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Jun 4, 2004 | 22:00 GMT

5 mins read

Radical, Anarchist Groups Pose Their Own Threat

Security is high prior to next week's G-8 summit at Sea Island, Ga. STRATFOR believes the threat of militant Islamist attacks during the event is real, but slim, because of the massive security net that will be thrown over the area. However threats remain from anarchist and other radical groups during the G-8 and similar "globalization" meetings in the United States and abroad. A number of large protests are planned throughout the United States during the G-8 summit, which begins June 8 and lasts three days. The G-8 summit, World Trade Organization meetings, free trade talks and other such gatherings have drawn a large number of anti-free trade and anti-globalization protest groups for the past decade. The protests usually take the form of nonviolent marches, rallies or sit-ins, and prove to be nothing more than a nuisance to attendees and the security officials charged with their protection. The danger lies more in radical anarchist groups. The past few years have seen the rise of radical splinter movements, whose roots usually can be traced to legitimate causes; the groups have evolved into quasi-militant organizations that have used violence as a vehicle for their messages. Groups such as the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF), for example, have ideologies based in environmentalism and animal rights, but have adopted more aggressive tactics traditionally used by anarchist groups. The activities of anarchist and radical activist groups in North America can be described mostly as vandalism rather than terrorism — acts such as marking sport utility vehicles with graffiti on car dealers' parking lots or tree spiking in controversial logging areas — but their European counterparts are sometimes more sophisticated and often more violent, and North American groups already are showing themselves to be adaptable.
  • One tactic common to European anarchist groups is placing small bombs outside banks and ATMs or Western retail outlets and restaurants (such as the Blockbuster and McDonalds stores recently hit in Italy and Turkey). The devices usually are designed to explode in the middle of the night and police are typically forewarned in an effort to minimize casualties. This is seen commonly in Greece and Italy.
  • Italian anarchists allegedly conducted a recent anti-EU letter bomb campaign that targeted a number of European Parliament members. Leftist groups also have assassinated government officials.
  • Fire — and Molotov cocktails — have long been a favored weapon of anarchist groups. Environmental activists in the United States already have placed explosive and incendiary devices in and around symbols of what they consider to be environmental exploitation — such as the August 2003 fires at SUV dealerships in California, later claimed by ELF, and fire bombings of houses under construction in Arizona and other places. Most North American anarchist groups seem mainly inclined toward vandalism, but this does not mean they do not pose a threat. The use of timed incendiary devices by groups such as ALF and ELF, and the tactical employment of surveillance, countersurveillance, medical and communications teams during protest activities hint at how threatening these groups could become. There are some techniques employed by North American anarchists that warrant observation:
  • Anarchists seem to have focused their destructive energies against ubiquitous symbols of U.S. capitalism. Companies such as Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Starbucks and Nike have been targeted in the past. The result has usually been little more than broken windows.
  • Another common tactic is to infiltrate legitimate demonstrations in the attempt to stir widespread violence and rioting, seen most recently in a spring anti-Iraq war gathering in Vancouver, Canada. This has become so commonplace that sources within activist organizations have told STRATFOR they police their own demonstrations to prevent infiltration by fringe groups.
  • Threats to personal security in which individuals from target corporations are singled out for harassment or even violence cannot be ruled out; they are tactics already employed by the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) group.
  • Protesters have slipped past hotel security to spray paint walls and pull fire alarms where corporate officials were staying.
  • Corporate headquarters have been the targets of vandalism, such as stink bombs and blockades employed by Greenpeace activists against Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemicals. Attacks carried out by anarchists usually are meant not to kill, but to vandalize; they are often carried out when few people are present. The crowds, chaos and confusion likely to be present during large-scale protests — such as those expected during the G-8 summit — give these groups the ability to act with relative impunity and anonymity. As with most militant threats in the post Sept. 11 environment, vigilance and quality law enforcement are the best defenses. Increasing patrols and countersurveillance activity are essential. Additionally, increased liaison activities with legitimate organizations planning protest demonstrations will go a long way toward improving security by reducing the ability of radical elements to co-opt these events. Finally, a modicum of restraint in policing mass demonstrations will not only generate good will, but also will defuse any tension sparked by fringe elements within the group, which are keyed to react violently in the face of perceived police brutality. Heavy-handed police responses, such as those witnessed in Seattle during WTO protests in 1999 and in free trade protests in Miami in 2003, serve to generate more violence and actually further anarchist goals.
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