Report back from anarchists opposing the ‘Resist Marxism’ rally in Tucson, Arizona this past weekend.
On 8/18 an Alt-Lite group by the name of Patriot Movement AZ (PMAZ) held their second rally in Tucson in just two weeks. The first rally on 8/4 largely flew under the radar of anti-racist organizing in Tucson, but a few of us went to scout it and found a surprisingly large crowd of fascists, would-be militia members, Trump worshipers, and Alt-Right trolls who crawled out from their internet havens into the Arizona sun.
While it was alarming to see that they had organized a rally of forty or so people and we had failed to meaningfully mobilize against it, this scouting trip produced photos of their use of the proto-Nazi “Kekistani” flag, which would prove instrumental in our organizing against their rally set for the 18th.
On the morning of the 18th a lot of us were feeling rather nervous, as there had been a litany of threats from PMAZ in the intervening weeks, most of which boiled down to some variation of “if any of you antifa tries to get in the way of my free speech and I’ll shoot you with one of the many guns I’m going to be carrying.”
Thankfully, we quickly built up our confidence as the counter protest’s numbers swelled to maybe two-hundred to two-fifty, easily outnumbering the fascists by at least 4 to 1. A blow-by-blow of everything that happened over the course of the 3 hour event would probably be a bit long, but here are a few key reflections.
As the event got underway, the Tucson Police (TPD) attempted to create a barrier that would separate counter-protesters from the area where the fascists were gathering by about fifty feet away. After the crowd repeatedly went around metal barriers, tore down police tape, and approached the fascists from multiple angles, TPD was forced to tightly encircle the area with metal barriers and line them with cops. Not only did this make the relationship between the police and far-Right organizing clear, it also allowed the crowd to get close enough to disrupt any speeches the fascists tried to make.
It seems like the crowd was able to disobey police orders with ease in part because there were a number of distinct groups that were each able to bring a particular tone to the approach of ignoring police orders—the block bloc, the clown bloc the marching band, and the circus performers. A representative interaction went something like this: the black bloc is staunchly refusing to move as TPD approaches with metal barricades, then, just as some cop is giving a particularly stern order, the clown bloc arrives, tripping over police line they’ve managed to put up and meandering in between the angry police and the black bloc. Meanwhile, the marching band is playing a triumphant tune and walking around the barricades with people following in one direction, and people on stilts are ambling around them in another direction. Disobeying police orders came to be an acceptable approach regardless of the tone of any given participant.
Police were seen as institutional extensions of the white supremacist rhetoric espoused by PMAZ by much of the crowd, and this was made clear in a number of interactions. Throughout the day, many counter-protesters yelled at the police for protecting the fascists, but the exchanges got particularly heated as the police escorted PMAZ members to their cars at the end of the rally. Someone with a megaphone pointed out the way TPD collaborates with Border Patrol as evidence of their investment in the existing racial hierarchy, and the crowd chanted “fuck the police” as the cops held back angry counter-protesters from the last gaggle of fascists hastily packing their cars. After PMAZ left, TPD began debriefing in the area that had been home to the alt-right rally only minutes before. After some vicious mocking, they marched across the park to go debrief somewhere else.
Finally, we are happy to announce that de-arresting became somewhat normalized at the event! (Hooray! Wooo! Huzzah!) As the last fascists were trying to leave in their cars, there was a bit of a scuffle with some folks who had marched into the parking lot to block them. Seems like a PMAZ car bumped a protester and the people inside threw water on him, and the crowd responded by throwing water bottles—one of which might have hit a cop! In the following moments, a cop grabbed the person who got bumped by the car in a choke hold, but folks in bloc pushed the cop off, and masked and unmasked folks alike grabbed him back into the crowd and linked arms to protect him. Throughout the day counter-protesters were pulled back from the police on three separate occasions, each time with the participation of the wider crowd. Let’s keep this up!
One last beautiful moment: as the police were marching across the park to find a new place to debrief, some guy in another ramada a few hundred feet away started blasting NWA’s “Fuck the Police” over a P.A. at them. He had a microphone too, and yelled “what kind of donuts are you gonna eat later?!” Turns out he wasn’t even there for the counter-protest, he just happened to be in the park with a P.A. and when he saw sixty cops walk by that was his first impulse. Wow!
