The war at home


In an interview during his recent visit to Minnesota, former Chicago Eight defendant Tom Hayden talked about the current practice of designating national conventions and other meetings as “national special security events.” Hayden, who served in the California legislature from 1982-2000, criticized massive federal funding of local police departments for such events, and called the arrests of the RNC Eight in Minnesota “a by-product of the perceived necessity of the war on terrorism.”

Chicago Eight and the RNC Eight
In 1968, anti-war protesters filled the streets of Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. Law enforcement hardliners publicly warned before the convention that outsiders would come into the city and destroy it. Undercover police agents infiltrated the ranks of protesters and participated in planning and protests.

After the teargas cleared in Chicago, after Richard Nixon won the presidential election, the political prosecution of the Chicago Eight began. They were charged under a federal conspiracy law prohibiting interstate travel for the purpose of inciting a riot.

The federal conspiracy law used in the Chicago Eight case had never been used before and has never been used since then. After Bobby Seale, the sole black defendant among the Eight, was bound and gagged in the courtroom, his case ended in a mistrial. Five of the remaining defendants were convicted, and their convictions were overturned on appeal. Two defendants were acquitted outright.

The RNC Eight, arrested in the two days before the beginning of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008, have been charged with conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism. They have been charged in Minnesota state court, under a state law that has never been used before, which was passed as part of the post-9/11 war on terror.

“To justify all the funding,” Hayden explained, “you have to snap up someone, some time to avoid having it exposed as a payoff to the local police.” Hayden went on to describe grants of $50 million to police departments in Seattle, Miami, Boston, New York and Denver for similar “national special security events.” The $50 million, Hayden said, was just the “upfront money, not counting the secret money.”

In each city, a similar script plays out, with the feds warning the local police and the local police and city government relaying the warnings to the media and people, Hayden said.

“The script usually goes — there is an anarchist menace who will show up to destroy your town. Also a domestic terrorist menace. The only thing that can protect you is the FBI and the feds and a massive police build-up, stripping away authority from the mayor and the city council.”

“In Denver [at the 2008 Democratic National Convention], I talked to the police chief,” Hayden said. “[He] told me that during the night, near the 16th street mall through Denver, they were confiscating weapons off side streets that had been stockpiled in alleys nearby.”

According to Hayden, the reports of “stockpiled” weapons are part of the script used to justify security measures. Police in St. Paul also reported caches of bricks and stones near demonstration sites during the RNC.

“[From city to city], the script doesn’t change,” Hayden said. “If there is no violence, they say, ‘we prevented it.’ … They pursue this script and nobody calls them on it.”

Hayden predicted that, if protesters are non-threatening, “they’re going to learn and send agents out to plant weapons or throw Molotov cocktails.

“As long as the pubic is dumb and the politicians cowardly, they won’t have to send out agents. But I don’t see how this pulling the wool over the eyes of people can go on forever.

“The war on terrorism is out of control.”