This is a Special Report from the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism
Republican delegates arriving in Tampa for the convention this week will likely find one thing more oppressive than the humidity: hordes of motley Occupiers, political puppeteers, Teamsters, Code Pink activists dressed as giant female body parts, open-borders extremists, vegan Marxists, and tattooed anarchists, all assembling for their quadrennial temper tantrum.
One major target is the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, and anything ever associated with him. Plans include a tent city called “Romneyville” and protests against any companies assisted by Romney’s old firm, Bain Capital.
The purpose, in line with the campaign against the Republican Party being waged by the Obama presidential campaign and its Super PACs, is to depict Romney as a heartless capitalist, oblivious to the suffering of people who can’t make it in the modern economic system.
It is as yet unclear how many protesters will trek to Tampa and endure the heat. Nonetheless, in a ritual that grows more sophisticated with every new Occupy camp and political convention, protesters and their ACLU lawyers have been “in negotiation” with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the city council for several months, demanding permits, demanding special restraints on the police, and threatening lawsuits if they don’t get their way.
The threat is not an empty one. After the 2004 Republican Convention in New York City, the ACLU published a 69-page report, Rights and Wrongs at the RNC, detailing the extensive legal campaign they waged to suppress the police’s ability to keep order during anti-RNC protests. The report was funded by George Soros, who is thanked in the endnotes. Soros is also a major donor supporting the ACLU’s many campaigns against law enforcement.
Rights and Wrongs at the RNC is now the leftist playbook for applying legal and financial pressure on cities before, during, and after protests. Municipalities that dare to host economic summits or try to rein in illegal Occupy encampments find themselves, and especially their police, virtually held hostage by the media strategies and legal actions detailed throughout the manual.
Ordinary citizens (and groups like the Tea Party) cannot stroll into city hall and demand special rules of engagement when dealing with the police. But this is precisely what is being done on behalf of Occupy protesters in city halls and university presidents’ offices across the country. Fear of legal backlash was one reason so many elected officials seemed paralyzed last autumn in the face of the Occupiers’ refusal to obey municipal laws.
The protesters who are about to hit Tampa’s streets, no matter how garish-looking or headline-grabbing, are mere pawns in this chess game. The lawsuits and forced “negotiations” being played out behind closed doors are where the real action is taking place.
And in this game, threats of violence are another crucial chess piece. The ACLU and protest leaders repeatedly insist that they have nothing to do with the violence that erupts in the vicinity of their “peaceful” marches. Yet in reality, violent protest serves their needs. The lawyers file police brutality charges if the police take any action to stop rioters, and they accuse the police of “failing to protect” the public and other protesters if the police don’t stop the riots quickly enough. No matter what police do, they are automatically accused of “silencing free speech.”
The media can’t get enough of the free speech angle, even if it doesn’t apply in any way to the reality on the ground, where rioters smash store windows and mob police vans.
The Anti-Police Narrative
Police in Oakland, New York City, St. Paul, Chicago and elsewhere have endured a sort of multi-pronged legal attack ever since the 1999 WTO riots devastated Seattle’s business district and set anti-globalization protesters on a new course. A dozen years later, after every new clash between protesters and police, police alone are subjected to drawn-out public inquiries and lawsuits. Even when they are found to have been behaving professionally, the police receive re-training, new limitations for engaging even the most violent protesters, and, sometimes, personal consequences.
In another case, the UC Davis pepper spray incident in November 2011, police were acquitted of charges of behaving inappropriately after an internal affairs committee found that the off-camera actions of the U.C. Davis protesters constituted a real threat. Yet, campus police officer John Pike, who used pepper-spray to disperse the protesters, was still dismissed from his job recently.
In spite of the ubiquity of the legal chess game, it remains largely unexamined. Less than a week before the convention, the Tampa media have not scrutinized the acceptance of violence as a strategy by the main activist groups coordinating the anti-RNC protests, and there has been sparse coverage of the violent protesters coming to Tampa. This November 2011 article on anarchist protesters, by Tampa Bay Times reporter Jessica Vander Velde, is an exception.
The litmus test for participating in the new protest movements is “respecting a diversity of actions,” sophisticated wordplay that means, specifically, that no protester should stop another protester from using violence or vandalism, nor should they report them to authorities if they know of such plans in advance. In practice, it means more than that: as journalist and onetime activist leader Mark Satin wisely observed back in 2000, while participating in protests at the Philadelphia RNC:
Ever since Seattle, protesters have been claiming that any violence ‘not caused by the police’ has been the result of bad apples or weird anarchists…”
When you watch what goes on at street level, though, you get a very different perspective on things.
