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Scared of Anonymous: Tampa police prepare for mass arrests during Republican convention

Published time: August 23, 2012 20:34
Edited time: August 24, 2012 00:34
Reuters / Brian Blanco

Reuters / Brian Blanco

Are computer hackers, political activists and an underground army of anarchists preparing to overthrow next week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa? Police in Florida seem to think so, and are taking every precaution to prepare for violence.

Acting on the assumption that hacktivists with the loose-knit, international Anonymous collective will wage a war next week on Tampa with the help of weapon yielding anarchists angry at the Republican Party and American establishment all together, law enforcement agencies in Florida are in a hurry to secure the Sunshine State in the event that a mass orchestrated action disrupts the GOP’s national convention.

Authorities had originally deciphered YouTube videos uploaded by alleged Anonymous members to suggest that the group was calling for others to provoke criminal acts across Tampa. The discovery earlier this week of bricks and pipes on a Tampa rooftop has further led authorities to assume that anarchists will engage in a mass violent uprising to coincide with the RNC. To prepare for a mass revolt, the entirety of nearby Orient Road Jail has been emptied out on the command of Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee, who wants to ensure that the facility’s 1,700 beds can be utilized in the event of a mass arrest.

In Florida, it’s a classic case of fear mongering. Everywhere else, it’s a joke.

"It could be a 15 year old in the basement," security reporter Bruce Schneier tells Tampa Bay Online. "Anonymous is a lifestyle. Anyone can say they're with Anonymous."

Authorities aren’t so eager to heed the expert’s advice, however, even if Schneier has authored a tremendous amount of articles on Anonymous throughout his career as a technology and security journalist.

Earlier this year, Scheiner addressed a crowd at San Francisco’s RSA conference with a lecture on cyberculture, at the time saying, "Anonymous is more of a name that anyone can pub upon themselves if they act in a way that is consistent with Anonymous' work. We shouldn't think of them as an actual group".

The police aren’t buying that explanation, though, and are linking the hacktivism collective with balls-to-the-wall anarchy. In downtown Tampa’s North Florida Ave. this week, authorities discovered a pile of bricks and pipes on a businesses’ rooftop. Near the scene of the “crime” was a graffiti portrayal of Guy Fawkes, the British revolutionary whose likeness has been adopted by both Anonymous activists and Occupy Wall Street protesters as a single identity that a hive-mind can maneuver behind.

Florida-based private investigator Bill Warner is weary, to say the least. He doesn’t see the bricks and pipes as possible construction site components, but weapons or destruction. After all, not every building is erected with bricks and plumbing; only some. To Warner, this is an indication that domestic terrorists on par with al-Qaeda insurgents will disrupt the RNC.

"These are tactics terrorists use in the Middle East. They will hide bricks in piles in buildings and so forth. They will move into the area start their little protests. Then they will find their pile of bricks and pipes and start busting out windows," Warner tells Tampa’s Fox affiliate.

In a video posted earlier in the week by a person claiming allegiance to Anonymous, a call-for-action is put forth asking supporters to dismantle the “clean zone” being set up in Tampa where people will be able to exercise their First Amendment right to protest without fear of repercussion.

“Let us band together and knock down the walls of the clean zone for it violates our Constitution,” the video claims. “The city of Tampa is our city, the peoples city. Together united by one divided zero we will fight for what belongs to the people. May freedom be with you all.”

Speaking to local Bay News 9, Warner says, “This is pretty bad,” and takes the video as an indication that “There's a lot of trouble coming our way.”

"Have they more locations with those bricks on roofs some place around town? I don't know but they've done it already.They've done surveillance around the area. They know where to go.This is right across the street from the hotel where the media is going to stay," Warner adds.

On one of his several personal websites, Warner writes, “Anonymous and Black Block seek the overthrow of the US Government, they hate cops and everything they stand for and seek to disrupt the Tampa RNC.”

In another post, Warner says that Anonymous and Black Bloc — a separate, underground protest group that regularly encourages acts of violence — are one in the same and refers to them as “dirtbags.”

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor has already prepared the city for any violence that a demonstration waged at the Republican Party could bring. She, unlike Warner, refuses to publically group the alleged Anonymous YouTube video with the other hairy evidence, though.

"This is no surprise for us, but we are watching what is happening,” she adds. “There's no doubt that a small percentage of people who are coming here are bent on destruction and disruption."

"Don't think that you are bothering us. It's our job to look into this, and we take it very seriously," Chief Castor adds to WTSP News.

And, for those people, Sheriff Gee has a simple warning, posted on the county website in an open letter “to the agitators and anarchists who want only to bring a dark cloud” to the RNC: “criminal activity and civil disturbances will not be tolerated and enforcement actions will be swift.”

Examiner.com claims that the Tampa police have spent over $13 million on security items, an dozens of high-def closed-circuit television cameras are reported to have been installed in preparation too. In response, activists have created a smart-phone app that allows protesters to see where the city has installed surveillance cameras across Tampa.