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RAND on Seattle N30 (and Indymedia)
by plague
Tuesday Nov 27th, 2001 4:05 AM
A new RAND Corporation report on the protests and shutdown of the WTO two years ago in Seattle, including a chronology of the "battle" based on corporate media reports - and an overview of the indymedia network.

from Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy (published November 2001 by RAND, National Security Research Division)

The fight for the future is not between the armies of leading states, nor are its weapons those of traditional armed forces. Rather, the combatants come from bomb-making terrorist groups like Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, or drug smuggling cartels like those in Colombia and Mexico. On the positive side are civil-society activists fighting for the environment, democracy and human rights. What all have in common is that they operate in small, dispersed units that can deploy anywhere, anytime to penetrate and disrupt. They all feature network forms of organization, doctrine, strategy, and technology attuned to the information age. And, from the Intifadah to the drug war, they are proving very hard to beat.

Chapter 7: Netwar in the Emerald City: WTO Protest Strategy and Tactics

by Paul de Armond

Editors' abstract: In a free society, netwar can run wild - sometimes literally. The Battle of Seattle is the best case of this to date. De Armond (Public Good Project) offers an eyewitness account, analyzing all players and their strategies and revealing how and why the Direct Action Network did so well. This struggle featured a rich mix of activists and anarchists, from around the world, who were intent upon disrupting a gathering of governmental and international institutional actors that were assembling to launch the World Trade Organization. The chapter is largely condensed from a longer paper titled "Black Flag Over Seattle," Albion Monitor, No. 72, March 2000, Reprinted by permission. Most quotations are from news coverage in the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post- Intelligencer series on the WTO protests which ran during December 1999 and January 2000. The complete WTO coverage by these two newspapers is available on the web at and Quotes from Daniel Junas and Jeff Boscole are from personal conversations with the author. The chronology of events was assembled from the WTO documentary Four Days in Seattle aired by KIRO TV on December 10, 1999. For an anarchist view of the Black Bloc, see Tom Trouble, Black Bloc Participant Interview by Active Transformation, The police perspective is drawn from: Mike Carter and David Postman, "There Was Unrest Even at the Top During WTO Riots," Seattle Times, December 16, 1999, and Brett Smith and Dan Raley, "Police Officer Blames City's Poor Planning," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 4, 1999. One participant's experience in the AFL-CIO march is described by Greta Gaard, "`Shut Down the WTO!' Labor and Activists Create Change," Every Other Weekly, Bellingham, Wash., Dec. 16-Dec. 29, 1999.

Seattle, like many American cities, has self-appointed nicknames. One of Seattle's nicknames is "The Emerald City," a reference to its perpetually soggy evergreen vegetation and to the mythical Land of Oz. On November 30, 1999, Seattleites awoke to the reality of an emerging global protest movement. This movement was not created in Seattle. Other protests with similar motives, participants, and strategies had been happening in the United States and around the world for a considerable time. What made the "N30" protests remarkable was the shock that we, like Dorothy and Toto, were no longer in Kansas.

For the next year, roving protests continued the agitation that exploded in Seattle. In the United States, Boston (Biodevastation), Washington, D.C. (A16), numerous cities on May Day (M1), Milwaukee (animal rights), Detroit and Winsor, Ontario (OAS), Philadelphia (Republican Convention), and Los Angeles (Democratic Convention) were visited by what protesters called the "spirit of Seattle." Around the world, protests took place in Bangkok, London, Prague, Melbourne, and other cities.

On N30, all that lay in the future. Previous protests, particularly the J18/"Seize the Streets" protests in London and other cities around the world on June 18, 1999, foreshadowed the N30 demonstrations in Seattle. The J18 protest was ignored, dismissed, or misinterpreted. Seattle was where the protests broke through the infosphere and into the notice of the world. Oz did not fall, but the walls were breached. Networked forms of social organization distinguish the new protest movement. Dubbed "netwar" by David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla, this style of conflict depends heavily on information and communications technology, nonhierarchical organization, and tactics that are distinctly different from previous forms of civil-society conflicts. Understanding what happened in the Emerald City on N30 requires identifying the numerous actors, outlining their strategies and tactics, and knowing the sequence of events as the protests unfolded.

Protest Background

The central fact of the Seattle protests is the utter surprise and confusion during the initial confrontation on Tuesday morning. "It was a classic example of two armies coming into contact and immediately experiencing the total collapse of their battle plans," said Daniel Junas, a Seattle political researcher.

