Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Archive Update: Law and Disorder, 7 June 2007

This column is temporarily unavailable on the Newsweek site, so I am posting the full text here:

Shadowland: Law and Disorder, 7 June 2007

When does guerrilla theater become guerrilla war? What the demonstrations against the 2004 GOP convention can teach us about managing the protests at the G8 summit.

The Germans have rolled out the water cannons to defend heads of state gathered for the G-8 summit. Black-clad anarchists and clown-faced crazies are the enemy, and so far the forces of disorder appear to be winning. Despite hundreds of arrests since Saturday, the radicals managed to besiege the seven-mile concertina-wire fence around the conference site yesterday while shutting down road, rail and even water transportation. According to the German government, hundreds of police have been injured, albeit lightly.

Worse than that, for those of us who think George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin have a a lot to answer for, the masses of protesters who have real issues ranging from global warming to the Iraq war and growing political repression, are consistently upstaged by those who make skirmishing with police a self-righteous sport and claim their goal is to overthrow, well, everything. “A new world order can only be created through violent struggle," as one black-clad man who called himself Ernesto told Deutsche Welle.

So, when does guerrilla theater become guerrilla war? How do you draw the line between civil disobedience and outright disorder? Or, for that matter, between peaceful protest and potential terrorism? Keeping the peace while protecting freedom of expression is a constant process of compromise. One thing is certain: to make those vital determinations in today’s complicated and dangerous world, you need good information. But how do you get it?

Since 2004, the New York Police Department has faced several lawsuits about the way it prepared for and protected the Republican National Convention in Madison Square Garden that summer. Critics have attacked it for arresting more than 1,800 people, taking fingerprints and then warehousing many of them under fairly grim conditions for two or three days – until the convention was over. Under pressure from the courts, documents have been declassified that show the NYPD spying on activists and infiltrating groups across the country, in Canada and in Europe.

The police point to the results: 800,000 people were able to protestsin good order during the convention, while only one person – a cop – was hurt seriously. Militants had pulled him off his motor scooter and beat him senseless. If there were terrorist plots aimed at the convention they were deterred or thwarted. (Two men were arrested days before it began as they planned to blow up the nearby Herald Square subway station.)

That the Republicans re-nominated Bush and that the American people re-elected him was not the fault of the cops, Indeed, my impression when I watched television coverage of the convention that August and Septemer was that protesters seemed so out of step with the way most Americans thought at the time, they probably helped Bush’s cause at the ballot box. If the anarchists, anti-globalists, anti-capitalists and others who coalesce into militant formations known as “Black Blocs” had managed to stage their planned “Day of Chaos” on August 31, 2004, I’m sure Bush would have gotten even more votes.

The Black Blocs wouldn’t have cared, of course. Their adherents tend to believe the corrupt bourgeois system never listens to the real voice of the people, meaning theirs. As Ernesto said in Germany, "We have seen how ineffective peaceful mass protests have been. Millions took to the streets to try and stop the invasion of Iraq and yet the corrupt world powers still wage their war. Fighting for change is the only way -- otherwise we face a future of blind subservience, slavery and control."

I’ve covered a lot of demonstrations by these characters, who are often more fascistic than the fascists they say they’re fighting, but I’m always a little surprised by the lunatic violence they set out to inflict and provoke. Although the United States had a taste of it during the disastrous 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Washington State (“The Battle of Seattle”), it’s much more a European phenomenon. The G-8 in Genoa in 2001 was a model of mayhem in which a young Black Bloc protester (surnamed Giuliani, as it happens) was shot by a stranded rooky cop while trying to smash through the window of his car. Some 500 people were injured and property damage was roughly $45 million. At the close of the summit, Italian police raided a building where demonstrators were sleeping and beat the hell out of several of them, multiplying the ranks of protest martyrs.

The Al Qaeda terror attacks on New York and Washington less than two months later dwarfed the anarchist menace and obscured it in the public imagination. But the New York police have stayed alert to the danger, even as they’ve assumed a new Al Qaeda attack could be in the works. They consider, with good reason, that the Big Apple is the number one terrorist target in the world. (The latest alleged plot by rag-tag Islamists was concocted in, of all places, the Caribbean, where plans were hatched to blow up fuel storage tanks and pipelines at New York’s Kennedy Airport. <>)

In 2003, the NYPD created a special squad just to address the specific threats associated with the Republican convention. It answered to the Intelligence Division, which had been greatly expanded since 2002 under Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Deputy Commissioner David Cohen, a former Central Intelligence Agency Deputy Director of Operations. The investigators worked the Web, dipped into chat rooms, shared intelligence with other organizations, infiltrated several groups and started building voluminous files. Hundreds of those documents, which were brought to light during a law suit, are available, with some details blacked out, on the NYPD Web site. << http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/dcpi/nypd_rnc.html >>

Sure, there was some embarrassing wasted effort, like surveillance of the satirical street-theater group “Billionaires for Bush.” But many of the declassified documents support the police position that a storm of violent threats to the convention and to the city was taking shape on the Internet, and they had to know a whole lot more if they were going to shelter the public – including peaceful protesters -- from its effects.

