Anarchists’ presence dwindles
L.A. anarchists can’t seem to keep it together. Or can they?
Nearly seven years ago, dozens of the black-shirted radicals made a disruptive impression during protests outside the Democratic National Convention at Staples Center. A 2001 May Day rally in Long Beach brought another strong turnout and resulted in more than 90 arrests.
But current and former followers of the anti-government philosophy scoff at Los Angeles police claims that a well-organized group of anarchists helped ignite a melee during Tuesday’s immigration rights marches.
Word that anarchists might have played an inciting role in the MacArthur Park confrontation -- now the subject of a police excessive-force investigation -- also surprised at least one officer who surveils violence-prone provocateurs.
“We haven’t seen them in large numbers in L.A.,” said the officer, who requested anonymity because he works in the Los Angeles Police Department’s counter-terrorism bureau.
Fallen-away anarchists agreed, saying the movement has withered in the area since 2000, when its homegrown ranks were swelled by out-of-town sympathizers drawn to the convention.
Austin Delgadillo, who was part of the L.A. anarchist contingent back then, said he and others have since moved on to more-structured forms of advocacy. And many of the remaining L.A. anarchists have settled into laid-back tactics, Delgadillo said.
“A lot of them are pacifist anarchists,” he added.
Police Chief William J. Bratton initially said that as many as 100 anarchists touched off Tuesday’s clash by throwing rocks and bottles at officers. He later described them more generally as “the agitators or the anarchists as they are more commonly called.”
Bratton said news video showed that they were “more organized than we are in some respects,” as they approached the police in triangle formation, backed by a line of projectile tossers.
The chief said a conspiracy investigation would attempt to identify the people in the footage.
“We see them all the time,” he said. “Who are they? Where are they coming from?”
Meanwhile, some organizers of the immigration march said they spotted fewer than 10 protesters wearing the anarchists’ signature black T-shirts and masks.
Jonathan Santi of the Multi-ethnic Immigrant Workers Organizing Network said that he counted only eight anarchists taunting the police outside MacArthur Park and that he saw none of them throw anything. Santi said they shouted vulgarities at the advancing officers and refused commands to disperse.
The marchers tried to herd the anarchists away from the police, but the eight broke free, he said. “I told them to control themselves, that they shouldn’t be doing this kind of thing,” said Santi, who considers the anarchists partly responsible for the disturbance. The anarchists fled as the police moved into the park, striking demonstrators with batons and firing foam bullets into the crowd, according to Santi and others.
Dana Ward, a political psychology professor at Pitzer College and an anarchist, said Tuesday’s turmoil does not sound like the work of those active in the Southern California movement.
“There would be no advantage to starting trouble at a march dealing with immigration,” said Ward, who maintains an archive on the history and theory of anarchism. “It would just bring bad publicity.”
He also said the police often use the anarchist label as a “propaganda tool.”
Ward placed the L.A. anarchist census at a few hundred to a couple of thousand, the vast majority of them devoted to nonviolence.
Some belong to organizations such as Food Not Bombs and the Catholic Worker. L.A. anarchists of lore include writer Ricardo Flores Magon, an instigator of the 1910 Mexican Revolution.
A Pitzer conference held last year for anarchist academics and activists attracted 150, Ward said.
Anarchists boast bigger followings in San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest and New York, the professor added.
“We’re just too spread out,” he said of the L.A. region. “It’s harder for people to get together out here. It takes more effort.”
The Internet abounds with anarchy-themed sites that mention L.A. cadres. But attempts to contact people associated with the sites were unsuccessful, with several e-mails going unanswered or bouncing back as undeliverable.
Nevertheless, Deputy Chief Mike Downing, who heads the LAPD’s counter-terrorism bureau, said the department is concerned that the destructive breed of anarchist in Los Angeles might be “growing in sentiment and numbers.”
“We haven’t seen that for a while, but we’re beginning to see a little more of it,” Downing said.
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.