calling for the removal of all statues in New Orleans of Confederate leaders and slave owners, questioned whether the group's members had been monitored.
“Outside groups who were publicly and privately inciting violence were absolutely monitored. ... We had no intelligence that Take 'Em Down NOLA or any other local groups were inciting violence,” Walker said. “The people that were attempting to incite violence were the ones that were targeted.”
As a sign that Take 'Em Down was not considered a threat, Walker said the city had not hired security contractors for the group's previous marches and had worked with it even though it did not have a permit for its protests.
Malcolm Suber, an organizer with Take 'Em Down, said the city still needs to fully explain what Trident was doing, pointing to previous comments from the administration that Trident infiltrated organizations on both sides.
“As far as I know, people that were demonstrating with us — everyone was local. There were no out-of-town people at all,” Suber said. “They can’t have it both ways. Who were they talking about?”
Landrieu’s administration hired Trident before the removal of statues of Confederate heroes Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard last month, paying the firm about $710,000 in public money for a range of security-related services including monitoring social media posts and infiltrating groups believed to be planning violence during the removals and a Take 'Em Down protest march to Lee Circle on May 7.
The firm also received about $400,000 to provide backup equipment and workers used in the removals. The city said that money came from anonymous donors.
It cost a total of $2.1 million — half of it public money — to take down four Jim Crow-era m…
Trident’s involvement was revealed last week when the city provided an accounting of the $2.1 million in public and private money spent on the removal of the three statues and a monument to the Battle of Liberty Place.
City officials have said the firm’s hiring was necessary in light of credible threats of violence aimed at disrupting the removals.
The threats included calls from right-wing groups and white supremacists to “defend” the Lee statue during the Take 'Em Down protest on May 7. Pro-monuments people from around the country surrounded the statue’s column wearing body armor and armed with clubs.
Left-wing groups had put out similar calls, and some anti-monument protesters had harassed and intimidated supporters earlier at the Jefferson Davis statue, but there were no anti-monument protesters visibly prepared for fighting at the May 7 protest.
On one side stood armored protesters with shields, poles and Confederate and white nationali…
Information from Trident apparently played a role in how the events of the Lee Circle protest played out. Officials had issued a warning the night before that groups were spoiling for a fight, and they reached out to Take 'Em Down to suggest the group change the route of its march from Congo Square to avoid running into some of the out-of-town monument supporters.
“We agreed to do that because we knew that everyone was looking for a confrontation, and we were not looking for a confrontation,” Suber said.
But Suber said it was “not credible at all” that the city was not also spying on his organization.
“We want to know exactly who (they were spying on) and what kind of surveillance were they doing,” he said. “We want to know exactly what Trident was hired to do.”