FIGHTING CASE STUDY
Seattle, November 30, 1999
The November 30, 1999
(nicknamed "N30") demonstration
in Seattle was a real wake up call, both for left anarchists and for
leftists rediscovering the publicity value of limited activist
and for nonviolent activists who had grown complacent with the
of nonviolence as a tactic. For the first time in more than 20
American activists were seeing the kind of leftist riots that have
increasingly typical in Europe.
Network news reports, which frequently stressed how well organized the “so-called anarchists” were, showed scenes of protesters breaking windows, looting several stores, smashing up a Nike store sign, occupying one under-renovation building, setting big nighttime bonfires in the middle of the street. Television network news video shows activists throwing a bottle at a police officer standing on top of an armored vehicle; he shoots back rubber bullets. Demonstrators block an entrance and exchange blows with an Asian delegate trying to get in. Other activists throw unidentified objects at police. Networks also repeatedly showed video of the June, 1999 Eugene riot where young people jumped on passenger cars and smashed at them with chains.
In interviews, bandana-masked protesters boast about their opposition to capitalism and their desire to smash the system. As one masked man states: “Anarchy for all; crush, kill, destroy.”
In March Seattle police released 911 tapes. In an excerpt released on NBC, a dispatcher-like sounding woman says in a matter of fact tone: “Protesters are filling Molotov cocktails on the west side of the Sheraton.” Whether or not this was true, it soon became part of the establishment lore about Seattle. Of course, protesters did eventually use Molotov cocktails in Prague, Quebec City and Genoa.
As we shall see, leading anarchist and Direct Action Network organizers continued to deny that there was any activist violence in Seattle. They claimed the window smashing and store trashing was not “violent” and denied that any violence was used against individuals, including police, despite network video showing just such violence. However, according to several sources, activists knew of the potential for violence before the demonstration, witnessed it during the demonstration and/or admitted it afterwards.
of Possible Property Destruction and Violence
Through personal discussions with several people who were in Seattle, I know many nonviolent participants, especially those who did not participate in organizing meetings, had no idea that individuals intended to engage in property destruction or fight with police. One organizer told me in January of 2000 that those planning violence just lied about their intentions. However, two individuals confessed to me they were well aware of the possibility; one condoned it, the other opposed it. A third, who admitted trashing in Seattle, said the Direct Action Network’s failure to publicize its guidelines led him and others to assume property destruction was condoned.
In an e-mail “Mitchell Cohen,” who claims he was in Seattle, reports that Direct Action Network affinity groups knew of such plans. “The fact is, the much larger body of affinity groups that had planned (and was successful in) non-violently blockading the WTO delegates -- including myself -- knew of the plans of the window-breakers. They announced it at various meetings, and it was one of the debates within the overall body of some 1,000 people: How does a movement deal with a subgroup within it which generally supports the ideals and strategy of the larger body, but announces that it will employ tactics that the overwhelming majority don't wish to engage in and actually oppose at that time? Do we call the cops? Do we police them ourselves? Do we let circumstances take their course? There was no agreement on any of this, except that we would not call the cops on anyone. It would just become part of an ongoing discussion. Throughout the prior week, this discussion raged through the direct action circles in Seattle...” 1/
In his online article “Netwar in the Emerald City: WTO protest strategy and tactics,” 2/ Paul de Armond notes: “The ‘Black Bloc’ anarchists had entered into an understanding with the Direct Action Network that they would refrain from vandalism at least as long as the protests remained peaceful. This is another way of saying that they were loosely following the lead of the DAN organizers. How loosely is shown by the fact the Black Bloc arrived downtown armed with hammers, crowbars, spray paint, M-80 firecrackers and paint bombs. Their goal was a ‘propaganda of the deed’ centering around vandalizing chosen stores -- Nike, Starbucks, the Gap, Old Navy and others -- which they saw as fitting targets.”
A Boston Phoenix writer, noting that Eugene anarchists were “making noise about another ugly showdown in Seattle,” quoted Mark Laskey, an editor of “We Dare Be Free”, a Boston local anarchist newspaper. "Riots happen...But I don't know if pompously promoting that one is going to happen is the way to go. It doesn't seem tactically smart." 3/
One Seattle reporter interviewed an anarchist activist in Eugene before the demonstrations who admitted there was a “lot of talk before heading to Seattle of rioting,” but opined that she thought it was mostly “leftier-than-thou” rhetoric, even though she herself condoned property destruction and violence towards police. 4/
Overview of Battle
In short, on November 30, understaffed police were unprepared for thousands of protesters surrounding and trying to shut down the WTO meeting place. They complained protesters had lied to them about their intentions, when “shutting down WTO” was a widely publicized goal. Angry and embarrassed, they felt pressed to use maximum violence to push protesters away. This gave street fighters prepared for property destruction all the excuse they needed to smash dozens of store windows and trash several. (Because I’ve read reports by equally credible activist and news sources that this trashing happened at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm, I must wonder if it happened more than once!)
