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Spin and rumours at the G8

With proper wars it is a well-known occurrence for one side’s propaganda
department to try and spread the most horrific stories about the other
party. The opposition are depicted as brutal barbarians who ravage
children and should be opposed at all cost. In military jargon this is
known as ‘psyops’. During the protests against the G8 in Heiligendamm
there were clear indications of a similar strategy. In this case the
infamous ‘’black block’’ played the part of the barbarians. This is a
biased summary of the misinformation and its effect.

(citation): A number of persons were arrested because they were carrying a
banner with the slogan, “Free All Prisoners!” as they passed by a prison
on their way to a demonstration. The Police judged this as incitement to
actively help people break out of prison. Source:
http://de.indymedia.org/2007/06/185126.shtml )

(A proper layed-out version of this article with links and pictures can be
found here: http://www.globalinfo.nl/content/view/1270/41/)

NB: Many links in this article link to German language sources.

Two years ago, during the protests against the G8 in Gleneagles in
Scotland, we had to pay an unexpected visit to the police station in
Stirling because one of the Dutch activists had lost his passport. While
we were in the waiting area we saw an electronic news display on the wall
constantly making announcements about the protests. To our surprise there
were horrendous stories about violence against the police, which I almost
certainly knew were not true or at least grossly exaggerated. Suddenly
that classic urban myth popped up: demonstrators had supposedly attacked
one of the officers with a knife! At almost every large confrontation
between police and protesters this story surfaces, although there has
never been any evidence of it actually occurring.

During ‘Heiligendamm’ two police officers supposedly suffered knife
As usual some of the press willingly repeated this report without checking
if it actually happened. You can count yourself lucky if there is any
mention it is based on a police report (1). It is remarkable that the
media almost never ask for proof. These rumours are mostly launched amidst
an enormous chaos of events, giving the reporters no time whatsoever to
check on statements. If they did they would find the police unable to
present the alleged ‘victims’, because they don’t actually exist.

When the dust has finally settled it only concerns one incident among
many, not worth rectifying or investigating. You certainly don’t want them
considering that sort of thing and then constructing ‘evidence’, which
happened for example in Genoa during the G8 protests there in 2001 (2).


The imaginary stabbings are only a small part of an entire arsenal of lies
and rumours about the protesters that seeped into the world. When the
opening march on June 2nd ended in intense rioting the floodgates opened.
Media which had originally been suspicious of the state-organised army of
repressive forces did a u-turn to directly opposing standpoints. Some of
the protesters were supposed to be ‘capable of anything’ and it was a good
thing the police had taken preventative measures to protect civilians and
politicians against these savage hordes. Again, to the attentive observer,
these events turned out to be mostly staged. The riots had indeed been
intense, but no more serious than the average clash involving autonomes.
In the reports by the mainstream media however it seemed the end of times
was near. This reporting was actively fed by the police and other
authorities who produced ominous reports about thousand injured, many of
them seriously, including over 400 (433 to be precise) police officers.
The high point was (again) the Berlin paper Der Tagesspiegel which ran a
headline about ‘a rain of rocks splintering riot squad helmets’
Of the Berlin police alone 18 officers were supposed to be in hospital
with serious injuries.

These reports lead to grotesque scenes whith the police managing to
elevate themselves to the role of victims
(http://www.jungewelt.de/2007/06-12/052.php). The online chronology of Der
Spiegel (http:www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/0,1581,486256,00.html)
only reported every pitiful mention by the police as well as a battue of
the police by the autonomes ([15:31] Einzelne Gruppen von Polizisten
werden von Autonomen regelrecht gejagt.)

