TORONTO - Despite a whopping $900 million security budget for the G-summits in Canada over the weekend, the streets of Toronto were swarmed by an angry mass of black-clad anarchists who wreaked havoc, leaving a trail of destruction.
A protest organized mainly by labour groups Saturday began as an upbeat rally over global causes, ranging from anti-poverty issues to anti-globalization to anti-war. Then, without warning, the protest was infiltrated by a group of mainly young men and women who went on a rampage, smashing storefront windows with baseball bats, torching four police cruisers and prompting police to fire tear gas for the first time ever in the Toronto Police force's history.
When it ended, more than 900 people had been arrested, the largest mass arrests Canada has ever seen, and police Monday were still looking for the instigators of the widespread wreckage.
In the aftermath, many are asking how a country that has a universal reputation as the nice guys, whose lexicon is filled with please and thank yous, who don't start the wars, but support the troops, could have erupted in such violence and chaos.
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair told The Associated Press Monday that the culprits were anarchists, hundreds of whom were a mix of Torontonians and others who made the trip from across the province, the country and border, for a sole intent: to engage in chaos and violence.
"They came here because they saw this as a weekend of mayhem and they came here to commit criminal acts," said Blair.
Police were well aware of the potential for large-scale trouble and destruction. In preparation, the government spent an astounding $900 million on security for both the G-8 summit held in Huntsville, Ontario, and the G-20 in Toronto. Almost 10-foot-high (3-meter) steel fences were erected in the downtown Toronto core to protect the centre where G-20 leaders were meeting. More than 19,000 security officers were deployed in both host cities. Prior to the mayhem that ensued on Saturday, many were referring to Toronto as a police state and Toronto, the fortress.
As the city cleans up the mess, many are scratching their heads wondering how Toronto fell victim to the violence and how the assailants were able to run reckless given the security measures and expenditure.
"We knew of three or four groups. I think what was a surprise to me was how many hundreds, perhaps even as many as a thousand people, joined in this rampage of wanton violence in the city," said Blair. "That exceeded my expectations and it presented a challenge to contain."
Blair said the anarchists were able to storm the city by using what is often called the black bloc tactic.
Black bloc is a strategy that has been employed at summits and protests for decades, going back to 1981, when hundreds of police raided squatters at dozens of houses in the former West Germany, resulting in six people being charged for founding and belonging to a criminal organization: Schwarzer Block. The black bloc.
Although black bloc does not exist as "a group," it does as a strategy. The strategy is adhered to mainly by people who consider themselves anarchists. They show up at large demonstrations clad all in black, usually leaving only their eyes unmasked and attack symbols of capitalism such as banks and large global corporations or franchises.
"We're basically all individuals with the same goal. There's no organization because anarchists don't believe in organizations. We don't believe in hierarchy so there can't be any sort of leader," black bloc adherent Luther Blisset told The Associated Press. "We hit the ground running, meeting up with others dressed in black and figure out things then."
The black bloc tactic is rooted in the violent battles that anti-nuclear activists had with police in the former West Germany during the 1970s. During the clashes, the so-called Autonomen dressed in black, wore helmets and obscured their faces to unleash their destruction.
"It's more of a philosophy or an approach, or actually I suppose the most accurate term is an extreme sport," said security expert John Thompson, of the Mackenzie Institute think-tank in Toronto.
The idea of wearing the all-black uniform is that everyone looks alike so when a crime is committed, the group disperses, making it next to impossible for police to identify the perpetrator of the crime. It also prevents them from being singled out in media coverage.
The hope is that police react to their violence while the perpetrators shed their black clothes and melt into the crowd, making it even more difficult to be identified once they've unleashed their destruction.
Thompson said even though people who use these strategies are typically disorganized, there seemed to be organization in Toronto's protest. Many of the violent demonstrators used cellphones to tell others where police were located, said Thompson.
With this somewhat high level of organization, the black bloc followers were able to run rampant for at least 90 minutes Saturday without being apprehended.
Police relegated many of their resources to the perimeter area close to the summit site and the U.S. Embassy, but the anarchists essentially outsmarted the extensive security plan by taking advantage of vulnerable parts of the city while police officers were focused on the large demonstration and the summit perimeter.
"We had a lot of the resources here to specifically protect that summit site, so they turned their wanton recklessness and criminality loose on our streets and as they rampaged up our streets, we had to use more of our resources quickly to contain them and unfortunately they burnt some cars and smashed some windows before we were able to do that," said Blair.
Thompson said the black bloc tactics are "straight out of primitive warfare."
"They don't like being flanked or surrounded. That actually panics them," he said. "They're looking for risk-free violence."
Violence and destruction are no strangers to protests. Images of aggressive protesters were captured during the 1999 World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Seattle.
Since then, the black bloc has been present at almost every world event, smashing, breaking and destroying stores, vehicles and anything else they come upon.
In Seattle, it was McDonald's and Nike. In Toronto over the weekend, banks, Starbucks and several other stores, as well as police headquarters were the victims of wanton black bloc violence. If a storefront window wasn't shattered, it was spray-painted often with messages of "No More Prisons" or the anarchy symbol of A encircled.
"I see nothing wrong with these actions. We got our message across and I'm proud of that," said Blisset, the black bloc adherent. "It shows a lot of people think what (world leaders are) doing is wrong. The system needs to be overhauled so the rich don't keep getting richer while the poor get poorer."
Associated Press writers Rob Gillies and Ian Harrison contributed to this report.