The street action falls into three distinct phases. First, the Direct Action Network (DAN) protesters seized and held a handful of strategic intersections, immobilizing the police. Second, the police strategy fragmented over two contradictory goals: suppressing the DAN protests and allowing the labor parade. Third, the labor parade failed in its goal of controlling and diverting the DAN protesters away from the Convention Center. The influx of reinforcements who abandoned the labor parade and joined the DAN protests left the streets more firmly in control of the protesters, despite the use of tear gas by police from around 10 a.m. By approximately 3 p.m. Tuesday, the battle was decided and the Direct Action Network prevailed in its goal of shutting down the conference.

After that time, the outcome was certain. The battle continued for three days, spreading into other areas of the city. By Thursday, the World Trade Organization ground to an inconclusive halt, and the police ceased attacking civilians, thereby recognizing a conclusion that had been reached before darkness fell on Tuesday.

The Players: WTO Opponents

DAN represents an emerging species of political organization based on networks rather than institutions. The primary networked organizations in DAN were a coalition of such groups as the Rainforest Action Network, Art & Revolution, and the Ruckus Society. Through DAN, these groups coordinated nonviolent protest training, communications, and collective strategy and tactics through a decentralized process of consultation/consensus decisionmaking.

The strategy and tactics of these new-and primarily informationbased-networks of nongovernmental organizations evolved from trends represented by the ad hoc mobilization committees of the Vietnam protest era, the "alternative summits" at recent world environmental and human rights conferences, and the loose coalitions that formed in opposition to U.S. policy during the Gulf War. Networks, as opposed to institutions, are shaped by decentralized command and control structures, are resistant to "decapitation" attacks targeting leaders, and are amorphous enough to weld together coalitions with significantly different agendas while concentrating forces on a single symbolic target. Conflicts involving networks blur distinctions between offense and defense.

The overall strategic goal of the Direct Action Network was to "shut down" the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. The main instrument for doing so was the fielding of a few dozen "affinity groups"-small units into which the activists organized on their own. These affinity groups were organized at DAN training sessions in the weeks prior to the protests. The central training was conducted by the Ruckus Society and was attended by approximately 250 people, who then became the hard core of protestors in the "first wave"-i.e., those who were willing to risk violent confrontation with the police and arrest once the demonstrations began. Through a variety of independent but strategically congruent actions, this first wave was to be followed by a "second wave" of other affinity groups and supporters who were still militant but less willing to risk arrest and injury-all summing up to a street blockade in the vicinity of the WTO conference. The numerically small affinity groups anchored the protests and provided a catalytic nucleus of blockades around which crowd actions were directed. The Direct Action Network's goals and consultative strategy were sufficiently broad to encompass all of the protesters' grievances.

The second major WTO opponent was American organized labor, the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO is a hierarchical institution emphasizing unitary, top-down command. There is little participation by rank and file in union decisionmaking, although ceremonial elections are sometimes held to legitimize leadership decisions. Essentially nationalist in outlook, the AFL-CIO has policy goals that are directed more at American politics and less at international issues. Simply stated, the AFL-CIO's strategic target was supporting and legitimizing President Clinton's actions at the conference through purely symbolic displays as a loyal opposition. The AFL-CIO helped attract thousands of people to Seattle. Its main adherents had little interest in joining with DAN's; but during the second and third days of the protests, a spillover from the AFL-CIO crowds into DAN's street actions added to a "third wave" of protest that ultimately overwhelmed the police.

The Players: World Trade Organization and Allies

On the other side of the conflict, the World Trade Organization and its allies composed a much more divided picture. The purpose of the WTO conference was to produce a new framework for the next round of negotiations on international trade. To a lesser extent, the WTO deliberations would broaden the scope of existing trade agreements to include developing countries. Prior to the Seattle conference, three major trading blocks have dominated the WTO: the western hemisphere block organized around the NAFTA treaties, the European Economic Community (EEC), and the Asian industrialized nations. The Seattle talks were the first to include developing countries. Even in the absence of protests outside the meeting, the tensions inside made it very likely that the Seattle round of negotiations would be off to a very rocky start.

The American posture consisted of blocking agreements while giving the appearance of support. President Clinton's strategy was concentrated around his appearance at the conference, rather than the success of the conference itself. If the talks failed to produce a new framework, then the existing agreements (which heavily favored the shared interests of industrialized countries over developing countries) would continue to provide the basis for international negotiations. In relation to the protests, the federal strategy hinged on getting Clinton into the conference.

