Carlos Montes, 'Brown Berets' Latino Activist, Believes SWAT Raid of His L.A. County Home Was Front for FBI Investigation
On May 17 at 5 a.m., the L.A. County Sheriff's Department upended the Alhambra home of 1960s Latino-rights legend Carlos Montes (still kickin' at 63 years old), shattering his front door and seizing his computer, cell phones and activist files -- a raid that slipped by media at the time.
"I was totally asleep. And then I hear this loud noise and crashing at my front door," he told reporters outside the Alhambra courthouse on June 16. "I look from my bedroom and I see people with helmets, guns up at their shoulders, you know, yelling."
Not an unfamiliar scene...
... for the guy who fought off LAPD officers during made-for-TV East L.A. school walkouts in the '60s, and later evaded authorities while organizing rogue labor protests on the run in Mexico.
Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore tells KPCC that this May, the SWAT team swooped in on a tip that Montes, a convicted felon, was hoarding a 12-gauge shotgun in his home. And indeed he was, as has been revealed by the District Attorney since his wee-hour arrest:
Prosecutors also said he lied when he bought his shotgun at Big Five Sporting Goods two years ago because he didn't admit he was a felon. He faces a total of six felony charges. Officials have moved the case -- originally filed at the L.A. County courthouse in Alhambra -- to the downtown courthouse that handles higher-profile cases.
For many observers, sympathy has dried up for the former leader of the Brown Berets (the Black Panthers of the fairer minority). After all, he's no mild-mannered Cesar Chavez. Quite oppositely, he's a modern-day Che: mouthy, charged, socialist to the death and suspicious of anything authority-related. Montes recently served as conspiracy-crazed spokesman for the late Manuel Jamines, who the LAPD shot dead after he allegedly lunged at officers with a knife. Their use of force has since been proven justified by the police commission.
But of all the things law-enforcement agencies have tried to arrest Montes for since the moment he stepped out the barrio (including arson and other forms of violent protest), the only serious charge that stuck was a felony for assaulting an officer in 1969 -- with a can of Coke.
For that, he's now a "convicted felon," and isn't allowed to own a gun. Hence the SWAT raid in May, and the six felony charges he's now facing at the downtown L.A. courthouse. (Yesterday, he entered a "not guilty" plea.)
On June 16, Montes was greeted in Alhambra by a crowd of peace activists, a protest indymedia calls "one of many being held across the country for Mr Montes in the wake of new expansive FBI rules and an apparent new surge of repression against American anti-war and internationalist activism."
Here's his latest conspiracy theory, via the Pasadena Star-News::
Montes said authorities looked through his files and rifled through pictures of his anti-war organizing. Some of the documents detailed trips to Columbia others included immigration rights paperwork.
While he was waiting in the back of a patrol car Montes said he was approached by an FBI agent in plain clothes who asked him about the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, a Marxist-Lenninst group with a post office box in Chicago.
He believes the FBI was investigating him after he participated in a anti-war demonstration at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Though the FBI won't confirm or deny a terror probe into Montes, he might be onto something. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sergeant Miguel Mejia told the Star-News that "the investigation into his activities was led by either the Sheriff's terrorist unit or the emergency operations bureau, working with the FBI." And an October 2010 search warrant for the Freedom Road offices in Minneapolis lists Montes' name among the group's affiliates.
It is pretty hard to believe the Sheriff's Department would have nothing better to do at 5 a.m. than take down some over-glorified rebel of yesteryear for possessing a single firearm.
Accordingly, Montes and his supporters are totally in their element right now:
Like the illegal immigrants currently serving as guinea pigs for freaky new FBI investigation tactics, Montes makes the perfect federal target: His only followers are radical diehards, and it's difficult to know what we can believe, after decades of watching him cry wolf.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.