Who's doing the window-smashing in Minneapolis-St Paul?

Over on Making Light blog, my friend Elise Matthesen, resident of Minneapolis-St Paul, has some skeptical questions about the supposed anarchist looters among the RNC protestors:
I cannot help but remember some people I knew in college, one of whom turned out to be an informant and provocateur who infiltrated antiwar and other related groups. I thought of it again, sharply, when I read this LiveJournal post about a past event. I look at that photograph, where the “protesters” being detained and the officers ostensibly arresting them have matching footwear, and I read that no charges were pressed against the “protesters,” even though they were the ones committing acts of vandalism, and I cannot help but think “provocateurs.” Which brings me to the question I started with: Who are these people?

Seriously. We have a lot of people who can look at photos and figure this stuff out. Supposedly the pro-surveillance folks are doing it to us. Let’s put our heads together and figure out who really broke stuff at the demonstration, and then let’s find out if they’re really regular protesters, idiots with a taste for vandalism and no political savvy, or provocateurs. Let’s find out if they even get charged.

Minneapolis / St. Paul: asking the right questions


  1. #1, yes it sure did turn out to be cops in Quebec.

    If you check out the news stories on the websites of our local Minneapolis/St. Paul newspapers (Star Tribune and Pioneer Press) the comments are horrifically in favor of police violence to an overwhelming extent.

    I have to wonder how many of these comments are submitted by the police themselves or other agents of the state.

    Current live coverage of what’s happening in downtown Minneapolis RIGHT NOW… police confrontation with people leaving Rage Against the Machine concert booked at major venue:


    The cops and TV news media were just waiting in a heavy presence outside of the RATM concert at the Target Center. There were about a dozen cops with large wooden sticks and black fatigues waiting outside the concert, a large group of bicycle cops doing laps, a small group of motorcycle cops doing laps, and then three unmarked minivans of riot cops parked four blocks away at the Capitol Grill.

    If there hadn’t been such a strong police presence I have to believe these concert goers would have simply gone home.

  2. XOPL@2: “I have to wonder how many of these comments are submitted by the police themselves or other agents of the state.”

    Yes, I believe we had a bit of that going on here as well.

  3. If there hadn’t been such a strong police presence I have to believe these concert goers would have simply gone home.


  4. Remember too that if someone turns over a garbage can or breaks a store window, the media (and even many BoingBoingers) like to say that “the crowd turned violent”.

    So if a cop or two breaks a store window the local police can now say that “the protestors turned violent so we had to teargas them and beat up Amy Goodman”.

  5. To be fair, you can only really see the soles of the boots, which are Vibram #134AR Technical Lug, and fairly standard. I just got my boots resoled in the UK, and they put vibrams on them. If you could see the uppers, it would be more telling.

    Although, I can imagine a wily anarchist buying police surplus boots to deliberately raise these kinds of doubts. (I say this very tongue-in-cheek – I’m still strongly entertaining the notion that the violence was perpetrated by provocateurs, but I do want to know more.)

    #7: Yeah, I’ve also been noticing the tendency for the press to use that particular phrase, despite the violence being isolated and far away from the core, peaceful protest. *sigh*

  6. In fact, look closer at those soles – the three treads on the heels of the anarchists’ boots are split in the middle, while those on the cop’s boot are joined, and the rear one has a bulge in the centre. I suspect the cops have an older version of the same sole, since there is none exactly like it on the Vibram site (although that’s definitely the Vibram logo).

    Which is not to say that they couldn’t be newer issue cop boots, just that they don’t really match on close inspection.

  7. Here in France, where protests are a way of life, it is generally accepted that there are always agents of the Renseignement Generaux among the protesters.

    They and the CRS will create the damage they need to justify violent reprisals.

    Protesters and protest organizers know this, and they know they will get blamed by the media and authority if anything goes wrong. Hence, they’re extra careful. Doesn’t always work out…

  8. Yeah the Milan riots a while back also had police provocateurs in the crowd start the violence. Just like Quebec.
    And Bush re-started cointelpro, huh?
    I now just assume all violence at all political protests are started by police agents. I do not think I am wrong on this one.

  9. The Quebec police admitted that those guys with the matching boots were cops. This isn’t speculation. The story and link are in the boingboing archives somewhere.

  10. Haveing a father who was a law enforcement officer for 30 yrs. I have to say that this is got to be the most disgusting thing to have happen in our city, and I’ll wager that none of his pals that worked with him (least the ones I met) would ever think of doing the things that are taking place today. Having someone who was hired to protect your rights turn and abuse that trust tells me that we have let the so called leaders of our goverment define policies to suit their needs rather the the publics needs. I think that we the people of MPLS-ST.Paul need to re-evaluate those we placed in power at the next elections.

    Lets return America to the land of the free….

  11. I’m fighting my ‘paranoia’ bravely, but I think those “good ol’times” when the frontlines were clear are over.

    At the G-8 summit in germany there have been numerous accounts of staged events, blunt lies or agents provocateur over the course of the events.

    Alleged “beaten bloody cops” vanished into thin air, never arriving at any hospital, nor popping up on official ‘injured roosters’ afterwards, but making the headlines during the ‘Action’ for days.

    The Clowns Army getting defamed by telling they have been squirting acid with their waterguns, only to be corrected (weeks later, when nobody noticed and the media coverage was over) by doctors attending the ‘victims’ that the policemen sufferd from the own extensive use of CS and pepper spray(Don’t pee towards the wind!).

    Alleged stone throwers were ‘cornered’ by peacfull protesters in order to calm them down only to experience that those thugs go directly towards the police cordon which magicly opens and lets the previously agressives in but arrests the rest because of attacks against the police.

    Of course: All charges were dropped, all investigations ‘dead-ended’… It’s never to be talked about… or only weeks later in some minor media or in the web…

    It’s propaganda, it’s all about discrediting the cause… Every ‘normal’ citizen who had even the slightest sympathy for the protesters will back off after seeing this stuff in the news. So the protest will always be connected to ‘criminal renegades’ in the mind of the public!

  12. Twitter is starting to blow my mind.

    I wonder if our idea of 9/11 and possibly even the outcome of the 2004 election would be different if there had been twittering on that fateful day.

  13. If you’re going to organize protests, organize a team to start investigations of these thing *as they happen* not after the fact. Follow and photograph anyone engaging in violence of any sort.

    These people could be cops, they could be Black Block anarchists, GOP operatives, or Democratic Party members. No one knows.

    This sort of violence is probably going to happen at protests. If you’re organizing, you should expect it, plan for it, and react while it’s happening. Not after.

    This isn’t criticism of Elise, who AFAIK, wasn’t a major protest organizer. She’s asking the right questions.

  14. @steve #16 – Very effective. For the particularly sticky issues, find a raving lunatic, feed him the facts, and give him a pulpit.

    We’re conditioned to ignore the ramblings of the insane, and with good cause.

    You can hide a basket-ball dribbling gorilla in the glitches of human psychology.

    Hmm. When every single protestor has a camera, you could probably stitch together a partial 3D model of the entire timeline. Surveillance societies can work both ways.

    Might want to form a lobby group to get special protections written into the books for people carrying cameras at protests.

  15. I’m not going to comment about who might be instigating the violence in St.Paul. But I do have a question that is bothering me. How exactly do the so-called “anarchists”, which are really anarcho-communists (check their website), reconcile anarchy with communism? Who gets to determine need (“each according to his need”)without a strong state to enforce that determination. Hey, I need a gulfstream jet, who’s going to stop me? I understand how one can get to a Rothbardian anarchy where the state is abolished and Capitalism is the dominant economic system (both about freedom) but I don’t see the feasibility of anarcho-communism.

  16. @#18

    Weren’t there some raids and arrests prior to the convention where cops confiscated cameras and computers etc… from protesters planning to videotape the protests?

    If the powers that be planned to have provocateurs, then raiding the groups who actively advocated documenting the events would be a smart move. Even if they don’t get all the cameras, they put a sizable dent in the plans of the people who were most organized and could cause the most problems.

  17. #18 has the plan though #21 has a good point on that. I think protests are largely stupid (seen a few folks at them who treat as more of a social event and don’t know much about the issue) But documenting various abuses is a solid plan.

    But I fail to see what the police get out of inciting violence. It usually results in a ton of negative press for them and the only possible- and dubious- benefit is a short term license to crack heads. Seems like a lot of work to little real value

  18. I was at the RNC in New York four years ago. The police have gotten really savvy at free speech control – at least in some ways…although some guy approach me doing a British accent – he started flirting and asking me where people were going, what are we doing next that sort of thing.

