Anarchists' muted applause: 'The big bully got a black eye'
Seattle Times staff reporter
On Sept. 12, the day after our national security was shattered, Seattle Times reporter Alex Tizon and photographer Alan Berner ventured across the country to chronicle a changed America. We continue our journey, this time in a collection of reported "postcards.''
The first point they want to make is that killing people is not their thing. Breaking windows and starting fires — these are OK in the anarchist playbook, but not snuffing out humans.
So it is with reservation that the anarchists of Eugene applauded the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon. But make no mistake: They are applauding, if only among themselves.
"Those buildings not being there anymore — it's hard not to feel satisfaction about that," said "Rottin' " Robin Terranova, a bush-bearded man in his 30s and an organizer among the anarchists who gather, after a fashion, in Eugene.
Terranova and his compatriots don't feel compelled to publicize their satisfaction — even anarchists recognize a public-relations pitfall — but among local anarchists here, there is a notable "America had it coming" smugness.
It fits with the profile. They were the black-clad mob that rolled through Seattle during WTO in 1999, screaming for the downfall of government and corporations and contributing mightily to property damage totaling $3 million.
They went on to disrupt trade meetings in Washington, D.C., Quebec City, Göteborg and Genoa, all while raising hell in their own hometown, protesting Nike, exploding SUVs and vomiting on the mayor.
Eugene police say the anarchist community has been, in the words of one officer, "amazingly quiet" since Sept. 11. The anarchists themselves say they're laying low for obvious reasons: The citizenry is in no mood for boisterous dissent, and law enforcement coast to coast is twitchy.
Which is one reason Eugene anarchists have no plans to take part in activities later this week marking the second anniversary of protests at the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle. A few stragglers may drive up to Seattle to participate, but nothing like the "black bloc" of two years ago.
Eugene, a leafy university town two hours south of Portland, for decades has been known as the Berkeley of the Northwest: earthy and educated, artistic, left-leaning and writhing with activist energy. The rebel looking for a cause would have a lot to choose from here.
The anarchist movement, which calls for the eradication of all forms of authority, has melded here with environmentalism, animal rights and what's left of the radical left to the point where activists flow easily from one protest group to the next.
You can be an anarchist one week, an Earth Firster the next, or you could call yourself a "green anarchist" and cover both bases at once. You could decry animal experimentation in the morning and attend an anti-war rally in the afternoon. It would all contribute to what Terranova calls "the community of resistance" in Eugene.
The protest groups not only share personnel but Web sites and offices. Many in the resistance community gather at the same organic teahouse and cafe, Out of the Fog, near the Amtrak station.
Technically, there is no distinct anarchist community; only a few dozen energetic organizers who can recruit, when needed, a few hundred followers.
Word has it that much of the infamous black bloc of 1999 was composed of young rebel wannabes, some still in high school, many of whom have since moved on to other endeavors, like jobs.
The organizers, like Terranova and anarchist intellectual John Zerzan, a 58-year-old transplant from Haight-Ashbury, devote their whole lives to the cause and thus manage to make a lot of noise for a small group.
They run an information center, host a local television show and put out eight publications with titles like "Disorderly Conduct," "The Black-Clad Messenger" and others with words too naughty to repeat.
Zerzan, a soft-spoken, spectacled author of four books on anarchism, whose main claim to fame is his publicized friendship with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, hosts a radio show, "Anarchy Hour," on Sunday mornings.
And, of course, the organizers organize "actions," as they call them. Both Terranova and Zerzan admitted they helped plan and support black-bloc actions in Seattle and at home.
Two Eugene anarchists this past summer were sentenced for a pair of actions: arsons at a local truck dealership and an oil company. Craig Marshall, a 28-year-old known as "Critter," was sentenced to 5-½ years in prison; his partner, 22-year-old Jeffrey "Free" Luers, was handed 22-½ years. The radical community in Eugene refers to them simply as "Free and Critter," and hails them as heroes and martyrs, but the stiff prison sentences put a chill on other actions.
"We're going to have to be much more careful now," said Tim Lewis, a videographer and avowed anarchist in his 40s.
Sept. 11 brought a further quiet to the group. Its members were stunned along with the rest of the nation. Never in their wildest anarchist dreams did they imagine such a spectacular attack.
On a recent afternoon, Lewis and a fellow anarchist in his late 30s who wanted only to be identified as "Pacific Yew" spoke about the attacks. The discussion took place in Lewis' home, a small, sparsely furnished place in an alley on the west end of town.
Like most of the anarchists we met here, Lewis and Pacific came across as thoughtful and informed, passionate if not zealously self-righteous. They've got it right, and no one is going to tell them otherwise.
"I was really psyched that someone was fighting us back," said Pacific, referring to the sight of the jetliners piercing the twin towers.
"The big bully got a black eye," added Lewis. The bully, needless to say, is the United States.
Both men expressed sympathy for the dead, but their compassion rung hollow compared with their passion when discussing America's evils. Were the Sept. 11 attacks justified?
"That's a dicey one to answer in this climate," said Lewis. Then he ventured on:
"What happened to the victims sucked. It really sucked. But we need to put it in context. The U.S., directly or by proxy, has killed millions of people worldwide. I can comprehend why people would act so directly."
The two men went through a litany of alleged American atrocities in Iraq, Israel, Latin America, Panama, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, all the way back to the annihilation of Indian tribes and the enslavement of Africans.
"Our genocide just goes and goes and goes, and it never stops," said Pacific. "If all the people we tortured and killed got Infinite Justice, there would be no Americans left."
As the two men spoke, Lewis' 17-month-old daughter, Blair, sat quietly on his lap and watched flickering images on a television a few feet away.
The footage, which Lewis had shot, was of WTO in Seattle. It was a wild scene, part fury and part jubilation. The little girl, staring intently at the glowering faces, might easily have been wondering what it was that made all those people so mad.