A group that calls itself “Recreate ‘68” has been meeting weekly in Denver’s Lincoln Park and laying plans to generate the same kind of mob violence that marred the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. That violence helped torpedo Hubert H. Humphrey’s presidential candidacy and elect Richard Nixon.
The R68 leaders deny planning violence. Indeed, they already accuse “the establishment” and the police of provoking violence if it happens. They claim to represent “the needs and desires of the majority of the American people” against “a ruling majority of wealthy, privileged white males and large corporations.”
The radicals plotting violence under the rubric of “Recreate ‘68: The Whole World Is Watching,” are as American as apple pie. Using slogans like “civil rights” and “self defense” and exploiting Americans devotion to First Amendment freedoms, they hope to attract vast numbers of people interested in peaceful antiwar protest. But behind the screen of these innocent protesters will operate a handful of hardened revolutionaries. Though their rhetoric is stale Marxist snake oil, they are not harmless wackos detached from reality. They are heirs to a radical tradition with practical experience in mass manipulation and social demolition. Moreover, today, they wield a powerful new weapon for organizing: the Internet.
R68 organizers have boasted that they will to bring 50,000 demonstrators to Denver. They have advertised via the Internet for more than a year, so they certainly will attract large numbers of antiwar radicals, exhibitionists, thrill-seekers, and outright anarchists. It is a volatile mix. But no one has any idea how many people will show up. Indeed, they, and “the Establishment” they want to destroy, are in a “brave new world” of experimenting and learning.
Most Americans will experience the Denver convention via television. They will see only what cameras can show, and television’s addiction to violent action will skew public reaction to whatever violence occurs. So they need to understand what happened in Chicago 40 years ago. Hardly anyone under the age of 50 today has the foggiest idea.
Who Created ‘68
In the year leading up to the 1968 convention in Chicago, a radical leadership group planned to provoke mass street violence around the convention venue. But “the Establishment” was blind to what was afoot. Months ahead, FBI Assistant Director William Sullivan, who headed the Domestic Intelligence Division in Washington, telephoned his fellow AD in New York, John Malone, and explained that neither the federal government nor city authorities had any idea what to expect. Both agreed the situation was intolerable. Malone found two agents who volunteered for a “suicide mission”: the pair grew the obligatory hirsute radical uniform, and were “given a bath” — that is, all records of their FBI connection were destroyed in case they were exposed. They worked their way into the planning group and reported on every detail.
Thus, the FBI was able to tell the Chicago police how to thwart the radicals. Their plan was to march to the DNC convention hall on the first day, force their way in, seize the podium, and hold it until the cops were forced to violently expel them while TV cameras captured the scene and “the whole world is watching,” the same slogan adopted by the Denver radicals. Forewarned, the Chicago cops simply blocked the streets to the convention hall so the massed columns of protesters were denied access.
The radicals responded on the second night by leading their radical sheep to the Hilton Hotel downtown, convention headquarters. As the Walker Commission named by the Illinois governor to investigate the violence found, Chicago’s police were “targets of mounting provocation by both word and act.” The police were “put on edge by widely published threats . . . to disrupt both the city and the convention.” The Commission found “planned” provocations in which “obscene epithets, rocks, sticks, bathroom tiles and even human feces were hurled at police.” (Denver’s city council this month passed a city ordinance prohibiting carrying excrement or urine on the streets during convention week “with intent” to disrupt; the rads call it the “doo doo law.”)
The usual radical tactic was to conceal guerrilla units moving within the screening crowds of protesters to trigger “monkey see-monkey do” emulation. Chicago’s police, provoked beyond human endurance, retaliated with “unrestrained and indiscriminate police violence” against radicals, peaceful demonstrators, spectators, passing residents headed homeward, and media people, especially TV and news cameramen.
This was exactly what the radicals wanted. Most Americans saw played and replayed on their television screens a 17-minute sequence of what the Commission termed “a police riot,” a phalanx of cops charging into and clubbing apparently peaceful demonstrators. The radical scenario was fulfilled: the innocent were swept up with the guilty and “radicalized” by police nightsticks. The scene disintegrated into small guerrilla groups battling cops on side streets, breaking windows and “liberating” store contents as they went, well into the wee hours.
The federal government responded with a prosecution of the “Chicago 7” leaders for crossing state lines with intent to incite violence. A jury convicted five defendants, but an appeals court reversed the verdict. One of those convicted was “Yippie” leader Jerry Rubin. Eight years later he confessed in a Chicago Sun-Times column:
Let’s face it. We wanted disruption. We planned it. We were not innocent victims. We worked on our plans for a year before we came here. We made our demands on the city so outrageous because we wanted the city to deny us what we were asking. We did all of this with one purpose in mind — to make he city react as if it were a police state, and to focus the attention of the whole world on us.
We were guilty as hell. Guilty as charged.
An Illinois governor’s investigating commission described the ingredients the radical planners attracted to Chicago for the violent confrontation the Denver planners hope to recreate:
There were, of course, the hippies — the long hair and love beads, the calculated unwashedness, the flagrant banners, the open lovemaking and disdain for the constraints of conventional society. . . . Yippies came to “do their thing,” youngsters working for a political candidate, professional people with dissenting political views, anarchists and determined revolutionaries, motorcycle gangs, black activists, young thugs, police and secret service undercover agents . . . demonstrators waving the Viet Cong flag and the red flag of revolution and there were the simply the curious who came to watch and, in many cases, became willing or unwilling participants.
