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The Coming Tempest in Tampa

by RUSS McSPADDEN

The Dance

By now its old hat. Every four years the Republicans gather to formally nominate their candidate for president of the United States and every four years large scale street demonstrations vacillate between hippy parades of clever marching puppets and black clad anarchists lighting fires in the road and smashing bank windows. Throw into this mix the beefy riot squads of robocops bashing heads, spraying tear gas from industrial hoses, blasting sonic weapons and tossing noise and flash grenades into crowds and you’ve got a classic election year party. Its theater via politics, revolution and the status quo. Its passion and violence, and for all that can be said in disgust of this dance it beats the hell out the timid consumerist and soul freezing discourse our culture has come to deem civil.

This year’s RNC in Tampa Bay, Florida should be no different—save there is a hurricane the size of Texas barreling down on the event. Just a few days ago Tampa police chief Jane Castor announced that the city confiscated pipes, bricks and other “suspicious” projectiles found on the roof of a downtown building near the site of the Republican Convention.

“It is disconcerting but it’s not surprising,” she told the Washington Post. “This is normally how things proceed leading up to a large event.”

The Cops

Tampa police, Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Coast Guard, and private security firms have been preparing for the event for two years. Cops from all over the U.S., those with crowd control and specialized riot training, f are now present or are on their way to Tampa.

Both the FBI and Homeland Security issued warnings this week that “anarchist extremists” may have plans to sabotage bay area bridges during the convention, noting that before the 2008 RNC in St. Paul/Minneapolis, anarchists discussed blocking bridges and taking over a radio station.

The Coast Guard has announced that it will impose a round the clock ban of all loitering, stopping, mooring or anchoring of boats within 50 yards of more than a dozen Bay-area bridges as well as temporary bans timed to coincide with delegate transport on other area bridges further from the convention. According to the rule, published in the Federal Register today, “Current analysis indicates that some activist groups are planning maritime activities to make their political views known. The geography of the Tampa Bay region makes these 15 bridges a vital component of the regional transportation network.”

The Anarchists

For their part, the ever mysterious and hyperbolic anarchists, pallbearers of capitalism and civilization for that matter, have ramped up the the rhetoric of a showdown. A group calling itself the Tampa Bay Action Group (TBAG) published a press release way back in July of 2010 with this rather fierce pronouncement:

“We intend to shut the event down…The powers that be have left us with war, deforestation, exploitation and a techno-dystopia far worse (and especially far more boring) than any sci-fi book could foretell. We promise to confront them in the streets of Tampa Bay armed with the ferocity of a swamp panther in heat.”

See the website here.

Leading up to the last RNC in Minneapolis police carried out a preemptive raid on RNC Welcoming Committee organizers, anarchists who’d come to be known as the RNC 8, charging them with Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism under the Minnesota PATRIOT Act as well as the enhanced charge of Conspiracy to Commit Criminal Damage to Property in Furtherance of Terrorism. After years of legal battles the charges were dropped for four of the defendants while the remaining four took misdemeanor plea deals without jail time. During trial prosecutors highlighted a super cute and absurdly anarchist youtube video to demonstrate the intent of the anarchists at the 2008 RNC. In it, black clad and bandana wearing youth use molotovs to light their barbecues, teach four-year olds to throw rocks at riot cops, and practice bowling in front of an army recruiting station. See the video here.

The police also used an undercover informant, self described former black panther Brandon Darby, to snare two youth in a sting operation. In a case that is now infamous Darby, who now tours with Tea Party speakers such as Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, used macho rhetoric to persuade the two boys to go with him to purchase materials for molotov cocktails. Though they refused to actually meet Darby, to bring the makeshift fuel bombs to a parking lot of cop cars, both were arrested, raided while they slept, and sentenced to years in prison.

Last month, a more ominous youtube video full of riot porn, promising rhetoric, and soundtracked with an anarchist anthem condemning the timidity of liberals, hit the viral webs offering links to schedules and maps for both the 2012 DNC and RNC with a disclaimer that rioting is not being promoted. See the video here.