The anarchist journalist and writer Paul Z. Simons (El Errante) passed away over Easter weekend in Paraguay. Paul’s recent travel writings were a consistently entertaining reading of anarchist activities around the globe, recently resulting in his analysis of a “pure black anarchy” driving anarchist action in three continents.
Below are some memorials celebrating the life of Paul Z. Simons from other anarchists who knew him, along with a link to some of his writing.
Report from Occupied O’odham Lands (Phoenix) Anti-colonial Anti-fascist Contingent
Last night we edged beyond the limitations of anti-fascism on stolen lands. As marches converged and crowds swelled, amidst black flags and a banner reading “United Against Colonialism and Fascism, Smash White Supremacy,” we coalesced into a force, at times chanting the inspired, “Settler scum, your time has come.”
The police constructed a barricade ringed pen, complete with entrance choke points, to herd anti-Trump protesters into an echo chamber where chants of “shame!” intermingled with the truly deranged “this is what democracy looks like.” Seemingly much of America has abandoned any hope of salvation in colonial democracy, while the anti-Trump Left continues to burn a torch for a system that has always represented the imposition of colonial power and white supremacy.
The barricades were in our way so O’odham and Diné relatives took to the task of dismantling them, as riot clad police unleashed a torrent of pepper balls on the bloc and anyone near by. The authorities, ever fearful that any individual or collective act may shake the chains of domination, fired round after round of pepper ball projectiles at the reinforced banner, and then lowered their aim to peoples legs. The bloc held our ground under the barrage until canister after canister of tear gas (we counted 7 in a matter of seconds in our immediate area) were launched and a wall of poison washed over us forcing us away from the barrier. Street medics swiftly treated those unprepared for the assault, police targeted anyone throwing bottles, rocks, and trash with tear gas and pepper balls.
As greater numbers of police assembled outside of the convention center, the riot pigs threw concussion grenades over our heads resulting in deafening explosions as a helicopter circled over the scene barking orders. The melee extended for over an hour into side streets. Despite the pleas of the respectable organizers, many chose to resist authority and the law and to fight back against state repression. People fought back when a truck full of Trump supporters threatened to run people over, the police arrived before the driver could double back but they didn’t help the crowd, rather they released the driver and attacked the dwindling crowd with even more chemical weapons.
Phoenix PD, flanked by an array of Federal agencies and in truest form, fortified the powder keg of white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, and colonialism. An Arpaio pardon sticker slapped on the keg by Trump didn’t make the difference for us, we’re against all presidents and fascists. Make no mistake, we were not the spark or match, in a storm of lightening strikes the shit is bound to explode.
We are acutely aware of the propensity of the violence of the state so the pig’s “use of force” was expected. Earlier, as we walked into the fray, with Charlottesville and the multitude of other flash-points in this escalating conflict on our minds, our Diné sister Loreal Tsingine, who was murdered by fascist cop Austin Shipley in Winslow, was in our hearts. Her story is plastered on the cover of Phoenix New Times with an article that echoes what we’ve decried on a systemic basis for years: Arizona has the highest rate of police violence inflicted on Indigenous Peoples.
This is the reality that prepares us for these moments, and it didn’t begin with Trump, or Loreal’s cold blooded murder. It is state violence perpetrated by colonizers for hundreds of years in these lands. Liberal movement police maintain that social arrangement by attempting to suppress and control resistance. They posture to appease their funders, their storm makes it rain dollars to perpetuate their unending anti-oppression gala.
While liberals and media spin accusatory wheels with the “anti-fa threw the first punch” condemnation, let us clarify that it does not concern that punches flew; after all, colonization is war. Indeed the first punch was thrown long ago, with the force of colonial terror and genocidal wars that have been inflicted upon Indigenous Peoples in the so-called “US.” This is the context in which we continue to wage resistance. This blindspot forces liberals to march in unending circles, with, around, and through, colonial power
Rhetorical cliches like “You’re just full of hate and violence” and “take off your masks” were thrown at anti-colonial anti-fascists in the streets of occupied O’odham lands aka Phoenix. To which several of us responded, “we’ve faced more than 500 years of white supremacist colonial violence, don’t tell Indigenous Peoples how to resist.” As some near our crowd chanted “This is what democracy looks like,” the anarchist tendency of our bloc raged, “This is what democracy got you.”
