Year 2 - Week 18
March 16th, 2017: a parcel bomb explodes in the Paris IMF office and one woman was injured. May 12th, 2017: a couple of parcel bombs explodes near the UN building in Rome, in front of a packed post office, fortunately without victims. In both cases authority is linked to anarchist groups, in the first one the Greek Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire, while in the second ones these links still don’t mark a specific direction.
But what is anarchist terrorism? Anarchist terrorism was born in the late nineteenth Century, in the failing Russian Empire, in a context of both theoretical and literature construction, but also of violence as the Tsarist regimen collapses in a context of harsh socio-economic conditions, social and class struggle and government repression, where the change was also conceived through the liberation from the oppressive socio-economic and political regime. Even though the number of victims remained limited, the echo of an anarchist conspiracy turn the ideology and their followers into an admirable force. Some elements require our attention, and they are all related with the idea of spreading an ideological message: the attack is the statement.
First assumption: propaganda by the deed or “direct action”. The term, coined by Kropotkin, glorified the virtues of self-sacrifice and involvement with the cause. So the self-example acted as a mobilizer agent between the masses, spreading both ideology and modus operandi between population. Violence was a mean of political change, not an empty expression of range, and its target were those representing the power. In this way, regicides started to show presence in all the European and even United States frontlines.
Question one: who is the target audience to mobilize today? If we establish a comparison between the economic recession and social unrest of the Nineteenth Century Europe and the outcome of the last decade global economic crisis we may see a pattern. Anarchism, although mainly forgotten in the contemporary political spectrum and certainly relegated to a marginal position, plays an anti-systemic response role in front of the set social, economic and political rules defined by the globalization of markets. The target audience, then, is all that strata of discontent society seeking for a rebellious response against the system, and although the ideology is obsolete it still may attract marginal elements in the new framework of social classes struggle against the capital and the system.
Second assumption: the symbolic targets. Nihilist anarchist terrorism took as targets the symbols of power and social oppression governing Europe at the time. In that way, political leaders independently of the political system the belong to, were systematically assassinated, from president McKinley to Empress Elizabeth. The underlying message was the deliberated and recurrent in time attempt –that is one of the differences between terrorism and plain assassination- to disrupt the structure of power by the decapitation of the hierarchy.
Question two: who are the symbolic targets? Symbolic targets are the same, but adapted to current times and filtered by capabilities. What are the odds of assassinating the president of the United States by throwing him a bomb? Kennedy needed a sniper to be shot down. The history says that anarchist terrorism is not so much sophisticated. It is not a matter of underestimating capabilities, but of acknowledging the evolution –exactly because of a history of trial-and-error mistakes and solutions- of the security details. So if regicide seems to be not an option anymore, then what? We have transitioned from a power structured based on individuals –the king, the emperor, the president- to another one base on institutions –both public and private- from a shopping mall to the IMF, both symbols of the capitalist system, with all its attached political implications. Or the UN, as symbol of the global governance and dominance of the Western culture. The institutional buildings and personalities have turned into the new symbolic targets. And in many cases –and in many places- their levels of security awareness is not the required one.
Third assumption: the use of bombs and guns as signature. The use of dynamite introduced massive power in the attacks. Even over the physical damages and the frequently limited number of casualties, the propagandistic message of power was clear in the shape of capability to strike. Yet another element comes clear in this signature: the presence of individual anarchist cells, or as sound familiar nowadays, “lone terrorist”, a figure allowed by the blurred ideological structure of anarchism. In this way, the modus operandi joins variables as the difficulty to intercept the perpetrator and his motivations, and the long psychological waves of impact the attack could produce, from the government to the common society.
Question three: what is the signature today? Both Paris and Rome have used non-sophisticated IEDs borned into parcels. It denotes a lack of training and possibly a sign of youth, but again, it shouldn’t be underestimated. The line between severe injuries and death is in many cases a matter of luck when we referred to improvised explosive devices. The technique may be very well refine and documents as “The anarchist handbook” –and even all al-Qaeda propaganda, such as the infamous “How to make a bomb in your mom’s kitchen”- are widely available, so it is a matter of time to improve the device and the explosive mixture unless the subjects were detained before of that. Apparently –again, by now- the access of these groups or individuals to fire weapons has been unsuccessful or at least the European restrictions have lead them to other less risky options in terms of security and detection. But the reality of the organized crime networks is still there so the operative change is something we couldn’t exclude.
Our conclusion is that while Europe observed the deactivation of the last new-left groups –in many cases not because of their good will, but because of the recurrent action of the law enforcement services- and the emergence of a much more worrying arch enemy in the form of the jihadist terrorism, we ignored a marginal trend gaining terrain in the middle of the harsh years of the global economic crisis with a number of anti-systemic groups. These groups, although right now may be considered a low level threat, may in the short term improve capabilities and operative skills and, as happened in the Nineteenth Century, coalesce with other branches of different countries, internationalizing again the phenomenon. It is not to be alarmist, but to realize the need of defining security as multivariable and that protection and self-defense starts with awareness to include on daily bases all the new inputs that may disrupt the order we are committed to protect.