“The Sherwood Syndrome”Posted: May 26, 2013
Madrid, May 26
Now that the revolution is over, let’s talk about the counterrevolution. In particular let’s study the behaviour of its guard dogs. The document I present to you was leaked over a year ago. It’s a military style manual on how to deal with anarchists, written by the current chief of police of Barcelona, David Piqué y Batallé. It was presented as his master thesis to the Open University of Catalonia at the end of 2009 under the title ‘The Sherwood Syndrome’.
Though the work focuses on the case of Gràcia neighbourhood in Barcelona as a practical representation of Sherwood, the author meant it to be a generally applicable battle guide. And he meant to picture the battle as a historic one. The objective is the complete defeat and assimilation of all those people who are living in occupied spaces outside the system. The barbarians. They are likened to the rebellious tribes of Gaul, and in between the lines Piqué himself dreams to be Julius Caesar.
When the guide hit the wires in May last year, it caused an outcry in the left wing community online. Piqué was called a fascist and a psychopath. His academic merits were ridiculed as infantile. Most quotations from his work highlighted examples of violent tactics, unlawful practices and dubious ethical considerations.
Indeed, academically speaking, the manual fails to live up to any accepted standard. It’s extremely superficial. It hardly relies on any sources. It includes anonymous rumours and random quotes. Most historical examples are flawed and out of place. It doesn’t take much to recognise a shameful lack of in-depth knowledge about military history and its political context. But we have to bear in mind that Piqué didn’t write his thesis for academics or historians. He wrote it for chiefs of police.
That’s why the document is only 37-pages, without terminology or references to other academic authors and their works. The grotesque mentions of Caesar and Cato and Hannibal, and wars varying from the Persian Gulf, to Yugoslavia, to Mexico and Cuba serve to inspire the local commanders. And to give them the idea of being on a civilized mission against the barbarians, in defence of the rule of law.
Considered purely as a manual the work deserves some credit for being lucid, reasoned and methodic. This is why it has been adopted throughout Spain as a pocket guide on how to handle anarchists. For the same reason, I think it’s useful to make a condensed analysis of this work in English. If only to “know thy enemy”.
The original guide was written in Catalan. There is also a Spanish translation available. It is divided in three parts.
Parts one poses the problem. Who are these people challenging the system?
Part two describes which tactical models you can use against them in the field.
Part three proposes a five stage strategy to destroy them.
I will synthesize and paraphrase the guide in italics. Quotes come directly from the text in my own translation.
The outlaws hide in Sherwood forest. Some consider themselves heroes the likes of Robin Hood. According to folk legends these bandits stole from the rich to give to the poor. “The problem was, as always, that Robin and his band decided who were the rich to be robbed and who were the poor to be benefitted”. According to old records, Robin was finally captured and rendered homage to the throne.
Today, Sherwood takes different forms. On the one hand it’s a problem of public order, like in Greece and Italy, where the “anarchists behave like vandals, and are treated as such, which causes a lot of violence.” On the other hand, in Copenhagen they administer their own neighbourhood, Kristiania, and “create very few problems to the authorities of the ‘system’.”
The squatting phenomenon comes from northern Europe. It roots in people’s need for housing after the destructions of the second world war. In the 60s and 70s, it gains a political dimension. “The movement is a collective protest that wants an alternative to capitalist society.” From the 90s onwards, it shows signs of globalisation.
Barcelona is a point of reference to the squatter movement internationally. A significant part of outlaw population comes from the rest of the country or abroad. Gràcia neighbourhood has the highest number of squats in the city.
Squats can be private, as a living space for the occupants themselves, or public, as an occupied social centre for political and cultural activities. These centres attract other grass roots groups like “feminists, ecologists, pacifists etc.”
Attempts have been made by established politics to integrate these movements, and failed. “The complexity of the phenomenon and its members – because they have no representatives – makes it impossible to strike any kind of deal with them.”
The problem is that there’s no leadership within the movement, it’s a mix of diverging interests. “From the foreigners in transit doing the ‘Barcelona experience’ to the ideologists of insurrectionary anarchism, passing by failed artists, covert delinquents, homeless, and people with social adaptability problems.”
Ideologically, the squats in Barcelona can be divided into three. Half of them have been confirmed anarchist/libertarian. Most of the others are undetermined. Some are Catalan independence squats.
Despite their heterogeneous nature, the squatters can rapidly take the streets in each other’s defence. They are connected, which presuposes organisation. Roughly one out of four anarchist demonstrations causes damage to public and/or private property. It is to the police force to avoid this, to arrest perpetrators, to guarantee public safety. In this thesis “we want to see which social and judicial model will permit us to orient public policy towards these groups that will avoid a deterioration of collective living without letting tolerance turn into impunity and therefore injustice.”
In general, theory on policing moves between two extremes. From zero tolerance (ZT) to maximum tolerance (MT).
