London Calling

My assignment tracking Governor Hull across the pond was a real riot

The swordsman wounded several people before Father John Lennon -- no relation -- engaged him in a duel, armed with a crucifix on a pole. This enabled a quick-thinking off-duty cop to rip a stout pipe from the church's organ and take out the attacker with a swing to the back of the head.

When it was over, the church's floor was smeared with blood and littered with severed fingers, but no one was dead. The last time a nutcase bent on murder invaded a church in the U.S. (September, in Fort Worth, Texas), he shot and killed seven people, then ate a bullet himself.

I'd like to ask Governor Hull her take on the comparison, but we're now three hours into the 11-hour route from Gatwick to Sky Harbor, and she has thus far remained incommunicado. Twice now I've tried to bum-rush the first-class cabin, and I doubt I'll have a third go, as the plane's crew captain has apparently assigned a male flight attendant to keep me under close surveillance. He's nervously hovering behind my row, and keeps foisting unordered drinks from the open bar in a transparent ploy to impair my wiles.

I suppose it's only natural for those with more responsibility than authority to act a bit skittish, given the violent anti-World Trade Organization demonstrations that broke out in London yesterday (Monday). I assume the rioting is still under way, as protest organizers planned for a crescendo this evening, just as parallel demonstrations were set to blow in Seattle.

Political demonstrations were a motif during my stay in London. First, Saturday morning there was a demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy against the Central Intelligence Agency's alleged involvement in cocaine trafficking in the 1980s, as outlined in Gary Webb's 1996 "Dark Alliance" series in the San Jose Mercury News. Several hundred peaceful protesters threw salt and carried banners that read "C.I.A. -- Cocaine Importation Agency," "Support the C.I.A. -- Smoke Crack!" and "Gary Webb told the truth!" (as you know, Webb's reporting was discredited by other envious major papers, after which the Merc threw him to the wolves, printing a half-baked retraction of his exposé, and exiling him to a suburban news bureau).

That night, I attended a riot preparation camp disguised as a rave, held in a 14th-century dungeon near the Tower of London. The 72-hour event appropriately known as The Warp is a legend of underground culture -- a roving, biweekly happening, which mixes radical politics and live theater into the usual rave blend of free love, techno music and designer drugs. On the eve of the WTO protests, this was especially true.

In one room of the dank catacombs, ravers/rioters were instructed in the making of Molotov cocktails. In another, they learned how to use a soaked bandanna as a tear-gas filter. In one of the larger chambers, a massive, multimedia screen showed home footage of this summer's Shut Down the City! protests, an annual event where protesters disrupt London's financial district by all means. A mass of those in The Warp, clearly under the influence of a variety of psychotropic cocktails, gave a rabid cheer as rioters on the screen tipped over and burned a police car.

I estimate there were 3,000 people in The Warp for most of the eight hours I was there -- 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. Sunday. The party, which began at 9 a.m. Saturday, lasted until 9 a.m. Monday, at which time I am sure a mob of the most hard-core ravers turned activists emerged from the dungeon, jacked up for three days and counting on God knows what, squinting to protect their black-pooled pupils from the morning sun, then made their way to the tube station two blocks away and boarded a southbound train to the financial district.

I am sure of this, even though I was long gone, because I observed a series of skirmishes in the financial district Monday morning, and recognized several grimy faces from The Warp. If Monday's actions were only a warm-up for today, I can only imagine the current chaos. Like a battle scene from Braveheart, clans of wild-haired, shoddily clad protesters charged the ranks of club-wielding police, armored in helmets and shields.

I didn't see Jane Hull at The Warp, either, and I didn't see her at the demonstrations, and I don't know her position on the WTO because every time I so much as shift my weight like I'm going to stand up, this flight attendant is asking me if I want another beer. It's over. I'm admitting defeat. This marks the end of the story of how I didn't get the story.

Contact David Holthouse at his online address: david.holthouse@newtimes.com

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