We reject the notion that white nationalists will come to the understanding of the wrongs of their ways. We are too keen on history and fresh graves. The irony is, wannabe movement managers myopic calls for peace that have precipitated the surge of the so-called “alt-right.” They’ll keep telling us to turn the other cheek until our faces have been lashed to bone.
As Indigenous, as LGBTQI2S, as brown, as black, as working-class and poor, we fiercely reject the liberal imposition of victim hood. We are rabid, we have claws, and we fight back and forward.
We have no pretense; last night was no victory, yet it should be known that O’odham and accomplices have history combating fascists/police in the streets of so-called Phoenix. The powerful actions of O’odham hands dismantling steel barriers that were defending white supremacists evoked the possibilities of the attack against all types of colonial violence. From the border wall in Tohono O’odham lands, to the South Mountain Freeway in Akimel O’odham lands.
The only victory we could ever accept is the total liberation of our lands and people. The gains we sought were fulfilled within the articulation of an anti-colonial and anti-fascist resistance and the exploration of the potential force (both tactically and ideologically) these positions can shape.
From occupied Akimel O’odham territory (Phoenix, AZ)
Seven people were arrested in Phoenix by police after blocking a van with detainees in an attempt to halt the deportation of Guadalupe Garcia. Garcia, an undocumented immigrant arrested nearly a decade ago in one of then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s workplace sweeps targeting immigrant workers, who was attempting to check in with the local ICE office as a condition as a condition of the workplace raid, however her felony conviction for the arrest in 2008 meant she was a target for new enforcement aimed at the forced removal of undocumented people from the United States.
Puente, a local non-profit pro-migrant activist group, quickly organized protests calling for her removal from custody and a return to her family, as protests dragged into the night hundreds came to the ICE office in downtown Phoenix to join Garcia’s family in solidarity.
After the activists blocking the van were arrested the vehicle returned to the ICE property, allowing the Phoenix police to pull dozens of officers into the ICE building to assist federal agents in enforcing the deportation order. A few hours after the initial attempt to halt the van, a small convoy of police vehicles left the gates of the federal building with Guadalupe Garcia. There was no organized effort to halt the second attempt, and the few people who ran into the street were grabbed by plainclothes police while officers in riot gear with less lethal weapons moved towards the crowd across the street.
A few small groups of local anarchists were present, offering up chants against the police, ICE, and the usual racist state of affairs. As the crowd remained in a stand off with police, the chants became increasingly hostile towards the cops, and the non-profit approved comments decrying the practices and policies of one institution became calls for the abolition of all borders and nations, and calls to burn down ICE.
The standoff between the crowd and the officers lasted for another hour after the deportation vehicles left with Guadalupe Garcia, and finally the police withdrew. Anarchists and other militants defied the calls from Puente organizers to regroup and talk “next steps” and instead took to the streets in defiance of police orders.
Close to one hundred people then spilled out onto Central Ave., halting traffic and blocking the light rail train as a Puente organizer again tried to call the crowd out of the streets and back to the sidewalks. It seemed as though people wanted even more, but police were able to succeed where the respectable activist group had failed in pushing people back from the streets and onto the sidewalk.
Workplace raids, the snatching of relatives from vehicles, homes, workplaces, and the regular deaths of migrants crossing the border in southern Arizona are not unusual events. We’ve become used to them over the years even as the federal government has continued to carry out this attack on immigrants in a stealthier fashion than our local right-wing sheriff. This new attack coming from the feds should cause great concern that the “bad old days” of open local, state, and federal hostility towards migrants may be surpassed under the new administration.
Certainly we see that it’s going to take a lot more than blockading vans to stop the deportation machine, and we may soon have a better idea of what that looks like as events unfold in Arizona and across the US in the coming weeks.
[I’m honored to host this obituary for FW Bill Krist, written by J. Pierce, et al. I feel fortunate to have been able to meet Bill shortly before he passed, and agree with J. Pierce that he provides a great example of what it means to be a “Lifelong Wobbly.” A shorter version of this obituary is being printed in the Industrial Worker.]