“In our actions we must be strategic, ruthless, efficient, as well as chaotic,” declared one anarchist group in Colorado which seems to be influenced by both Dada and Jacques Derrida. “Like a string of tornadoes and quakes, we will manifest brutal attacks against key targets physically deconstructing the aesthetic of our oppression. We will erect barricades of fire and reclaim space as carnival. Our rage as well as joy will be present on every street corner.” One can guess that such talk is action for this group, and the threat minimal, but it still has to be examined closely.

Then there was the little organization cataloguing surveillance cameras all over Manhattan in hopes they could be taken down by guerrilla protests. Another presence on the Web vowed to “rise up against police brutality and give the police or the National Guard a taste of their own medicine if they tread on the civilian population, and they will be given the same measure that they dish out.” In more concrete terms, several camps were organized around the country to train militants for confrontations with the cops.

In the end, the forces of disorder failed in New York in 2004. But they will keep trying, and to pretend that they are mere dissidents, and essentially ineffectual, would be a serious mistake. As they’re proving once again in Germany, they’re agents of mayhem who thrive on the idea they are being repressed. When the cops outmaneuver them with superior intelligence and planning, it drives the crazies mad, as it were. But the rest of us have a chance to mount demonstrations, if we choose, that are saner, safer, and more likely than any guerrilla theater to bring a president down or a war to an end.

Monday, December 10, 2007

1998: Huckabee on School Shootings

A friend passed along this archived article from The Arkansas Gazette with the note, "OK, now Huckabee officially scares me":

Huckabee: U.S. gave up on religion
School shootings were wake-up call, he says


SALT LAKE CITY -- Government may have dropped the ball in modern American society, but religion dropped it first, Gov. Mike Huckabee told Southern Baptist pastors Sunday night.
"The reason we have so much government is because we have so much broken humanity," he said. "And the reason we have so much broken humanity is because sin reigns in the hearts and lives of human beings instead of the Savior."
Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, addressed his contemporaries at the two-day Pastors' Conference, which continues today. The three-day Southern Baptist Convention begins Tuesday here in the heartland of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the city in which the Mormons have their world headquarters.
Huckabee told the pastors gathered in the Salt Palace Convention Center that while the March 1, 1997, tornadoes which struck Arkansas were tragic, at least the devastation could be clearly seen from a helicopter. In contrast, he said, the catalysts for the nation's recent school shootings -- including the one March 24 near Jonesboro that left four students and a teacher dead and 10 others wounded -- were harder to see but were driven by "the winds of spiritual change in a nation that has forgotten its God."
"Government knows it does not have the answer, but it's arrogant and acts as though it does," Huckabee said. "Church does have the answer but will cowardly deny that it does and wonder when the world will be changed."
The shootings were just one more wake-up call to the nation, he said.
"I fear we will turn and hit the snooze button one more time and lose this great republic of ours."... (more)

Line of the Day: Dowd on Romney/JFK

In the great-minds-think-alike-or-at-least-use-the-same-cliches department:

"The world is globalizing, nuclear weapons are proliferating, the Middle East is seething, but Republicans are still arguing the Scopes trial."
-- Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, "Mitt's No J.F.K."

Also see on this blog:
Give me that Old Time Secularism

On OnFaith:
The Politics of Piety

And Kenneth L. Woodward in The New York Times:
Mitt Romney is No Jack Kennedy

Sunday, December 09, 2007

ETA: Beauty is the Beast

Apologies for the tabloid headline, but until her capture last week, 26-year-old Saioa Sánchez Iturregui was listed by Spain's Guardia Civil as one of the most-wanted members of the Basque terrorist organization ETA.

News reports have fingered her as the suspected shooter in the Dec. 1 murder of two members of the Guardia in the southern French city of Capbreton.

Fernando Trapero, 23, and Raul Centeno, 24, reportedly had been installing surveillance equipment when they decided to take a break in a local cafeteria. A source with detailed knowledge of the investigation told me the two young officers, who were in plain clothes, made the mistake of talking about their work loud enough for others in the restaurant to hear. They failed to recognize three people nearby -- possibly seated at an adjacent table -- as some of ETA's most wanted figures.

One of those was Sánchez, known as Hintza, who reputedly was part of ETA's "Vizcaya Commando" responsible for several bombings in Spain before the organization called a truce that lasted from March 2006 until June 2007. (Notwithstanding the supposed ceasefire, a truck bomb was set off in the parking garage at Madrid airport in December 2006.) Sánchez's photo had been circulated by Spanish authorities since last July, along with other members of her cell wanted by the authorities. Three of them were captured afterwards.

