Posted by: Dan | June 21, 2011

On Hockey Riots and Anarchism

During his reign, Augustus Caesar attempted to push through a number of legal moral reforms in order to try and restore traditional Roman values related to sexual purity, family values, modesty, and piety.  Some of these reforms met with some success.  Others, especially those related to trying to restore traditional family values, were less successful.  In fact, some of the laws created by Augustus were so universally disregarded that they were abandoned or annulled by his immediate successors.

When reading Roman reflections upon these things — the imperial push for traditional moral practices and the widespread disregard of these laws and the ongoing presence of vices that were (officially) despised by Roman traditionalism — one discovers an interesting bit of counsel offered to the Emperors (I can’t remember if I came across this in the writings of Tacitus or the essays of Seneca).  Essentially, the Emperors are advised to practice a great deal of mercy and not focus too much upon those who break lesser laws.  The reason for this is the fear that overly rigorous efforts to prosecute immoral people will actually reveal to the public that the immoral and the law-breakers actually far outnumber the moral and law-abiding.  If this was revealed, it was feared that a state of total imperial collapse would result and that the majority would over power the minority.  Hence, the need for caution and clemency.

I was thinking about this the other day, when reflecting upon the hockey riots that occurred in my city last week (I’m sure most people have seen the images but this will give you an idea of what went on).  Immediately afterward, the Mayor of Vancouver along with the Chief of Police rushed to blame “anarchists and thugs” for instigating the riots and for engaging in the worst acts of property destruction (see this article for example).  Apparently, this anarchist activity caught the city off guard.  As the Mayor stated: “Both during the G-20 [leaders’ summit in Toronto] and the 2010 Olympics these thugs were well known to be organizing and preparing to take action and criminal activities on the streets. There were no indications of that leading into last night.”

Of course, the real reason why the police were unable to gain intelligence on “these thugs,” is because the anarchists weren’t the ones rioting or instigating the riot or running around setting cop cars on fire or looting from stores.  The truth is that the rioters and the instigators were all just regular everyday people.  Mostly young and middle class (for a better reading of the riots see this article by Andrew Potter and this one by Frank Moher).  This has become abundantly clear given the ways in which people have been employing current technology in order to police one another (a scary enough development in social media, but people are then also punishing one another — people are being threatened, expelled from school, fired from work and even forced to move from their home).  As the identities of participants have been revealed online, one has learned that they are pretty much all not thugs or criminals or anarchists, but are children of doctors, or elite athletes, or students at the University who volunteer for charities.  Thus, as of today, the police have modified their statement about blaming the anarchists.

However, it is worth asking why the police chose to blame the anarchists and why a lot of people were so easily duped by the lie (sadly, a lot of people will remain duped as the accusation was made at a focal moment, whereas the modification to the statement — a retraction without being a retraction… which is about the most you’ll ever get from the police — came much later and did not receive nearly as much attention).  This is why I thought of the parallel to the law and order maintained by the Roman Emperors.  When attempting to maintain “law and order” (i.e. when attempting to maintain socioeconomic divisions and imbalances by maintaining a sacred belief in  “private property” and ensuring that the profits of the wealthy are protected at all times), it is far better to encourage the public to believe that those who violate these laws are a small minority of black-hearted “anarchists and thugs.”  It is far more terrifying, to the powerful and those who have bought into their ideology, to be forced to admit that any one of us, any average old do-goodin’ suburban kid, might be willing to violate those laws and morals at any time.  After all, once everybody knows that pretty much everybody is willing to disregard laws about profits and property then people might get it into their heads that they could do something like this again.  That would be disastrous and so the myth of a small group of instigators composed of “anarchists and thugs” is spread.

Of course, even the police knew from the beginning that this was a lie.  This is why they admit that their intelligence gathering let them down this time.  The truth is that their surveillance did not let them down.  The truth is that it was not anarchists instigating the riots after the hockey game and both the police (and the anarchists) know this, but the value of the lie for maintaining the death-dealing status quo of law and order is what was crucial in the message fed to the media (who quickly and generally unquestioningly fed the official line to the public).

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think there was anything great about the hockey riots.  Everybody knew they were going to happen (despite what the police said) and I did not support them nor did I participate in them (actively or passively).  In fact, I thought they were pretty stupid and I never like to see people getting hurt (or to hear about parents wandering around looking for their kids in that madness… fuck, that makes me ill).

I have, however, participated in other protests that were composed of a great deal of anarchists — such has the Heart Attack protest that occurred during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, which contained a black bloc of about two hundred people.  The difference between that protest and between the hockey riots are numerous and significant, which is why anybody who knows about these things (police included) would know that the anarchists who were in the black bloc in 2010 would have no interest in rioting after the Stanley Cup finals in 2011.  Unfortunately, the general public is incapable of telling the difference — in part because they have been fed so much misinformation about anarchism by the police and by the corporate media — so it is worth highlighting some of these.

