Memo casts doubt about Recreate 68

'How much do you need to know about throwing a brick?'

By Chris Bragg
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

In the months before the U.S. invasion, hundreds of western civilians poured into Iraq in order to risk their lives by acting as human shields between American bombs and Iraqi civilians. Their purpose was to prevent the U.S. from bombing civilian locations in Iraq, and the protesters were greeted like heroes by adoring Iraqi crowds.

Some were given flowers. They also were given tours of potential bombing sites so they could locate there as American bombs dropped.

Among the protesters was a then-27-year-old from Madison, Wis., named Ben Granby. In February 2003, Granby told Salon.com that he considered himself a veteran of such extreme protest maneuvers, but was worried that less experienced “shields” would panic when bombs began to fall.

“It’s a big fear. I’ll admit it,” Granby told Salon reporter Michelle Goldberg. “I’m very skeptical that they’ll actually maintain cohesion. ... It only takes one person to bring down everything.”

Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq — and his survival — Granby began penning freelance articles from Iraq on the CounterPunch.org Web site.

Using a forged press credential, Granby imbedded with U.S. troops during a raid on the Iraqi town of Balad. He later imbedded with Albanian guerillas and a Palestinian militia unit.

Granby wrote about his experiences in Gaza and on the West Bank in Welcome to the Bethlehem Star Hotel (Garrett County Press, 2005).

But his writing about extreme protest measures and military tactics didn’t end there. And he has now — perhaps unintentionally — landed in a controversy over the protest group Recreate 68, the primary umbrella group for thousands of war protesters on their way to Denver for the Democratic National Convention.

Posted on the Recreate 68 Web site, www.recreate68.com, is a highly detailed, militaristic 23-page memo entitled Bodyhammer: Tactics and Self-Defense for the Modern Protester. Though anonymously authored by “Sarin,” The Statesman has learned that the author is, in fact, Granby.

Glenn Spagnuolo, a spokesman for Recreate 68 who knows Granby, confirmed that Granby wrote the protester guide.

Granby does not appear to be involved with Recreate 68. But the placement of his protest memo on its Web site has presented some major problems for the group, which has consistently told the public it’s planning only peaceful protests, and that their name alludes only to the increased spirit of civic activism of 1968, not to the riots at that year’s Democratic convention in Chicago.

Granby’s protest guide would seem to challenge those assertions.

Skeptics include the Denver Police Department, the Denver City Council and a federal judge who ruled against the group in a First Amendment case.

Perhaps the most damaging statements to Recreate 68’s pacifistic assertions come near the end of Bodyhammer, in a section called “Extreme self-defense tactics.”

“Grease guns, smoke and paint bombs and other items don’t necessarily injure and also can provide tactical advantages in disorienting the police,” Granby writes.

“And, hey,” he adds, “how much do you need to know about throwing a brick?”

The memo also details how protesters can deploy various mass “charges” towards police, a tactic meant to help protesters evade law enforcement in the case of potential arrest. They include the “wedge charge” — apparently derived from the “classic Viking method of charging” — as well as the “Pulse,” “Echelon” and “Tortoise” charges.

Granby’s memo has become more than just an entertaining read. It also influenced a federal court ruling. The case, ACLU v. Denver, concerned whether Denver’s city government and the Secret Service had violated the First Amendment rights of Recreate 68 and other protesters by disallowing protests directly adjacent to the Pepsi Center.

Do the protests pose a legitimate threat, such that First Amendment rights can be limited in order to address security concerns? At a July 29 hearing in Denver, Denver Deputy Chief of Police Michael Battista testified that police believe the protesters pose a threat to public safety.

And Granby’s memo provided all the evidence he needed.

Battista said the mention of “extreme tactics” had strongly influenced the way police were preparing for the DNC. Battista described in his testimony the potential use of projectiles, “bludgeoning weapons,” paint bombs and bricks that could be used to disorient police.

Recreate 68 organizer Mark Cohen, however, testified that his group had posted Granby’s memo on its Web site for “educational and entertainment purposes” only. (Granby’s memo was, ironically, entered into evidence as Exhibit 68.)

