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National Politics

Protest group video spurs RNC concern from Tampa police

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 12:42 AM
TAMPA -

As security officials prepare for next week's Republican National Convention, Tampa police are investigating whether there are links between the Aug. 15 posting of a YouTube video purporting to be from the hacker collective known as Anonymous and the discovery of pipes and bricks on a downtown rooftop two days later.

The eight-minute video, titled "ANONYMOUS: Message 2 RNC Activists F.B.I TPD & PI Bill Warner," features a figure in a blue outfit wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, speaking in a computer-altered voice.

The video shows images of a car burning and police in riot gear marching through an unidentified city. The figure says, "You have an opportunity to fight back at the Republican National Convention. How you fight back is up to you … but it is a fact that flowers and holding up signs stopped working long ago."

The pipes and bricks were found Friday on the roof of a building at 1004 N. Florida Ave., on the northwest corner of Florida Avenue and Tyler Street. Graffiti, including the numeral "99" and an image of a person wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, similar to those worn by members of the Anonymous collective, as well as Occupy movement protestors, was found on the building.

Because of the graffiti found at the building and the message delivered in the video, police are looking to see if the two are linked, said Assistant Police Chief John Bennett.

"If you take a look at this as a continuum, you take the video and the prepositioned weapons and graffiti in the event zone, it lends itself to the realization of what we have been told and saw both for this event and historically," Bennett said. "We investigate every possible angle, especially violent behavior. We are looking for a link."

Bennett called the video "disappointing" because police are trying to ensure everyone who wants to protest is able to exercise their constitutional rights.

"I think when they said 'flowers don't work' and try to mention certain things we would call peaceful demonstrating don't work, I think that sets a tone," he said.

The video, posted by someone called "Holly Hopper," complains that Tampa police have monitored their activities. It also takes aim at the media and a Sarasota-based private investigator named Bill Warner who has run an online campaign against Anonymous and the anarchist group Black Bloc.

Neither Anonymous nor the Black Bloc, said the narrator, is violent. They are taking "a stand for the hungry, the poor, the suffering citizens of this country who are sick of politicians doing what they please at our expense."

The narrator takes particular aim at Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor. "Your police department was monitoring protest chatter on line and working with mainstream news media, and people like Private I Bill Warner to spread misinformation to the masses … You have labeled us all as domestic terrorists.''

Warner, whose website features numerous mentions of both groups, said he was named in the video "because I have been the most vocal person about the Black Bloc and the domestic terrorist links to the people in the Occupy protest movements."

While Castor said the bricks and pipes were a concern, one cyber security expert downplayed the video.

"It could be a 15-year-old in the basement," said Bruce Schneier, who has written extensively about security technology. "Anonymous is a lifestyle. Anyone can say they're with Anonymous."

Black Bloc and Anon Bloc are loosely organized anarchist groups that have shown up at past conventions and other major public events and typically are known for violence and vandalism. Black Bloc members wear all black and spark confrontations with police.

For the past several years, Anonymous has protested against the Clearwater-based Church of Scientology as well as directed hacking attacks against a wide range of subjects and organizations, including British government websites in protest of the treatment of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, according to the Telegraph newspaper.

The symbol for Anonymous and the Occupy movement is Fawkes, an Englishman who tried to bomb Parliament in the early 1600s. The masks became symbols for the Occupy protesters after the film "V for Vendetta," in which an anarchist models himself as a modern Fawkes and rebels against a fascist government.

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