According to my source, while the two Guardias in Capbreton were still in the restaurant, one of the three Etarras went outside and checked out their car, an unmarked vehicle the French police had loaned to the Spanish agents. There were also papers in the vehicle establishing that the two men inside the restaurant were cops.

The three Etarras decided that instead of running, they would murder the policemen when they went back to their car. According to news reports, the girl in the group did the shooting. For four days French police tracked the suspected killers across southern France, finally catching up with them in the department of Lozère, in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon. According to the daily "Le Parisien," one of the ways the cops identified the suspect was that she still wore earrings like the ones witnesses saw on the shooter. She also had a gun, according to "Le Parisien," and a search of the car she was in turned up 142 cartridges. Only later was she ID'd as Sánchez. The alleged accomplice arrested with her is named as Asier Bengoa.

Still at large: a third man whose identity, if it is known, has not yet been made public. Some press reports suggest he might be Txeroki (pronounced more or less like Cherokee), who is now the military commander of ETA. He reportedly had met with Sánchez in France in the past. But my source says there's nothing solid at this point to indicate Txeroki was on the scene in Capbreton when Trapero and Centeno were gunned down. - C.D.

"When the Atomic Bomb Explodes..."

This was the terrorism that boomers grew up with:

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Religion Test and Romney

This is the video referred to in the strong New York Times editorial about Mitt Romney's religion speech:

From the Times:

'CNN, shockingly, required the candidates at the recent Republican debate to answer a videotaped question from a voter holding a Christian edition of the Bible, who said: "How you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?"

'The nation's founders knew the answer to that question says nothing about a candidate's fitness for office. It's tragic to see it being asked at a time when Americans need a president who will tell the truth, lead with conviction and restore the nation's moral standing - not one who happens to attend a particular church."

Scene of the Bombing - Paris Law Offices

Update, 9 Dec 2007:
Beware of Bikers Bearing Gifts

According to the French weekly "Journal du Dimanche" the one man held for questioning in this bombing has been released, but police are still looking for a small, slightly built woman seen exiting the building just before the explosion. She was wearing a motorcycle helmet with the visor up and a large, loose jacket, or perhaps biker overalls like those worn by motorcycle courriers in Paris. A witness reportedly remembered her face as "Mediterranean-looking."

The bomb was one of three packages which looked like the business gifts common during the Christmas season. One was wrapped in gold and labeled for the office staff. It contained chocolates, some of which already were being eaten as the other packages were opened. The second, wrapped in silver, was a bottle of good pink Champagne destined for a woman partner in the firm. The third, wrapped in black, was addressed to the real estate attorney Olivier Brane with the note: "In memory of a complicated real estate transaction." He expected to find a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon. Instead, two well-constructed pipe bombs were inside, one of which detonated completely. The explosion, which tore up Brane's hand and injured his eye, killed 74-year-old secretary Jacqueline Ben Bouali.

Questioned in the hospital by police, Brane reportedly said he could think of no one who would target him this way, and appeared puzzled by the note about real estate transactions. "But they're all complicated!" he said, according to the JDD. - C.D.

A bomb delivered to a law office on what the French would call the fourth floor of this building at 52 Boulevard des Malesherbes killed a receptionist and seriously injured one of the attorneys. The package apparently was dropped off early Thursday afternoon by a woman wearing a motorcycle helmet. The international headlines made by this story were considerably bigger than the blast. The only outward sign of damage at the building is the broken window. - C.D.

Photos by Christopher Dickey

PARIS (AFP) (December 7, 2007)— French police were questioning a man Friday over a parcel bomb attack on a Paris lawyers' office in which an assistant was killed and a lawyer seriously wounded, officials said.

The unnamed 45-year-old man was the object of a harassment complaint two years ago from the senior lawyer at the office Catherine Gouet-Jenselme, 60, though the case never reached court, they said.

Police also said they are looking for the woman who delivered the booby-trapped packet to the fourth floor office shortly after noon Thursday. The woman, described as small, was wearing a motor-cycle helmet and left the scene straightaway.

The building in Paris's fashionable eighth arrondissement, or district, also houses the law office where President Nicolas Sarkozy once worked, as well as the Foundation for the Memory of the Holocaust.

However investigators believe it most likely that the attack was an act of personal vengeance rather than political.

The blast killed 60-year-old secretary Jacqueline Belbouai, who opened the packet, and injured Olivier Brane, 58. The lawyer was hospitalised but his life is not in danger.

Colleagues at the law firm said the parcel was addressed jointly to Gouet-Jenselme and Brane, but they were baffled over why they were targeted.

The law office deals mainly with uncontroversial civil matters such as divorce, property and insurance disputes, they said.

Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, who visited the scene Thursday, said police were keeping an open mind but were confident that the bomb was not delivered to the law firm by mistake.

"There is no favoured theory... It is too early to be able to come to any conclusions. But the other activities in the building were clearly identified, so it seems clear that it was someone in the law firm who was the target," she said....(more)

Give Me That Old Time Secularism

While I was writing about the politicized piety of Mitt Romney's speech in Texas last week, I kept thinking about the film of "Inherit the Wind," which came out at about the same time Jack Kennedy gave another speech in Texas in 1960.

Romney was trying to address prejudice against Mormons, Kennedy was taking on prejudice against Catholics, but the contexts for those two speeches are radically different.

In 1960 the notion of modernity that Kennedy represented was essentially secular. As I say in the current
OnFaith posting, Kennedy told the American public his faith was a personal matter and not nearly as important as other critical issues at home and broad. Romney, on the other hand, tried to play down his Mormonism while playing up his religiosity to appear, if not holier, then as-holy-as-thou in his search for support from Republican evangelicals.

After I filed the blog item, I re-read the play "Inherit the Wind" by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, which I bought in high school and have had on my bookshelf ever since. In this age when, God save us, creationism has been revived as a serious political issue, it's a fascinating study of the debate, not least because it stops short of ridiculing the religious fundamentalists even as it shows the absurdity of their absolutism. The play acknowledges the need for faith, and then some.

At the end of a brief speech to his girlfriend, Bertram Cates (based on John Scopes), the high school teacher charged with the crime of teaching evolution, delivers one of the more elegant lines in the play: "You know why I did it. I had the book in my hand, Hunter's Civic Biology. I opened it up and read my sophomore science class Chapter 17, Darwin's Origin of Species. All it says is that man wasn't just stuck here like a geranium in a flower pot; that living comes from a long miracle, it didn't just happen in seven days."

Of course what the play is really about is not evolution, but our freedom to think and speak as we choose in the face of religious literalists who want to stop the world from changing
as Joshua stopped the sun and the moon from moving through the sky.

"All I want is to prevent the clock-stoppers from dumping a load of medieval nonsense into the United States Constitution," says Drummond (the Clarence Darrow figure played by Spencer Tracy in the movie). And, later: "I hold that the right to think is very much on trial! It is fearfully in danger in the proceedings of this court."

If we are not careful, as we bend to the winds of religiosity that have overwhelmed our political debate, the right to think could well be at stake in many trials to come. - C.D.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Gangs and The Web

An interesting piece about the way immigrant gangs use the Web in Canada as well as the United States, from the Toronto Star last month:

Gangs turn to the Web
to boast, threaten and recruit

Gangs are taking to the Internet to recruit new members and expand their territories, police say.
Police call 'netbanging' a new, worrisome trend
November 19, 2007

Crime Reporter

Just five years ago, a Toronto gang calling itself the Asian Assassinz had four members and claimed as its turf two blocks in downtown Chinatown.

Back then, they "tagged the living crap" out of the area, according to a police officer who has tracked them, but not any more because, now, "they have the Internet."

Police say gang members' appearances on Web pages, chat rooms, blogs and social networking sites have allowed the Assassinz to recruit new members and expand their criminal activities far beyond the downtown core.

"It's like advertising, or putting up a billboard" with contact information for would-be members, says Toronto police Const. Scott Mills of CrimeStoppers.

Some call it "netbanging," which "refers to a wide variety of gang-related activity on the Web, including the communication of information among gang members, recruitment activities and provoking hostilities amongst rival gangs through derogatory posts," according to a 2006 RCMP report on youth gangs.

An officer who tracks the Assassinz, and prefers to stay anonymous, patrols the streets building his base of confidential informants and getting to know gang members – when he's not trolling the Internet. He says the two investigative techniques complement one another.

The Internet allows a gang to grow and to reach out to areas where "they aren't known," the front-line officer says.

Four youths charged in a recent home invasion case in Windsor, Ont., for instance, are alleged to be members of the Asian Assassinz and Project Originals, another downtown Toronto gang.

Police were initially stumped as to how the accused knew that the residence, hundreds of kilometres from Toronto, was a suspected gambling operation. Then the Toronto officer searched the Internet and made a link to a southwestern Ontario man who recently pleaded guilty to the crime. The alliance of the Assassinz and P.O. Boys, as they're also known, came to the attention of police after they spotted Web pages containing both logos.

It's part of a larger trend, police say, of street gangs turning to the Internet to do everything from brag about their exploits to intimidate rivals or "snitches," as was disclosed recently in the case of David Latchana, the 23-year-old Malton man shot in the head Nov. 3 after a death threat appeared in a rap song posted on myspace.com. ... (more)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Kelly and Giuliani on Guns, Then and Now

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly comments on Rudy Giuliani's remarks to the National Rifle Association during an appearance on the Brain Lehrer show.