Portland Mercury on anarchist tension

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Portland Mercury. Aug 1:

Anarchist Threat or Just a Bunch of Kids Breaking Stuff?
by Nathan Gilles

Today, the Mercury published a story on the recent FBI raids carried out on Portland activists. As Sarah reported earlier, the police were looking for all things “anarchist” including, “anarchist literature” flags, and—what else?—lots and lots of black clothing. This isn’t the first time in recent months law enforcement has gotten worked up over “anarchists.” Portland cops had their concerns about capital ‘A’ “Anarchists” running amuck during Occupy Portland protests. And during the recent Seattle May Day marches, the windows of a federal courthouse, a Nike store, and an American Apparel were busted by kids dressed as Black Bloc anarchists, prompting the Seattle police to carry out raids against these would-be anarchists, raids that might have lead the FBI to Portland. But are these kids actually a threat to anything other than storefronts? And—regardless of how much they might piss off older more disciplined activists—do these “anarchists” represent a larger threat the FBI has labeled “terrorist”, or are these just a bunch of pissed off kids?

In the FBI’s defense, some recent anarchist activity has been a little scary. In May this year, the FBI targeted several self-proclaimed anarchists, including a group in Chicago plotting to blow up Obama’s reelection headquarters. The cops, working closely with the bureau, found Molotov cocktails, and preliminary reports show the anarchists intended to hurt people as well as property. Weeks earlier in Ohio, the FBI arrested several anarchists associated with Occupy. These anarchists were plotting to blow up a bridge, but like Portland’s own “Christmas Tree Bomber,” Mohamed Mohamud, there weren’t any real bombs, only look-a-likes provided by an undercover agent. But the anarchists did—so to speak—pull the fake trigger, so the case against them doesn’t look good.

However the bureau has also spied on some pretty harmless folks as well.

In one New York Times story, the anarchists turned out to be nothing more than your run-of-the-mill activists. And spying on activists isn’t a new thing for the bureau.

In the 60s, as part of its infamous COINTELPRO, the FBI spied on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the NAACP, and kids in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) among others. But following this prolonged red scare, for the most part, the left fell off the FBI’s radar.

During the early 90s, FBI terrorism reports show the bureau was investigating Islamic extremists, Puerto Rican nationals, and homegrown, hillbilly, rightwing, nut jobs like Timothy McVeigh. But the left wasn’t on the radar because, well, they weren’t destroying stuff. Then in 1998, came the Oregon-based Earth Liberation Front (ELF). That year’s FBI terrorism report shows the fiery wreckage of a Vail Colorado resort the tree-loving group torched to protest the resort’s expansion into national forest land.

The FBI labeled the Vail inferno “terrorism,” and ELF members “terrorists.” The media labeled the group “eco-terrorists.” And although “eco-arson” might be more appropriate—the group targeted property, not people—the label stuck. And so with John Lockean logic the FBI effectively classified politically motivated destruction of property as terrorism. And it worked. In the courts, following a series of high profile arrests and trials, several ELF members were convicted of terrorism, thanks to an obscure law put in place following the first World Trade Center attack and the Oklahoma City bombing.

Now the FBI wants to stick the label “terrorist” on the nation’s anarchists. The first instance in recent memory was probably in 1999, when the FBI called the destruction of a Gap store in Seattle “terrorism.” This was prior to the World Trade Organization protests that saw a new group of anarchists calling themselves the Black Bloc destroy lots of Seattle storefront windows—(some of these folks, according to the documentary If a Tree Falls, were members of ELF). Anarchists were now on the bureau’s radar. (In what would probably flatter many anarchists, one FBI report even credits the bureau’s creation to anarchist bombings in 1919). But let’s assess this red and black threat level by looking at these “anarchists.”

According to an FBI PowerPoint posted by reporter Will Potter, author of Green is the New Red, the bureau admits these “anarchists” are exactly what they appear to be namely: young, middle to upper middleclass, and educated. So, let’s be frank and admit these kids aren’t scary. The anarchist “threat” is, for the most part, just at a bunch of well-intentioned middleclass kids dressed in black and armed with a few Mikhail Bakunin quotes and a lot of frustration. But, that frustration could be growing, and that could be dangerous.

The FBI now says anarchists are changing. According to that bureau PowerPoint, they’re no longer the “highly organized” individuals “dedicated” to “specific” causes that turned to “criminal activity out of frustration” that they once were. No, says the bureau, anarchists are now “unorganized” and not dedicated to particular causes. And, claims the bureau, anarchists are now “criminals seeking an ideology to justify their activities.” We can probably take this last assessment with a shaker of salt. It’s far more likely these anarchists are still driven to criminal acts out of frustration with the slow pace of change and, we should add, law enforcement’s predictably heavy-handed response to political dissent. If the left’s history is any measure, when cops get rough with activists, shit gets destroyed.