In June of 2015, the Phoenix IWW and many others mourned the loss and celebrated the life of William Krist, Bill Krist, Krazy Bill, KB. He was a friend, mentor, and grand-fatherly figure to many of us.
KB was the old man of the IWW in Arizona. Having been signed up by Aaron in 2000, KB was the only continuous, paid-up IWW member in Phoenix from 2000 until his death in 2015. He would pay his dues in January for the whole year, every year, and wore an IWW Centenary button or member pin on his hat every day. KB was a model member in many ways: unwavering loyalty to the organization and our historic mission, and always a positive influence.
For 15 years, KB would come to Branch meetings and offer what he could to the projects the IWW was working on. From organizing grocery workers at Gentle Strength co-op, to supporting the Roofers Union’s organizing efforts in the exclusive suburbs; from distributing Worker’s Rights Cards, to supporting immigrant workers against racist attacks by the terrorist leaders of “Dumbfuckistan” – KB was there. Bill would often thank us personally for the work we did for the union. Later on as his health deteriorated, he couldn’t march and picket like he wanted, but he would come and sit in his car or drive his electric scooter if he felt up for it.
Krazy Bill felt a visceral connection to Arizona’s centuries old class struggle – the harvest hands, miners, and laundresses vs. the trusts, the bankers, and the sheriffs. He especially identified with the 2,000 mostly Mexican and immigrant miners who were rounded up at gun point and deported from the Arizona mining towns of Bisbee and Jerome in 1917. This historic attack on the IWW and the working class was a focal point for KB’s radical education of younger fellow workers, as he took us down to Bisbee to commune with history at FW James Brew’s grave.
KB grew up in Phoenix, a dusty little town as he remembered it in the 50s and 60s. His parents owned the Krist Café, which he often referenced in his many tall tales of the early days of the Valley. He spent most of his working life in toxic waste water treatment in Phoenix but evidently worked as a factory worker in Cleveland, Ohio when he was younger. The plant that KB retired from at 52, originally Garrett Turbine Engine Company, is one of half a dozen companies near Sky Harbor airport, including Motorola and Honeywell, responsible for several toxic EPA National Priority List Superfund sites that are decades in the lawsuits and clean up.
Apart from his life as a working stiff, Bill enjoyed camping and hunting in the desert. At 18, KB went to gold pan in the Superstition Mountains, working a small gold mine by himself. He later told a few of us, “That’s when I lost all contact with civilization.” This is from where Bill traced his non-conformity with conventions of cleanliness and tidiness, which as Bill got older, was the source of many problems, not the least of which was livable housing.
KB flouted the expectations of the ‘bourgeois fucks’ and their society in many ways, especially with his “unique, radical, and often politically-incorrect sense of humor” as Charles referred to it. At the memorial, Dean reminded us of KB’s views on cigarettes: “Smoke ‘em if ya gotta ‘em! If ya don’t got any, I’ll lend ya some. If you’re pregnant, better get another one, ‘cause you’re smoking for two.” Bill claimed to own “dozens” of guns, and his neighbor shared a story about how KB enjoyed watering his lawn and his award-winning vegetable garden with a loaded pistol drooping from the pocket of his gym shorts. Evidently he did shoot his foot one of those times and then drove himself to the hospital, likely in one of his huge 1970s hoopties. As for his love of burgers, Stacy remembered KB’s amorous advocacy of eating flesh while often providing vegan treats so as to include everyone.
Although having married 3 or 4 times, KB’s destiny as a ‘ladies man’ never did materialize the way he might have liked. Yet his admiration for women, both as a feminist and as a romantic, was evident to all. As confidant to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, man, woman, and everything outside and in-between, KB offered relationship advice when he thought it useful, but mainly his humble reflections. Looking back on what might have gone wrong with his past loves, he concluded simply, “The only thing they had in common was me.”
One of Bill’s two sons, Josh (the other one being Jesse), reported in the memorial program, Bill “was charged with Conspiracy to Overthrow the U.S. Government by Violent Means in 1976, an experience that made him realize that those who have power often abuse it. He was distressed that his beloved, sleepy hometown had been taken over by remorseless developers and suspect politicians. He spent his retirement as an activist, and was a regular participant and organizer of protests against injustice.”
