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by Russell Morse

2008 Convention Protests Echo 1968

(PNS) ST. PAUL -- Nearly a decade ago, as a wealthy and peaceful but somehow angst-ridden America teetered on the edge of a new century, two shocking and violent events took place. In April of 1999, two young white men (boys, really) killed a dozen of their classmates, a teacher and themselves at their suburban high school in Colorado. In November of that same year, small groups of young, (mostly) white male anarchists made shattered and burning chaos out of a larger protest of the World Trade Organization in Seattle.

At the time, I was the same age as the Columbine shooters and, I imagine, many of the rioting anarchists. I remember seeing an emptiness in myself reflected in these acts and even a sick kind of heroism.

1999 was the year of Fight Club and the Matrix: now legendary calls to arms for young white men feeling trapped and marginalized in an increasingly bland and corporatized world. Columbine and the Seattle WTO protests, linked with events like the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, formed a chain of events that reflected a spiritual crisis among the young white men of America.

After spending a week in the Twin Cities during the Republican Convention, I see the manifestation of these events in the faces of the young white men of two movements well outside the walls of the convention: the ultra-conservative Ron Paul Revolution and the anarchist protesters, who combine to form a New Right.

These are groups of men without a political home.

The Excel Center this week was packed with white faces, overwhelmingly old. The new, young shining star of the Republican Party is a woman. The Target center, however, where Ron Paul held his "Rally for the Republic," was packed with young white men in awe of their principled, underdog leader from Texas.

The anarchists, though they share many causes and concerns with the aged hippies and college students of the "traditional left" who have gathered here to protest, are not of that movement and scoff openly at their non-violent tactics. The traditional protesters distance themselves from the anarchists, blaming them and not the police when a peaceful march goes awry.

Additionally, the candidacy of Barack Obama has swept most of my generation up in a frenzy of optimism, turning the counter-culture (college liberals, young people, the hip hop generation, anti-war people) into the mainstream. That shift makes this splinter of young white men on the right -- shunned, frustrated and cast aside -- the new counter culture.

On Tuesday evening in Saint Paul, you could almost hear the Republican Party taking its last breaths. Hurricane Gustav reminded America of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, prompting John McCain to shut down most of the festivities. In downtown Minneapolis, though, a livelier and more holistic gathering was taking place: Ron Paul's Rally for the Republic drew thousands of GOP defectors to the Target Center.

Early in the day's events, Jesse Ventura, the former wrestler, actor and governor of Minnesota who is often considered the most prominent voice of politcal independents in America, gave his address. He got cheers and chants from the crowd when he talked about the horrors of the national debt and the Patriot Act. He also talked at length about gun control, saying he was tired of politicians framing the debate in terms of hunting and sportsmen's rights. He clarified his view, saying "The second amendment, the right to bear arms is there so that we the public, if our government gets out of control, we can overthrow it."

Wild cheers.

Hours later, Ron Paul took the stage and delivered a clean and classic address, attacking the federal government and reminding his followers of how far off we are from what the founding fathers intended.

After the event let out, I watched the RNC on television at a bar with several Ron Paul supporters. The three young guys made cracks about the various speeches, at one point calling Joe Lieberman a douche bag. They told me they drove eight hours from Chicago just to be there for the rally. One of them put down his beer and said something I've been hearing all year, in reference to another, quite different charismatic leader. He said, "I was never really involved in politics until I heard Ron Paul speak."

There is a tension at every protest gathering here that I did not feel at the DNC in Denver and have not felt in a long time. The police are angrier and more disorganized and the same could be said for the protesters.

At the close of a week of arrests and violent clashes, protesters gathered at the state building in St Paul Thursday night to march to the Excel Center during John McCain's address and denounce what they call the "Republican Agenda." As they started to walk, however, they were met with a massive line of police officers in riot gear and gas masks. Stranded on a bridge for nearly an hour, the protesters were forced back to an intersection and surrounded.

Right away, most of the protesters recognized what was happening and organized a quick departure. They shouted into their megaphones, telling everyone to return to the state building, where they had a permit to assemble, though they were still more than a mile away from the Excel Center.

Within minutes, nearly every one of the hundreds of protesters had left the intersection. The rest, the ones that stayed behind, were dressed in black, with bandanas over their faces, clowning and taunting the police. One held up a sign, fashioned out of a pizza box, mocking the other protesters as they left that read, "liberals, can we riot now?"

The moment passed. The police, satisfied with dispersing the majority of the crowd, took off their gas masks and a number of them marched off.

I sat on top of a concrete median with a group of young self-described anarchists who were disappointed with the outcome. "It's ‘cause there's nothing up here to smash," said one. He was right. We were in a park at the base of a bridge with no structures or buildings around.

I should mention that any member of either of these groups -- the Ron Paul supporters or the anarchists -- would probably be horrified to be linked to the other. Though in a very strict sense they are both of the extreme right, their movements have evolved to a point where they are on opposite sides of most issues except, notably, gun control.

On Thursday night in the Excel Center, after John McCain finished his address and the balloons were dropping, I ran into a young man in a cowboy hat named Vincent. He had Ron Paul stickers all over his hat and pants and a t-shirt with Ron Paul written on it in black marker. He explained to me that he was an alternate delegate from Texas and he was kicked off the floor of the convention because of his attire. He was disappointed, but not surprised.

As Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" played in the hall for the party faithful, Vincent told me he had been at the Ron Paul event on Tuesday night, too. I asked him how that compared with his time at the RNC and he said, "This felt fake."

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Albion Monitor   September 5, 2008   (

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