First of all, while some anarchists sometimes engage in the destruction of property they generally do so to accomplish one of two things: in order to attain an immediate and urgent goal (e.g. blowing up logging machinery to prevent the destruction of an old growth forest) or in order to try and communicate a political message (e.g. smashing the windows of The Hudson Bay Company in order to draw attention to their rapacious and ongoing history of colonialism, imperialism, and theft).  Violence is generally only employed as a tactic when the feeling is that it may be effective in accomplish one or both of these goals.  Violence is never practiced simply for the sake of being violent.

The whole idea that “anarchy equals chaos,” or “anarchy equals destruction” is an illusion, mostly spread by those who are afraid that people might actually learn what anarchism is.  A more accurate statement is that “anarchy is order” (to quote Proudhon).  It is simply that anarchists believe that people should be able to sit down and agree amongst themselves what sort of order they wish to live within (as opposed to simply accepting the kind of “law and order” that permits a few to devour the lives of many).  This, for those who don’t already know, is what the most famous anarchist symbol represents.

For this reason, when anarchists do gather in protests, one does not generally see random acts of violence, but deliberate acts that target corporations known for their rapacity (like The Hudson Bay Co. or Starbucks or international banks) but you do not see violence directed at people, at local small businesses, or at the property of individuals.  Consequently, when you compare the acts of violence that occurred at the Heart Attack protest in 2010 versus the acts of violence that occurred in the hockey riots in 2011 and the differences are obvious.  No individuals were attacked during the Heart Attack protest.  When a security guard attacked a participant within the black bloc, and when that participant responded by defending him- or herself, it was other bloc participants who stepped in immediately in order to ensure that nobody was hurt on either side.  When some other protesters wanted to get rowdy and do damage to parked cars during the Heart Attack protest, it was the bloc participants who convinced them not to do that.  Such acts of violence held no value in terms of the goals set for that protest and so they were not pursued.  Of course, in the hockey riots, those acts of violence — the random fights, the burning of cars, and so forth — had no real value either (they were neither effective in accomplishing an immediate goal, nor did they have any propaganda value) and that’s why you don’t see any anarchists there acting that way.

Secondly, it’s also worth pointing out that the few kids who showed up at the hockey riots wearing boots and black hoodies with black bandannas were acting in a way that showed no comprehension of the ways in which black bloc tactics are intended to be employed.  The purpose of a black bloc is to gather a critical number of people who appear the same, thereby providing people with anonymity so that some are freed to engage in less-legal actions without fear of repercussions (there are other reasons as well — as a show of strength against the police, for example — but this is the primary purpose).  Consequently, a small handful of people showing up in boots and black at the hockey riots would have exactly the opposite effect — rather than permitting people to vanish into the crowd, these people stood out like sore thumbs.  I am convinced that those who showed up dressed this way were simply suburban kids who saw protesters on TV and thought, “hey, I want to go and smash some shit and look like a mothafuckin’ ninja while I do that!”

Finally, the element of looting is worth highlighting when comparing the hockey riots with the Heart Attack protest.  During the Olympics, nobody was interested in stealing goods from the Hudson Bay Co., but it was looted during the hockey riots (as were some other large stores).  Here is the difference: the anarchists at the Heart Attack protest wanted nothing to do with the goods sold by The Bay.  They believed that those goods were stained with the blood of others and so were not interested in possessing those goods.  That is why the windows of the store was smashed but the goods were left in place.  The hockey rioters appeared to have no such moral qualms about the goods sold by The Bay.  They didn’t seem to care if the store was death-dealing or if those goods were blood-stained.  They just saw an opportunity to grab some free shit and so they did (and then later resold some of it).  Another action that points to the absence of any anarchists.

Of course, all this is not to say that there wasn’t one kid in the crowd calling himself an anarchist.  In fact, I ran into a few people that night who were calling for “ANARCHY!”  When I asked them what that meant they said it meant chaos and lawlessness.  When I asked them who they voted for in the recent federal election they said NDP and Conservative.  That’s an interesting kind of anarchism… not one represented in any of the communities I have known or any of the literature I have read.

(Other anarchist voices and allies from Vancouver respond here and here).

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Responses

  1. Thanks. I was hoping you would weigh in with local perspective on this event. When discussing this event with my little nephew (about 9) in rural Manitoba he was clear to point out that it was not the work of ‘fans’. Established channels of news media still do a pretty effective job in many areas.

  2. Except that it mostly was the work of “fans”.

    The craziest thing about my personal experiences that night was trying to get a fellow to the hospital. Ambulances wouldn’t come downtown, all cabs and public transit, along with personal vehicles, were being rerouted and the guy could barely stay conscious due to blunt force trauma to the head. That was a unique experience.

  3. Yes, by ‘effective’ I was certainly not talking about accurate. I am still amazed at that quick assent to belief that certain news stories can elicit from people (myself included all too often).

