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As NYC Braces for RNC, Anarchists Blast Media Coverage as Scare Tactics

StoryAugust 24, 2004
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A coalition of anarchists in New York held a press conference yesterday to denounce the portrayal of them as terrorists and violence seekers in the lead up to the Republican National Convention. We speak with two organizers from the press conference. [includes rush transcript]

The Republican National Convention is just a few days away. And the security apparatus being constructed in the city is massive to say the least. Heavily armed soldiers and police are manning checkpoints throughout the city and the area around Madison Square Garden, the site of the convention, is being heavily fortified. Up to 20,000 police and other law enforcement officers will flood the streets and subways around the Garden and elsewhere. Many officers have received training on how to handle chemical, biological or radiological attacks, at a cost of millions of dollars.

The Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security are responsible for security at the convention site and at different times of the day, more than 20 blocks on the main avenues and streets around the Garden will be closed. The battles between protest organizers and the authorities in New York over march permits continue. And thousands of activists are beginning to pour in from across the country. The New York Post and other right wing media outlets have been beating the drum, labeling the protesters as terrorists. Meanwhile, Republican officials this week confirmed that President George W Bush may not even spend a single night in New York. The plan being considered now is for Bush to come in to deliver his acceptance speech and then fly out for a midnight rally in Pennsylvania.

Last night in New York, a coalition of anarchists held a press conference to denounce the portrayal of them as terrorists and violence seekers. As we have been reporting on Democracy Now!, the FBI has been interrogating activists in Colorado, Kansas and other states about their protest plans at the convention. Meanwhile, the NYPD has put 56 activists around the country under 24 hours surveillance. Reports indicate the NYPD has assigned one supervisor and six police officers to track each of the 56 activists.

  • Frank Morales, an Episcopalian priest at St. Mark’s Church in New York City. He’s also an organizer with the Campaign to Demilitarize the Police.
  • Kazembe Balagoon, a writer, teacher, and activist living in the Bronx. He’s an organizer with this week’s “Life After Capitalism conference”, held in New York City. He’s currently working on a group of essays entitled “Queering the X: James Baldwin, Malcolm X and the Third World.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined now by two of the people who were part of that news conference yesterday in New York. We’re joined by Frank Morales, of the Lower East Side, as well as Kazembe. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! And we begin with Kazembe. Can you talk about why this news conference was held and the treatment of the protesters.

KAZEMBE BALAGOON: Good morning, Amy. Thank you for having us. The reason we had the news conference was to address the really ridiculous and irresponsible behavior of the New York City media with regards to the protesters, and our feeling of their setting up an atmosphere of criminalization of dissent in the city. I was organizer with the Life after Capitalism Conference, and it really kind of started last week when The New York Post labeled our conference a “war council,” and has continued on throughout. So, the purpose of the press conference really was to address what is anarchism and really what is — what we really want to accomplish in the coming weeks during the protest.

AMY GOODMAN: Frank Morales, can you talk about the preparations and how you’re feeling, and if you know who is under the 24-hour surveillance? I have seen now cartoons around the country of F.B.I. agents, of authorities following anarchists or protesters wherever they go.

FRANK MORALES: Yes. Good morning, Amy. I think that, you know, one of the developments that we’ve witnessed over the recent period is the kind of externalization of what heretofore had been done clandestinely. We remember COINTELPRO and the notion of spying on legitimate dissent. Now the F.B.I. can come above ground and openly admit that they’re trailing protesters—no attempt to cast it terms of anti-terrorist activities. So, yeah, recently there have been these reports of the F.B.I. trailing—Now, I’m personally not so sure that this is actually taking place. I think part and parcel of what has been happening recently is an attempt to intimidate people from coming out to protest. The report you recently had— the brutality, the tactical brutality, wherein the police are acting as a kind of militarized arm of the Republican agenda, are attempting to dissuade people from coming to protests. So, this could be another tactic suggesting that people should look over their shoulders and so forth. But the people I’ve spoken to are simply — we’re not intimidated. We understand that, you know, we —- we might even see a repeat of a kind of conspiracy charges, you know, sort of infused with some sort of quasi-terrorist action somewhere necessitating the setting up of a grand jury. Remember the way the grand juries were used in the seventies and the eighties, and the kind of notion that people would be targeted in this way. Suffice to say that the activities, ranging from the use of the permit process to—-you know—to thwart people’s ability to organize effectively, to this — to this recent report of F.B.I. trailing people, (which is an outrage, whether it’s real or not, I think people need to react to it constructively). Recently, you may have heard the NYPD unveil the potential use of an acoustic weapon, which The New York Times — this is a weapon that emits a beam which is capable of shattering eardrums. It’s being used —- it’s been used in Iraq. It’s an acoustical device which essentially deafens people, but in a 30 square block area. The Times didn’t refer to it as a non-lethal—- so-called non-lethal weapon—a crowd dispersal weapon, which is the way the Pentagon portrays this weapon, but talked of it as an enhanced P.A. system so that alerts could be given to the protesters for their safety, et cetera, et cetera. The attempt to suppress dissent is at an all-time level in this country. It’s clear that, as the Palestinians say, “the paranoia of the thief” has kicked in, and these people are surely intent on intimidating protests in any number of ways; but I suggest to you based on the sense that we have in New York, that this could be the largest gathering of protesters in the history of — of maybe the history of the world. I think that the depth of the evil, the pathology that we’re all aware of that this administration represents, which is merely a front for a much deeper pathology within this world, is about to be confronted. So we’re quite confident that we’re going to make a statement, and we’re going to be heard.