True, probably fewer than 500 protesters in Philly were smashing windows, punching cops, overturning dumpsters, etc.
But the violent protesters were never stopped or even verbally discouraged by the thousands of other protesters. On the contrary—whenever violence was being wrought, the norm was for the “nicer” protesters to conduct support activities, such as chanting, cheering, and running amok so the police couldn’t easily give chase.
Besides, the theoretically neat distinction between “violence” and “nonviolence” becomes much less neat at street level. Is it not violent to spray-paint taxpayer-supported buses and buildings?
Is it not violent to shout endless insults at police officers—or to constantly harangue them about the “martyrdom” of a guy (Mumia) convicted of killing a police officer?
Is it not violent to keep working-class Philadelphians from being able to drive home at night because you and your friends have contempt for normal political channels?
There weren’t “good” and “bad” protesters in Philly. The protesters were an organic whole. They may have done different things on the street, but their separate acts were as connected as fingers on a hand.
And when you looked closely at that hand, it was really ugly.
The Plans for Tampa
Occupy the RNC, which is billed as the “above-ground coordinating committee” for protest marches against the Tampa RNC, affirms the “diversity of tactics” pledge as part of the “Tampa Principles” detailed on their website:
- Our solidarity will be based on respect for a political diversity within the struggle for social, economic and environmental justice. As individuals and groups, we may choose to engage in different tactics and plans of action but are committed to treating each other with respect.
- We reject all attempts to create divisions among our movements. We agree to not publicly criticize other parts of our movement or cooperate with state or media efforts to portray good protester/bad protester.
- The actions and tactics used will be organized to maintain appropriate separations of time and space between divergent tactics. We will commit to respecting each others organizing space and the tone and tactics they wish to utilize in that space.
This pledge is actually an endorsement of violence, not non-violence. Yet, Occupy the RNC angrily asserts elsewhere on their website that they are not endorsing violence. This is an obfuscation of both the meaning and application of the “diversity of tactics” pledge. It is also hardly believable, coming from an entity that goes to great lengths to conceal its identity while angrily lashing out at police and other targets.
Yet the main protest planners, including Food Not Bombs, Occupy the RNC, and other Occupy groups, all subscribe to “diversity of tactics.” Activist-journalist Natasha Lennard confirms that the adoption of the Tampa Principles allows for the possibility of violent protest in Tampa:
Groups in both Tampa and Charlotte have publicly stated that their plans for protest are peaceful, although a mixture of permitted and unpermitted actions are planned. The Coalitions to March in both convention cities have adopted their own versions of what were originally the “Saint Paul Principles,” used by RNC 2008 protesters. The principles include a respect for “diversity of tactics,” such that if a group chooses to adopt more radical or less law-abiding tactics than another protest contingent, they will not be obstructed. Above all, the principles stress that activists will not assist law enforcement action against other activists, regardless of a disagreement in tactics. Whether groups will break windows, burn dumpsters, damage property or even adopt Black Bloc anonymity tactics to move through the streets cannot be predicted and would never be publicly announced in advance.
Since the Black Bloc anarchists wreaked havoc in Seattle in 1999, anarchists, Occupiers, and other anti-corporate radicals have cost cities millions. Their real goal in Tampa is to drown out debate by making the election season as visceral as possible. Meanwhile, the professional activists behind the anonymous websites want only one thing: to capture the image of a Tampa policeman in riot gear lobbing tear gas at some youth in a t-shirt and broadcast it around the world.
Adbusters, the magazine credited with inspiring the Occupy movement, photo-shopped such an image even before the first Occupy tent unfolded. The Occupy the RNC website is lurid in its taunting predictions of martyrdom and bloodshed.
Tampa Politicians Play Ball with the ACLU
The question is this: why is Tampa falling for it? Why did the mayor and the Tampa City Council spend months submitting to drawn-out “negotiations” with the ACLU and protest groups without insisting on a public disavowal of “diversity of tactics” and violent protest itself, in order to prevent another Seattle ‘99, New York City 2000, Philadelphia 2004, St. Paul 2008, or Chicago 2012, where anti-NATO protests recently left several police officers injured?
Tampa officials are bending over backwards to accommodate the protesters. While access to the convention site is reasonably limited for security reasons, Mayor Bob Buckhorn outrageously chose to use $57,000 in taxpayer money to rent an empty lot for protesters to “occupy” 24/7 in sight of it. Leaflets are being distributed by the city and the ACLU advising protesters of their rights and offering them access to an official hotline. It seems Tampa officials are acting on the hope that, given enough free demonstration sites, free watering stations, and stroking from public officials, anarchists won’t maraud on city streets.
