Anarchism 100 years ago: Echoes
In his 2002 book The Lessons of Terror, Historian Caleb Carr drew a crucial distinction between 19th century anarchists and 21st century terrorists. “For all their posturing, anarchists effectively were criminals, and as such were most effectively pursued using the methods that we have been accustomed to using against terrorists: those of law enforcement.” He continued, “In a complimentary irony, it is modern terrorists who have achieved the anarchist dream of becoming an international army of enormous destructive potential. Thus we are led back to the history of warfare… in our effort to determine how best to respond to the terrorist threat.”1
Nine years ago, when the dust barely had settled on ground zero, Carr was contending for exactly the sort of response provided by the Bush Administration, i.e., a military response. During the ensuing decade, the so-called Global War on Terror, highlighted by U.S./Coalition invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, took the fight to the enemy. The dearth of successful follow-ups to the 9/11 attacks suggests that this strategy in tandem with more effective counter-intelligence and law enforcement efforts at home succeeded.
As we enter the second decade of the 21st century and mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11, indicia of the strategy’s success are the aborted, and arguably amateurish, attempts of the so-called “underwear,” “Christmastree,” and “Times-Square” wannabe-bombers. These foiled plots are reminiscent of the activities of the19th century’s anarchists than they are worthy successors to the successful 9/11 attacks. They suggest a reversion to the tactics of “Leaderless Resistance,” indicating an inability of the remnants of Al Qaeda to mount vertically coordinated para-military incursions.
However, the successes of 19th century anarchists --- notably the assassination of President McKinley --- pose a stark warning that the law enforcement aspects of homeland defense and security must be sustained, if not indeed enhanced, in this new decade.
The Anarchists, 1848 - 1914
Between 1894 and 1914, self-proclaimed “anarchists” succeeded in assassinating six Western heads of state:
1. President Carnot of France, 1894
2. Premier Carnovas of Spain, 1897
3. Empress Elizabeth of Austria, 1898
4. King Humbert of Italy, 1900
5. President McKinley of the U.S., 1901
6. Premier Canalejas of Spain, 19122
“Their deaths were the gestures of desperate or deluded men to call attention to the Anarchist idea…. The Idea was [the] hero…. It had its theorists ad thinkers, men of intellect, sincere and earnest, who loved humanity. It also had its tools, the little men whom misfortune or despair or the anger, degradation and hopelessness of poverty made susceptible to the Idea…. These became the assassins.”3
The most salient feature of the Anarchist movement for our purposes is this: “Between the two groups there was no contact.”4 Although the phrase was decades away from being coined, the Anarchist movement is a classic example of “Leaderless Resistance.”
“Leaderless resistance (or phantom cell structure) is a political resistance strategy in which small, independent groups (covert cells) challenge an established adversary such as a government. Leaderless resistance can encompass anything from non-violent disruption and civil disobedience to bombings, assassinations and other violent agitation. Leaderless cells lack bidirectional, vertical command links and operate without hierarchal command.” 5
The term "Leaderless Resistance" was popularized by the white supremacist Louis Beam, who published an essay on Leaderless Resistance in 1983 and again in 1992. Beam advocated Leaderless Resistance as a technique for fighting an incumbent government using self-organizing clandestine cells; he attributed the strategy to Col. Ulius Loius Amoss, allegedly a U.S. intelligence officer who was fearful that Communists were about to seize control of the U.S. in the early 1960s.
In his essay, Beam argued that traditional liberation armies employing pyramid-style organization are "extremely dangerous for the participants when it is utilized in a resistance movement against state tyranny":
"Especially is this so in technologically advanced societies where electronic surveillance can often penetrate the structure revealing its chain of command. Experience has revealed over and over again that anti-state, political organizations utilizing this method of command and control are easy prey for government infiltration, entrapment, and destruction of the personnel involved. This has been seen repeatedly in the United States where pro-government infiltrators or agent provocateurs weasel their way into patriotic groups and destroy them from within."
A more workable approach, argued Beam, is to convince like-minded individuals to form independent cells that will commit acts of sabotage or terrorism without coordination from above, and while minimizing communication with other cells:
"The so-called "phantom cell" mode of organization, developed by Col. Amoss, or Leaderless Resistance, is based upon the cell organization but does not have any central control or direction. In the Leaderless Resistance concept, cells operate independently of each other, but they do not report to a central headquarters or top chief, as do the communist cells ...
[P]articipants in a program of Leaderless Resistance through phantom cell organization must know exactly what they are doing and how to do it. This is by no means as impractical as it appears, because it is certainly true that in any movement, all persons involved have the same general outlook, are acquainted with the same philosophy, and generally react to given situations in similar ways. As the entire purpose of Leaderless Resistance is to defeat the enemy by whatever means possible, all members of phantom cells will tend to react to objective events in the same way, usually through tactics of resistance and sabotage."
Despite exhorting the adoption of a resistance without a leader, it is likely that Beam was advocating Leaderless Resistance in an attempt to cement his position as a leader and thinker in the white separatist movement. Indeed, Leaderless Resistance is taken by some to be a technique of splitting an organization into an above-ground wing that primarily deals in propaganda, and an underground wing that actually carries out terrorist attacks.6
Anarchism was a perfect candidate for “Leaderless Resistance,” given that its proponents and adherents assuaged all organizing efforts and organized movements, even the kindred philosophy of Socialism.
