An Uncivil War

Anarchists and Cops Square Off in Washington’s IMF Slugfest

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The big event in George Bush's backyard this fall is not the visit from his buddy Vicente Fox or his wife Laura's book fair, but an old-fashioned street fight hosted by the Washington cops.

On one side stand the Blue Bloc, as the D.C. flatfoots are known. Most recently noted for dropping the ball in the Chandra Levy case, the Blue Bloc have persuaded Bush to kick in $16 million for what looks like a riot in the making at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings, slated for September 29 and 30 in downtown Washington. They're spending $2 million more on a fence, nine feet high and two and a half miles long, designed to keep protesters away from the global financiers. The perimeter will be ringed with thousands of cops from around the country, armed with riot gear.

On the other side stand the Black Bloc, the most visible wing of an anarchist corps seasoned by years of confrontation and determined not only to hold their ground but to win. Unlike the Blue Bloc, these radicals have no appointed leaders or list of members.

Thick Blue Line: "State power will do whatever it takes to quell dissent."
photo: Mario Tama/NEWSMAKERS
Thick Blue Line: "State power will do whatever it takes to quell dissent."

Black Bloc isn't even a standing organization, really, but a loose collection of people who adopt—however temporarily—particular tactics for resistance. In the streets of Quebec City this spring, a Bloc formed and worked to shut down a free-trade conference. A few months later, in Genoa, anarchists gathered again—this time to crash the barricades at a confab for the G-8, the world's richest countries. When the tear gas cleared, one demonstrator had been shot dead by cops, dozens were missing or in jail, and activist circles buzzed with talk that the people wearing black had been nothing more than provocateurs hired by the Italian government.

With its passionately drawn sides and great potential for collateral damage, the siege of Washington could equal, if not surpass, the battle at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Protesters won't be caught unprepared. They're plotting strategy, working with lawyers, and training medics to handle the wave of injuries that have become a regular feature of these demonstrations.

"Where there are police, there is violence," says Moose, a New York member of Ya Basta! "I don't expect protester violence. The majority of what we see is cop violence. State power will do whatever it takes to quell dissent."

In this case, that includes an extraordinary show of military force for what is essentially a civilian operation. Blue Bloc cops are closing off a widening swath of the District's downtown, having convinced George Washington University to shutter its campus. Meanwhile, their backup teams—the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms—are spying on dissident groups, trying to glean specifics on their plans, and working to keep foreign protesters out. In particular, the feds are said to be targeting foreigners who might have been part of the Genoa melee. During the Washington meetings, FBI agents are expected to scour the city in command trucks, ready to pounce on any groups found wearing black gear.

In predicting violence, Washington police chief Charles Ramsey has virtually assured the public there will be property damage. "The odds of us escaping without property damage of any kind is probably fairly low," he declared this summer.

While some of the predicted 40,000 protesters say they'll tangle with cops at the fence, others will fan out across the city in an elaborate game of cat and mouse. The barrier gives them a chance to see where the cops are—and to figure out where they aren't. Groups are organizing masses of bike riders to block traffic, or plotting to dress up as highway workers and dig up busy streets. One group is advertising for lacrosse players to catch tear gas grenades and hurl them back into the police ranks.

The Blue Bloc remain focused on the fence, and they're openly challenging the demonstrators to see who can pull the fence down first, hoping they will exhaust themselves attacking it. "They are creating a climate of fear," says Robert Weissman, a key organizer for the Mobilization for Global Justice.

What cops get in return may not be flight, but fight. "I think ultimately police want to be fucked with," says John Kellogg, an anarchist student from Baltimore, home to one of the most active anarchist cells. "Whether or not each one shows up in riot gear, that is becoming standard procedure. Everyone is expecting violence. Lines of communication are almost completely broken down. It is regulated warfare, with gas, masks, rubber bullets. There may be no room for diplomacy."

Yet other protesters, even the anarchists, insist they want to demonstrate peacefully. "I intend to ignore the fence," says Andrew Smith, who runs Baltimore's anarchist bookshop Black Planet Books. "The D.C. police are the only people talking about violence. None of us are talking about violence."

The demonstrators have recruited AFL-CIO support for a big march and have persuaded IMF and World Bank leaders to meet them head-on at a debate sponsored by a TV network, Weissman says, possibly the BBC.

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