Despite the presence of some revolutionaries, the vast majority of the demonstrators were intent on expressing by peaceful means their dissent either from society generally or from the administration’s policies in Vietnam.
But the hardened revolutionaries ruled the day. These neobolshevists were operating on a tried-and-true scheme of orchestrated mass violence, and they created a near-miss radical revolution. They kept escalating their antiwar demonstrations until they executed a “stop Washington” plot in 1971 that produced 12,000 mass arrests in the nation’s capital. U.S. Army troops in full battle dress waited in the White House basement to shoot the radical-led mobs if necessary. The revolutionaries came dangerously close to achieving a mass blood bath.
These leftists operated on a scenario outlined by a 20-year-old Russian radical theology student after he helped organize a mass May Day march of 2,000 students and workers in 1901 in Tiflis, the capital of Russian Georgia. They defied the czarist government and police, who fired upon them, wounding 14. Flushed with excitement, the young agitator declared the street demonstration to be the most effective revolutionary weapon. He prescribed its use for every occasion, with the strategic aim of eventually provoking violence. The police cannot distinguish between the activists and spectators, he declared, and will “render us a great service, hastening the revolutionizing of the ‘curious onlookers,’ . . . rousing the people. Every militant who falls in the struggle . . . arouses hundreds of new fighters” in sympathy and indignation over the “martyrs.” The author’s name was Joseph Dzhugashvili, later known as Stalin. So effective would his strategy be, he predicted, that in “no more than two or three years” it should produce a bloody popular uprising.
Indeed it did. In 1905 the Czarist regime was involved in an unpopular war with Japan. The Japanese secretly funded Lenin’s Bolsheviks who agitated a strike of St. Petersburg metal workers that climaxed with a march of thousands on the Czar’s Winter Palace. The palace guard fired two rounds of blanks, but the marchers did not waver. So, with the marchers only 20 yards away an officer with obvious reluctance ordered ball ammunition and the next round was deadly. More than 500 were killed and thousands were wounded. The “Bloody Sunday Massacre” fulfilled young Stalin’s prophecy.
“The sacrifices we make in street demonstrations today will be compensated a hundredfold. . . . For the time being we shall be beaten more than once in the street; the government will continue to emerge victorious from street fighting again and again; but these will be Pyrrhic victories. A few more victories like these — and the defeat of absolutism is inevitable.” Stalin regarded the dead simply as fertilizer for growing more soldiers of revolution.
Lenin, Stalin, and their “overage troop of juvenile delinquents,” as one historian called them, saw their dream scenario rewarded beyond their wildest dreams. The Bolsheviks turned a printer’s strike into history’s most complete general strike, paralyzing 120 cities. Everybody struck, from bakers to the Bolshoi ballet dancers. The government prevailed only after ten days of bloody street fighting.
Lenin was the great pioneer of 20th century social demolition, studied and emulated by Mussolini and Hitler. Funded by Stalin’s bank robberies, Lenin started schools to teach the new technology. “There is spontaneity and spontaneity,” he said. “We must mobilize every trace of discontent into a giant bellows that will burn ‘the system’ down.” Soon “the people will be in the street and no one will know who called them there,” he fulminated. “Once we have an army of professional revolutionaries, no police force in the world will be able to stop us.”
An enduring tradition
After Lenin’s death, Stalin started the Lenin School in Moscow, the highest school of the world communist movement. It trained the elite future leaders of not only the Soviet Union, including men who comprised the Politburo during the Brezhnev “era of stagnation”; but also East Germany’s dictators Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker; Poland’s Wladislaw Gomulka, Yugoslav dictator Tito; and CPUSA boss Gus Hall. These men and thousands of less famous alumni learned and practiced the new social-demolition technology in hundreds of violent demonstrations around the world. And they returned as lecturers to instruct others in their experiences. By 1960 they had created 81 Communist Parties around the world.
Their know-how diffused as the world revolutionary movement split. By 1964, when the first Vinceremos Brigade of American collegians visited Cuba, they were encouraged and taught how to start an urban guerrilla movement by Cuban, Chinese, and Soviet intelligence experts. Philip Abbot Luce, one of two Brigade leaders, later defected and told how he was recruited to go to China to learn bomb-making and other terrorist techniques. By 1964, more than a dozen “red diaper babies,” sons and daughters of old-line Communist Party members, were infiltrating and building the “New Left” movement on U.S. college campuses. Bettina Aphtheker, a secret CP member, led Berkeley’s infamous “Free Speech Movement.” Howard Emmer, another red diaper baby, led “the movement” at Kent State. There, persistent antiwar demonstrations resulted in a National Guard fusillade killing three rock-throwing radicals plus a passing innocent student. The “rads” used these “martyrs” to promote nationwide sympathy strikes that shut down some 1,700 college campuses.
Today all one has to do to study the revolutionaries’ use of crowds for screening their guerrilla methods is to spend a few hours in a large public library. Or a few hours on the Internet. Let’s hope that this time around, the police in Denver — and St. Paul — are ready.
– Eugene H. Methvin, a retired Washington journalist, is author of The Riot Makers and The Rise of Radicalism.