    Guy had cop written ALL over him….

  19. Baldhead, read Oliver’s comment @15

    It’s propaganda, it’s all about discrediting the cause… Every ‘normal’ citizen who had even the slightest sympathy for the protesters will back off after seeing this stuff in the news. So the protest will always be connected to ‘criminal renegades’ in the mind of the public!

    As said above, organizers need to be ready to document and stop violence before the police act. Use cell phones to photograph the event and call 911 as all calls are recorded. Give a complete description of the event and perpetrator. Using the cell will better document the time of both the pictures and your call, and also the call’s duration.

  20. As someone who was in the streets on Monday, I can say that most of the “violent protesters” were actually totally nonviolent.

    While a minority did commit violence against property, the only ones committing violence against people were the police – who used a disproportionate amount of force, including peppery spray, tear gas, clubs, concussion grenades, horses, and bicycles (they picked them up and smashed them into people). There were also a good number of people tazered.

  21. You might want to see this…


    #20, I’m not sure where to begin, but Roderick Long’s “Zaxlebax” lecture comes to mind: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zaxlebax#The_.22Zaxlebax.22_Problem

    Other useful references might include Benjamin Tucker’s “State Socialism and Anarchism,” and “Armies that Overlap,” as well as Errico Malatesta’s “Notes on individualism and anarchism,” where he writes:

    “In the anarchist milieu, communism, individualism, collectivism, mutualism and all the intermediate and eclectic programmes are simply the ways considered best for achieving freedom and solidarity in economic life; the ways believed to correspond more closely with justice and freedom for the distribution of the means of production and the products of labour among men.”

    As well as “An anarchist FAQ.” Links follow:


  22. JJasper @18, Elise lives in Minneapolis, and she knows people and organizations involved in the protests; but she didn’t have a hand in organizing them, and while they’ve been going on she’s been stuck in another part of the country.

    SKR @20, do some reading. If you don’t fancy Marja’s recommendations, start with Wikipedia and go on from there.

    28-29: The pertinent question about Infowars, like any other site, is how reliable it is.

  23. The cops in Milan were prosecuted and convicted…Quebec is open-and-shut too…but Americans hardly know about even the Ramparts scandal of the LAPD so I expect I’ll be called a “conspiracy theorist”…IMO your News media should be better at “To Inform (people) and Protect (liberty)”…

  24. In all seriousness, given the blatantly obvious pervasive state of surveillance, agent provocateurs, subversion, and resurgent COINTELPRO, why would any serious group show up at a protest, march, or rally without EVERY SINGLE MEMBER carrying a video camera?

    I mean every last person.




    It should be absolutely standard issue.

    Every single march or rally inevitably suffers from these window smashings and vandalism. If it’s agents provocateurs, FILM THEM. If it’s members of the community, find them and root them out.

    This is ridiculous.

    Any mildly disciplined protest group will perform this most basic vetting to make sure they are not tarred as violent or criminal.

    Get your house in order, people.

  25. Furthermore, I would NEVER show up to any protest event without a video camera and two friends also equipped with video cameras.

    Organize into groups of three, all armed with video cameras and all standing apart by a good twenty feet such that any assault, arrest, or action taken against the other members of your team would be caught on film and one or two would escape with video footage intact. This is some basic stuff.

    These protest groups need to stop this barefoot hippie bullshit and get organized. Fucking giant puppets and “this is what democracy looks like” sing-a-longs aren’t going to turn this around.

  26. @ 33 & 34:
    Myself, and many other people I know, did not have any recording device other than our cell phones for fear that it would be damaged destroyed by the police. For myself, I have a Nokia D40, which would have made me a target for the police (as they were targeting journalists and I had no journalist credentials).

    Luckily, there were many people not engaging in any actions who had recording devices, both in the media and independents. A perfect example is this video, taken by a random passerby:

    I have seen footage of provocateurs driven out of the Tuesday march, and have heard reports of others being identified and chased off that day as well.

    Unfortunatly, the protesters were not one group – it was a number of different, unconnected groups throughout the city. So when one group committed an act of property violence, other groups had no way of stopping them. Most groups didn’t commit any violence, but those few that did gave the rest a bad reputation. That, and the coverage of the situation by the media.

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