Days later some newspapers managed to deconstruct the story and found it
had all been severely exaggerated. Every scratch and every blister had
been included and the most serious injury sustained by an officer (a
broken leg) had been caused by his own colleagues stumbling over him when
they ran down a staircase while hunting for protesters. Two days later,
according to the right-wing weekly Focus
no-one was in the hospital anymore. This kind of rectification however
never makes the front page. Meanwhile the image was already firmly in
place and politicians and even spokespeople of NGO’s like Attac
were falling over one another demanding tougher (!) measures against the
protesters. A police union even demanded the employment of rubber bullets.
This wave of real or pretended indignation still continues. Politicians
have announced they will take further measures against what they call the
‘’black block’’, like constructing special databases and a ban on dressing
uniformly in addition to the long-time ban on face coverage already in


For a considerable time the largest repressive operation in years had been
taking place. All kinds of police departments as well as the army had
already come to the aid of the police, who were already prepared to the
hilt with 16.000 personnel and all technical equipment available. Legally
also they had little cause for complaint: the freedom to protest had been
drastically reduced in many areas. The smear campaign was meant to make
the population and the media accept the repression, and preferably embrace
it. The reports were probably also meant to incite the officers themselves
to take stronger action. They are human too, and sometimes question the
justice of their ‘work’. A continuous stream of propaganda about the
opposition’s maliciousness has to keep them motivated. A fourth target
group of this stream of false reports are people considering joining the
protests. If they believe this might be life threatening or there might be
football-hooligan-like situations they don’t support, they might decide to
stay at home.


There was much discussion among the protesters about the cause of the
riots on Saturday afternoon. Rumours about police provocation quickly
abounded. The more radical segment of the activists had already been
harassed for weeks, for example by the raids on 40 apartements on May 9th
(http://www.globalinfo.nl/content/view/1238/30/) and on May 25th at a
march against the EU-ASEM summit in Hamburg. This didn’t just happen in
Germany: on May 5th an entire bicycle demonstration was arrested in
Utrecht (Netherlands) (http://www.indymedia.nl/nl/2007/05/44231.shtml)(3).

As Heiligendamm drew closer the vice-like grip of the measures instated by
the police tightened. It was clear that bomb would eventually burst. But
the ‘blame’ of course isn’t entirely on one side. The ‘’black block’’
attended as usual and was rather large in Rostock (many sources estimate
around 2000 people, some even 5000). These were people who no longer
wanted to let themselves be pushed around and some probably felt like
finally taking a stand against the police. (4)

It was typical that there had been almost no incidents during Saturday’s
entire demonstration, including the “black block” (with the exception of
one broken window at a Sparkasse bank and one at a supermarket, the origin
of which was not clear). It is however interesting to investigate why
things got out of hand at the closing manifestation in view of all the

A few incidents suggest police provocation. Firstly there was a lonely
police van parked in the middle of the protest marches’ route, while all
other vehicles had been put safely in a guarded parking lot. There are
striking film images of this
((http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RPR0nM9W5o). Also compare the reports on
Spiegel TV (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BN6TZjY4l4M) in which at first
a picture was painted that "the entire centre of Rostock is being smashed
up by the “black block” (supposedly consisting of a mixture of neo-nazis
and Iranian women?) and then mainly showed people blaming the police for
the escalation.

When the riot didn’t kick off at the lonely police van the famous
pseudo-arrest incident occurred. While not much is happening an undercover
police officer inside the march looks around and suddenly attacks a person
dressed in black, pushing him to the ground (film:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wo4iuhTxFZM). Some pushing and shoving
ensues and a riot police ‘hundertschaft’ lined up nearby charges at the
demonstration. People get angry, start throwing things, and the riot can
begin. After that the riot police units and protesters were at it for
hours. Every time things seemed to calm down riot police units attacked
anew. There has been a lot of debate about this incident (for example
http://de.indymedia.org/2007/06/180552.shtml). Most likely is that also
the two supposed ‘’black block’ers’ were actually police officers. The
prisoner doesn’t make any attempts to escape the arrest. The purpose of
this operation would be to incite the crowd.

These events mainly took place in one single side street along the harbour
square which was broken up to provide missiles. Some cars were turned
upside down and one of them was set on fire. For days that one Ford was
the main image on TV and in the newspapers…. To continue that thread
towards all protesters against the G8 seemed child’s play.