Following the hearing, Judge Marcia S. Krieger wrote in her opinion upholding limits on protester access to the DNC that even if the memo was “solely for ‘educational and entertainment purposes’… Recreate 68’s subjective intentions are irrelevant … [because] the information contributes to a perception of a security risk.”

Instead of protesting next to the Pepsi Center, protesters will be fenced into a protest area some 733 feet away from the arena.

Following Krieger’s ruling, the Denver City Council also moved to combat the kinds of tactics laid out in the “extreme measures” section of the memo. On Aug. 4, the Denver City Council banned within Denver any “deadly weapon for defeating crowd dispersal measures.”

Under city code, deadly weapons include an “explosive device, incendiary device or bomb, or other dangerous or deadly weapon.”

And it appears tensions are mounting. The Denver Police Department issued a bulletin just last week warning all police, sheriff and fire department personnel to be on the lookout for “stockpiles and caches” of supplies that could be used by “violent protesters.” Police are told in the bulletin to look for caches in “abandoned buildings, homes, camping facilities, secluded woods and farm fields.”

One activist, who had acquired bricks for “masonry repairs” at her house, reportedly has been accused by police of “stockpiling” bricks for the DNC, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Assuming Recreate 68 does not have violent intentions — as they assure — why would they post Granby’s memo on their Web site? In an interview, Cohen himself charged that the city of Denver had “tried to imply that we plan to use violent tactics” because of Granby’s writing.

Cohen explained, however, that Bodyhammer serves a positive purpose, too, because it “offers ways for people to protect themselves.”

Although the “extreme” tactics have been the city’s primary focus of attention, most of the memo’s 23 pages describe less aggressive measures termed “self-defense” methods for protesters against police hostility.

For instance, Granby includes instructions on how to create and employ makeshift shields to foil police advances. The shields, he writes, can be made using anything from cardboard boxes, to garbage can lids, to pool rafts. Granby also offers a recipe for homemade body armor, explaining how to melt the armor so it fits the contours of one’s body by baking it in the oven at 400 degrees.

Spagnuolo, who posted the memo on the Web site 18 months ago, said while Recreate 68 endorses only its “self-defense” aspects, “we weren’t going cut and paste pieces” of it.

“We knew people would be committing acts of civil disobedience. So we wanted to give them the proper info to do that,” Spagnuolo explained.

However, according to the recent police bulletin, law enforcement also will be on the lookout for plastic and metal shields, helmets of all types and chest protectors like those used by baseball umpires.

How likely is it that the techniques described by Granby will be deployed at the DNC? It appears from Granby’s own words, at least, that such tactics are not common in the United States. Granby says they have been used mostly in Europe, by a British group called the “White Overalls Movement.”

Meanwhile, members of Recreate 68 say they won’t be the ones causing trouble at the DNC. And most Denver City Council members seem to believe them.

“We know where you guys live,” Councilman Charlie Brown, District 6, told members of Recreate 68 at an Aug. 4 hearing. “I’m not concerned about Recreate 68.”

But other less visible groups aren’t making any promises to the city. The group Unconventional Action, for instance, encourages supporters on its Web site, www.unconventionalaction.org, to “Disrupt the DNC.” The group plans to “target a variety of the 1,500 proposed fundraisers, countless delegate hotels and designated institutions perpetuating global injustice,” the Web site states.

And, because of the prominent placement of Granby’s memo on the Recreate 68 Web site, anyone with Internet access — and bad intentions — can digest some of the more nefarious techniques it suggests.

Asked under cross-examination at the July 29 hearing whether his group could prevent every protester in Denver from using the “extreme” types of tactics, including those described on Recreate 68’s own Web site, Cohen responded with uncharacteristic brevity.

“Obviously not,” he said.

Meanwhile, whether Granby even knows Bodyhammer (which has been posted on the Web sites of numerous other protest groups) has incited controversy here remains an open question. Granby did not return e-mails seeking comment.

G.K. Darby, from his publisher Garrett County Press, said Granby probably is back in Israel.

Although, Darby added, Granby “sometimes takes jaunts into Lebanon.”