An example of ZT is mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s clean-up of New York in the 1990s. ZT requires a lot of personel, a lot of cell space, a lot of bureaucracy. It’s very costly. The strict enforcement can alienate normal citizens, who dislike to be treated as criminals for a simple infraction. In the long run, ZT is a pain in the ass for everyone.
An example of MT was a short lived project in Zurich, Switzerland. A free zone where police would not intervene. It became a breeding space for drug dealing, prostitution, theft and violence. It infected the areas around it and attracted lowlifes from outside of town and the country. Before too long, maximum tolerance will cause a mess.
An intermediate strategy is needed, deployed on a social, political, cultural and economic level, which will solve the problem. But first, let’s look at the models of tactical engagement.
Regardless of the model we adopt, we start by establishing an “Advanced Command Centre (ACC)”. In the ACC we coordinate the efforts of all public forces at our disposal. Police, Civil Guard, Firemen, Medical personnel, and Municipal cleaners. There must be no doubt about who is in command.
The Clausewitz model
This tactic is aimed at hitting the anarchists directly in their strongholds. Avoid open confrontations. Use the element of surprise. Dispatch special units. Evict their squats at night. Don’t give them the opportunity to resist, or to engage in ‘heroic’ actions.
Espionage is key. We need to know exactly where to strike, what we will encounter, and how to act. Act fast, be efficient, leave no traces.
Two historical examples of the Clausewitz model are the treatment of Japan at the end of World War 2 and the recent wars against Iraq.
The idea behind this model is to impose our force on the opponent. In Sherwood terms: “We enter the forest whenever and wherever we want. Resistance is not just futile, it is impossible.”
In the open field, we must intimidate our opponent with our presence. We block access to the gathering point. In military terms we would be cutting the line of supply. We install filters. We stop and frisk people, check their ID. People who lose their anonymity before a demonstration are less likely to engage in violent actions. Our message is that we’re not worried about the amount of demonstrators, we have everything under control. In Sherwood terms: “We know what you’re up to, and we also know who you are.”
When the demonstration starts, we abandon the filters and take strategic positions along the route. Police forces must be visible at all time to discourage acts of vandalism. Should they still occur, we act forcefully, we arrest, identify, and charge the subject.
This model can be enacted if we dispose of enough resources compared to the opponent. If we don’t, we might want to consider a different approach.
The Sun Tzu Model
The basic idea is to be smarter than the enemy. We must predict him. We must know the terrain. We must be able to win without fighting.
“The anarchists know that their actions have a bigger impact, socially and in the media, if they take place in open spaces. At the same time these spaces are less favourable to them from a tactical point of view.”
The boulevards of Eixample are especially adapted to the fast deployment of troops. In classical military theory we would use the cavalry to surround the enemy. Like Hannibal against the Romans at Cannae, or Caesar against the Gauls at Alesia.
“In this case we don’t want to repress disturbances or make arrests, we simply want to avoid confrontation.”
In the open field we install filters as in model number one, then we close the circle and surround the opponent. He will have lost all initiative and his morale will suffer from it. We need disciplined officers in the first line who don’t react to provocation. Avoid wounded (‘martyrs’) and detainees (‘hero’s’). Identify and release in small groups, make sure they disperse.
The message in Sherwood terms: “Outside of the forest, in the open, you’re vulnerable.”
In the small streets we act differently. Here the outlaws feel at home. We don’t surround, we create a corridor. We block important exits to guide the flow of the demonstration. Beware in the forest that these blocks can be circumvented. So we deploy tactical units of undercover agents behind the lines. If any detached group of anarchists engages in vandalism, they will be caught, isolated, and treated as vandals. In classical military theory they would not be regarded as regular forces and therefore denied the rights accorded to them under international treaties. Like the previous ones, these tactics don’t always work.
Up until now we have seen models which try to limit the amount of detentions and injuries as much as possible. “If what we want, however, is the moral and physical defeat of the enemy – as we now consider him – we have to resort to the next model of enforcement.”
The Miyamoto Mushasi model
To annihilate our enemy, the first thing we need is a very good excuse. The second is to make people buy it. We must provoke violence. We need victims. We must cause outrage. Dehumanize the enemy in the face of public opinion. Rally support for law and order. Create an incident that justifies a violent reaction.
Historical examples of this model are the “Spanish-American War on Cuba, the Balkan Wars, Pearl Harbor, USA-Mexico for Texas, most of the Arab-Israeli conflicts and the Nazi invasion of Poland.”
In police terms we will want the enemy to go on a rampage. The terrain doesn’t matter. Don’t perform actions that weaken the enemy on forehand. “The stronger and the more valient he feels, the more confrontations there will be, which is what we want.”
If the tension is not high enough, we can provoke the enemy by making a raid with the excuse of looking for drugs. The raid will be badly performed on purpose. We make a few unjustified arrests and we humiliate the enemy, just to piss him off.
