BY KERRY BURKE
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
I went undercover to explore New York's anarchist underground during the days before the Republican National Convention.
For a week, I slept in my clothes. I hung around lower East Side anarchist cafes. And I sat in on meetings at St. Mark's in the Bowery Church, the semiofficial welcome center for out-of-town protest groups.
Everyone talked about A31, and how their day of "direct action" on Aug. 31 [today] was going to be big.
They had their own Web site with directions to their headquarters. Only early orientation meetings were posted there, though. Organizational meetings the week before the convention were strictly word-of-mouth.
"Cory," a leader of the Critical Mass bike rides that jammed major intersections and ended in the arrests of more than 260 on Friday, tipped me off to the secret meetings.
"No cops, no press," Cory said.
The "Spoke House" is a third-floor artist's loft in Red Hook, Brooklyn. About 70 reps of anarchist groups and their members squatted on the floor.
As a newcomer, I sat with my back to the wall and chatted with a dreadlocked punk painter and her slacker beau, both from Brooklyn, to deflect suspicion.
Individuals introduced themselves on a first-name-only basis. Many had monikers like Brush, Willow and Skate.
The meeting was organized into about 20 "Affinity Groups" and "Clusters." They had code names like Pagan Bloc, Basement Group, and Just Act. They came from all over the nation - Chicago, Seattle, Boston, California's Bay Area.
The New York contingent was mostly made up of college kids. The stifling room was almost exclusively white.
Each group was "open" for new members or "closed" to newcomers. The open groups talked about having disruptive but nonviolent demos. Closed groups were more secret, but most had radical actions with subsequent arrest in mind.
The people I was with said Aug. 31 would be a whole day of "autonomous" action.
"The culmination of our protests will be at Madison Square Garden," said Martin, a slender guy decked in black with a pageboy haircut. "We'll get as close as we can."
Brush, a lanky thirtyish hippie in a jumpsuit from "True Security, San Francisco," then took the floor. He explained how groups would communicate via cell phones during street actions.
"We have evolved," Brush said, stroking his long chestnut beard. "We have high tech."
On Sunday, I walked among anarchists in the massive United for Peace and Justice march.
Without warning, I was suddenly in the belly of the beast.
Amid whispers of "It's on, it's on," a dozen men in black commandeered a 30-foot-long green dragon float and set it afire - ruining what had been a peaceful anti-war protest Sunday.
They were members of the Black Bloc, a free-floating group of violent anarchists.
Nothing like this had been discussed in the meetings I sat in on last week.