But none of this will placate protesters who have havoc as their goal. It doesn’t even placate the ACLU officials, who are feigning cooperation with Tampa police. Florida ACLU President Mike Pheneger complains that, by refusing to grant protest permits for sites in the heart of the convention district, Tampa is passing up an opportunity for “a nice, neat, tidy kind of exercise in first amendment rights.” This sort of statement, which willfully denies the real threat of violence, is a merely a warm-up to the lawsuits that will be filed by Pheneger’s group, regardless of the goodwill Tampa demonstrates to protesters.
Occupy the RNC states on their website: “Tampa passed an oppressive ordinance which strips rights, and makes virtually every participant an outlaw immediately by stepping foot onto downtown.” They accuse the “military industrial complex” of luring protesters into “a trap” in order to justify the convention’s security budget. In the New York Times, a spokesman for the group, Amos Myers, explains: “[w]e were born with the right to move freely from place to place and speak our minds.”
Only this week, the Tampa Bay Times interviewed Sam Rosenfeld, a security consultant who sees “worrying signs that the city of Tampa doesn’t understand the threat or how to manage it effectively.” According to the Times, such signs include “the small number of groups that have signed up for turns on the parade route and demonstrations in city parks.” The ornate overtures and negotiations engaged in by Tampa’s elected officials may be collapsing on the eve of the convention. If so, it’s time for the Mayor and the City Council to start talking more frankly, not to the protesters, but to the public.
Meanwhile, the federal government has allocated $100 million to pay for security at the Republican convention and the Democratic gathering in Charlotte. Even if only a handful of protesters show up at either event, they have already managed to hijack public resources through a highly coordinated campaign of complaints about “speech suppression” and threats of violence, all built on a record of violent street actions stretching back to the Seattle WTO riots of 1999. Will Tampa be the next victim of this high-stakes game?
Behind the street theater of Code Pink, Occupy, and the rest of the Occupy the RNC coalition, there exists a professional activist class subsidized by leftists such as hedge fund operator George Soros. Their involvement in the protest movement has also been rendered invisible by the media.
There is only a small window before the Tampa protests for the public to learn who is really leading this movement, and what are their true intentions. Here are the key players and some of their plans for Tampa. (A list of planned actions is continually being updated at Occupy the RNC.)
Occupy the RNC is the umbrella organization disseminating information for protesters. It calls itself the “above-ground coordinating committee.” Their website states that they do not organize actions, “especially violent ones,” but only “facilitate logistics for people resisting the RNC.” This claim of non-violence is embedded in angry anti-police agitprop accusing law enforcement of being the real source of the violence at previous convention protests. According to Occupy the RNC, protesters are merely innocent victims of various police “pressure meant to disorient and distract.” “It is clear they want to engage in battle . . . We live in a police state that is in its final stages of completion” their website reads. Until recently, it also featured videos celebrating violence against the police, including one advising protesters to throw Molotov cocktails at officers. After being exposed by RedAlert Politics, Occupy the RNC took the videos down. But the mindset remains.
The following actions also fall under the movement’s definition of “non-violence:”
- trespassing in restricted security areas
- refusing to cooperate with police efforts to maintain order
- blockading and disrupting businesses
- providing certain types of support and cover for protesters who are planning to harass private citizens, damage private property, and attack police
This support includes:
- offering a map with the locations of hotels housing the Republican delegates
- offering a map pinpointing “evil” and “oppressive” corporations to be targeted for unnamed “decentralized direct actions”
- pledging to defend the Tampa Principles, a statement of commitment to all protest tactics, specifically including property destruction and violence against police and other targets
Even if Occupy the RNC is not technically breaking any laws, why should the city grant protest permits to any group that literally pledge allegiance to and protection for violent protesters? The following is a partial list of the organizations that have signed on to Occupy the RNC. Among them are the usual anti-Democracy, pro-totalitarian useful idiots, people who believe that terrorists, cop-killers, and Chinese dictators are the good guys, while Staples is said to be evil because it is associated with Bain Capital:
- Occupy Wall Street [and several other locations]
- Iraq Veterans Against the War
- Veterans for Peace
- Industrial Workers of the World—Gainesville Area General Membership Branch
- Vietnam Veterans Against The War/Old School Sappers
- Earth First!
- The Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee
- Campaign for Labor Rights
- Food Not Bombs [and several chapters]
- Alliance for Global Justice
- Nicaragua Network
- A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition
- March Forward!
