Last week some folks were reenacting the Days of Rage in Grant Park, but the reenacting of significance was happening in Minneapolis/St. Paul, where cops were using charges of conspiracy to commit riot–rarely seen since the Chicago 7 trial–to raid homes and jail protesters. Now that windows are being broken and protesters are being gassed you might start to see media coverage, but more disturbing, to me at least, were the pre-convention raids, which have gotten very little attention outside independent media and the blogosphere. Conspiracy to riot/commit riot is a rare charge because it’s flimsy and easily abused; at its worst it’s an efficient combination of First and Fourth amendment violations. (In the case of the RNC Welcoming Committee, one of the targets of the raids, Orin Kerr argues that the raids were lawful and sensible, at least in purpose.)

Glenn Greenwald, who has been all over the story, argues that the raids are an attempt to silence political protest by making it scary and expensive (front doors generally run you a couple hundred bucks). I don’t think this is quite true, for complicated reasons. The most powerful effect of nonviolent protest, as per MLK, is to bring the latent anger and authoritarianism of society to the fore. In that sense, the protests have arguably been more successful than they would have been if the cops had let everyone march and maybe irritate people by blocking traffic.

Which demands the question–why bother? Wouldn’t the St. Paul PD and the FBI be better off in the long run by not inciting the protesters and bullying the media? Perhaps not, and there’s the rub. By criminalizing dissent well past any practical need to, the point is not to silence dissent but to discredit it by associating it with disorder. The protests of the late 60s-early 70s have long been a millstone around the neck of the American left; well past the point where opposition to the Vietnam War was mainstreamed, the actions of the vanguard of the opposition were made to be the part standing in for the whole. Hence the deceptive “pacifist” strawman used by “liberals” like Matt Yglesias and George Packer to rush the country into a war of choice, to their shame. And by shame I mean considerable professional success and good standing in the national media.

It’s hard to say whether the Minneapolis protests will take in the same way the Chicago siege did; ultimately, it’s a broader cultural question. If they do, expect to hear about them the next time someone gins up a casus belli.

For continuing coverage, check Glenn Greenwald, Twin Cities Indymedia (which has lots of useful info like copies of the search warrants), the Coldsnap legal collective, Punk Planet‘s Anne Elizabeth Moore (here and here), Rick Perlstein, the City PagesElephants in the Room, the Uptake, and the Campaign Silo.