Spin machine

The big spin machine could be set in motion. Suddenly (the source turned
out to be the German press agency DPA) a horribly mistranslated quote by
one of the speakers on stage at the closing manifestation appeared in the
media. Walden Bello, a well-known representative of the critical Southern
globalization vision, had words put into his mouth claiming he had called
for violent resistance (
http://manila.indymedia.org/?action=newswire&parentview=141258), to “bring
the war into the demonstration because with peaceful means we will
accomplish nothing”. This suggested that Bello (and with him the entire
organization of the march) was calling for violent resistance. In reality
Bello had called attention to the war in Iraq and argued for the protest
to include this because “without peace there can be no justice”. Hundreds
of media repeated the DPA-version. Media activists immediately got to work
publicising this scandal and spreading the true content of Bello’s speech,
which lead to an apology by Der Spiegel, but the damage had already been

Up a gear

In the following days the police, who suddenly thought themselves covered
by massive support from the public, press and politicians, employed pretty
much all means a their disposal to disable further protests. Protesters
were continually being pulled from their cars and searched, demonstrations
for which permits had previously been issued were made impossible and
continually surrounded by large police forces. There are too many examples
to list them all, but take this one as an indication:

It was clearly thanks to the protesters that things didn’t escalate
further. On the way to a demonstration-with-permit at Rostock airport
Laage one of our two buses was stopped for the n’th time and everyone was
arrested (including a mother with a three year old child who were also put
in cages, ID’d and photographed!
http://www.indymedia.nl/nl/2007/06/45200.shtml). Even the always calm and
quiet photographer U. was roaring with anger that next time he would be
throwing rocks.

Here you can see how an entirely peaceful demonstration (commemorating the
Lichtenhage pogrom of 1992) is messed up by the police:

A recurring phenomenon after Saturday’s riots was police units attacking
small groups of protesters to arrest people. Pepper spray and batons were
used and caused many injuries. Peaceful situations kept getting
transformed into chaos and panic. Even the local S-bahn trains (see film:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8XwT20nI60) on which activists traveled
from one march to the other were repeatedly stopped and raided by riot

New urban myths

All of this only scetches the context in which the rumours were released.
A new high point was for example a story in Monday, June 4th’s Berlin
predicting that Saturday’s riots were only child’s play compared to what
was yet to come. Remember, the blockading of the G8 itself hadn’t even
started yet. The journalist in question, Frank Jansen, quotes an anonymous
‘hochrangiger Sicherheitsexperten’ (renowned security expert) claiming to
know that protesters are using ‘fruit containing razor blades or stanley
knives’ as ammunition. This story is soon repeated by many other media.
(5) The story mentions other absurd weapons like enormous catapults made
of athletics training equipment and supposedly being assembled in the
action camps. Again, there is not a shred of evidence and afterwards the
police has never shown any of these contraptions to the media. A version
of this story, about a potato with nails in it, appeared on local
newspapers MV Regio’s website. A picture was published of a similar potato
which according to the newspaper had been ‘displayed’ at the Reddelich
action camp (http://www.mvregio.de/show/39029.html). In no time other
media report this as fact.

In retrospect it is clear to see how the bizarre accusations often are a
back and forth passing play between the press and the police. At a press
conference or via the website
a police spokesperson reports a gruesome bit of news, one of the media
takes it up (and perhaps mentions that it is a police assertion): DPA:
“Laut Polizei vermummen sich Autonome und bewaffnen sich mit
Molotow-Cocktails und Steinen.” Then Spiegel Online and NDR-tv repeat it
and present it as fact (http://de.indymedia.org/2007/06/182346.shtml).

Criminalising clowns

One of the most bizarre urban myths concerns the clown army who form a
specific problem for the police. They are not just being funny but
actually take part in many of the actions: making the police look
ridiculous, getting in the way and sometimes breaking through police
barriers. The police had been warned in advance by the secret service
about the clowns, who according to the service are a lot more dangerous
than they pretend to be. An attempt was made to make the clowns look
dangerous despite their hilarious outfits. Many clowns carried water
pistols (after all, an army carries weapons) which they passionately
sprayed at both activists, onlookers and police. Soon the rumour was
spread that the clowns’ water pistols didn’t contain water but a scary
acid (http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/0,1518,486816,00.html).

