Former FBI Agent: Anarchist risk at DNC could be "very real"

Published: Aug. 22, 2012 at 11:30 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2012 at 11:30 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Law enforcement officials are concerned about possible violence by anarchist extremists at the upcoming Republican and Democratic national conventions, according to an intelligence bulletin prepared by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.

The seven-page bulletin, obtained by WBTV, outlines information about potential anarchist extremism-related violent criminal activity and threats to public safety during the national political conventions, which start next week in Tampa.

At one point, the Joint Intelligence Bulletin states that anarchists could try to use improvised explosive devices.

"Anarchist extremists and other domestic extremist groups probably lack the capability to overcome the heightened security measures at the RNC and DNC venues," the report states, "but could target nearby infrastructure, including local businesses or transportation systems and law enforcement personnel."

The report states that a majority of anarchist activities during major events usually involve acts of property damage, vandalism and trespassing.  Past extremists have escalated to violent tactics such as assault and arson.

According to the unclassified document, individuals were reported coordinating criminal actions against the Bank of America in Charlotte, via a free downloadable software application, in May 2012.

A spokesperson for the Charlotte office of the FBI told WBTV that she could not comment on the document.

"I can tell you the FBI utilizes a variety of means to communicate with law enforcement and share information to assist in their overall situational awareness." she said.

WBTV shared that written government security briefing with former FBI special agent Chris Swecker and he concluded that once the Democratic National Convention begins the risk in Center City from so called anarchists could be very real.

"It is many different interests, many different issues, and that's where their unpredictability come from," he said. "They want attention and this is the way to get it."

Police Chief Rodney Monroe with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department was aware of the documents before they went public.

"I think we have the ability to recognize it - to spot it," Monroe said. "We have some pretty aggressive things in place to identify it, should those activities take place, but even if it does I believe we have the resources and the strategy for dealing with it."

The document notes anarchists have a history of trying to disrupt major events.

"During past national and international political and economic events, anarchist extremists have blocked streets, intersections, and bridges to disrupt or impede local business operations and public transportation access and, in some instances have initiated violent confrontations with police," the document states.

"FBI and DHS assess with high confidence anarchist extremists will target similar infrastructure in Tampa and Charlotte, with potentially significant impacts on public safety and transportation," according to the law enforcement alert.

The FBI routinely issues intelligence bulletins in advance of many major events to warn local law enforcement of possible security concerns.

WBTV shared the memo with Mayor Anthony Foxx.

"Our law enforcement agencies have been working closely together and I'm confident that they're going to perform well during the convention," he said in response to the document.

The bulletin says that law enforcement agencies believe most protesters at the conventions will obey laws and not commit violent acts, but that anarchists are the most likely exceptions.

The notice warns of certain things state and local law enforcement should be on the watch for.

Those include anarchists acquiring materials that could be used to make improvised explosive devices, obtaining firearms training and preparing for violence with groups they oppose -- such as white supremacists.

Anarchists often research potential targets, according to the bulletin.

"Extremists will likely use secure communication methods and social networking sites, Internet chat rooms, message boards, and mobile devices such as smart phones to coordinate and facilitate violence or criminal activity," the document states.

Chief Monroe is hoping protestors will play by the rules.

"You can yell, scream and voice your opinion until the cows come home, as long as it stays in that arena, but once it spills over into criminal activity - then we have the resources to deal with it," he said on Wednesday night.

Swecker feels what makes Charlotte attractive to demonstrators isn't so much politics, but rather our city's profile.

He said," It takes place in a banking town and that's what's drawing their interest, and their big businesses here and one of their interest they are contrary to big business.

The report states that while the FBI and Homeland Security believe a majority of protesters at the DNC will be lawful and non-violent, the RNC will be a test for the extremists.

"The perceived success or failure of the anarchist extremists actions leading up to the conventions, as well as at the earlier RNC in Tampa, will likely impact the strategies of anarchist extremists preparing to disrupt the DNC."