Deceive and Conquer: Phoenix Police work to alienate anarchists at Gaza solidarity demonstration
Last Friday, a group of Phoenix area anarchists attended a 5 pm march in solidarity with Gaza that was held in the heart of downtown Phoenix. The group came to express their solidarity with the people of Gaza and express their discontent at the murderous state of Israel. In no time, the demonstration quickly became divided between one of the organizers and the anarchists, after the Phoenix Police convinced him that they were there to hurt protesters and disrupt the planned demonstration, and he in turned alienated and denounced the anarchists, setting the tone for the day.
The tactics of the Phoenix Police Department and Valley police departments are nothing new to radicals. The Phoenix police have a history of using the presence of anarchists to divide groups at demonstrations, like at a Unitarian protest against Sheriff Joe Arpaio two years ago. Time and again, we’ve seen the cops infiltrate activist communities and placate their efforts before they get the chance to actualize into a force capable of taking on the State and capital.
The cops in Phoenix have a unique way of manipulating activist actions. The Phoenix Police have a squad that is officially known as the Phoenix Community Relations Bureau, but to local radicals is known as “the Red Squad.” The Phoenix Police Red Squad is an organization that exists to undermine, divide, and placate the activist scene in this city. Working closely with the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, their mission is to be the smiley face on state repression of activists. By infiltrating communities as “friendly, approachable allies,” they are able to gain as much information as they can about what makes these communities tick and neutralize threats before they can materialize. To accomplish this, detectives deemed to be sociable and presentable will make their way to everything from large marches to small meetings and engage the activists directly, or observe the dynamics of how the activists work from afar.
It should be said that the tactics they use are not ubiquitous, favoring more overt methods of infiltration for more tame groups that they perceive to be more open to collaboration with them, and most likely employing more covert methods against radicals and anarchists in this city. For the former, they will often directly come up to organizers with no experience, shake their hand, tell them they are there to facilitate and keep them safe, and then scoop up as much information as they can about the organizers, and the group itself via conversation. With groups known to be hostile to police, they will typically watch from afar in unmarked police cars or stand at a distance and try to pick up as much conversation as they can. It is an open secret that they know who we are. Radicals in the Valley share stories about getting called out by name at protests or visited at their workplaces. Most resilient activists do not allow them to be an obstacle to our organizing, but recognize that they are a unique hurdle that we have in this city. The tactics that the Red Squad use to divide and conquer the activist scene in this city have been very effective within certain groups. A recent example was their actions at last Friday’s march for Gaza held in Downtown Phoenix.
After a small demonstration at the capital to counter protest against anti-migrant shitheads that were there earlier in the day, the group headed down to Cesar Chavez Plaza for a demonstration in solidarity with Gaza. Halfway there, we noticed an unmarked Chevrolet following us with two familiar Red Squad detectives inside. We waved sarcastically and continued our walk. Once we got to the plaza, we were confronted with almost the entire Red Squad, as well as about 10 uniformed cops on bikes and 5 on foot. It’s rare to see that kind of turn out for non-radical events, so the most obvious reason for the large police presence would be Islamophobia directed at the organizers.
The detectives and cops got squirrelly as soon as we arrived. As we waited for more protesters to show up, we introduced ourselves to the other protesters and talked to them about who we were and why we were there. As usual, the detectives seemed interested in what the anarchists had to say to others and kept a close distance to try to pick up on conversations. As more and more demonstrators began to arrive, the organizer identified himself and was then taken aside by detective Chris Abril of the Phoenix Police. Their conversation became very obvious once the organizer stood up to speak to the 100+ demonstrators who had gathered. Grabbing a microphone, he stood up in front of the crowd and immediately went into a denunciation of the anarchists that had shown up. He stated that he did not intend for the speech he was about to give to be his opening speech, but had received word that there “were visitors” with aims different than that of the group at large, and made it clear that anyone there with a different agenda, message, or tactics was to be excluded from the march. He also said that anyone with divergent ideas was subject to arrest by the officers who were present if they somehow got out of line. He specifically stated that the protesters were there to respect the U.S. government and the Constitution. It was also at this time that he reached out to multiple people in the crowd and asked them to herd the large crowd out of the street and back onto the sidewalk. After his speech, one of the anarchists asked to speak and clarified to the group that they were there in solidarity with anti-war sentiment, were against the Israeli slaughter of citizens of Gaza and that there was nothing for them to fear by their presence, but he was quickly ushered off of the post by another organizer.
The march then proceeded to head down the street, turn back up, and repeat the same pattern for about 45 minutes, remaining tame. During the march, local anarchists engaged with the main organizer, asking him questions about what the police had said and rebutting many of the claims he had made in his speech. He said the cops had referred to the anarchist group as “violent anti-government types,” and said they were there to hurt the protesters. A common tactic of the Phoenix Red Squad is to turn organizers against other activists so there will be someone to blame if a protest gets “out of line.” Predictably, they made the organizer feel like he would be held responsible for the actions of every member of the demonstration, playing off of the fear of potential legal ramifications. Throughout the march, the radicals were closely followed by bike cops from the Neighborhood Enforcement Team and plain-clothes detectives.
The march ended on a street corner with a family-friendly action honoring each person killed in recent strikes on Gaza, but the detectives continued to stick around. Afterwards, the main organizer continued to alienate radicals and was extremely adamant about his faith in the information that the police had given him. Through conversations with the rest of the demonstrators, many of the anarchists were able to find common ground to work together on future demonstrations. Other radicals stood close enough to the detectives that some of their conversation could be overheard, including the word “anarchist” multiple times and pointing out specific people. The anarchists met up away from the police presence and held a large group discussion about the repression tactics of the Red Squad and their effectiveness at turning activist groups against each other within demonstrations.
It is not our intention to denounce the marchers themselves or any actions that are taking place in solidarity with Gaza at this time. It is important to recognize the tactic of taking advantage of fresh organizers, and using deception to fuel fear. We feel it is important to document examples of Red Squad repression and tactics when they come about to ensure that the activist community is better equipped to deal with them. It is our goal to make the Red Squad ineffective in our city, and ensure that they never gain a foothold within the radical community.
Carpe Locus Collective