By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
The plans began, of all places, in a West Palm Beach building on Belvedere Road that once housed a Taco Bell restaurant. In October, a group that calls itself Anarchists for a Better State (anarchistsforabetterstate.4t.com) rented the space and began making plans for protests at FTAA and at an annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association, which runs through Saturday, November 22, at the posh Boca Raton Resort & Club.
Two weeks ago, a New Times reporter gained access to the group by posing as an anti-free-trade activist. He observed about 100 anarchists preparing for the effort, first in workshops, then by changing their look. Several shaved off their dreadlocks and replaced them with well-coifed haircuts, then replaced tie-dyed T-shirts and ripped jeans with new suits. Others left their hair slightly disheveled and bought notebooks and tape recorders.
The group's top organizer is Michael Bakunin, a plumber with a heavy New England accent from Plymouth, Massachusetts. A tall slender man in his 30s who other members say once played college basketball and majored in physics, he speaks mostly in parables about government theory and the downfall of the ruling class. "When you speak of the ancestors of our cause and then you speak of what we are doing today, you speak of what we are giving the cause for tomorrow," he told about 75 anarchists during a meeting three days before the conference. "This week, we begin the ascent of activism and the descent of our government."
A spokeswoman for Bush said she hadn't heard of the group. She said she would check on it and return the call but then never did. A woman who answered the phone at the Boca Raton Resort & Club refused to comment or to find someone who would.
Back on November 11, each member was given a rough description of the disruptions, which are supposed to begin either on the conference's opening night or the next morning with the unleashing of briefcases full of live rodents. Dozens of cages full of rats, gerbils, and various small animals were at the group's headquarters. There were also trash cans full of cockroaches and locusts that will be unleashed from rolling suitcases. Members also plan to replace slide-show pictures with disturbing photos of sweatshops and malnourished children.
One of the protesters, a short somewhat-overweight man, stuffed a life-sized blow-up plastic doll of President Bush, nude and equipped with a compressed air canister, into a briefcase. "We'll open the valve on this one at the plenary," he snapped. "It'll be like shooting clay pigeons."
Bakunin told the group at a gathering that afternoon that he had learned the frequency of radios used by the resort's security guards; he said he would send them on false errands to Saks Fifth Avenue or Neiman Marcus before the disruptions began. During that talk at the group's headquarters, he announced plans to dump buckets of ketchup in the resort's swimming pool at night to protest "the blood spilled by our Republican government...We chose ketchup rather than real blood because many of us are vegans," he said. There were at least four cases of Heinz ketchup at the group's headquarters on November 17.
Seven members of Anarchists for a Better State have also gotten jobs at the resort, one anarchist said. They will pose as room-service workers and maids in an effort to gain access to the governors' rooms. Once inside, the phony resort employees plan to steal the governors' suits and clothes and replace them with rags similar to those worn by sweatshop workers. "They can't have a conference if they have nothing but rags," boasted one of the anarchists, whom the others called Peter.
Shortly after this reporter was allowed into the group's headquarters, Bakunin showed up with a pair of barber-style scissors and an electric razor. Like many of the members, Bakunin sported long hair down his back and a scraggly goatee braided to his chest. After entering the former fast-food restaurant, without saying a word, he began to chop off his hair and goatee. A member who goes by "Destiny" stepped forward to complete the haircut into a short-cropped, Frank Brogan-style do. She gave other members similar haircuts and sheepishly admitted she had worked at a Mastercuts in Arizona before joining the movement. "It's been a long time since I cut anybody's hair on purpose," she joked. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think we need to buy some gel."
Later that day, the anarchists used a Visa card -- which Bakunin said he had obtained using a false name -- to buy 23 blue suits, red ties, and white shirts from the Men's Warehouse on Okeechobee Road. Female members purchased professional-style clothes from Sears in the Palm Beach Mall. One member, a slender brown-haired girl in her 20s who claimed she doesn't use a name, said the chartreuse pantsuit was the first article of clothing she had bought since high school. "This is just how committed we are to this thing," she said. "I mean, none of us want to shop at these places. This stuff is probably all made in China by slave labor."
The group doesn't believe in technology or any form of government. It has a website, but members hand-write fliers and signs. They are skeptical of new members but accepted this reporter after he took part in the hair-cutting procedure.
Many of the anarchists slept at the former restaurant building in hammocks and on old mattresses. It wasn't clear whether they had rented the location or were squatting; the building had no power or running water. Redolent with the musty smell of rat cages and filled with buzzing from the hordes of locusts, the atmosphere was sometimes overwhelming. One boy, who looked like a teenage runaway, promised that the plans would be carried out carefully. "Michael has thought of everything, and really there's nothing that can go wrong," he said. "Do you have any idea what kind of chaos this is going to start?"
Like many members of the group, he boasted that he had obtained credentials directly from conference organizers. He pulled from his pocket a pass that included his photo and claimed he was Ed Camacho, commissioner of public safety for Republican Gov. Juan Nekai Babauta of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. One woman in her late 60s sported credentials claiming to be Nancy Murkowski, wife of Alaska Gov. Frank H. Murkowski. Three other members had press passes with their pictures and the names of Sun-Sentinel reporter Noaki Schwartz, Palm Beach Post writer Susan Salisbury, and Miami Herald contributor Daniel A. Ricker.
Late in the day on November 17, the group held its last meeting before the protest was to begin. During his speech, Bakunin warned that many would likely be arrested and jailed. "Remember, even if you're in jail, that we must fight the oppression of a government that has no contract with its people," he told the group. "We will not stop until the world's people are free or we are in jail to stay."