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Occupy Miami descends into drugs and chaos in an Overtown apartment building

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Instead, the feud between the Overtown occupiers and more mainstream members has only gotten worse. The two factions are now battling for control of Occupy Miami's social media sites. The movement's main Twitter account recently announced it had been "hijacked by a small, non-consensus group of radical members." The Occupy Miami Facebook page was also temporarily hacked by someone inside Peace City. Meanwhile, the Overtown occupation is slowly driving away more moderate members.

"This is a black eye on the Occupy movement," says Shannon Reaze, an Overtown community organizer and Occupy Miami supporter who is now helping tenants move out of Paz's building. "The violence and drugs going on here are way outside of what I thought Occupy stood for. This place is destabilized."

"I'm going to get a lot of shit for bringing you up here," Steve tells a New Times reporter as he ducks into a dark, doorless unit on the top floor of the apartment building. He walks through a room of broken furniture and pauses before the red glow of the bedroom.

"You're not wearing a wire, are you?" he asks in a moment of paranoia. Convinced that the reporter isn't an undercover FBI agent, he leads the way into Occupy Miami's inner sanctum.

The tiny room is packed with overlapping limbs, noise, and a thick haze of smoke. More than a dozen bodies lounge on sleeping bags, most of them well on their way to getting drunk and stoned. Red and black graffiti covers every square inch of the walls like the scratches on an insane asylum cell. A teenager with an Afro the size of a beachball plays a didjeridoo over a Gorillaz tune blaring from a cell phone.

Freedom Rider leans out an open window and screams, "Occupy the hood, bitch!" into the darkness.

Luis passes a joint the size of a small cigar. Steve takes a short drag and says, "I bet you've never been inside of a revolution like this before."

What revolution? Two months into Señor Paz's bizarre experiment, Occupy Miami is fizzling out. The supposedly hard-core activists here spend their days drinking and getting high. And as Peace City devolves into lawlessness, the most committed occupiers are leaving. Local landowners and politicians want the place shut down, while cops are suspicious. Yet as long as Paz wants the protesters around, nothing short of a demolition order can keep them out.

Some, like Diaz the cook, are getting the hell out before they get hurt. One night, Luis and two other young occupiers went to Diaz's apartment and told him to get out. Luis had a knife in his hand, and another guy carried a large stick, Diaz says. "They wanted to take my kitchen from me just so they could cook," he explains.

"Here, you cannot guarantee anyone's safety anymore," he says quietly. Carole Patman, a pretty middle-aged woman with short hair and sparkling eyes, nods in agreement. She joined Occupy Miami after foreclosure and a third divorce left her homeless, but now she is also worried for her safety and considering leaving.

"There need to be rules," Patman says. She stares out at NW Seventh Street, where a teenage occupier shrieks while wobbling uncontrollably on a tiny motorcycle. "We need God here," she adds.

Paz isn't concerned — even though his peaceful community has become a place of violence and fear. Even though his tenants have stopped paying rent. Even though he says he faces fines of $1,000 a day and could soon lose the building altogether. Even though he loaned his SUV to someone a week ago and hasn't seen it since. Despite it all, Paz says Occupy can keep his building indefinitely. He hopes it sparks a new nationwide movement.

"My battle isn't for the building or for money," he says. "My battle is for Peace City. And Peace City is people."

He continues passionately, "Occupy Miami was virgin soil, people hungry for ideas. These people were looking for an answer. I showed them the truth, chased out the liars, and the ones who believed are still here."

But as the Overtown occupiers increasingly adopt a siege mentality, local law enforcement is ready to play its part as Big Brother. On the afternoon of March 13, more than two dozen Miami police — many in SWAT gear and carrying assault rifles or shotguns — poured into Peace City. They forcibly searched the protesters for weapons, claiming they had received a tip that occupiers were armed and dangerous. No one was arrested, but the message was clear: We're watching you.

"The repression against Occupy Miami is only going to get worse," Parisi claims. Apparently, so too will the group's paranoia and isolation. "The police have people inside our movement," he adds. "They have infiltrated us with confidential informants."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.