Factory work gave KB his life-long class struggle intensity and along the way he pledged his fidelity to anarchism. He insisted that the Phoenix GMB does and always shall run on consensus: “it’s in the charter.” He was one of the anchors of the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition (PAC), which functioned as a beehive for uncompromising political resistance to the growing neo-fascism in Arizona. The IWW functioned as the “class struggle” pie slice in PAC with Earth First!, Food Not Bombs, Cop Watch, and others who shared mutual members.
Although he was a spirited feminist and an astute economic and scientific thinker, KB didn’t go in for jargon and posturing. His most effective weapon for making the world a better place was his smile. Fara and Jakobe noted KB’s welcoming presence and its effect on all of us, saying, “There was no one who didn’t like KB. He was involved in so many groups and friends with so many activists, yet he never talked shit… But he did love the latest gossip.” His friendliness toward everyone – activists, neighbors, restaurant and grocery store workers, passers-by while picketing – and his skill at building unity in the movement is something that the Left could take a lesson from, Fara said.
Bill Krist was one of a kind and will be remembered in many ways. Elizabeth said she is going to miss lunch dates with KB at his numerous (secret) cheap and delicious restaurants. Charles reminded us of Joe Hill’s admonition: “Don’t mourn, organize!” and will undoubtedly think of KB every time he blows his nose on the American flag snot rag that KB bequeathed to him. Aaron, Matt, and I all wrote poems of a sort, separately, in tribute to KB’s “generous heart, keen intellect, libertine spirit, and free-range feet,” as Aaron put it. And his son Josh noted that one of KB’s “few regrets would be dying before Arpaio was in DOJ custody.”
Although he might laugh, scoff, or curse at the idea of being canonized “Saint KB” or knighted “Sir William Krist” (and surely he’s reading his copy of the Industrial Winged-Atheist, livid that I’m the one who wrote his obituary), we’d all be content if KB found his place in some Anarchist Hall of Fame somewhere. But I suppose he’ll have to be satisfied with the honorific title: Fellow Worker Bill.
The Phoenix Anarchist Community has been active in recent weeks as a result of a report ‘Dissent or Terror: How the Nation’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, in Partnership with Corporate America Turned on Occupy Wall Street’ compiled by The Center for Media and Democracy that details the vast web of collaboration between the Phoenix Police Department, The FBI, The Department of Homeland Security, and Counter Terror apparatuses in infiltrating and shutting down the Occupy Phoenix movement, as well as surveilling activists before and far beyond the initial dates of protest.
According to the documents, the protestors were being monitored and infiltrated by undercover police at an October 7th meeting, a full week before the protests began. It was around this time that the decision to enforce arbitrary city codes and lesser known laws for the purpose of disrupting and crushing the Occupy Phoenix movement was also made. It is of little wonder now why hundreds of police, and a helicopter descended on Margaret T. Hance Park the first night of the protest to arrest anyone in the park.
Also included in the documents is the collusion between the ALEC conference, and the Phoenix Police Department in infiltrating activist circles to monitor planned activity at the ALEC conference which came to Scottsdale on November 30th, 2011. The documents detail how the Phoenix Police circulated activists pictures as “potential persons of interest” before the conference, though who created that list, and why is still unknown. It also reveals that the ALEC conference paid upwards of 30,000 dollars to off duty Phoenix Police officers to work private security at the event, to insulate themselves from a potentially riotous assembly.
All of these documents go to show what us anarchists have been saying all along: The police are not a benevolent force to protect our rights to demonstrate. They are a militaristic machine intent on disrupting, infiltrating, and destroying our movements and breaking apart our communities. They do not, and never will, have our interests in mind, only that of power, and property.
The surveillance isn’t surprising to us, seasoned activists who have long been aware that police, and private interests collude to crush potentially rebellious movements and spaces. What should be gleaned from this information is that the police state, greatly expanded after 9/11 , is being used to criminalize dissent in the name of counter terrorism. As a community, we will not stand for this and vow to mobilize around police and state repression in all forms. We will deliberate as a community, and act as a community. We will not stand for police harassment and surveillance of our communities!
