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USPS spied on ‘MAGA’ protesters, right-wing groups, gun rights activists, documents show

USPS truck parked in Jersey City, Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. (Reena Rose Sibayan | The Jersey Journal/TNS)
September 23, 2022

The U.S Postal Service spied on ‘MAGA’ protesters, gun rights activists and other right-wing groups between late 2020 and early 2021, according to records obtained by The Washington Times. ‘MAGA’ is former President Donald Trump’s slogan meaning “Make America Great Again.”

Patrick Eddington, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, obtained heavily redacted files detailing the USPS’ surveillance activities from September 2020 to April 2021, which included a secret effort to surveil social media known as the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP).

The USPS monitored the activities of gun rights activists, protesters planning to demonstrate against police in Louisville, Kentucky after the shooting of Breonna Taylor, and right-wing groups traveling to Washington, D.C. after the 2020 election. 

Eddington said the documents demonstrate the USPS’ surveillance capabilities. 

“The Postal Service cannot reliably deliver mail to my own home, yet they can find the money and people to effectively digitally spy at scale, including on Americans engaged in First Amendment-protected activities,” Eddington said. 

A redacted bulletin obtained by Eddington through the Freedom of Information Act also detailed how postal inspectors tracked “peaceful armed protests” by demonstrators at a Second Amendment rally in Virginia last year.

“The gathering lasted approximately two hours, with members identifying themselves as affiliates of the Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois and Last Sons of Liberty,” the USPS’ bulletin said. “Counter-protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement also attended. With heavy law enforcement presence the demonstrations stayed peaceful in nature.” 

Another bulletin from the iCOP in September of 2020 noted that Louisville, Kentucky was under a state of emergency due to the investigation of Breonna Taylor’s shooting. 

The social media monitoring program also warned that a “Million MAGA March” scheduled for Nov. 14, 2020, would cause traffic issues in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, adding that an announcement for the event was found on a “conservative forum.”

Analysts working on the iCOP also monitored social media platforms Parler and Wimkin, other bulletins show. The USPS determined that Parler’s deplatforming impacted protests planned for President Joe Biden’s inauguration; postal inspectors compared the disrupted protests to the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol. 

Some of the USPS bulletins included disclaimers that they are not trying to infringe on Americans’ constitutional rights and that the purpose of the surveillance was to support law enforcement. 

When asked about why the USPS surveilling Americans, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service said its inspectors are federal law enforcement officers who work to protect USPS employees, infrastructure and customers. 

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service occasionally reviews publicly available information in order to assess potential safety or security threats to Postal Service employees, facilities, operations and infrastructure,” the agency said in a statement.