The next day smaller protests continued. With President Clinton coming to town, police were ordered to begin mass arrests of angry but largely nonviolent protesters. As one protester wrote: “Today they started mass arrests. That was because Clinton - the Greeks call him the Planitarchis, Ruler of the World - was coming. Weeping crocodile tears about how he just LOVES peaceful protest, which of course you'd have to be two years old to believe he had nothing to do with the police action.....Clinton said he supports nonviolent protest. That is baloney. Today (Wed.) the protesters were causing absolutely no ‘trouble’. In downtown the cops had people running who weren't even protesters - like that old lady or just people going to work or shopping - everyone was getting gassed.” 5/
In “Netwar in the Emerald City” Paul de Armond provides an overview of the three days. 6/ “What exactly happened during the crucial hours of the Battle in Seattle is shrouded in confusion and controversy, but the broad outlines can be discerned. The street action falls into three distinct phases: first, the Direct Action Network (DAN) protesters seized and held a handful of strategic intersections, immobilizing the police. Second, the police strategy fragmented over two contradictory goals: suppressing the DAN protests and allowing the labor parade. Third, the labor parade failed in its goal of controlling and diverting the DAN protesters away from the Convention Center. The influx of reinforcements who abandoned the labor parade and joined the DAN protests left the streets more firmly in control of the protesters, despite the use of tear gas by police since around 10 a.m.. By approximately 3p.m. Tuesday, the battle was decided and the Direct Action Network had prevailed in their goal of shutting down the conference.... The battle continued for several days, spreading into other areas of the city.”
“Derek” describes his experience on November 30 7/: “I was a part of a group of about twenty others whose job it was to ‘keep the peace’ and direct the march through the city on orders from a tactical group...Young anarchists were filling the intersection behind us with overturned dumpsters and standing on top of them and jumping up and down. ‘Who are you protecting! Who are you protecting!’ we yelled at the line of foot soldiers backed by a line of mounted police and an armored vehicle topped by a cop with a rubber-pellet gun. The police put on their masks... A horn sounded and we were pepper gassed, followed immediately by tear gas and concussion grenades and rubber bullets.... Those protestors that wore gas masks and gloves picked up the canisters and hurled them back at the approaching riot cops. The police stopped and formed a line, and we immediately filled in the space and held our ground. This scene was repeated all over downtown for the next ten hours or so. The police had to fight for every inch until they finally pushed the remaining protestors over the interstate and out of downtown Seattle. “
In “Netwar in the Emerald City” Paul de Armond describes activist provocation of police: “The events surrounding the decision to use gas continue to be cloaked in confusion and controversy. Later claims that the police resorted to gas in response to widespread violent attacks and vandalism are now known to be absolutely untrue. The counter-claims that police were unprovoked and that the crowds were non-confrontive are equally untrue. The more aggressive demonstrators had moved towards the police positions and videotapes clearly show that there was no buffer space between the opposing sides in many areas. One segment aired on KIRO TV shows members of the Black Bloc confronting police and being extremely provocative, but not attacking anyone or committing vandalism. The police view of the crowd was framed by these more aggressive demonstrators, while the vast majority of the crowd was unable to see the police and was in a giddy, triumphant mood.”
Black Block Runs Amok
The ACME Collective, an anarchist group, sent out an early December, 1999 e-mail listing some of the two dozen “corporate targets” attacked on November 20, 1999 between late morning and late afternoon. As quoted earlier, they wrote: “This activity lasted for over 5 hours and involved the breaking of storefront windows and doors and defacing of facades. Slingshots, newspaper boxes, sledge hammers, mallets, crowbars and nail-pullers were used to strategically destroy corporate property and gain access (one of the three targeted Starbucks and Niketown were looted). Eggs filled with glass etching solution, paint-balls and spray-paint were also used...Unlike the vast majority of activists who were pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed and shot at with rubber bullets on several occasions, most of our section of the black bloc escaped serious injury by remaining constantly in motion and avoiding engagement with the police. We buddied up, kept tight and watched each others' backs. Those attacked by federal thugs were un-arrested by quick-thinking and organized members of the black bloc.”
In his “Netwar” article de Armond notes: “The Black Bloc was simply biding their time and waiting for an opportunity to vandalize these stores and then get away....The Black Bloc engaged in property destruction numbered no more than thirty to forty people, all dressed similarly in black and hooded or masked to prevent their identification....Early in the raid, they twice attacked KIRO TV news crews, spraying the camera lenses with paint to stop the crews from taking pictures.
“...[L]arge numbers of teenagers who were not part of the Black Bloc took advantage of the situation and likewise engaged in vandalism. It was this second group, estimated to number at least one hundred or more, who engaged in looting some of the broken store windows, as well as occupying the awning over the Nike store...”