The Valley Anarchist Circle, The Phoenix Commune, East Valley Revolution, DeColonize Phoenix,artists, and other concerned community members.
According to documents released by the Center for Media and Democracy this week, while investigating Occupy Phoenix organizers and anarchists in Phoenix, Sgt. Ken Renwick (of Tempe’s Homeland Defense Unit) directed plain clothes officers to “visit Casey Moore’s and see if we can get any intel”. Casey Moore’s is a bar in downtown Tempe where police suspected anarchists gathered and hatched their plans. It’s affectionately called “Casey’s” by regulars.
The problem? May Day was approaching and while it seemed Occupy Phoenix had wound down in many respects, it was known that Tempe anarchists were planning something, probably in Tempe, maybe in Scottsdale. But finding out what hadn’t proved an easy task.
At the beginning of Occupy Phoenix Sgt. Tom Van Dorn, head of the Major Offenders Bureau and Career Criminals Squad was forced to admit that “finding out how the anarchists are organizing and what they are up to is still difficult”. Sending police infiltrators like Saul DeLara (quickly unmasked by veteran activists) hadn’t helped. By May the cops were still complaining about the lack of information, and Brenda Dowhan worried about the “complete silence from May Day organizers”.
Incidentally, Dowhan is a perfect example of the explosion of anti-terrorism positions since September 11th, signing off her emails as “Terrorism Liaison All Hazards Expert, Phoenix Police Department Homeland Defense Bureau, Arizona Counter-Terrorism Information Center”. An online search reveals her as an alumni.of Kaplan University, an online college. In one email, Dowhan shared at least one link to an article posted to AnarchistNews.org entitled “Spain: New wave of incendiary attacks and sabotages by Nihilist Anarchists”. There were no attributed anarchist incendiary attacks in Phoenix during the period covered by these documents.
This wasn’t the first time anarchists in Tempe had been singled out by anti-terrorism authorities to fit their demands for a local terrorist bogeyman. In 2004, Dan Elting, a Phoenix cop and counter-terrorism trainer, organized a community forum at the Tempe library in which anarchists were described as terrorist threats equivalent to Al-Qaeda and the Klan. Printouts of the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition’s webpage were distributed as reference materials to a very conservative, elderly and scared audience. It was the only local organization so featured.
Around the time Tempe plain clothes officers appear to have been directed in the name of homeland defense to brave the cool Spring patio weather and cold beers at Casey’s to spy on anarchists, Casey’s had been informally the site of a regular Thursday night anarchist drinking night known as “Anarchy Thursdays”. This is almost certainly the reason why cops were sent there.
Anarchists had been living and organizing in Tempe for well over a decade, and downtown Tempe had seen two previous May Day marches in 2002 and 2003. The former had gotten a bit out of hand from the perspective of the cops. In addition, police reacted clumsily and pepper sprayed journalists. But by 2003 the bike unit had received training by the Eugene Police Department in crowd control (Eugene being another national hotbed of anarchist organizing at the time) and the march was more easily contained.
Over the years anarchists have become well-established in downtown Tempe neighborhoods and the community there, and had proved it most recently (pre-Occupy) during the 2010 resistance to SB1070. Anarchists had initiated and been central organizers in building Tempe neighborhood resistance to the application of the law in Tempe, doing door to door organizing, printing yard signs denouncing the law that proliferated through the neighborhood, putting on well-attended neighborhood general assemblies and one very large march through the neighborhood that attracted a wide range of Tempe residents. Police were not able to contain that march to the sidewalks and residents marched cheerfully in the streets as their neighbors frequently came out to wave in support or join in.
What the cops did know was that the Tempe May Day action involved taking over a public space (“reclaim the commons”, as it was called in anarchist parlance) in order to plant a community garden. An occupation. This much was clear from the posters that went up around town.
The chosen spot was a long vacant lot downtown. For two decades it had been the location of Tempe’s largely beloved “Gentle Strength Co-op” (although not so much with the developers and city council). Anarchists had held weekly meetings for years there as the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition, and had run an infoshop on the premises for about six months at one point (until some yuppie members complained about “bad vibes”). Still, anarchists worked there and were prominent members. But the co-op had closed now and, after a failed attempt to develop the land into a Whole Foods/condoplex, it had lain fallow and unused for years. What’s more, the empty lot was now owned by the very same Canadian corporation that owned Zuccotti Park, the site of the original Occupy Wall Street encampment.