In retrospect this horror story could of course not be maintained. Asked
about the background of this accusation the police version was that they
had noted ‘stripes on the uniforms’ of the officers who had been sprayed.
Upon investigation however these turned out to be caused by soapy water.
But by then the rumour had done its job. This story might well have been
especially constructed to make the police take stronger action against the

On our way back to the Netherlands we met a large group of Bavarian riot
police in a parking lot on the motorway, they were also on their way home.
We couldn’t resist confronting them with the front page of the (Hamburg)
paper Morgenpost, which broadly ran the story of the police provocateur
who was exposed when he was collecting rocks and trying to incite the
protesters to attack the police. The returning officers’ retort was a
pathetic story about how terribly frightening their profession had been
over the last couple of days and the ‘clowns-with-acid-guns’ soon
surfaced. We were convinced they actually believed it….


After Saturday’s riots and the media storm that followed the situation
seemed grim and fairly hopeless. Yet later on the atmosphere slowly
changed again. One important reason for this was that the activists didn’t
allow themselves to lose the plot and by the thousands they just went to
work doing what they had come to do: building the camps, holding actions
and demonstrations and preparing for the blockades. This shows the
importance of having well organised movements, and also that part of the
population is quite politicised. During the first three days the situation
was nevertheless dramatic, because of the severe repression described
earlier. An important switch came on Wednesday when the first
blockade-actions were executed. The massive marches by determined and
cheerful protesters, outsmarting the police and striking throughout the
entire area surrounding Heiligendamm, made a strong impression on the
onlookers, press and fellow protesters. In addition the ban on
demonstrating which had been instituted for the entire 5 km zone around
Heiligendamm was rendered useless by people voting with their feet.
Thousands upon thousands entered the area with the police unable to stop
them. It remains bitter that in several places the police still responded
with brutal violence. The feeling among the local population was also much
better than was previously feared. Despite mentions in the media (like in
the Dutch Volkskrant) that the population was hostile towards the
activists, there were many expressions of the opposite. Many houses
sported protest flags. Local people supplied water and food, and in the
evening they handed out wood for the campfires. Even farmers whose fields
were flattened by protesters walking through indicated that they mainly
blamed the police.

Another important event was the discovery of a group of police
infiltrators at one of the non-violent sit-down blockades. They were busy
bringing in rocks and tried to get the protesters to attack the police.
However they did this so clumsily that the protesters became suspicious
and started shouting they were police. They were surrounded and one was
overpowered and recognised as an plain-clothes officer from Bremen
(http://de.indymedia.org/2007/06/183831.shtml). He was almost assaulted
but activist lawyers accompanied him to the police and handed him over.
Many media witnessed this incident. At first the police denied the
plain-clothes officers were theirs, but after a while even they couldn’t
stand up to the massive amount of evidence to the contrary and were forced
to admit the men were infiltrators. The police continue to deny these
infiltrators’ instructions were about incitement and provocation, claiming
they were just gathering information as usual, but by now no-one believes
this anymore. Many see this as evidence supporting other observations of
police officers dressed in plain clothes actively trying to incite.

What to do?

Of course the activists did not sit still during this media frenzy. A
well-equipped indymedia centre in Rostock was working full time publishing
their own reports or correcting the commercial media. Various other media
activists and bloggers
threw themselves into the fray. But the playing field was far from level
(also see a previous sketch: The Media gets the Massage:

It remains fascinating that the mainstream media systematically exaggerate
militant actions by protesters and pay very little attention to police
violence. At the end of the action-week about half the population of the
action-camps was sporting bandages and splints as a result of police
activity. Even our older American clown J. sustained a broken finger on
the final day. A number of people were seriously injured, some of them by
the water cannons (http://de.indymedia.org/2007/06/184909.shtml). At least
two people are in danger of losing an eye. Have you seen any of this
covered in your media? Or any of the innumerable smaller incidents like
when a group of clowns were surrounded for an entire afternoon at a
McDonalds on the way to Bad Doberan and forced to hand over all of their
money as bail (http://de.indymedia.org/2007/06/184653.shtml)? The hundreds
of arrests with no legal basis, the inhumane conditions in the cages on
the industrial estate which were supposed to pass for prisons, the many
incidents involving journalists or doctors being arrested by the police?
At most the scandalous torpedoing of the Greenpeace boats received some
media attention, but other than that it was utter crap.

