Protesters Allege Police Witch Hunt

Political activists, including anarchists, describe sophisticated R.N.C. smear tactics

Before and during the Republican National Convention, the major media stoked fears of anarchists descending on New York bent on wreaking havoc. “Anarchists Hot for Mayhem” was the headline on a Daily News article reporting that “50 of the country’s leading anarchists” each accompanied by “50 followers” would be in town for the convention. “Finest Prep for Anarchy,” blared the headline on a New York Post article that included descriptions of three “high-profile, radical” activists.

ABC’s “Nightline” showed photos of two dozen individuals—perhaps some of the same “50 leading anarchists” mentioned by the Daily News—describing them in the words of police, as “troublesome, even dangerous, anarchists who infiltrate other groups of demonstrators and then try to provoke violence.” Many of the individuals are from New York and at least four can be found at Union Square on a regular basis.

While these stories may have sold newspapers and served Republican purposes by casting the protesters in a negative light, their subjects are now saying they and their political belief—anarchy—have been given a bad name. They readily admit being anarchists, but say they don’t advocate violence. Adding to the mounting legal bill the city may likely face over the handling of RNC protester arrests, some of these individuals are now considering defamation lawsuits against the New York Police Department for encouraging smears of them by feeding the information to the media.

Similar to the Iraqi “death cards” depicting Saddam Hussein and his generals and ministers, the NYPD allegedly compiled photos of dozens of individuals for surveillance in connection with the RNC. “Some of the people in these police intelligence photographs obtained by ABC News have been under surveillance for 18 months,” Ted Koppel intoned in a voice-over as 24 of the photos were shown on the August 31 segment, “Vote 2004: Protecting the Republican Convention.”

Brad Will, 34, a former East Village squatter and activist now living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said he was disturbed to hear from friends that his photo was among those shown on “Nightline.” In addition, he said, a waiter friend at an East Village restaurant, reported that while taking an order on August 30 she noticed some detectives at a table flipping through photos, one of which was Will’s.

“She said, ‘Watch out, they’re following you,’ ” Will said. “I’m planning on launching some kind of lawsuit, defamation of character. They put my photo on ‘Nightline,’ ” he said. “I never hurt anyone in my life. There are no cases pending against me. I’m a journalist now, I don’t want my career to be ruined. I don’t want to lose my job—I just started working at a health food store in the East Village.”

Will videotaped the convention protests for Indymedia, doing his best to avoid arrest, though he did get pepper-sprayed during the arrests of 500 to 600 protesters during a “street party” march on 16th Street on August 31.

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