AMY GOODMAN: I would like to ask you about a New York Post piece yesterday, that said “exclusive.” It says: “A number of extremists with ties to the 1970’s radical Weather Underground have recently been released from prison and are in New York preparing to wreak havoc during the Republican National Convention, the Post has learned. A top level source with extensive knowledge of police plans wouldn’t disclose the names of the aging rabble rousers but said a handful of them are already here and will play a behind-the-scenes role in attempting to disrupt the G.O.P. gala. These people are trained in kidnapping techniques, bomb-making, and building improvised munitions, the source said. They’re very bad people. They’re not likely to take direct action, the source continued, but they’ll be orchestrating operations,” unquote. “Originally called the Weathermen the anarchist organization came into existence in June, 1969, as a radical splinter group of the Students for a Democratic Society during” — and then it goes on to talk about them. It says NYPD operatives spotted a few of the fanatics in Boston for the Democratic Convention, but they are, quote, “saving themselves for New York,” the source said. Your response.

FRANK MORALES: I think it’s another indication of —-total fabrication. I don’t recall the Weather people referring to themselves as anarchists. But the notion is -— is that — you know, I don’t believe anything in that story. I think it was totally made up. As those of us in New York recall, it was about a year ago that the film depicting the history of the Weather people was released, and there was some activities around that, and some people came out and spoke about these things. I think they’re regurgitating some of this report. It’s in order to make the claim that anarchists are violent and protesters are violent, and it’s the same process through which the police department in behest of the Republican elite want to cast protesters as violent in order to rationalize and legitimize the repression. Once you demonize the opposition, such as the demonizing of the Iraqi people, that’s the first step in orchestrating a campaign of repression. So, I think that it’s serious to the extent it’s part of this process of demonization slash rationalization of tactical brutality and so forth, but I don’t take anything in that story seriously. I think the media, particularly papers like the Post, but also the Times and so forth is really hell bent on creating an image that —- of people who are violent. But as we showed last night, anarchy, if anything, is about the opposite of that—-is rooted in feelings of love—is about mutual aid and cooperation. In fact, protest is a form of love, is an act of love.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me bring Kazembe Balagoon back into the conversation. Your plans for the Republican Convention?

KAZEMBE BALAGOON: Well, my plans and our plans are really to, really mobilize and give a big “no” to the Bush agenda. In the upcoming weeks, there’s a couple of activities that are going on, one of which is going to be taking place on August 26. There’s going to be a march from Columbus Circle, which is the culmination of a group that’s been marching from Boston to New York City, and we’re going to be marching from Columbus Circle to Union Square, and it’s going to be in the tradition of the Zapatistas, where we’re going to be involving all of the civil society and really showing levels of dissent. In addition to a lot of the protests there are a lot of individuals who are going to be involved in community activities, such as community gardens, doing work and organizing around immigrants. These stories that have been posted in The New York Post really are red herrings for the real deep structural problems that are going on in society that we plan to address in the upcoming weeks and really point out.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Kazembe Balagoon I want to thank you for being with us, as well as Frank Morales. We’ll continue this discussion through the week, the plans for this coming week of the Republican National Convention in New York. Kazembe Balagoon, writer, teacher, organizer from the Bronx, one of the organizers of the Life After Capitalism Conference.

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