The Anarchist Meme, and Other Conspiracy Theories

Posted on June 22, 2011


I thought the Canucks riots could be dismissed relatively quickly, but no such luck. Since writing my last post on the events in Vancouver, I have had two real life conversations and one incredibly aggravating twitter exchange with people who think that anarchists were to blame for the riots. They echo statements made by Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, and Right-Wing media jester Ezra Levant; all parroting the line that the riots were somehow incited by anarchists. This is a transparent attempt on the part of municipal officials to absolve themselves of responsibility for the riots, and normally I’d just laugh it off. Mayors, after all, are known for doing some wacky stuff.

This time, however, I’m not laughing. I am, in fact, increasingly concerned that in the wake of Bin Laden’s death, the public is searching for a new boogeyman, and that after the Vancouver Olympics Heart Attack protest, the G20 riots, and now the Canucks meltdown, anarchists might just fit the bill. I don’t have any particular love for anarchists, particularly those who engage in black bloc tactics, but the public does not have to understand a perceived threat in order to irrationally fear it. If anarchism becomes public enemy number 1, then any protest action that is even the slightest bit radical will be looked at with suspicion and hostility. The end result is that there could be a lot more G20-style police crackdowns in our future. This is unfortunate, because for the next four years, the streets are the only place we have to oppose Harper’s agenda. Long-term strategy therefore demands that we dismantle the anarchist boogeyman narrative early on, before it picks up too much steam. The discussion around the Canucks riot seems like a pretty good place to start.

The good news that it’s pretty easy to dismiss the suggestion that anarchists were behind the riot. Essentially we’re dealing with one event that has two competing explanations:

  • Explanation number one is that a lot of fans went downtown to watch a hockey game in which they had placed a great deal of emotional investment. While there, they drank a lot of beer and became intoxicated. When their favourite hockey team lost the game, they became angry and heartbroken and when those emotions were combined with their intoxication, a handful of people in the crowd acted out. When it was seen that they were not punished for their actions, many others in the crowd joined in, each one trying to one-up the others until a critical mass was reached, and everybody felt that they could torch cars and shatter windows with no repercussions.
  • Explanation number two is that a group of anarchists, bent on some vague political goal, decided that they were going to cause a riot on the night of the Stanley Cup finals, despite the fact that few things are more offensive to anarchist sensibilities than a national hockey brand. Rather than dressing in black and massing up to cause chaos, as they did at both the Vancouver Olympics and at the G20 riots, however, the anarchists decided this time that they would go out and buy $200 Canucks jerseys, insert themselves into the crowd, and subtly encourage other people to riot. This being accomplished, they disappeared into the shadows, and decided against issuing any press releases or writing any blog posts intended to capitalize on the political impact of the riots.

The evidence for explanation number one is overwhelming. Video evidence shows obviously intoxicated Canucks fans engaging in violence not just against property, but also against people-something that the Black Blocs at the G20 and Vancouver Olympics refused to do. Other evidence for the first explanation includes the fact that all the suspects identified thus far have expressed no political motivations, and the fact that no anarchists are necessary to provoke the soccer riots that have been common in Europe for over one hundred years. Explanation number two has no such hard evidence, besides the fact that some of the rioters were wearing masks (masks are an obvious safety measure for rioters of any, or no, political stripe), as well as a deeply held feeling that these people could not have been real hockey fans. That’s about it.

“Conspiracy theory” is the relevant phrase here. Those who suggest that anarchists were behind the Canucks riot are doing so in the teeth of all available evidence, and therefore have no better claim to truth than 9/11 truthers or moon landing denialists. What is strange about this particular conspiracy theory is that it has received explicit endorsement from people in power. That makes it dangerous, and something that has to be fought. The easier it is to label people as anarchists, the easier it will be for the police to engage in brutality against activists. Until evidence is provided, the claim that anarchists were behind the Canucks riot is about as likely to be true as the claim that freemasons were behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The activist community needs to spread that message, lest they wind up accused by those in power of complicity in an imaginary conspiracy.