Timothy Egan, in a New York Times story, writes: “Young people in black masks, some of them speaking by two-way radios, used the police reaction as a cue to go on a rampage. They sprayed a symbol for anarchy -- a circled A – on store walls, then quickly expanded to window breaking and some looting. Some identified themselves as members of Black Clad Messengers, a self-proclaimed anarchist group. ... Shouts of ‘Anarchy!’ ‘Property is theft!’ and ‘Close it down!’ went up, as up to 50 people unveiled hammers, spray paint and large firecrackers known as M-80's from backpacks. They smashed windows of branches of virtually every
major retail chain, including F. A. O. Schwarz, Old Navy, Planet Hollywood and McDonald's. A security officer who tried to defend a city bus was attacked. The authorities later said that several bus drivers were assaulted and that two police officers suffered minor injuries. The violence's peak lasted about an hour, in late afternoon, with virtually no police response. Some demonstrators shouted at the vandals to stop the violence. At Niketown, three men climbed atop of the store's outside entrance and began twisting away the metal letters spelling out the store name. As this went on, others shouted "Shame, shame, shame" at the vandals...” 8/
Activist Scott Weinstein described some of the violence he saw. “ Sometime after 10 a.m., the police with an APC and using tear gas cleared the crowd outside the Sheraton on 6th between Pike and Union. However, the intersections were just getting more dense with participating protestors. The same happened on 5th between Union and Pike. The people then started building barricades with newspaper boxes and dumpsters... At that point, about 20 people dressed in the anarcho-punk fashion quickly traveled east on the less crowed Pine St. while smashing windows and spraying graffiti. I got out of the way to avoid flying glass shards (they issued no warning to protect ourselves), and quite a few people ran away because they were scared by the sudden vandalism.” And later that evening, “After a few hits of tear gas and concussion grenades, many people realized they could survive, and some started throwing back bottles picked from dumpsters, and the occasional tear gas canister and concussion grenade. It seemed that many of these people were probably regular residents and students who were not part of any defined political group or ideology. Only a few were wearing the anarchist black uniforms. “ He also notes that, “The so-called anarchists who were said to have destroyed property and painted circle A's. At least two reports and one TV video shows these people hitting other protestors. One report has them attacking two bus drivers.” 9/
Several people, mostly nonactivists, were arrested and charged with felonies for property destruction and looting. While there was a plea for help circulated from one woman activist facing a year in jail, little solid or credible information ever was circulated about the disposition of those cases, leading most to assume they were abandoned even by their street fighter buddies.
Black Bloc vs.
The ACME collective statement comments on “peacekeepers”: “Unfortunately, the presence and persistence of ‘peace police’ was quite disturbing. On at least 6 separate occasions, so-called ‘non-violent’ activists physically attacked individuals who targeted corporate property. Some even went so far as to stand in front of the Niketown super store and tackle and shove the black bloc away. Indeed, such self-described ‘peace-keepers’ posed a much greater threat to individuals in the black bloc than the notoriously violent uniformed ‘peace-keepers’ sanctioned by the state (undercover officers have even used the cover of the activist peace-keepers to ambush those who engage in corporate property destruction).”
Since the Direct Action Network did not have official peacekeepers for the direct action it is not surprising that a few untrained people, totally surprised and unprepared for violence, reacted in an inappropriate fashion. Scott Weinstein reports “hostility started between the self-identified ‘peaceful protesters’ along with union members, and the so-called ‘violent anarchists.’"
The Reuters article describes a more nonviolent incident which still infuriated those seeking to destroy property: “Veteran demonstrators, who have logged years of protest against corporate retail chains like Nike and Starbucks, suddenly found themselves trying to defend them. ‘We turned at one point to protect Niketown, of all places, from these people who were trying to smash the storefront glass with metal newspaper boxes,’ said Ken Butigan, a professor of theology from Berkeley, Calif. ‘They turned on us and called us counterrevolutionaries.’“
This kind of contempt for outspoken nonviolent activists would only grow during organizing for April 16th in Washington, DC. (See case study.) The contempt started with the frequently repeated lie that there was no activist violence in Seattle.
Section-In all end notes below, some links may no longer be active but
are only reference available.)
1. E-mail: Date: Sun, 19 Dec 1999 08:14:27 -0500; From: Mitchel Cohen; Subject: (en) Seattle Report "affinity groups that had planned non-violently blockading the WTO delegates -- including myself -- knew of the plans of the window-breakers.
2. “Netwar in the Emerald City: WTO protest strategy and tactics,” Paul de Armond http://nwcitizen.com/publicgood/reports/wto
3. “November's World Trade Organization summit in Seattle is shaping up to be the mother of all political demonstrations” by Jason Gay Boston Phoenix. http://www.bostonphoenix.com:80/archive/features/99/10/07/SEATTLE.html
4. “Anarchists unmask a world of concerns" by D. Parvaz, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 13, 1999.
5. “Collateral Damage in Seattle” by Portland student/reporter Jim Desyllas Wed., 7:30 pm Pacific time. in a widely distrbuted e-mail.
6. “Netwar in the Emerald City: WTO protest strategy and tactics,” Paul de Armond
7. E-mail: Date: Thu, 2 Dec 1999 17:52:21 -0700 (MST); From: Drotos & Poinsette; Subject: WTO Protests
8. “Clenched Fists in Seattle Lead to Pointed Fingers” by Timothy Egan, http://www.nytimes.com/library/world/global/120299wto-protest.html