Sunday, January 14, 2007

Police and Swarm Tactics

A useful example of how the police try and beat swarm warfare comes from Alexander the Great. His forces were up against Scythian archers on horseback which could move quickly and attack his heavily armoured infantry with impunity, attacking from a distance and dispersing before Alexander’s forces could engage them in battle. To counter these archers, Alexander used his soldiers to create terrain in which he could entice the Scythians in and then surround them and force them into direct combat.

The police like Alexander are constantly trying to surround us and prevent us from moving freely. At protests they will surround a march and at larger scale events they will erect crowd control fencing to force activists into positions where the police can directly engage protesters and so they can monitor where the activists are moving. Cutting off the ability of activists to swarm allows the state to concentrate its forces where the activists are moving to and creates the kind of standoff which is so typical of major meetings such as the WTO where the protesters corralled and controlled, end up facing heavily armed riot police.

A swarm offensive can, if things are on the protesters’ side, be used to break through police lines and can be used to carry out daring protests even when police may be in high numbers throughout the city. Repeated swarms can form pulses which tire the police, and if varying strength pulses occur, can leave the police in a situation where they do not know whether the next major offensive will be a minor pulse or a huge deluge of people. This element of randomness is key to preventing the state from knowing where to deploy its forces.

Key to swarm strategy is going where the enemy aren’t and staying a few steps ahead of the enemy. It wont result in spectacular scenes of police beating activists but can allow for highly successful action.

If everyone participating in the swarm offensive is hooded and dressed completely in black marching in formation it becomes pretty easy for the police to identify who is involved and where they are going, allowing police normally using cars or motorbkikes to get in front of the protesters and divert them from the target to a place where the activists can be safely picked off one by one.

This kind of thing is evident during the many marches every year up Queen St. Police knowing some key protesters are likely to lead the marchers into the offices and buildings of various multinationals are constantly talking on their radios and moving quickly to try and identify splinter groups from the march. If one is identified, police immediately move to in front of the building, lock arms or form a line and try and deflect the activists. Later snatch squads will be used to pick off any perceived leaders in an attempt to prevent any such events occurring during the march. This normally triggers a confrontation during attempted de arrests or protection of those activists targeted and more arrests normally follow.

Swarming is just a name for something that we do anyway but I believe that identifying why we do it and how it works can be of a significant benefit to us all.


anarchafairy said...

Alexander the Tyrant, as he is known in most of the middle East, still got his ass kicked by the tribes in the Steppes, and for two reasons:

1. As you note, they fought guerilla styles. The Greek Phalanx was a tactic that only worked well on large open confrontations, but in the steppes much of the area was hill country and the enemy refused to engage in open confrontations. They instead engaged in nightly skirmishes, etc.

2. The had no central leadership. The Persians especially were defeated so easily because Alexander took out Darius so early on in the game. The Indian tribes were far less centralised and fighting was still harder, and in the Steppes it was basically individual tribes working together.

He spent the longest time in the Steppes compared to any other area and only really managed to win after learning to engage in guerilla tactics, and also by marrying Roxanne (I think?) and many of the key leaders of several trbes to split them up.

I guess the lesson is that centralised powers can still learn to fight guerilla styles. The first section of Multitudes by Negri and Hardt covers this progression, and is well worth a read if you're interested.

John said...

Thanks for the history lesson I'm rather clueless when it comes to the past. Im of the opinion that studying historical conflicts is a pretty important thing to be doing for left wing activists.

While state forces can effectively adopt guerrila tactics they are less successful at adopting successful counter guerrilla tactics in my opinion though.

Will go and look for multitudes, if you have any other stuff you think may be interesting just email it or post it in comments.