Over the last several hundred years, while repressive monarchs, dictators and fascist governments terrorized their citizens, anarchists were often the lone voice demanding change. It is not hard to picture them as folk heroes, especially when their foes were communists in the Soviet Union or the Nazis in Germany.
Fast forward to the present, from the WTO riots in 1999 to the Mayday debacle last Tuesday, and one is left with the inescapable conclusion: Anarchy ain’t what it used to be.
The modern day anarchist presents the image of a jack-booted thug, dressed in black clothing and mask, armed with a baseball bat and spray can. Besides the obvious thought – if they all look alike, doesn’t that make them conformists? – this image of the anarchist is completely disconnected from anarchy’s history and tradition of nonviolent protest.
To put it more bluntly, these idiots have traded in their message for an opportunity to smash other people’s things. Lacking a clear expression of purpose, anarchists are nothing more than a pre-formed mob waiting for a reason to ignite.
That much was evident during Tuesday’s Mayday demonstration in Seattle. Anarchists mingled in deceptive anonymity until, at a signal, they donned masks and pulled spray cans and blunt tools out of their backpacks. Then they got down to business breaking windows, throwing objects at the police and spraying any window they forgot to smash. After the fun was over they tossed the gear back into their bag and climbed back into their holes.
Whatever message these people were attempting to convey was permanently obscurbed by violence. This type of organized criminal activity, conducted under the symbol for anarchy (a capital A inside a circle), goes well beyond the actions of those with a righteous cause.
In fact, state law actually uses those descriptors to define a more popular term for this type of group - a criminal street gang.
Disagree? Here’s the state law defining gangs (RCW 9.94A.030, if you’re interested): an ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, having a common name or common identifying sign or symbol, having as one of its primary activities the commission of criminal acts.
So to the list that includes Bloods and Crips, Surenos and Nortenos, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and the Gangster Disciples, we might add the anarchists. Those associated with this movement who choose a baseball bat over a banner, who mask their face and run with the mob rather than show their face and speak their peaceful truth, deserve nothing more from our justice system than the treatment dealt to other street thugs and bullies, like gang-bangers.
That day may not be far off. Police agencies that have been hardest hit by anarchist violence have been investigating these groups in the exact same manner (and under the same federal law) normally used to keep tabs on criminal street gangs. Police in both Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. are actively sharing information on the anarchists that flit back and forth across the border. The destructive riots following last year’s Stanley Cup finals were every bit as shocking to Canadians as the WTO riots were to us.
I anticipate that anarchists’ destructive tendencies will soon bring them special attention. That would be in the form of resources already in place – intel analysts, specialized gang units and prosecutors utilizing new state laws specifically drafted to target gangs. Anarchists should consider that their pathetic desire for attention will have unintended, and unpleasant, consequences.
I don’t expect this observation to change anarchists’ behavior. If anything, the minimal brain function exhibited by those arrested Tuesday suggested that a perp walk is part of the game plan. That could change if the rampant destruction caused by anarchists is prosecuted with the same sentencing guidelines reserved for the more colorful criminal street gangs.
Increased jail time isn’t the best solution. However, when the victim is the heart of a city it will just have to do.