Voice of Freedom Park in Tampa.
Activists in Tampa and elsewhere planning to protest the coming political conventions say that the recent news stories about an alleged anarchist plot to disrupt the conventions bear little resemblance to the reality of what’s planned.
“It’s totally bogus,” said Kelly Benjamin, a Tampa activist who’s played a large role in organizing protests for the RNC and in Occupy Tampa. “They’re doing everything they can to create a climate of fear in Tampa.”
“It’s just old school fearmongering,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin said that events will include an anti-voter suppression march, a “One Percent Kickoff Party” at Tropicana Field on Sunday, and two marches on Tuesdays.
The city of Tampa has estimated that 15,000 activists will protest during the convention. CNN published parts of an FBI memo that predicted that anarchists could try to blow up explosives in Tampa, block roads and bridges, initiate violent confrontations with police, and that several people from New York were planning to travel to Tampa and try to close all of the city’s bridges.
“Demonizing anarchists and other folks who may choose to employ resistance tactics like unpermitted marches, sit-ins, bridge/intersection blockades, self-defense against police violence and property damage happens during every election cycle before the conventions,” said Chris Longenecker, a New York anarchist involved with the Occupy movement, via email.
“I have heard nothing about folks actually planning to blockade bridges in Tampa, and it’s important to remember that the media made the same claims about bridge disruptions before May Day here in NYC,” Longenecker said (May 1st passed in New York without problems on the bridges and without major disruptions to the city as a whole). “Before the 2008 RNC, this type of media frenzy gave the police cover to preemptively arrest many activists. I’m sure they are planning the same in Tampa and Charlotte.”
“LOL, sounds like propaganda,” said another New York occupier.
Joe Redner, a Tampa businessman who’s been called the area’s “strip club king” and who plays an influential role in local politics, is allowing protesters to stay in the Voice of Freedom Park, which he owns and which lies outside the police-demarcated “event zone.”
Redner decried the stories about anarchist activity, telling BuzzFeed in a phone interview that “anarchists could be anywhere, I don’t know if they’re in that park. They certainly don’t have anything to do with that park.”
The authorities “provoke it” with those kinds of stories, Redner said. “They’re good at provoking stuff.”
As for the designated protest zone, “When they tell you you have to go to this little area where you can’t be seen and can’t be heard except if benevolent media wants to put some cameras on it, the people you want to impress — the delegates and so on — cant see or hear you,” Redner said. “It’s all an antithesis to freedom and it pisses people off, which makes them break the law.”
The people in his park “are not troublemakers,” Redner said. “They’re all scared to death” because of the increased scrutiny. “They’re afraid of anything that moves.”