Last week's union-sponsored FTAA protest march wound through a locked-down and deserted downtown Miami, the sidewalks inhabited mostly by media and at the Overtown Metrorail station, a pod of poorly costumed undercover cops.
What police department they belonged to, we'll never know. We identified ourselves as reporters and asked where they were from. One of the crew insisted they were "a militia group from the Northeast." He was probably supposed to say Northwest. But who knows? Maybe they were New England lumberjacks -- their weightlifter arms and shoulders immediately differentiated them from the skinny/scabby Black Bloc types, although several of them had dutifully foregone shaving and were wearing the requisite protester disguise of knit ski caps, bandannas, and cutoff cammies.
Another tip-off: Not only were there no Docs or Chucks on these protesters' feet, they all wore identical paratrooper boots, except for a couple of black guys in casual attire who were just standing around acting natural. One of them, a nondescript fellow no larger than a VW Bug, sported a novelty Rasta hat, fake dreadlocks dangling. Two other men lingered nearby wearing those fishing hats rimmed with sun-protector flaps that make them look like French Foreign Legion caps.
If these guys weren't cops, they certainly knew the lingo. In fact the first surly militiaman to speak had this suggestion: "Why don't you get the fuck out of here, pal."
Pal? No one talks like that except cops. Pressed for an explanation, he uttered, "Get lost," drifted away, and casually mumbled something as he walked past another would-be anarchist, who in turn sauntered past one of the fishing-hat guys for a brief exchange.
Nothing to see here! So they began walking away from the Metro station. Suddenly another militiaman, this one equipped with a camera and previously unseen, jumped down from a tree overlooking the protest march and followed them. So did we.
When they spotted us, they came to a halt on the sidewalk until we passed. Twenty minutes later they stumbled upon us again while we were waiting to hook up with colleagues on North Miami Avenue. A few of them -- including the fishing-hat twins, whose earpieces were now visible as the wind fluttered their flaps -- scattered along the sidewalk, acting nonchalant. Then four of the buff radicals formed a loose circle around us. The dialogue that followed would never make it past the first draft of an NYPD Blue script.
So, what youth hostel are you guys staying at?
Militiaman #1 (standing about eight inches away, making scary cop eye contact): You ask a lot of questions, but you haven't shown us any ID indicating you're a reporter.
We didn't know anarchists needed to see a photo ID. Here's a business card. Is there something planned for this location? You guys seem to be sticking around here.
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Militiaman #1: You tell me.
Militiaman #2: Yeah, you're the guy with all the answers.
They denied being cops, even as one of them spoke into a tiny radio microphone cleverly hidden beneath his bandanna. They denied taking pictures of marchers. And they refused to hand over a copy of their manifesto.