The stupidest way to respond is by immediately becoming defensive and
distancing yourself from ‘the violence’, like quite a few spokespeople for
NGO’s and various left wing parties did. Continuous discussion about the
chosen means of action is obviously necessary, but it became very clear in
Heiligendamm that if we want to change the world we should not allow
ourselves to be dictated by the government and the media. The most
important victory of this G8 mobilisation is that the actions and
blockades were executed so succesfully. Now it is time to learn from this
experience and to further strengthen the structures.

Also see the survey by the exellent Grundrechtekomitee:

A good survey of the reports about the G8 by the German mainstream media
can be found at the Badespasz website:
The unsurpassed website gipfelsoli has set up an archive of the reports
about repression: http://gipfelsoli.org/Repression
Here is an English summary of police repression:

There are many analyses of the repression and the media lies to be found,
for example at: http://de.indymedia.org/2007/06/184905.shtml and
http://gipfelsoli.org/Repression/2923.html and
http://gipfelsoli.org/Repression/2890.html and
This analysis: http://de.indymedia.org/2007/06/183628.shtml adresses how a
naive reaction to media-manipulation can lead to a distancing from more
militant forms of action.

And finally it needs to be said that not all mainstream media should be
tarred with the same brush. there were some positive exceptions. Germany
has a few progressive newspapers that reported differently (Junge Welt,
Neues Deutschland, Jungle World. The Tageszeitung mainly howled along with
the mainstream wolves…). Of the ‘quality press’ the Süddeutsche Zeitung
provided a more balanced reporting. While one lokal newspaper Nordkurier
committed mainly blatant propaganda for the G8 and the authorities, the
other – Die Ostzeezeitung or OZ – appeared to be a relieving exception.
Also see this hilarious report by the BBC:


(1) Not only right wing papers traditionally slandering protesters like
Bild or Focus, but also ‘quality papers’ like Financial Times Dld:
“Mindestens ein Polizist wurde verletzt, als ein Demonstrant ihn mit einem
Messer angriff.”
or Der Spiegel:
Der Spiegel (in its online version) played a peculiar part in the
reporting by systematically almost literally passing on the police

(2) Immediately afterwards a police spokesperson claimed that during the
scandalous raid on the Diaz school one of the officers was attacked with a
knife. The knife was supposed to have been deflected by the officer’s
bullet-proof vest. This clearly slashed vest was presented to the media
together with the knife supposedly belonging to the ‘attacker’. During
later court cases however it was proven this knife could never have made
the cut in the vest. Two molotov cocktails presented by the police as
having been found in the school turned out to have been planted by the
police themselves during the raid.

(3) The mass arrests, after which people were kept in inhumane conditions,
caused little or no consternation with the press or politicians. Some of
the detainees were among the people who were refused entry at the Germany
border (http://www.indymedia.nl/nl/2007/06/45088.shtml). This points to a
cooperation between the Dutch and German police, using completely illegal

(4) The many mysterious stories about the ‘’black block’’ form part of the
criminalisation and smear campaign against protesters. The ‘’black block’’
is of course not a tight knit organisation at all, but a not very
secretive demonstration-tactic: by dressing more or less the same and
taking other preventative measures you can prevent being forced to follow
the police’s whims. It enables the group, or members of it, to execute
actions which would otherwise be impossible. The level of militance is
usually kept within conscious limits and, unlike those of the police,
there have never been any fatalities caused by this group’s activities.
For more background information see the book ‘Les Black Blocs’ by Francis
Dupuis Deri or ‘Autonome in Bewegung’ (AG Grauwacke).
Also see: interview with a Berlin autonome in the July 4th edition of the
Züddeutsche Zeitung:

(5) Via the newspaper’s office I got the e-mail address of the journalist
concerned and politely asked him for his contact information so I could
ask him a few questions about his story. So far he has not responded.