The City of Seattle, as host of the conference and lead jurisdiction, was the center of responsibility for containing the demonstrations. Aside from this hospitality, Mayor Schell's political concerns were complex. First of all, the primary reason for Seattle hosting the WTO conference was to promote regional trade interests: principally timber and forest products, wheat, and a variety of high-tech industries, of which Microsoft and Boeing are the best known examples. Second, Schell is a liberal with strong ties to the Democratic Party and its main source of financial support, the AFL-CIO. Third and last, Schell is deeply beholden to the progressive Democrats and environmentalists who are a key political constituency in Seattle, although mostly excluded from the Democratic Party by the labor interests. Schell's attempts to satisfy all of these interests were so riddled with contradictions that he became unable to control events and was ultimately left to twist slowly in the wind.

The direct point of contact between the Direct Action Network and the WTO was the Seattle Police Department (SPD). Under the leadership of Chief Norm Stamper, the SPD has become a national laboratory for a progressive philosophy of law enforcement known as "community policing." Recently, the relations between the police and Mayor Schell's administration have not been good. The road to community policing has been rough and rocky, particularly in light of the resistance from rank and file cops.

The total size of the Seattle Police Department is roughly 1,800 officers, of whom about 850 are available for street duty throughout the city. Of these, 400 were assigned to the WTO demonstrations. Seattle has about the same ratio of police to population as Chicago, but Seattle's smaller size limited the number of officers it could field against the protesters-unless, of course, the SPD entered into some sort of joint WTO operation with other police agencies in the region. By Wednesday, the second day of the protests, more than 500 state and regional police, plus some 200 National Guard were deployed.

The largest two outside police forces available to Seattle are the King County Sheriff's Department and the Washington State Patrol. King County Sheriff Dave Reichert is a conservative Republican and political foe of Mayor Schell. This reflects the long-standing division between Seattle and the King County government. The suburban fringe surrounding Seattle is the traditional political battleground in which statewide elections are fought. The outlying areas go to the Republicans and the heavily urbanized areas go to the Democrats. The suburbs swing back and forth between the two. The State Patrol and National Guard are responsible to Gov. Gary Locke, a nominal Democrat who rose to the governorship through the King County Council. None of these outside agencies are supporters of community policing policies, which meant that assistance entailed Chief Stamper presiding over a joint command divided by fundamental policy differences.

One consideration weighing against the employment of outside police on Tuesday was the strong possibility that they would attack the union parade and city residents. The delayed deployment of outside police reinforcements prevented contact with the union parade. Once the union supporters boarded their buses and left town, the augmented police hit the streets. Then the police attacks on city residents began and continued through Tuesday and Wednesday night. Unified police command was not established until Thursday, after the Wednesday night debacle on Capitol Hill-which included police attacks on media and elected officials.

The Players: Wild Cards

There are two more players who deserve examination, especially since one ended up dominating the national media coverage. Neither of these two groups was numerous nor strategically significant in terms of the overall outcome of the WTO protests. However, both ended up in effective control of the informational conflict in which the media was both the battleground and the prize.

The first of these groups was the so-called "Anarchists from Eugene," more correctly known as the "Black Blocs." The total number of Black Bloc participants numbered between one and two hundred people, slightly less than DAN's "lockdown" affinity groups. The appearance of Black Blocs at protests is a relatively recent phenomenon. The purpose of Black Blocs is to show a visible presence of the more radical anarchist factions. A Black Bloc consists of protesters who wear black, carry anarchist flags and banners, and take a more confrontational approach to protest.

In an interview in Active Transformation, an anarchist journal, one participant in the Seattle Black Blocs explained it this way:

Anarchists were not isolated in the black block. There were anarchists involved in every possible way. There were anarchist labor activists, puppeteers, non-violent lockdown blockaders, marching musicians, medics, communication people, media people, whatever-as well as a group of about two hundred in black masks who had prepared, also in affinity groups, to do as much symbolic physical damage to multi-national capitalism as possible. I have seen black blocks used in protests in the U.S. a lot but never so successfully. It is important to note that the black block was not the result of some conspiracy. It too happened quite spontaneously, with people who came from all over the country-with similar desires.

