Randall Amster and Peter Gelderloos called out Chris Hedges in Counterpunch (and now so has Kevin Carson) for his naming the Black Bloc style of anarchism as a "cancer" in the Occupy Movement . Hedges is mostly correct -- although they dispute his terminology. Amster and Gelderloos are wrong for several reasons"
More of a parasite than a cancer, these pro-violence activists latch on to other nonviolent movements and use the cover of a large human shield to carry out actions that the large, nonviolent gathering wants no part of and did not sanction -- and it puts their personal safety at risk without their consent. The Black Bloc style provocateurs appeared at anti-war rallies, at Free Trade protests, at the DNC 2000 protests, and at the Seattle WTO shutdown, among many others. Each time they succeeded in starting trouble -- provoking the police to crack down and twisting the meaning of the protest into one of incoherent rioting.
Black Bloc anarchists do not organize these events, but rather show up with a mindset to riot. This cowardly and fraudulent activity paints the entire movement as violent and thuggish, when it is nothing of the sort. If these Black Bloc types had any sense of integrity or courage, they would arrange their own protests apart and distinct from other movements and face the authorities on their own without the benefit of placing others in harm's way to shield themselves from the full brunt of police response. But they don't do that, of course. That is their clear moral failing and/or sign of police provocateur activity.
I wrote previously of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 2000, the night Al Gore was ordained the nominee. About 10,000 peaceful citizens surrounded the convention center to voice their concerns and listen to the free concerts. Suddenly, the police stormed the concert stage and demanded that everyone disperse. After a 15-minute countdown, rows of riot police began firing rubber bullets and other projectiles at the non-threatening and somewhat shocked remainder of the crowd. That was my experience of the event.
During those few moments, as I videotaped the police shooting assault, I saw masked young men stop, run back and throw their water bottles at the police. They looked for more debris to throw as they fled down the avenue away from the blasting firearms of the line of riot cops. Further along the route, several more grabbed a newspaper box and overturned it to smash it. Since I was in close proximity, and since there were literally thousands of cops all over the side streets, this unnecessary provocation really pissed me off. It put my safety at further risk -- all for an unnecessary childish stunt.
It was not until the following day that I learned what had happened at the DNC to set the police off so violently. A fence along the arena held back the crowds. When, however, the Democratic delegates entered the arena, the Black Bloc masked-type anarchists climbed up the fence to throw projectiles at the delegates. More on the ground followed suit, as described by eyewitness Jim Bennet :
"Other protesters joined in and began throwing massive amounts of bottles, rocks, wood, rebar, parts of trees, pieces of concrete and large signs over the 12-foot-high fence at the police."
This was a black and white case of assault. Current law could classify this behavior as "terrorism," with some justification. Assaulting people with rebar or concrete for a supposed political purpose is indeed violence with a political motive. Photos showed those atop the fence being pepper-sprayed by cops on the other side. No one on the crowd side of the fence did anything to thwart the provocateur actions, and that was a mistake. In the hail of police rubber bullets later on, a journalist was hit in the chest and nearly killed.
This incident of pelting police and delegates with rebar, rocks, concrete and whatever on August 15, 2000 can be considered a justification for the "free speech zone" pens seen at later political conventions across the nation. Although a clear 1st amendment violation, in a tactical sense, there is little the security forces can do to stop a repeat of the 2000 debacle without moving the crowds out of rock throwing range. The deliberate violence of Black-Bloc-styled violent anarchists led to an escalation by those charged with protecting the attendees of high-profile gatherings.
The Black Bloc anarchists, or some unknown provocateur elements, had successfully turned a massive peaceful political protest into a police riot, changed the news story, erased the messages of thousands of committed activists, and scared a lot of well-meaning, nonviolent people from returning to protest in Los Angeles. Provoking a police crackdown has the effect of scaring regular people into staying home. Images of smashed property or burning police cars have the effect of turning middle-of-the-road populations against the goals of a movement. It disgraces movements and denies them further influx of new supporters. It is the preferred method of crushing opposition movements by repressive states. So whose side are these people on?
Since Peter Gelderloos makes much hay of calling "Black Bloc" a tactic as opposed to a movement, let's make the finer distinctions of what the argument means without semantic chicanery. The "Occupy Movement" (like many other movements before them) has declared itself to be nonviolent. It may not be "the 99 percent" in fact, but it is certainly a social justice movement that embraces nonviolent tactics exclusively. Those who would change this fact have not been able to achieve power in the movement, and they have not achieved any change in this fundamental condition. If pro-violent extremists wish to pursue their own actions, then it is their responsibility to do so without involving an unwilling group of peaceful activists to hide behind.
Randall Amster gives no elaboration at all on the 3-word phrase he uses: "hired provocateurs aside."
"Since they are presumably not part of the 1 percent (hired provocateurs aside), if they are banished from the 99 percent, what options does that leave them? "
It's not necessary to show the chain of payment to people who accomplish the goals of provocateurs. It is the behavior, the cowardly immature chimpanzee behavior that matters here. Political protest is a dangerous area fraught with risk and high stakes. When people show up with the intent to risk the safety of others, of nonviolent activists -- for whatever motive -- they must be dealt with.
Amster would like to use the marketing slogan "99 percent" as a justification for violence in the movement. This argument is bankrupt. "They" can abide a nonviolent struggle for justice, or they can do their own thing and face the consequences of their actions. "They" can't have it both ways.
We saw "hired provocateurs" in Seattle in 1999, and it was obvious that they were agents because police standing nearby refused to simply arrest them for smashing windows. Provocateurs were seen at international summits in Toronto, Canada, in Europe and here in the U.S. They have been largely successful at feeding the corporate news a violent "story" to air. This repeated pattern presents an obvious and enduring threat to democracy and to people's movements (which go out of their way to be inclusive and tolerant).