- Party for Socialism and Liberation
- The Green Party of Florida [and other locations]
- Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign
- Rainbow PUSH Coalition
- National Immigrant Solidarity Network
- May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights
- Decentralized Non-Violent Resistance Movement
- Socialist Alternative
“Vegan food for the homeless.” This is the punchline-sounding mission of the international anti-nuclear, anti-war, anti-capitalism group founded in 1980 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The group’s website claims that “hundreds of autonomous chapters” on every populated continent feed the undernourished using only donations and “dumpster dived” food. Food Not Bombs casts itself as a significant relief aid organization, claiming, improbably, to have been “the first to provide food after the 1989 San Francisco Earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the 2008 economic collapse.” Where food was provided after the “economic collapse” is not specified.
In reality, Food Not Bombs is a radical political organization that uses its feeding stations, and the plight of low income people, as props for leftist protest. While some of the organization’s autonomous chapters probably do focus on providing free meals to the needy, the actions they feature on their website are PR stunts designed to get members arrested, or food stations set up at protest sites, where most of the people are not underprivileged, let alone hungry.
Volunteers also helped organize and shared meals at the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle and provided logistical support for many other anti-globalization actions.
Anti-police activity is a main locus of their real organizing. In recent years, Food Not Bombs Rochester has hosted: “Open Mic Against Police Brutality and State Repression” and “Support the Police: Beat Yourself Up.” The FNB website narrates story after story of activists allegedly persecuted for doing nothing more than trying to bring food to hungry people, a problem that does not seem to bedevil real homeless service providers and relief workers. FNB activists, including co-founder Keith McHenry and Emily Good, have each been repeatedly arrested in staged confrontations with police. McHenry claims 150 arrests.
Food Not Bombs self-reports associations with Earth First!, the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, the Anarchist Black Cross, and Industrial Workers of the World (as much a labor union as FNB is a hunger-eradication program). The association with the Anarchist Black Cross is particularly troubling due to that organization’s long history of committing acts of violence at economic summits and political protests, including slashing police tires, throwing bricks, and rioting.
In Tampa, Food Not Bombs is already set up for the RNC convention on property owned by strip club owner Joe Redner. There they will be hosting trainings on “cop-watching” (harassing police) and knot tying (for anarchist “direct actions”), in addition to meaningless activities including clown workshops. FNB told a reporter they wanted to move their feeding operation downtown, a likely effort to create a confrontation with police, and one that will doubtlessly make its way onto their website as another martyred effort to “feed the poor.” Neither their anti-police activism nor Food Not Bombs’ affiliations with violent anarchists has been reported in Tampa news stories touting the organization’s work.
Food Not Bombs is sponsoring a CopWatch training by Tarpon Springs CopWatch on Thursday, August 23. CopWatch activists view the police as oppressive, highly violent, racist, paramilitary tools of the fascist state and corporate interests. Ironically, many of the police they target are minorities themselves. CopWatchers encourage people to videotape police as officers interact with suspects, creating dangerous situations for all parties, but especially the officers, who must protect naive activists while dealing with suspected criminals. CopWatchers are known for staging incidents in which they feign being injured by police. CopWatch activists frequently videotape themselves haranguing police and publish personal information about individual officers on-line. CopWatch activists have ties to radical anarchist groups. Some CopWatchers actually celebrate the murder of police officers. Here they mock the funeral and the life of Washington State trooper Tony Radulescu, who was shot to death while making a traffic stop. For actions like these, CopWatch should have earned a reputation as the left-wing version of the Westboro Baptist Church long ago. But they are not criticized by the media.
Tellingly, no CopWatch activist cell has ever attempted to disassociate themselves from those CopWatchers who threaten violence against police or harass the memories and family members of fallen officers. Food Not Bombs sponsors and endorses CopWatch and has significant crossover membership with CopWatch groups.
Code Pink, the women’s anti-war group known for their disruptive protest style, is planning to try to make waves at the RNC with a publicity stunt aimed at condemning Republicans for their so-called “war on women.” The theme of the protest is: “Bring Your Vagina to the RNC.” Members plan to dress up like that body part and parade through the streets, a symbolic action designed to imply that Republicans are anti-female.
The protest raises the issue of leftist activists’ willingness to participate in offensively sexist messaging. A “vagina” parade is not only likely to alienate apolitical observers: it also targets Republican females, particularly social conservatives, in a particularly crude manner.