Officer Derek Pittam, by May Day 2012 serving as a Tempe Police Department Homeland Defense Unit Detective, had come up on the bike squad and had experience dealing with Tempe anarchists. He’d had many run ins with them during protests and their routine cop watch patrols in the downtown. Like many cops post-9/11, he had moved into one of the myriad anti-terrorism-related jobs that had proliferated across police departments nationwide thanks to increased Federal funding, a kind of grade inflation that led to the ridiculous number of titles accumulated à la Dowhan by many of the officers appearing in the documents released by PR Watch. Those documents reveal Pittam was determined to deny anarchists a victory in their May Day plans.
In order to execute those plans, and to make sure that the vacant lot stayed empty and unused by the neighborhood, Pittam engaged in a series of pre-emptive actions (of questionable legality), such as sending police to visit local businesses warning of anarchist activity (including, according to one business owner, a claim that anarchists planned to run “really long hoses” across the street to water the lot). Oh, the horror!
He also wrote a letter to local businesses and prominent non-anarchist neighborhood residents. In it, he linked the May Day action to anarchist violence. Pittam clearly saw this as a battle for the hearts and minds of Tempe. He wrote: “I am very concerned that the organizers of this event have not disclosed important information in their quest to gain support from local residents and businesses.” Unfortunately for Pittam, the letter was leaked by residents sympathetic to Tempe anarchists, who then published it the day before the garden planting, causing some embarrassment.
On the day in question about seventy people showed up with the intent of building a community garden, a great many of them local residents. They gathered at the Farmer’s Market across the street, with the permission of the owner. What they found was a line of riot cops positioned in the lot. Police threatened any trespassers with arrest. Still loaded up with supplies (and with the cops baking in the hot sun), the group decided to take over a strip of city land right next to the lot. Police did not act and a garden was built. Several news outlets sent out reporters and cameras to report on it, capturing the excitement and enthusiasm of participants. A concrete planter was poured and filled with a variety of plants and vegetables. At one point police, watching from the park, thought they saw some small children vandalizing a sign, so they stormed in and detained the kids and their parents. It turned out the paint was water-soluble, so only warnings were given. The impromptu community garden was maintained for three days until city workers came early in the morning and destroyed it.
In an email tooting his own horn about police activities that day (designed, as Sgt. Renwick had said, to make neighborhood residents and anarchists “go home saddened”, denied victory), Pittam wrote, ‘Our local actions, for better or worse, did appear to have an impact. We did not have “Black Bloc” emerge…’ Why anyone would imagine a black bloc to be a useful tactic for building a garden wasn’t clear, but it must certainly have been related to the general hyping of the potential for violence that these cops regularly engaged in. Indeed, most likely a black bloc wasn’t deterred at all, but none was ever planned. After all, aside from its uselessness in that situation, it was also 100 degrees that day. Only cops hang around in all black in those conditions. They were the only black bloc that day.
Justifying their jobs in the face of what was in fact was a bit uncooperative but nevertheless standard fare protest must have been both frustrating and difficult to understand from an anti-terror framework. It’s telling that no where in these documents does it appear that police called each other out on their fantastic imaginings. Instead, like Pittam post-garden defense, it’s pats on the back, self-congratulation and attaboys.
Interestingly, people who participated in the action didn’t view it as a defeat. A plot was taken over, the contradiction of cops defending an empty lot with significant local meaning was on full display, and a garden was planted. And it was destroyed because the city couldn’t tolerate it. It would seem the organizers actually came out on top that day, not the TPD.
Nevertheless, when we read these police documents what we get is the odd juxtaposition of anti-terror rhetoric and gravity on one hand, and then the broad interpretation of results in the face of the actual run of the mill nature of the “threat”. As in the case of a local homeland defense officer, organizing with Phoenix anti-terror cops to send undercovers to spy on drunk anarchists and to deploy riot police in downtown Tempe to stop the planting of a community garden. Oh yeah, and to detain children for painting.