The media's tag line of "Anarchists from Eugene" is one of those lazy half-truths that sums up to a conscious lie. The half-truth is that people from Eugene participated in the Black Blocs. The other unreported half of the truth is that people from Seattle and the surrounding region-not affiliated with the Black Blocs-committed much of the vandalism and nearly all of the looting. These people were not part of the Black Blocs, nor were their actions directed or controlled by the Black Blocs. The lie was that the Black Bloc caused the police violence in the streets, when actually the police attacks on the crowds began several hours before the window-breaking spree.

The primary target of the Black Blocs was neither the WTO nor the businesses whose windows were broken. The Black Blocs were in Seattle to radicalize the protest and prevent the nascent movement from being absorbed by the AFL-CIO umbrella group.

The second wild card was a segment of the Seattle Police Department that actively sought to disrupt the chain of command and forcibly turn the initial confrontation with demonstrators into chaos. One clear sign of eroding police discipline was the circulation of mutinous talk regarding the "softness" of the official strategy for dealing with the demonstrators. During an October crowd-control training session, Assistant Chief Ed Joiner answered questions about protester violence by saying that there was nothing to worry about and the protests would be nonviolent. SPD Officer Brett Smith told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the FBI and Secret Service had briefed King County Sheriff's officers to "fully anticipate that five to six officers would be lost during the protests, either seriously injured or killed." By noon on Tuesday, the police chain of command was seriously eroding. From this moment on, more and more command responsibilities passed to officers in the streets. The breakdown in command continued through the next day, culminating in the events of Wednesday night. It was not until Thursday that a unified command was established and able to assert total control over police actions in the streets.


The geography of Seattle's downtown favors protesters. In the last decade, two major civil disturbances-accompanying first the Gulf War protests, and later the "Rodney King" riots-have followed much the same path over the same streets, as did the numerous protests during the Vietnam War. Given sufficient numbers and even the most harebrained strategy, protesters have the ability to dominate the streets of Seattle.

The outcome of the Seattle protests was mostly due to the failure, not the success, of the respective strategies of the AFL-CIO, the Direct Action Network, and the Seattle Police. As is often the case in netwar conflicts, victory goes to the side that decontrols most effectively. As each of the strategies collapsed into confusion and disarray, the DAN strategy proved to be the one that survived the chaos.

The AFL-CIO strategy was to hold a rally at the Seattle Center and then march downtown (but not too far). Central to the AFL-CIO strategy was the notion that they could contain the majority of the demonstrators and keep them out of the downtown area. All the AFL-CIO had to do was prevent any effective protests by groups not under their control and allow the media to spin the tale of how labor caused a sudden change in national policy. The AFL-CIO proved to be unequal to the task of rounding up all the protesters and keeping them muzzled.

The Direct Action Network planned more effectively, and in the end more realistically, with a "peoples convergence" consisting of three waves (mentioned above) of blockaders enclosing the WTO conference site.

  • The first wave consisted of 200
by Charlie Bucket
Wednesday Nov 28th, 2001 8:55 AM
From above, this paragraph was so well written it made me doubt the veracity of the article. (I checked the RAND site, it is there...)

This sums up the AFL-CIO beautifully.

"The second major WTO opponent was American organized labor, the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO is a hierarchical institution emphasizing unitary, top-down command. There is little participation by rank and file in union decisionmaking, although ceremonial elections are sometimes held to legitimize leadership decisions. Essentially nationalist in outlook, the AFL-CIO has policy goals that are directed more at American politics and less at international issues. Simply stated, the AFL-CIO's strategic target was supporting and legitimizing President Clinton's actions at the conference through purely symbolic displays as a loyal opposition. The AFL-CIO helped attract thousands of people to Seattle. Its main adherents had little interest in joining with DAN's; but during the second and third days of the protests, a spillover from the AFL-CIO crowds into DAN's street actions added to a "third wave" of protest that ultimately overwhelmed the police."
by Paul de Armond (paulf [at]
Friday Jan 18th, 2002 4:57 PM
The RAND version is considerably shortened from the original publication at

The editing was due to the need to keep the entire book to a page limit.

If you're interested, take a look at the original. There's considerably more detail and analysis. The original draft was written in about three weeks. My friends and correspondents in the Public Good project wanted to understand what went down during the WTO. With their help, I hope that the picture is a little clearer.

To me, the most amazing thing about the protests was how difficult it was to find out what really happened, as opposed to what many people, including the participants, thought was going on.

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