With the local Occupy movement operating in coordination with sleazy sex club owner Joe Redner, the mayor making crude jokes in The New York Times about Sarah Palin, and middle-aged women stomping around in clownish representations of women’s privates, there is a distinctly anti-feminist, anti-female tone emerging in the Occupy the RNC circus.
But there is more to Code Pink than silly stunts. Like a startling number of other high-ranking leftist activists, the organization’s leadership has been known to break bread with dictators and terrorists such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
According to Discover the Networks, Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin “was one of the principal architects of the 1999 protests in Seattle where rampaging anti-globalization activists burned cars, smashed windows and generally sowed disorder in a failed bid to shut down a conference of the World Trade Organization. Benjamin hailed the riots, which caused millions of dollars in property damage, as ‘a battle cry.’” The fact that someone responsible for such destruction is holding a “training session” and protest march in Tampa has also not been noted by the media, which will surely focus on the costumes Code Pink members are wearing, instead.
Code Pink has just announced that Benjamin will be appearing in St. Petersburg.
A question: will socialist heavies like Medea Benjamin be parading around in the heat in silly costumes, or are such tasks left to the lower-level Code Pink dupes? It may not be just Republican women who are disrespected by Code Pink’s leadership.
The Occupy movement long ago devolved into a scabby twenty-something who argues endlessly while refusing to get off the couch and look for work. But all the sloth and illogic in evidence at Occupy encampments (and Occupy Tampa was always an also-ran, even among Occupy camps) did not make them any less effective. The confused college students and homeless people who flocked to the “occupations”—and all the puppeteers and vegans and exhibitionists due soon in Tampa—were and still are effective dupes for the professional activists and leftist organizers operating behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, the residents and business owners near the current Occupy Tampa encampment have complained repeatedly about zoning violations, noise, and filth on the site. Strip-club owner and political gadfly Joe Redner, the “godfather” of the local Occupy movement, owns the property where Occupy, and Food Not Bombs, are currently squatting. Redner recently expressed hopes that the City of Tampa would allow Occupy back on public land soon, as if they actually were a troubled teen caught in a custody battle.
The PPEHRC is an organization with a web presence that seems to form local ad-hoc chapters, when useful, from among the most politicized and least credible members of the “homeless” movement. Its St. Petersburg representative, the Rev. Bruce Wright, who is promoting himself as an organizer of the tent city “Romneyville,” is typical. Wright has faced accusations of profiting from his homeless outreach and has been in trouble for failing to support his own children and other offenses. Reliable providers of services to the area’s homeless population avoid association with him. Nevertheless, recently in The New York Times, Wright was profiled as a respected promoter of the rights of the poor and critic of the Romney/Ryan ticket.
PPEHRC is slated to hold a march featuring Green Party Vice Presidential candidate Cheri Honkala, but it does not appear that they have cooperated with Tampa authorities to obtain permission for the march:
The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign is proud to announce that its founder and National Coordinator, Cheri Honkala, is the Vice Presidential Candidate for the Green Party under Jill Stein. This, of course, has profound impact on “Romneyville,” The March for Our Lives opening march at the RNC protests and for the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign.
Shut Down Bain Capital appears to be a joint project of Occupy groups, Code Pink, Food Not Bombs, and other participants in Occupy the RNC. Descriptions of the event have been evolving rapidly on-line.
According to Occupy the RNC, the protesters will kick off their events calendar with a “Death of Democracy March” on August 26, followed by a “March on the RNC” and possibly simultaneous “March for Our Lives” conducted by The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. The convention’s first night will bring a “Celebration of Resistance,” with “radical anarchists” holding a “Roving Radical Dance Party” throughout the city. The “Rally and March Against Voter Suppression at the RNC” is next, followed by a day of “Shut Down Bain Capital” protests staged outside businesses such as Outback Steakhouse, Hospital Corporation of America, and Staples.
Although the locations of the Bain protests are deliberately being concealed, Staples seems a likely target, and “Impersonation of Ecuadorian death squads” has been suggested as a theme for Staples store protests. Occupy the RNC is also threatening to conduct other “decentralized direct actions” throughout the convention week. The cumulative effect of these threats, and the refusal of organizers to reveal their identities, creates maximum anxiety for business owners and employees who might be hoping to turn a profit while conventioneers are in town.
While some local politicians are unwilling or unable to address the likely prospect of violence, it is a known fact that local and federal law enforcement agencies are greatly concerned. In particular, the anarchist groups and the Ruckus Society are drawing official concern. It is important, as the Republican convention gets underway and goes forward, that the media reveal the true nature of the professional agitators coming to Tampa and their plans to blame the police for any confrontations that may occur.