In the wake of World Trade Organization protests in Seattle last fall that caused millions of dollars in damage, whispers of anarchists' plans to cause unrest at the site of the Democratic National Convention are being taken very seriously.
Los Angeles police say the so-called anarchist group is actually a group of hooligans seeking to torch cars and smash storefronts outside the Democratic National Convention next month. And a City Council member characterized them as political troublemakers who would rather menace people than help them.
"We want to allow free speech, but ... we feel we face a very serious threat from groups referred to as anarchists, who use an otherwise peaceful demonstration to engage in criminal behavior," Los Angeles police Cmdr. Tom Lorenzen told the City Council recently.
Protesters have targeted the convention over what the perceive to be the Democratic Party's failure to oppose human rights violations in an era of corporate globalization. They have vowed that the demonstrations will be disruptive, but not violent.
Business owners have complained that supposed anarchists will riot in a proposed "sanctuary" for protesters in downtown's Pershing Square.
The North American Anarchist Conference meets in Los Angeles during the Democratic Convention, scheduled for Aug. 14-17.
Actual anarchists say the police have unfairly tried to depict them as vandals and looters clad in ski masks or "punks" with pink hair, nose rings and a hunger for destruction.
Matt Hart, a Los Angeles-area anarchist planning to protest the convention, bristled at the way civic leaders have described his group's ideology.
"We don't all believe in chaos or destruction. We believe in a decentralized society, organizing from community levels and building society up from there," he said. "We do not believe in chaos That's a general perception used to discredit us."
The LAPD has raised concerns over radical anarchist splinter groups such as the Black Army Faction, which claimed responsibility for acts of arson and vandalism over the past year in Eugene, Ore., the host city for past conferences.
Lorenzen warned that rioting could also erupt between previously nonviolent protesters who clash with anarchists, a claim that protest organizers dismissed as laughable.
"The police are quite incorrectly using the word 'anarchy' as a generic term for lawlessness and violence," said Don White, an organizer with the Mobilization to Protest the Democratic National Convention 2000 - or D2K Network. "I know many anarchists, and they are totally nonviolent."
Anarchists insist they cannot join any U.S. political party because their ideology specifically contradicts the idea of government from the top down.
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