Come the day in the field, we leave the initiative to the barbarians. No blocks, no filters, no stop and frisk. Let them burn the house down. We concentrate the main body of your forces close by, out of sight. Once the violence starts, we let it happen. “When the violence becomes generalised, the police interraction is deliberately delayed until the damages become socially unacceptable.”
Then we block their retreat and we send in the hounds. First the most undisciplined, vendicative troops. Be fast, determined, and ultra violent. We will want blood, on both sides. We don’t leave any one of them standing. Militarily speaking, we wouldn’t take prisoners. In police terms, we round them all up. The infantry finishes off the bulk of the barbarian army in the centre, the cavalry hunts down those who want to flee.
“Unfortunately this tactic is not only used by totalitarian regimes, but also in many western democracies.”
The Julius Caesar model
Julius Caesar managed to romanize Gaul by practicing the military maxim of “Divide and conquer.” Nevertheless, during the final battle at Alesia, Caesar had to defeat a united army of Gauls. Which he did. Gaulic leader Vercingetorix was sent off to Rome to be executed.
In dealing with Sherwood we have to avoid that the enemy forms a united front. To this effect we exploit the (ideological) differences within the squatter community. We use all legal methods at our disposal to divide them. Deals may be struck with some, offering them benefit of protections from “the Empire”, others must be targetted and eliminated one by one.
On how to eliminate the Sherwood phenomenon as a whole I will present a complete strategy in five points.
This plan must be executed under firm and unified command. Not all phases are necessarily consecutive. The successful implementation depends heavily on support from the public opinion.
“Create an atmosphere of aversion against every type of illegal occupation without explicitly mentioning the squatter movement.”
Use the media. Blow up stories like the one about the Spanish family that went on holiday and came back to find their house squatted by Romanians, and the locks changed. The idea is to create a public debate centered on a tougher stance against squatters. Cato the Elder provides a historical example for this strategy, as he used to finish all his orations saying that “Carthage should be destroyed.”
“Create a political debate on squatting.”
This phase is divided into various sub-strategies. Mind that not everyone who is part of the plan, needs to know the plan in its entirety. We will want to criminalise squatting, while forcing home-owners to develop their property. With support from the media and public opinion we will have tough laws adopted, like the recent Dutch law, which punishes squatters with up to two years of prison time. This same law would allow us to fine homeowners up to 7500 euros if they can’t justify the abandonement of their property.
“With this we pretend that local authorities will decide on the abandoned buildings and homes.”
We want local authorities to make a list of all abandoned property, and implement a policy that will put the spaces to community use, thus neutralising social jusification of squatting.
Whenever this phase leads to resistance in the field, we try to demobilise it quickly and silently using the Clausewitz method. If resistance is numerous and heated, we may want to provoke violent acts on the part of the enemy to further galvanize public opinion in favour of repression.
“Appearance of new legal norms.”
Once the new laws have been adopted we are ready act. But before we do, we issue an ultimatum. We give the squatters the opportunity to surrender, with the prospect of amnesty for those with no legal precedent. Municipal authorities can work out the terms of the deal. Those who refuse to surrender expose themselves to the full weight of the law.
“Attack on the heart of Sherwood, detention and humiliation of possible Robin Hoods.”
After the voluntary surrender of those who wish to avoid prosecution, it’s time to go after the ‘irreducibles’. In practice, we’re entering Sherwood forest to “cut down the trees.” The enemy will most likely put up resistance, so act with force and conviction. Go for the leaders. Avoid heroisms. Arrest each single subject and start criminal prosecution. We give an example to all squatters that it’s wiser to give themselves up, and benefit from the Empire’s forgiveness.
“Keep control of the situation.”
Use prior described tactics if necessary.
Roughly, this is the guide. I won’t indulge myself now in demonstrating why most of the historical examples don’t make any sense and are often clearly misunderstood by the author. Neither will I show that the association of historical military figures with the mentioned models is in most cases inappropriate. I will only make one comment on it, and add a general consideration of my own.
Piqué is fascinated by Julius Caesar. He theatrically ends his thesis with the quote “Alea iacta est“, “the dice has been thrown”. He probably ignores that this sentence wasn’t pronounced at the onset of Caesar’s campaign against the barbarian Gauls but at the moment the man decided to rebel against Rome herself. But the funniest of his historical mixups is right in the title. If this is about Sherwood, then Piqué is no Caesar at all. He is the evil sheriff of Nottingham, at the service of a cruel and illegitimate authority.
The manual was clearly written in a different age. By now, May 2013, there are an estimated six million empty houses in Spain, and yet the police force keeps evicting people from their homes on a daily basis. This is not creating the necessary public support for an all out war against squatters. Quite the contrary. Neighbourhoods and platforms are organizing themselves in solidarity to prevent foreclosures and to open new spaces for living and for sharing. Three and a half years after the guide was presented, Sherwood is everywhere.