Brian Tomasi’s loathing of injustice motivates him to volunteer with labor organizers and help distribute food and clothing to the poor.
According to the FBI’s definition, the 30-year-old from Tempe can be considered a terrorist.
Tomasi is a founding member of the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition, which meets Thursdays at the Gentle Strength Co-op, 234 W. Un i ve rsity Drive, Tempe.
At a recent public terrorism awareness forum at the Tempe Public Library, Tomasi and other anarchists cringed to see law enforcement officials lump the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition with white-supremacist National Alliance and militant Islamic groups.
Law enforcement officials told the audience that anarchist graffiti and tattoos were possible indicators of terrorism and should be reported immediately, Tomasi said.
Painting anarchists as terrorists essentially criminalizes dissent, they say. It effectively gives the green light for police to gather intelligence on groups exercising their right to criticize government policies, they say.
"The idea of attacking people like us on the fringe is that they can get away with it now," Tomasi said. "A lot of this war on terror has little to do with fighting terror abroad and everything to do with controlling dissent at home."
Dan Elting, terrorism training coordinator for the community policing institute and a Phoenix police officer, said whether anarchists are terrorists depends on their behavior.
Elting uses the FBI’s definition: Someone who commits an illegal act to serve a social or political objective. Some anarchists fit that bill, he said.
"Which is not to say that all anarchists are terrorists," Elting said. "We mention them to know some of their tactics."
It’s wrong to think that anarchists want complete chaos, said Jack Crittenden, an Arizona State University political science professor.
Traditionally, anarchism has been defined as the abolishment of government over the people, who should be entitled to make collective decisions on the rules governing their lives, said Crittenden, who teaches political theory and philosophy. "You can’t make a blanket statement and say all anarchists are violent," Crittenden said.
Drew Sullivan, who owns a Tempe comic book store and cofounded the group with Tomasi, said the group and its sister Monsoon Anarchist Collective are not violent groups. The group has benefited the community by operating a "free store" giving away food and clothing to the poor, and anarchists participate in antiwar demonstrations — hardly acts of terrorism, he said.
"I don’t know of any anarchists who would employ violent tactics aimed at hurting or killing innocent people," Sullivan said.
At a recent meeting of the group, the anarchists spoke of organizing for a protest campaign aimed at military recruiting offices, raising money for "political prisoners," and an anticorporate flier and poster campaign.
Members are concerned that perception of the group as a terrorist group will lead to police harassment at protests planned for October presidential debates at ASU’s Gammage Hall.
Tempe police say they respect demonstrators’ rights to free speech, but when demonstrators cross the line and break the law, they’ll enforce it. Many demonstrations involving anarchists do result in arrests.
Officers do try to keep tabs on the local anarchists, but overtly, said officer Jeff Lane. For example, police monitor the group’s Web site, www.phoenixanarchist.org., to be aware of upcoming demonstrations, where officers try to inform them in advance of laws.
"We don’t consider them a terrorist group," Lane said, "So we don’t inform the FBI of what they do."