Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Conventional clampdown

I watched more of the Democratic convention than I've done since 1972, on the blessedly unfiltered C-SPAN. But I didn't see much coverage, online or off, of what was happening outside the hall in the streets.

Before the Denver convention got going, we were given a look at the chilling warehouse (video) in which the security forces planned to hold people they arrested. But how many people ended up there, and what took place?

As has become sadly routine, a big area around the convention hall was sealed off to the uncredentialed, and protest was supposed to be channeled into a distant, penned-in "Free Speech" area. Helicopters droned above, and the police were out in force, in riot gear.

Iraq Veterans Against the War did the most effective job of challenging that b.s. The march they led was covered surprisingly well by the Denver Post. I'm a little ticked off that none of the bloggers who went to the convention reported on it (none that I saw, anyway; correction invited).

Clearly, the cops were spoiling for a fight. At one event, they slammed a CodePink member to the ground (video); CP's suing. And they responded to non-permitted demos with preemptive gusto: A second Post article provides the account of a mass arrest, in which the police pepper-sprayed more than a hundred people out of one area, then pinned them in for two hours before hauling them off to the warehouse. There, those arrested weren't allowed to make phone calls unless they pled guilty to charges, and weren't given access to lawyers, despite teams of ACLU and National Lawyers Guild attorneys waiting at the site for the purpose.

An ABC cameraman was arrested and charged for taking pictures on a public sidewalk of Senators coming and going from meetings with big donors and lobbyists, pretty clearly at the behest of Dems inside.

That was the worst of Denver, which was bad enough.

The Twin Cities clampdown over the Labor Day weekend was pure Minority Report.

Combined forces of the Ramsey County Sherrif's Dept., the FBI, and the ATF launched raids on the Convergence Center and four houses in residential neighborhoods. They surrounded the buildings, came in with guns drawn, cuffed everyone, and seized laptops, cell phones, cameras, and literature. In a press conference on Saturday afternoon, they bragged of using infilitrators and justified the clampdown on the basis of information from their spies. They stopped three IWitness video volunteers who were biking in from the airport and took their equipment. They commandeered an environmental group's bus and left everyone riding in it on the highway. They forced everyone in another house outdoors at two in the morning while they tore apart a vehicle parked nearby, "looking for explosives." Many were detained, but only a few arrested; they were charged with conspiracy to riot. Shades of Chicago!

Undaunted, a fine collection of groups hit the streets peacefully as planned Monday; see if the pics don't warm your heart as much as they did mine. However, there were also a hundred or so roamers, many masked, who left a wake of broken windows, smashed-up cop cars, and street-blocking debris. Arrests are already at 284, so the provocateurs are accomplishing their mission: legitimize the arrest of anyone else on the street. Amy Goodman and two Democracy Now crew members were arrested and sprung, as was an AP photographer. Charges have been much heavier than in Denver: 130 felonies (including against the DN producers) along with hundreds of misdemeanors (including Goodman; the AP guy was not charged).

John Emerson has the best collection of links.

All of these tactics were already being deployed against the anti-corp-globalization protestors in 2000 and early 2001, especially in Miami and D.C. But since then, the "war on terra" has brought a massive buildup of paramilitary equipment, spying capabilities, and Fusion Centers that amplify the power of a podunk sheriff by uniting it with the federal arsenal. The war mentality has both multiplied the weapons at their disposal and normalized this kind of military operation on our city streets.

The counter-terror targets: us. We commit conspiracy to riot by planning to assemble. Sure, you might insist it will be peaceable, but the security forces' infiltrators have a different story to tell. And look: guys in masks smashing stuff, proving it's just like they say.

Off we go.
Update: 3:50 pm, 3 Sept - Cross-posted to A Tiny Revolution with some additional links and editing, and update on Tuesday repression. Added to this post: Denver arrest of ABC cameraman and Saturday police press conference in Minnesota.

Update 2: 2:15 pm, 4 Sept - As I noted in the ATR version of the post, this kind of aggressive "security" display is guaranteed by the $50 million grant each convention city is awarded. Pacifica has a breakdown of what the money was spent on in Minnesota (Denver has not publicly accounted for its spending). What caught my eye: $2 million for a closed-circuit TV system and many more downtown security cameras. This is an echo of the phenomenon Naomi Klein reported in Beijing: state surveillance and control put in place for a one-time event that ratchets up control forever after. Thomas Nephew makes the Beijing connection and passes along more detail on the Tuesday police attacks.

Update 3: 11:45 am, 6 Sept - In all, 818 people were arrested during the Republican convention week, close to 400 of them the last night of the convention. Almost all of those were ticketed and released. The number of felony charges (reported by St. Paul police chief on Tuesday as 120) has apparently fallen to 16, with 6 more possible. Eight of those are against Republican Welcoming Committee organizers, for conspiracy to riot to further terrorism, a charge under Minnesota's state version of the Patriot Act passed in 2002. (Wonder how many other states have these?)
Image: St. Paul riot police, Glenn Greenwald



At 7:29 PM, September 02, 2008, Blogger danps said...

"We commit conspiracy to riot by planning to assemble."

Outstanding, Nell.

At 10:23 AM, September 03, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your point about agents provocateurs is an important one.

From Wikipedia:
"Agents provocateurs [have often been] used against political opponents. It has been documented that provocateurs deliberately carry out or seek to incite counter-productive acts, in order to foster public disdain for the group and provide a pretext for aggression against the group; and to worsen the punishments its members are liable for."

This profoundly unAmerican tactic is one against which there is no defense other than exposure, but where is the so-called "liberal" media? There's simply no logic in associating peaceful protestors in bermuda shorts and sandals with vandals wearing black masks. There's a story here for some enterprising reporter, but I doubt it would ever be told in any mainstream venue.

At 4:03 PM, September 03, 2008, Blogger Nell said...

Exposure's the best tactic, but that's made much more difficult by the existence of a sector of activists who insist on tactics that provide cover for provocateurs, including wearing bandana masks and/or body shields and helmets.

This debate flared at the Seattle demos in 1999 and has never been resolved. It's time to have it again, calmly and with an absolute minimum of mutual recriminations.

At 4:36 PM, September 03, 2008, Blogger Nell said...

My favorite scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail involves the phenomenon in question.

Colleagues in an organization I worked with in the 1980s used to repeat Michael Palin's tag line here whenever these issues would crop up around demonstrations: "Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system!"

At 4:37 PM, September 03, 2008, Blogger Nell said...

Screwed up the Python link: it's here.

At 11:45 PM, September 17, 2008, Blogger janinsanfran said...

My employment took me to St. Paul over last weekend. My friends who I stayed with were busy organizing a protest of the RNC police state at a fundraiser for St. Paul's mayor. This is a tiny city; the political class all know each other, so this was significant in that people had to go face to face up against people they knew. Picture here.


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