  4. […] On Hockey Riots and Anarchism "When attempting to maintain “law and order” (i.e. when attempting to maintain socioeconomic divisions and imbalances by maintaining a sacred belief in “private property” and ensuring that the profits of the wealthy are protected at all times), it is far better to encourage the public to believe that those who violate these laws are a small minority of black-hearted “anarchists and thugs.” It is far more terrifying, to the powerful and those who have bought into their ideology, to be forced to admit that any one of us, any average old do-goodin’ suburban kid, might be willing to violate those laws and morals at any time." (tags: Anarchism riots canada politics) […]

  5. My impression is that the average semi-intelligent person wasn’t duped into thinking that the Vancouver riots had anything more to do with organized groups than they did with hockey. I suspect that, based on past events in Montreal and Vancouver, most people anticipated these riots to occur whether Vancouver won or lost the cup (as they would no doubt happen in any other large Canadian city, such as Toronto, given similar circumstances).

    To this old man, this little episode is simply indicative of a generation of kids that has grown up without discipline, without any concept of consequences, with a strong sense of entitlement, and with no thought beyond their own personal gratification in the moment. I would have loved to see the police step up and bash them about their drunken heads a few times, as their parents should have done approximately 2 decades ago.

    As for the police, they are in a lose-lose situation, just as they were with the G20 where they were (probably rightfully) accused of doing too little one day, and then (probably rightfully) accused of doing too much the very next day. They simply have no clue how to walk the very delicate line between sitting back and allowing peaceful social protest to run its course, and stepping in aggressively to put a swift end to violent activity that is threatening the safety of individuals.

    So in summary, I would say fuck the rioters, fuck the police, fuck young people, fuck old people, fuck the participants, fuck the armchair observers, fuck you, and fuck me. :P

    -Josh

  6. Edit:

    Having caught up on Abe’s blog and the comments therein, it appears that my impressions as stated in the first sentence of the previous comment might have been wishful thinking on my part. It goes to show how little bits of information flying at people from all directions can so quickly influence their beliefs on a particular matter.

    -Josh

    • Yeah, I was going to point out that conversation to you, but I see you already found it.

  7. As I commented on my blog, I am not blaming the riots on anarchists. What I seek is an explanation of the presence of 8-10 individuals dressed for black bloc tactics breaking windows at the Bay.

    • And I believe that I’ve offered the most plausible explanation of that presence during the hockey riots (both in this post and on your blog).

      As I’ve also said before, anybody who knows anything about black bloc tactics would have worn a hockey jersey, a hoodie, a Canucks hat and carried one of those small hockey towels fans wave to cover his or her face. That’s how to be anonymous in a hockey riot. Anybody who dressed with black and boots was just trying to copy something they saw on TV with no understanding of the tactic.

    • Additionally, the VMC reported that other rioters got hostile with this group of kids and they decided to run to the police for protection. Not really standard anarchist behaviour but, more convincingly in terms of my argument, the fact that the police (after protecting the group) did not use their IDs as proof that there were known anarchists engaging in the riot makes it pretty clear that my thesis is the most plausible. Once the police protected the group in boots and black (and identified them) it most likely became apparent that they were not anarchists and so the best thing for the official police story would be for them to disappear.

  8. Ok, but the “they aren’t real anarchists” line leaves a major challenge to the ‘real anarchists’. As shown at this event, people are going to show up to any old riot/punch up who look like anarchists, and perhaps say they are anarchists, and have anarchist flags, and break windows. Whether it’s 8 people out of 2000, or 300 out of 10000, and whether they are ‘real anarchists’, which I assume means those connected with anarchist collectives, or just punk kids, this while be the public face of anarchism.

    If someone dresses in scrubs and says they are a nurse you can look them up on the CNO website and say, “No, you aren’t actually a nurse.” If someone dresses all in black and smashes The Bay windows at a riot, there is no such mechanism. To call the general public ignorant for thinking that the people who looked like anarchists breaking Bay windows at the G20 believed the same thing as the people who looked like anarchists breaking Bay windows at the hockey riot seems a little far-fetched. And, perhaps, like a cop-out from dealing with the larger messaging problem that anarchism is facing.

    • *will* not *while*

    • Well, as Josh pointed out on your blog, not everyone who wears leather pants and plays guitar and says “I’m a rock star!” is, in fact, a rock star…

      Besides, as I also state in my post, it seems that the “anarchism” that was called for by some at the right didn’t actually refer to anarchy as it is expressed in any sort of political philosophy. Rather, it simply referred to “chaos” and the opportunity to break the law without being caught.

      Regardless, of all the political philosophies, I believe that anarchism as been the one most deliberately misrepresented and abused (by both the Right and Left, by politicians, by business leaders, and by the media) so it is no surprise that if faces a “messaging problem.” My belief is that anarchism has been so misrepresented because it really is the best approach for creating a fair and just society (as much as we can do that anyway). It just makes a helluva lot of sense once you get to learn about it. Which is why it is best for the established hierarchies (Right or Left) to completely misrepresent what anarchism is lest people learn about it, love it, and embrace it.

  9. “Regardless, of all the political philosophies, I believe that anarchism as been the one most deliberately misrepresented and abused (by both the Right and Left, by politicians, by business leaders, and by the media) so it is no surprise that if faces a “messaging problem.”

    Very much so. Here in the UK even before the swathe of riots some police forces were calling on anarchists to be reported to the Police on anti-terror grounds: http://bit.ly/pr6vrk. That call was rescinded as it looks like even the police had no real comprehension of the political philosophy involved.


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