G-8 Protesters Smell? Leftists Complain That Police Took 'Scent Samples'

In an almost surreal but sympathetic account of radical leftist protesters of the Group of Eight Summit in Germany, Washington Post reporter Craig Whitlock is forwarding the protester’s outrage of the moment: German police have taken "scent samples" of protest organizers for police dogs to locate them in a crowd. For those of you who suspect protesters are easily smelled at 50 feet, Whitlock explained:

The German government has spared no expense -- spending upward of $100 million -- to safeguard this week's summit, which brings together leaders of the industrial countries known as the Group of Eight. German authorities have taken an offensive-minded approach, using a variety of tactics that critics say conjure bad memories of the country's totalitarian past.For instance, police and prosecutors have surreptitiously acquired scent samples of some protest organizers to make it easier for police dogs to locate them in a crowd, authorities have acknowledged. The technique was pioneered by the Stasi, the East German secret police.

My first question for Whitlock and the Post is this: is it really fair to allow communist protesters to use the Stasi against their opponents with your "critics say" locutions? Shouldn’t we hold German communists or ex-communists accountable for German communist tactics first? Or at least note the irony? (That's not mentioning the irony of old liberal media reports with excess friendliness toward East Germany's charms.) An early AP dispatch by David Rising reported:

Petra Pau, a senior lawmaker with the opposition Left Party, a group that includes ex-communists, criticized the practice as "another step away from a democratic state of law toward a preventive security state.""A state that adopts the methods of the East German Stasi, robs itself of every ... legitimacy," she said in a statement.

Later in the piece, one of the groups the German police raided in advance suspecting plans to fire-bomb or otherwise violently ruin the summit was called "Red Flora." I think we can guess they're communist, too. Typically, the Post never mentioned that some protesters were communists. There were no labels like "liberal" or "leftist," either. Whitlock offered only this summary: "The protesters espouse a variety of causes. Some oppose globalization, capitalism or economic inequality. Others want wealthy nations to spend more money to fight AIDS, combat poverty in Africa or protect the environment."The headline of Whitlock's article was "Germany Taking Hard Line to Foil Disruption at G-8." The picture that accompanied the story was a guitarist peacefully plucking at a protester camp in Rostock. But is that picture very representative of the protesters? Whitlock's story notes the reason for this expensive pile of security: rioting and violence. Nearly 500 police officers were injured in Rostock over the weekend. Why wouldn't the headline read that the protesters were taking a "hard line," or that the German government was trying to prevent violence? Why wouldn't the Post use a picture of rioting protesters, not a placid guitar picker? But Whitlock wanted to paint a picture of poor protesters shut out from the rulers, as he began his dispatch:

The protesters, thousands of them, are packed into a soggy tent city next to a potato field. They have spent months honing tactics and discussing strategy, all for a particular goal: to disrupt the summit of the world's biggest economic powers that begins Wednesday.To do so, they will have to get past 16,000 police officers who are backed by helicopters and armored personnel carriers, not to mention a seven-mile-long fence topped with razor wire. The odds are not lost on many of the people who have traveled here from across Europe and North America to make political points but already seem resigned to an unsatisfying result."The biggest concern is, will we be able to get our message out, or will we just be completely shut down by the police?" said Lisa Fithian, a 46-year-old protest organizer from Austin. "Will we have a chance to have our voices heard, or will we just be beaten, clubbed, tear-gassed and hit by water cannons?"

Reporters display their sympathies for protesters by implying that if they fly to Germany, they must be heard. But if I flew to Germany, is it realistic that George W. Bush should come talk to me? The reporter is playing simpleton, not acknowledging that protesters came to Germany to be interviewed. They had no realistic expectation of a chat session with Bush. But Whitlock's story includes evidence that the protesters aren't simply trying to get their "voices heard," but are trying to disrupt, or even shut down the summit.

They have vowed to blockade the numerous two-lane country roads that lead to Heiligendamm in hopes of preventing other members of national delegations and support staff from getting to the summit site. "The main goal is to completely block the G-8," said Michal Osterweil, 28, a doctoral student from Carrboro, N.C.

Google for "Lisa Fithian," and you quickly find National Review's Byron York, who identified poor, neglected Ms. Fithian as a specialist in forceful "crisis" protesting, a far cry from the Post portrait:

And she was a tough-minded leader, not at all a peace-and-love type. Her specialty was action; she wanted to break in, cut through fences, and shut things down. "You don't go to Fithian when you want to carry a placard," the Times profile said. "You go to her when you want to make sure there are enough bolt cutters to go around." Asked for a fuller explanation of her role in the protests, Fithian said, "When people ask me, 'What do you do?' I say I create crisis, because crisis is that edge where change is possible."

Blocking a road may not be violent, but it's certainly a show of force. (Post reporters don't applaud it if you block access to an abortion clinic.) Those who want to shut the summit down are not trying to be "heard." They're trying to shut down someone else's attempt at speech, the speech of leaders we have elected. So are they democratic? Or are they the ones using authoritarian tactics? Perhaps Whitlock doesn't want to describe the protesters as taking a "hard line" when some of them are so self-evidently silly:

One field had been roped off so people could practice sit-down demonstrations and listen to lecturers' advice on how to respond to baton-wielding police. On a grassy knoll, about 100 people suddenly took off all their clothes and locked arms, a technique designed to thwart security forces. [!]Frederike Habermann, 39, has been organizing anti-globalization protests for nearly a decade but said she didn't know quite what to expect from German police this week. She said she took part in protests over the weekend alongside a group known officially as the "Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army," whose followers dress up in costumes and try to make officers laugh by mimicking their movements."In a way, the police have to laugh as well," said Habermann, who lives in a forest commune outside Berlin that prohibits use of money. "What can the police do otherwise? The clowns are so obviously nice guys."

If I had a chance to comment for this story, I'd wonder about the government waste caused by these theatrical or violent leftists. They are draining millions of dollars of German taxpayer money that could have been better spent on their precious welfare spending, aren't they?

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis