Anarchists for Brisbane’s G20

Anarchists symbol

The Sydney-based anarchist group Black Rose Syndicat has vowed to cause “chaos and mayhem” at the G20 summit in Brisbane in November 2014, while the Australian cell or “affinity group” of the international online anarchist group Anonymous has announced it will sabotage the G20 through its “Operation Mayhem”.

Black Rose claims it “is an Anonymous Syndicat whose aim is the propagation of Anarcho-syndicalist and other Revolutionary propaganda” and has no members because it is against “all hierarchical structure”. It uses command and communication chains that are flexible to provide greater security. More disturbingly, it is encouraging sympathisers to apply for jobs with the G20 Task Force to be on the inside “to turn it [the G20 security operation] inside out”.

The Black Rose Syndicat announced its formation on 10 May 2013 as a “sand dune type syndicat” in cyberspace. It is thought to be based at Sydney University, although some politically-active Sydney University students say most members are not students there and are motivated mainly by the opportunity to cause violence. Clearly, spelling and grammar are not high on their agenda. Black Rose seems to be first cab-off-the-rank of a number of web-based extremist groups that will be active in the lead up to the G20. (The logo of the Black Rose Syndicat can be bought on eBay Australia for $4.95, including postage, and comes with a free booklet on urban guerrilla warfare.)

In December 2013, Anonymous Australia vowed to release a list of more than 500 police and military officers it claims have infiltrated activists groups in Australia with the aim of gathering information ahead of the G20. Additionally, it will provide Twitter and Facebook profiles of more than 200 informant members of social and activists groups, stretching back over 20 years. Anonymous Australia says it will also release unredacted details of information subsequently passed on by Australia to the US National Security Agency. “We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us!”

The security precautions taken by anarchist groups mean it is difficult for security agencies to infiltrate them and identify the organisers. This is a turn-around from the situation in the past where police and ASIO could infiltrate or cultivate informants in potentially violent groups before a major international event, as was done before the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Melbourne in September 2000.

The Black Bloc, the best known international anarchist cooperative, was probably the first to use the internet and social networking to encourage “flash violence”. Those who subscribe to their views are encouraged to dress in black, wear hoodies, sunglasses and ski-masks, and bring motorcycle helmets to protests. Fingernail clippers are recommended for cutting the plastic handcuff zip-ties used by arresting officers. This means you are ready to engage in violence; your all-black appearance allows you to identify fellow-anarchists and makes you more anonymous; and face-covering makes your later identification more difficult. A change of clothing is recommended for the dispersal phase. The Black Bloc normally delays group training on how to provoke violence, create barricades and defeat riot police until just before the target event.

The primary targets for anarchist attacks are symbolic ones, normally facilities connected to government (because anarchists believe in a state-free society), multinationals and banks (because they exploit the people), and police and surveillance cameras (tools of the state). No doubt some anarchists simply enjoy violence and destruction of property.

Anarchists deliberately choose international economic meetings to try to persuade the delegates that “the people” reject their attempts to exploit them, and to get maximum publicity from the presence of the international media.

Having major international meetings in cities like Brisbane inevitably leads to the disruption of normal activities and potential for damage to the city, as occurred with the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle in November 1999. The “Battle in Seattle” involved at least 40,000 demonstrators and caused considerable damage to the city. A lesson learnt by violent protestors at Seattle was that the media coverage did not centre exclusively on the violence itself; details of the protesters’ message and anti-globalisation campaign were included in the media coverage.

In 2010, the G20 summit was held in Toronto, Canada, between 26-27 June. The protests were mainly peaceful, but some protesters used Black Bloc tactics to cause damage to at least 40 businesses in downtown Toronto at a cost of nearly one million dollars. More than 20,000 police, military, and security personnel were involved in policing the protests, which at times involved 10,000 protestors. Over 1,000 arrests were made, making it the largest number of mass arrests in Canadian history.

Some of the G20 leaders attract their own violent enemies because of who they are and their country’s policies – the US president being foremost among them. But any G20 summit will attract activists for a plethora of causes.

What can be done in the lead up to such events by the security authorities?

The British police and MI5 adopted proactive tactics for the London Summer Olympics in 2012. They identified all British potential troublemakers, who were then warned-off from travelling to London or were physically prevented from doing so. Troublemakers who lived in London were not allowed near the Olympic venues. Known activists from abroad were not allowed to enter the country. While civil libertarians did not approve of the restrictions, the measures did allow peaceful protests to go ahead in London without major problems.

The Queensland Police Service is responsible for providing security to the G20 delegates and for all meeting and accommodation venues, motorcade routes and any other event associated with the Brisbane meeting. It will involve a complex security operation to safeguard visitors and try to minimise disruptions to inner-city residents and businesses, but roads between the central business district and Brisbane Airport will be closed. All public transport services travelling close to event venues will be cancelled.

The Queensland Government’s G20 (Safety and Security) Bill 2013 contains additional police powers for the G20 period, such as the creation of restricted zones and an outer security buffer zone. Access to different secure areas will be limited or conditional under the Bill. The Bill will provide for additional police powers of search, powers to prohibit or exclude persons from security areas, powers in relation to prohibited items and the creation of specific offences under the Bill. Police at the G20 will have the power to search persons, vehicles and premises without warrant, including the conduct of strip searches.

A prohibited persons list will be established by the Queensland Police Commissioner and there will be a presumption against bail for the limited period of the G20 meeting.

The Bill provides powers in relation to prohibited items and the creation of specific offences under the Bill. Schedule 6 lists prohibited items, such as noxious substances, eggs etc., and “a communication device, other than a mobile phone or other telephone, capable of being used to organise activity designed to disrupt any part of the G20 meeting”. Specific offences relate to such matters as circumventing crowd barriers.

In addition, Queensland Police will probably seek interstate police cooperation to discourage interstate activists from travelling to Queensland. The federal government will no doubt require ASIO to identify foreign troublemakers seeking to enter Australia in order to deny them entry.

Because of the high cost of holding such events, they do not generate income; in fact, quite the opposite. The likely cost of the G20 in Brisbane to Australian taxpayers will be around $450 million – against an anticipated income for Queensland of about $100 million. Australia is the current chair of the G20, which means that the G20’s main value to Australia will be giving our Prime Minister a chance to strut his stuff under the international spotlight, and host, and hopefully influence, leaders from the world’s most powerful economies.

The hosting venue will be the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. Up to 4,000 delegates are expected to attend and around 2,500 media representatives. The delegates are probably not going to see much of Brisbane because of exclusion zones and security restrictions. Unfortunately the G20 summit is too large an event to host at a resort like Hayman Island – which would be much easier to secure and more pleasant for delegates – because of the need for a very large emporium.

Security for the event will involve over 1,500 personnel. Brisbane was selected over Sydney because the city was deemed better equipped to cater for the significant increase in plane arrivals and the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre will be undertaking renovations. This will not unduly upset Sydney residents who had the unpleasant experience of disruptive exclusion zones and protests at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in September 2007.

It would be a good idea for most Australians to stay away from Brisbane mid-November 2014 – the main G20 meeting is on 15 and 16 November 2014 – but there will be pre- and post-G20 meetings. Those who live in central Brisbane would be well advised to go somewhere else.

Clive Williams
Clive Williams is a visiting professor at the ANU’s Centre for Military and Security Law and an adjunct professor at ADFA