If anyone still had any lingering doubt that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been using this year’s partisan street battles in places like Berkeley, California, as an opportunity to further develop their crowd control and protest disruption techniques, a newly published document should dispel it.
The report, titled “Violent Tactics Showcased at Berkeley Riots Likely to be Used at Future Demonstrations,” marked unclassified but “for official use only,” was produced by the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), and discusses tactics used by “violent Anti-fascists (Antifa), including anarchist extremists” during widely publicized protests and riots in Berkeley in 2017.
It notes tactics used including “black blocs,” where participants dress in all black and cover their faces to obscure their identities in a crowd, and use of “improvised weapons including, but not limited to pipes, bricks, hammers, bike locks, rocks, wooden dowels, bear spray, pepper spray, boards, dumpsters, soda cans, and road and police barricades such as bike racks and barricades.” It also notes that Berkeley protesters “have used commercial and homemade pyrotechnics including suspected M-80’s, roman candles, improvised incendiary devices, and smoke bombs.”
Protesters have “limited law enforcement response options by intermingling with crowds of peaceful protestors (sic),” built makeshift barricades, “avoided early detection at some events by assembling off-site before moving to a given venue,” and “appear to have used reconnaissance and surveillance to gain knowledge about event security gaps and infiltration opportunities,” according to the report.
“Violent anti-fascists have used multiple, overlapping communication platforms including megaphones, phone apps such as Signal, rally markers such as flags, and command and response words to continue to coordinate their actions if one communication method is compromised or fails,” the NCRIC document notes.
While previously published government documents have extensively referenced “anarchist extremists,” the new NCRIC report repeatedly and explicitly refers to “violent anti-fascists,” perhaps showing a shift in officials’ assessments of the ideological motivations of the protesters they’re most concerned with. Yet even if it does so inadvertently, the shift in terminology also seems to validate the (arguably very toxic) narrative that anyone attempting to counter anything done in the name of anti-fascism by self-proclaimed anti-fascists (including, of course, the law enforcement officials responsible for the document) are fascist themselves.
But such semantic nuances may be of little concern to career cops and intelligence agents. As I noted several months ago, while opponents of President Donald Trump continue to organize around the nebulous concept of “#TheResistance,” the U.S. government is hard at work on its own organizational effort towards developing a “science of resistance.”
“Law enforcement may also face new or evolving techniques from violent anti-fascists and anarchist extremists, who have multiple online and offline resources available to draw upon,” the NCRIC document notes. “Violent anti-fascists may attempt to develop new tactics targeting law enforcement that could provoke responding officers into using perceived excessive force against populations consisting of both violent and non-violent attendees. If police are perceived to respond with excessive force against peaceful protestors, it could embolden violent anti-fascist calls to increase violence against law enforcement.”
A vicious circle of escalating violence, in other words, in which police would presumably get the chance to test out an increasingly diverse array of military-grade crowd control toys provided free of charge from the Pentagon, is a potential scenario which has not escaped evaluation by the authorities.
While protesters in the San Francisco Bay Area may have enough political capital locally to continue fighting what they perceive to be fascism using the tactics that they have been throughout this year, it remains far from clear what impact this could have on national public opinion of their cause. And given that the political party that most such protesters more closely associate with “fascism” (the Republicans) control not only the White House but both houses of Congress, it seems a safe bet that they can expect little sympathetic treatment from the government, at the federal level at least.
It is certainly regrettable that far-right political provocateurs, some of whom draw openly racist supporters and outright neo-Nazis to their speeches, feel the need to come to a place where their views are seen — even more so than they are throughout most of the rest of the country — as contemptible. But it is also worth taking a step back for a moment, and questioning who benefits when protesters take their bait.