Compared with the brutal police crackdowns against the Occupy movement in New York City, Oakland and even the pacific Davis campus of the University of California, the attempted eviction of Occupy Los Angeles has been almost entirely peaceful. The question is why, and whether it can last.
Occupy LA was grappling with internal conflicts before the mayor’s deadline brought the occupiers and their supporters to stand together Sunday night. The police chose wisely not to attempt mass arrests or brutal force. The police are now being accused by some in the business community of going soft. Meanwhile the occupiers have no end game at this point. An Occupy media spokesperson, Clark Davis, indicated the group’s problems in a Sunday morning KPFK interview when he accused one faction of being “freeloaders” and warned that the movement could lose its way.
One reason for the uneasy status quo was the leadership of the liberal Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who ordered the eviction but also no beatings, tear gas or police violence. Another was the leadership of the Los Angeles Police Department, eager to show a new approach after years of controversy. The City Council came out early in support. Organized labor and local clergy joined the Occupiers and insisted the mayor do the right thing. And the Occupiers themselves adhered to a code of nonviolence in an effort to keep the focus on Wall Street.
But to believe the writer Naomi Wolf, who was arrested during one of the New York protests, the Occupy movement inevitably faced a brutal crackdown because of its threat to the status quo. Wolf has written in the UK’s Guardian that the recent crackdowns on Occupy have been a coordinated conspiracy between local officials, police, the FBI and Homeland Security. As evidence, she points to conference calls between officials and police in eighteen cities that preceded the raids. She claims that a “shocking truth” behind the crackdown is the vested interest of Congress in protecting its own insider stock dealings on Wall Street. In one passage, Wolf accuses the White House of blessing the “war on peaceful citizens.”
Wolf is not entirely off the mark. But her monolithic conspiracy model needs more investigation and cannot explain the case of Los Angeles.
There is no doubt that the conference calls were conducted, and public records act requests may yet shed light on what was said. The mayor of Los Angeles was not on those calls, and says he didn’t want to be.
While there is no evidence thus far of FBI or White House coordination of the crackdowns, what is most naïve in the Wolf analysis is her notion that coordinated crackdowns are new with the advent of Occupy Wall Street. Since the 1999 Seattle protests, the involvement of the FBI with local police has followed a repeated pattern. First, an FBI counterterrorism task force warns local officials, media and the public that thousands of masked “anarchists” will be invading their cities to break the law, fight the police, break windows and destroy property. They then advise that all protests be literally fenced into protest cages. To sweeten the coordination, tens of thousands of federal dollars are offered to local police forces for “security” (acquisition of the latest in gas grenades, launchers, surveillance cameras, even paper shredders in one case). Young people and their convergence centers are targeted for prior detention, with the assistance of informants and provocateurs.