Anarchy and the FBI

Human Rights

"What a waste of thumbs that are opposable/To make machines that are disposable/And sell them to seagulls flying in circles/Around one big right wing/Yes, the left wing was broken long ago/By the slingshot of COINTELPRO/And now it's so hard to have faith in anything/Especially your next bold move"
--"Your Next Bold Move," Ani DiFranco

In a November 23, 2003 piece entitled, "F.B.I. Scrutinizes Antiwar Rallies," New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau broke the rather unsurprising news with this lead: "The Federal Bureau of Investigation has collected extensive information on the tactics, training and organization of antiwar demonstrators and has advised local law enforcement officials to report any suspicious activity at protests to its counterterrorism squads, according to interviews and a confidential bureau memorandum."

Representing the land of the free, F.B.I. officials told Lichtblau the comforting news that the "intelligence-gathering effort was aimed at identifying anarchists and 'extremist elements' plotting violence, not at monitoring the political speech of law-abiding protesters."

If there was ever a fail-safe, catch-all band of villains, it's the anarchists. Evoke the term "anarchist" and everyday citizens look the other way when law enforcement (sic) agencies bend the rules. Whether it's the Palmer raids of 1918-21, the deportation of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, the devastating impact of the FBI Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO), it's nothing new. In fact, AK Press just re-issued Berkman's "What is Anarchism?"; over 70 years old, it could have been written yesterday.

"You have heard that Anarchists throw bombs, that they believe in violence, and that Anarchy means disorder and chaos," Berkman writes. "It is not surprising that you should think so. The press, the pulpit, and everyone in authority constantly din it into your ears." But he adds, "Most of them know better" and "have a reason for not telling you the truth."

Part of that truth involves the reality that, as Berkman explains, "it is capitalism and government which stand for disorder and violence," while anarchism "means order without government and peace without violence." The reason for not allowing those self-evident truths to be known is obvious. What self-perpetuating corporate culture wants a populace appreciating that the word "anarchy" comes from the Greek, meaning "without force, without violence or government"?

"Government is the very fountainhead of violence, constraint, and coercion," Berkman writes. "Anarchism teaches that we can live in a society where there is no compulsion of any kind. A life with compulsion naturally means liberty; it means freedom from being forced or coerced...You cannot lead such a life unless you do away with the institutions that curtail your liberty and interfere with your life, the conditions that compel you to act differently than you would really like to."

Institutions like the FBI and its "extensive information on the tactics, training and organization of antiwar demonstrators." Conditions like the "war" on non-US-sponsored terror.

Mickey Z. is the author of The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet (Soft Skull Press) and can be reached at

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