The Chicago cops’ beating of activists at the 1968 Democratic convention turned SDS members into bomb-happy Weathermen. Eugene cops’ methods turned a bunch of tree-huggers into ELF. And, it’s worth noting, Portland got its own anarchist problem following Portland cops’ crackdown on Occupy. Still whether today’s anarchists will remain arsons and vandals or become actually dangerous might not be so cut and dry.

The recent Midwest arrests are frightening. If these anarchists really did want to hurt people, this could signal a dangerous Timothy McVeigh-type sea change for the left.

But if the anarchists remain threats to property only—and let’s hope they do—then we probably don’t have to worry about them. However, we can assume if their politically motivated property damage is big enough and bad enough the feds and others will slap the “terrorist” label on them.

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Portland Mercury. Aug 2:

Fear of a Black Bloc Planet
FBI Raid Portland Homes, Looking for Anarchist Materials

by Sarah Mirk

DENNISON WILLIAMS was in bed when the agents banged on his front door shouting, “FBI!” Next he heard a boom and saw the light of a flash grenade.

“I’m upstairs and unarmed!” he shouted. Agents carrying assault rifles handcuffed him while over a dozen officers from the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) searched his house, seizing his phone, computer, and black clothes. As they left, Williams was issued a subpoena to appear in front of a grand jury in Seattle on Thursday, August 2.

Williams’ house on NE 8th and Buffalo was one of three searched in Portland last Wednesday, July 25, as part of a coordinated JTTF raid targeting lefty political activists in Washington and Oregon. Officers issued grand jury subpoenas to at least five people that morning in Portland, Seattle, and Olympia.

The FBI is mum about what alleged crimes prompted the bi-state searches and subpoenas; the search warrants are sealed, and this week’s grand jury hearing itself isn’t public. But Williams provided the Mercury with a redacted copy of the search warrant for his home, which shows the agents were looking for numerous items (including “anti-government or anarchist literature,” black clothing, and flags) that could be related to the federal crimes of destruction of government property and interstate travel with intent to riot.

Williams isn’t certain what the grand jury is investigating, specifically, but thinks he’s being called in to provide information against other activists.

“It’s related to political opposition, it’s related to political dissent,” says Williams. “They’re trying to create a wedge within people who are resisters. They’re specifically pursuing anarchists.”

The subpoenas and searches are likely related to an ongoing Seattle police investigation of this year’s May Day protests. While the protests included thousands of peaceful people, several individuals did smash windows at Nike, American Apparel, and the city’s federal courthouse. Seattle police have been trying for months to identify and prosecute suspects for that window smashing.

On July 10, Seattle police staged a raid very similar to Portland’s at an Occupy collective house in South Seattle, deploying a SWAT team that charged into the home, taking political pamphlets and black clothes. Seattle police say that raid was specifically gathering evidence about the “May Day Mayhem” protest and noted on their website at the time, “There may be more search warrants in the future.”

In some ways, the recent raids aren’t surprising. The investigation fits into the recent history of the feds prioritizing the pursuit of left wing activist groups. Starting in the late ’90s, the FBI has investigated environmentally driven property destruction as “eco-terrorism,” including the 1998 arson of a Vail, Colorado, resort for which four people associated with the Oregon-based Earth Liberation Front (ELF) were indicted. The following year’s counter terrorism report calls the arson of a Seattle Gap store “terrorism,” blaming the damage on “anarchists.” Weeks after the Gap-burning, the World Trade Organization protests stormed Seattle, and anarchists, along with “eco-terrorists,” replaced right-wing militiamen as the new domestic boogey men.

ELF is now mostly gone, thanks to several highly publicized trials that legally branded the group as terrorists. But this year, the FBI has pursued several big left-wing cases in the Midwest. Following the recent May Day protests, officers of JTTF arrested five self-proclaimed anarchists in Ohio plotting to blow up a bridge. As with Portland’s “Christmas Tree Bomber,” Mohamed Mohamud, the bureau provided faux bombs to the accused. On May 19, police working closely with the FBI arrested three anarchists in Chicago planning to blow up President Obama’s reelection headquarters.

Mayor Sam Adams’ office notes that JTTF officers involved in Portland’s raid were not working within Portland’s JTTF program, but came from some other jurisdiction. The program that mandates collaboration between the city’s police bureau and the FBI has been controversial this past year as city council weighed whether or not to join the task force. After working out an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union, city council unanimously agreed to rejoin the group in April 2011.

Whether the charges brought forward in the grand jury hearing in Seattle this week will be labeled terrorism or merely federally prosecutable window smashing remains to be seen.

In the meantime, the accused and their supporters are keeping their lips as tight as the FBI’s.

“I’m not going to cooperate with the grand jury,” says Williams. “They’re a method of intimidating people.”

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