Security and Costly Scooters

It’s big money fending of the domestic terrorist menace of anarchists in sunny South Florida. Congress has allotted Tampa $50 million dollars for security around the event. Tampa has accounted for $13.6 million so far for the odds and ends of a secure metropolis: 200 bicycles, 13 electric all-terrain vehicles and one armored truck. There is $80,000 for barricades, $290,000 for security fences, $2 million for surveillance cameras, $44,000 for scooters, over $2 million for three insurance policies to cover workers compensation, auto liability (for when protesters smash a car window) and law enforcement liability (for when cops smash a protesters face), as well as petty cash for all sorts of things like radios and uniforms and hotel bills, and $57,000 to lease the “free speech zones” that the police will make available to protesters. Anyone caught exercising free speech outside these zones is subject to removal.

And When the Big Wind Comes

The potential arrival of a hurricane on the shores of the convention, projected to land around the opening day of the conservative carnival, portends the greatest anarchist threat of all. Mother Nature certainly has plenty to be pissed about these days and like the youthful angst of bandana wearing radicals she seems to be, in the very least, flexing a little promise of lawless energy at the Republicans. There is an unpredictable air out there. On Wednesday, the National Weather Service predictedpartly sunny skies and a 40% chance for rain for the opening day of the RNC. Today, the service is predicting “tropical storm conditions” and the potential for 45 mile per hour winds accompanied by heavy thunderstorms, leading to a potential postponement or even cancellation of the event.

According to Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, RNC officials are in constant contact with state and federal officials to stay abreast of the latest science on the movement of the storm. Scott says he is leaving it up to RNC officials to make the call on whether or not to cancel or delay the convention. Regardless, hurricane Isaac need not reach Tampa to lay a good bit of waist to the capitalist spirit.

And this won’t be the first RNC to be disrupted by a hurricane. During the 2008 RNC a pair of hurricanes, Gustav and Hanna, swept through the Atlantic forcing the governors of Florida and Louisiana to cancel their attendance and their primetime speeches at the event. The two Big Winds out there stood as symbolic and all-too-real reminders of the utterly outrageous realities of economic and racial disparity that hurricane Katrina, and former President Bush’s response uncovered three years prior. The storms turned the tone of the usually festive and boastful conservative party down several notches, causing the cancellation of dozens of private political fundraising parties. There was even talk of cancelling the first day of events.

Anarchy in the Tempest

And what about the protesters, the wild and angry and passionate justice crusaders with their signs and horns (and projectiles and master plans to disable bridges)? They say they will still show up regardless of the weather. According to interviews in the Tampa Bay Times, organizers refuse to be deterred: “Plan A is to protest,” said Medea Benjamin, 59, a Washington, D.C.-based organizer with Code Pink. “Plan B is to protest soaking wet.” Likewise, one of the organizers of an anticipated 5,000 person march on downtown Tampa noted,“There will be nothing that will stop us,” Organizers have ordered ponchos and requested umbrellas without metal tips (forbidden anywhere near the event zone) to aid marchers.

A local Florida Earth First! group, known for tree-sits and power plant blockades, which is also organizing around the RNC, published a welcoming response on Thursday over the potential arrival of a hurricane:

“…the Everglades Earth First! crew is still inviting you to join us out in the streets, celebrating one of the only elements on the planet that the status quo seems to respond to. As Mama Nature once whispered into the ear of a crusty ol’ bearded Russian anarchist, the urge to destroy is a creative urge (as in “I want to create some smashed glass from that McDonald’s window over there.”)

See the announcement here.

But in the end, it may only be the illegal protests, the clandestine maniacs, or the cops that will win the day. If you turn to page 9 of the city of Tampa’s official convention rules: “Any parade may be terminated immediately due to severe weather.” Should the hurricane arrive and martial law ensues, there’s no telling what kinds of public and natural disturbances will unfold.

Russ McSpadden is a part of the editorial collective of the Earth First! Journal and Newswire. He has worked on grassroots biodiversity, human and indigenous rights campaigns across the United States and has taken part in tree-sits, power plant blockades and late night political rants about the beauty of the stars and the detritus of civilization. He can be reached at russ@earthfirstjournal.org

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