Roots of Anarchism
Anarchism’s formative years followed Europe’s revolutionary year of 1848. Its intellectual parents were Pierre Proudhon of France7 and Michael Bakunin.8 The Paris Commune of 1871 seemed momentarily to promise the Utopia predicted by these two theorists of Anarchy. However, the commune flamed brightly and was doused. According to Bakunin, “We reckoned without the masses who did not want to be roused to passion for their own freedom. This passion being absent what good did it do us to have been right theoretically? We were powerless.”9
The assassination of Czar Alexander II, who ironically had liberated Russia’s serfs, in 1881 and the furious repression that followed effectively squelched the Anarchist movement for nearly a decade in Europe.10
In America, the 1880s were shaken by an incident of similar significance. The 1886 Haymarket Riot in Chicago was climaxed by a dynamite bomb that killed eight policemen. The Anarchist daily newspaper Die Arbeiter-Zeitung had previously screamed, “A pound of dynamite is worth a bushel of bullets.”11 Though no one every knew who threw the bomb, the paper’s editor, August Spies, and seven other Anarchists were arrested, tried, convicted of murder and sentenced to die. Spies responded to the sentence, “Let the world know that in 1886 in the state of Illinois eight men were sentenced to death because they believed in a better future!”12
The convictions were appealed all the way up the judicial ladder to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the defendants sought a Writ of Error, contending that they had been denied the privilege of a trial by an impartial jury in violation of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Reviewing the voir dire of several challenged jurors in some detail, the high court brushed aside this contention, along with others involving search & seizure and self-incrimination. The court’s opinion, penned by Chief Justice Waite,
“Being of opinion, therefore, that the federal questions presented by the counsel for the petitioners, and which they say they desire to argue, are not involved in the determination of the case as it appears on the face of the record, we deny the writ. Petition for writ of error is dismissed.”13
Of greatest interest here is the fact that the defendants’ attorneys grounded their appeal on the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments, as applied to the states via the 14th.14 The First Amendment apparently played no part in the appeal. Three of the condemned had their sentences commuted to life in prison, one committed suicide in his cell, and the remaining four were hanged.
Since the bomb thrower was never identified, how was it that the First Amendment’s free speech, free association and free press rights failed to shield the defendants from criminal liability for the Haymarket deaths, despite the fact that only three of them were even actually present when the bomb exploded? The website of the Clerk of the Cook County (IL) Circuit Court, where the case was tried, explains, “Judge Joseph E. Gary firmly held that the defendants had caused the bombing by speaking and writing their ideas publicly. He appointed bailiff Henry L. Ryce to select a jury which was hardly impartial. One juror was even related to a bomb victim. Defense objections by attorney Captain William P. Black were denied, and the trial commenced June 21. No defendants ever were connected to the bomb or to the numerous weapons displayed in open court by states attorney Julius Grinnell. Yet on August 20 the jury found all eight men guilty and set the death penalty for seven (Neebe received a prison sentence). Receiving the case on appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court in September 1887 admitted that the trial had not been fair but still upheld the guilty verdict.”15
The Illinois Supreme Court grounded its affirmation of the convictions on the legal principle, “Any act done by party to conspiracy, in furtherance of and naturally flowing from common design, is act of each and all of conspirators, (1) even though conspirator who did act cannot be identified; or (2) though defendant may have been absent; or (3) though act charged may not have been arranged for; or (4) was unauthorized in point of time, place, occasion, or instruments; or (5) was not anticipated, if conspirators either did or ought to have anticipated result, although they did not contemplate means.”16
To apply this rule to the defendants, the court first found, “The evidence against the defendants showed that, for a number of years, there had existed in Chicago a branch of a society variously known as the ‘International Association of Workingmen;’ the ‘International Arbeiter Association;’ the ‘International,’ or the ‘I. A. A.’ The platform of this society advocated the destruction of the existing social order, with its laws and institutions; and the common division of property. It charged that the government, the law, the schools, the churches, and the press were in the pay and under the control of the capitalists, who would never concede the laborers' demands unless compelled by force. It advocated a conflict of a violent, revolutionary character, and urged the laborers to organize and arm for the purpose of rebellion.”17
The newspapers, speeches, and pamphlets produced by the defendants were not forms of protected speech or press in the justices’ eyes. Rather, they were the causal nexus between the defendants’ mens rea (guilty minds) and the Haymarket murders. “During 1838-86 the defendants were unceasing in their dissemination of revolutionary literature. They persistently advised the workingmen to arm themselves for a conflict with the capitalists, police, and militia. They gave the most complete instructions for the manufacture and use of pernicious and destructive weapons. They were proved to have been in possession of specimens of the weapons themselves. They manufactured and experimented with explosives. They advocated through the press and by speech, in public and in private, the doctrines which they held, and the methods by which they proposed to carry them into effect.”18
Though it would be another three decades before Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes would write famously, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force,”19 this is the essence of the Illinois Supreme Court’s view. While the court acknowledged, but failed to remedy, irregularities in the trial of the case, and appropriately might have been taken to task for this (though, as we’ve seen, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to do so), its opinion appears to be on solid legal ground where the causal nexus is concerned. The Haymarket convictions --- at least in this author’s view --- represent an early instance of when the shield of “Leaderless Resistance” was stripped away and the advocates of violent action were held responsible for the deaths which, quite foreseeably, resulted… as they undeniably desired.