Four years ago, heavyweight veteran Jeff Monson squared off with riot police at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Here's the story behind one of MMA's best photographs.
Photo by Danny Ghitis
There’s a rumor on the internet that this photo of longtime MMA heavyweight and avowed anarchist Jeff "The Snowman" Monson squaring off with members of the St. Paul Police Department is actually a picture of Monson conducting a grappling clinic for members of the St. Paul Police Department. To Monson, the rumor is ridiculous, not only because he was there, outside the Target Center during the 2008 Republican National Convention, when the picture was taken but also because police don’t show up for grappling lessons in full riot gear. Also, if you look closely, you can see the cop in the middle has his hand on his Taser, another thing police in seminars don’t do. Monson says the cop was ready to use it, too.
“We were basically blockading the street,” Monson remembers. “And when the busloads of Republican delegates were being unloaded we just wanted to prevent them from going in the Target Center, basically making a human wall. The riot police swept us up and pushed us into a park and then arrested us for a) trespassing, which was strange because we were on a public street, and b) inciting a riot, which was strange because there wasn’t any riot. They had arrested the group of us and I was coming up to the front saying, ‘I’m coming through; you can arrest me.’ I was confronted by the cops saying, ‘No, you’re not coming through.’ I was saying, ‘What right do you have? There’s nobody here rioting. It’s peaceful. Nobody’s throwing rocks, nobody's doing anything.’ They said, ‘You’re threatening us,’ and I said, ‘How am I threatening you? I’m unarmed. I’m in a tank top. We don’t have any weapons. We’re not doing anything.’ And I said, ‘How can we be trespassing? These delegates have no more right—it’s a public street. How can they walk on the street and we can’t walk on the street?’ That’s when the one police officer put his hand on his Taser and said he was going to Tase me if I tried to go through. I said, ‘It’s not going to look very good if I’m just talking to you and you just Taser me because there are a lot of people with cameras filming everything.’ Literally at that moment, one of the guys got a call on his cell phone saying everyone’s released. Basically, they arrested us long enough for the delegates to get off the bus and get into the Target Center, and then they said, ‘We’re dropping the charges. You guys can go.’”
In the spirit of ideological accuracy, it needs to be mentioned that Monson is really more of an anarchist/socialist than a pure anarchist. Don't be fooled by the criminal mischief charge he picked up in 2009 for spray-painting an anarchy symbol on the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. He’s a card-carrying member of the International Workers of the World, otherwise known as the Wobblies. Following his loss last November to Fedor Emelianenko, Monson met with anti-fascist groups in Russia and Poland that were made up of anarchists, socialists, and anyone else uncomfortable with the rise of racist nationalism in those countries. One of the dozens of tattoos he has is the hammer and sickle. Unlike most people in the anarchy movement, he sees some value in the state.
“As an anarchist I don’t believe in any government at all in terms of hierarchy,” Monson says. “The problem is, people say all the time, ‘Jeff, you’re an anarchist but you believe in big government, supporting them being involved in the health care system, providing food stamps and benefits and unemployment checks. It’s total hypocrisy.’ But what people don’t understand is that government is a defense against the real enemy, which is the corporations and the banks. If it wasn’t for government institutions that we have—social security, Medicare, food stamps, unemployment benefits—it’s kind of like a buffer between a true monopoly on the financial system and our well-being. The banks and the corporations really control the US, and the government is just a player in the system."
That's why Monson went to St. Paul in 2008 to protest the Republican convention. As you may remember, the RNC Welcoming Committee, a shadowy (or not-so-shadowy) group of anti-authoritarian activists was infiltrated by undercover police officers and informants, leading to the arrests of six of their members and the end of their hopes for a massive coordinated protest during the convention. Monson says the plan for the protest was to get hundreds of people blockading the various bridges leading into St. Paul so that the buses of delegates couldn’t get by, but the police infiltration meant communication went out the window and the protestors were forced to go it alone.
“The police swept up everything,” he says. “Took down the computers. Got all the activists that were coordinating everything. Just wiped them out, all the communication lines. It went from being a pretty well-coordinated peaceful direct-action protest plan to a lot of individuals without any organization doing the best they can on cell phones, trading numbers, and communicating through microphones on the streets. Communication is the key. They were smart when they infiltrated us. They took down all the organization that had been planned for months and months. That was the end of it. You have a bunch of protestors running around calling each other. You’re not going to blockade any bridges without a coordinated effort with that organization. Everything kind of fell apart. The operation’s leaders had been arrested and detained for whatever charges.
"The charges were mostly dropped. But that's what the government does: They arrest you and then they act like they’re doing you a favor by dropping the charges and letting you go home."
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