[Hpn] NY Times: "Direct action gets the goods''
Fri, 20 Aug 2004 09:59:53 -0700
August 20, 2004
Anarchists Emerge as the Convention's Wild Card
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
heir reputation precedes them.
Self-described anarchists were blamed for inciting the violence in Seattle
at a 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization in which 500 people were
arrested and several businesses damaged. They have been accused by the
police of throwing rocks or threatening officers with liquid substances at
demonstrations against the Republican convention in Philadelphia in 2000 and
at an economic summit meeting in Miami last year.
Now, as the Republican National Convention is about to begin in New York
City, the police are bracing for the actions of this loosely aligned and
often shadowy group of protesters, and consider them the great unknown
factor in whether the demonstrations remain under control or veer toward
violence and disorder.
The city is trying everything from giving protesters discount coupons to
using an army of police officers to deter violent protests, and police
officials said yesterday that they had identified about 60 people as
militants, some of whom were arrested for violent acts in past protests.
In a show of force yesterday, the department rolled out its arsenal to show
reporters the techniques it is using during convention week.
But even anarchists who are against violence are warning of trouble and
admit that they are planning acts of civil disobedience, including blocking
intersections, staging "chaos on Broadway'' when the delegates attend
Broadway shows on Sunday night, holding a "die-in'' near Madison Square
Garden, sneaking into parties and other functions and generally harassing
the 4,853 delegates and alternate delegates.
"This is where much of the real business happens, the business of buying and
selling our laws to the highest corporate bidder,'' said a message on an
Internet discussion list on Tuesday that included the sites of several
corporate parties planned during the convention. "Excellent targets for
street actions! Please spread the word.''
Jamie Moran, the 30-year-old anarchist from Brooklyn who, with a few
colleagues, operates the RNC Not Welcome Web site and discussion list, makes
a point of casting himself as the moderate face of the movement. He calls
police suggestions that they may be attacked "fear-mongering'' and has urged
his fellow anarchists to cast off their dark clothing and body piercings in
favor of more conventional attire, if only to blend in better.
Like many anarchists, he disavows violence against people. But things get
murkier when it comes to property, particularly property belonging to
perceived corporate enemies.
"I never cry over the destruction of corporate property,'' Mr. Moran said in
an interview. But "that doesn't always mean it's strategic. It can be
indiscriminate and un-strategic.''
Sarah Strombeck, 27, is one self-described anarchist who says she is fed up
with the disruptive techniques of her colleagues. She said she was jailed
for two weeks after being arrested during a demonstration at the 2000
Republican convention, and says protests have largely been ineffective.
"They cost the movement so much,'' Ms. Strombeck said. "People just get beat
up. Some don't want to put the time and effort into community organizing''
advocating for better schools, health care and fair wages.
Part of the difficulty in discerning which ideas floated for disruptions are
real and which are not is that the anarchists, a subculture that includes
young people disaffected with political parties and graying adherents to a
political philosophy at least a century old, are far from a monolithic
group. They pride themselves on organizing in collectives and "affinity
groups" that operate autonomously and make decisions by consensus, eschewing
hierarchy or any whiff of commands from on high.
Chief John Timoney of the Miami police, whose officers scuffled with
anarchists during a World Trade Organization meeting last year and in 2000
during the Republican convention when he headed the Philadelphia police,
said they pose a number of challenges to the authorities. He said in many
cases the violence can be attributed to a small, hardcore band that moves
from city to city, instigating violence.
"These guys are pretty sophisticated and just wait for opportunities,'' said
Chief Timoney, who as a ranking officer with the New York police confronted
anarchist demonstrations during the 1992 Democratic convention. "They are
going to look to provoke the cops. It's all a game.''
With an obscenity, he dismissed allegations that his officers needlessly
roughed up demonstrators in Miami, saying anarchists and other
anti-authoritarians had repeatedly provoked the police.
In Philadelphia, he said, groups of anarchists simply ran down streets,
prompting officers to pursue them and creating the impression of chaos. In
Miami, he said, they swarmed around officers seeking to arrest troublemakers
during otherwise peaceful demonstrations.
Police officials typically send undercover operatives to gatherings of
suspected protesters and watch postings on the Internet, but they usually do
not know exactly what is planned until the moment it happens. In addition,
some of it could be idle chatter or disinformation: Internet plans to throw
acid at officers, for example, were not fulfilled in Miami, nor was a plot
to damage news media trucks fulfilled at the Democratic National Convention
in Boston last month.
"At the end of the day there is too much information,'' he said. "You need
be able to decipher the wheat from the chaff and it is not clear. You can't
overreact to the Internet because it can be a 16-year-old kid in Chicago
Paul J. Browne, a police spokesman, however, said the police were taking all
"We're taking the wheat as wheat,'' he said, adding that the threat posed by
anarchists "is nothing the N.Y.P.D. can't handle.''
Two years ago, at the World Economic Forum in Manhattan, the police thwarted
many attempts to disrupt traffic and vandalize property, making 150 arrests
and keeping the violence to a minimum. Some protesters said afterward that
they had largely given the city a pass in deference to the Sept. 11 attack.
But New York may represent a different challenge given the passions over the
war in Iraq and the fact that the city has its own vibrant, if fragmented,
There are "Anarchist Soccer" games on Sundays in Tompkins Square Park,
Anarchist People of Color picnics in Central Park, salons and even a small
makeshift bookstore in the East Village called Mayday almost entirely
devoted to anarchism.
Definitions vary but most see anti-capitalism as the bedrock of their
ideology. They question and disdain authority and hierarchal government as
corrupting and intrusive in personal affairs. "Neither slave nor master'' is
a common slogan.
Some are zealots; others see anarchism as a way to raise awareness of
problems like hunger, greed and materialism.
"My guiding vision is a society without a state, but I am not necessarily a
fundamentalist,'' said Meddle Bolger, 29, an anarchist from Sonoma County in
California, who has led several San Francisco Bay Area demonstrations as
part of Green Bloc, an anarchist group with an environmental bent. He said
he is in New York now to take part in the Aug. 31 day of civil disobedience
and rehabilitate community gardens in the South Bronx.
Chuck Munson, a 39-year-old anarchist in Kansas who runs the anarchist site
infoshop.org, said he has observed more young people, particularly those
once drawn to the "do-it-yourself politics'' of the punk movement, drawn to
anarchism after the first Persian Gulf war and the fall of the Soviet Union.
After those events, "people saw the traditional radical left as not as
relevant any more,'' he said. "I think it opened up interest in anarchism.''
The 1999 Seattle protests, known in anarchist circles as "the battle in
Seattle,'' is now seen as a turning point. Many anarchists believe that,
despite any sullying of their reputation, it raised awareness of what they
consider the evils of global capitalism.
The standard mass marches of chanting slogans and waving signs, they
believe, hardly make as forceful a point.
"Direct action gets the goods,'' Mr. Moran, the Brooklynite, said.
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