In recent weeks, anarchists in Europe have perpetrated or claimed responsibility for a series of actual or purported attacks against critical infrastructure. The tactics employed or claimed – arson, use of incendiary devices, and vandalism – have reflected the intention to cause harm that seriously impedes operations.Motivating factors cited for direct actions include climate change, opposition to fossil fuels, and support for individuals cast as political prisoners – notably, a convicted Greek terrorist. Dimitris Koufodinas is a convicted assassin serving multiple life sentences for crimes committed on behalf of the former Greek terrorist group, Revolutionary Organization November 17. This self-described “Greek far-left urban guerilla terrorist organization” planned and executed assassination plots, some successful, against American diplomatic and military personnel.
Acts of violence that caused serious damage to a public schools’ district main office in Portland, Oregon, employed tactics similar to those used by European anarchists in recent weeks. While no direct link is indicated, online anarchist propaganda sites afford the opportunity for access to information on tactics employed by adherents and supporters internationally. For those inclined to categorize destruction or damage to property as “non-violent,” incidents of arson and vandalism against European infrastructure may represent tactics to emulate. Sustained vigilance by employees for indicators of concern, consistent with the North American railroad industry Alert Level 2 security posture, is warranted.
Anarchist elements, largely based in Greece, have recently posted claims of responsibility online for a series of incendiary and arson attacks in solidarity with Greek prisoner, Dimitris Koufodinas.
Koufodinas is a published “anarchist icon” and convicted assassin serving multiple life sentences for crimes committed on behalf of the now defunct Greek terrorist group, the Revolutionary Organization November 17 – or “17N.”
From its inception in 1975, 17N – a “Greek far-left urban guerilla terrorist organization” – executed numerous assassination plots, some successful, against American military personnel and State Department officials assigned in Greece.
On Sunday, February 14, 2021, anarchists reportedly claimed responsibility for incendiary attacks targeting the homes of a retired lieutenant general and a brigadier general of the Greek police. However, no specific date on these reported incidents has been provided by Greek authorities.
On Friday, February 18, 2021, a gas canister lit on fire struck the entrance to an office building that hosted a business founded by the Greek Prime Minister’s wife.
- On the same day, anarchists posted an anonymous claim to have placed an incendiary device in the Evelpidon courthouse in the capital, Athens, in early February 2021.
- The claim read as follows:
- On the night of Friday 5 February, we placed an incendiary device in one of the entrances to the courthouse of Evelpidon (more precisely, that of the lawyers), in order to support the fight of the hunger striker Dimitris Koufodinas. Attacking the central structures of the judiciary is a very clear political choice…
One of the posted claims of responsibility for arson attacks, cast as “A thought for Dimitris and for those who struggle in prisons,” included high speed rail communication lines. However, this post did not state the location or the date of the asserted attack.
In mid-February 2021, an anonymous posting online claimed fire had been used as a means to “sabotage…electric cables / fiber optic [TGV] high speed railway line…against confinement as a mass control experiment and accelerator of the digitization and medicalization of our lives.”
The prevailing trend in direct action incidents in Greece has entailed tactics to cause delay or disruption to transport operations as a means of demonstrating opposition to claimed police brutality. In contrast, the recent arson attacks have targeted infrastructure for damage or destruction – and produced much greater adverse impacts on operational capacity.
Reporting as of February 22, 2021, highlights additional anarchist claims of arson attacks elsewhere in Europe, notably against communications infrastructure, linked in some way to Koufodinas.
- Relay antennas for base stations in Val Bisagno and Dedalus of the Genoa region of Italy were purportedly targeted in “solidarity with all prisoners and anarchist prisoners around the world…solidarity with Dimitris Koufodinas…death to the techno-world… long live the Black International…”
- In the Drôme region of southeastern France, an arson attack that likely sought to set fire to the TDF relay antenna instead damaged the “building at the foot of the pylon…” with impacts to around 500 mobile phone customers and limited select fixed line and internet users located in nearby towns.
Communications infrastructure is a common target of anarchists internationally – for its purported use in expanding exercise of government control.
As recent as early March 2021, varied forms of anarchist attacks “in solidarity with Dmitris Koufodinas” have allegedly been carried out on the following targets:
- Smashed windows and vandalism at the Greek consulate in Hamburg, Germany;
- Arson to a Hertz rental vehicle and, separately, a Siemens-Bosch van, both in Berlin, Germany;
- Vandalism and damage to banks in Athens, Greece;
- Arson to fiber optic internet cables in Pierrelatte, which hosts one of the biggest production plants for enriched uranium in the world, used both for civil and military purposes, and in the Drôme and Nord-Vaucluse departments in southeast France;
- Arson to a van in Montreuil, France;
- Vandalism to the glass store front of an estate agency in Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert, central France; and
- Messages in black and red paint, traditional anarchist colors, at Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ private residence of in Crete, Greece. Paint was also splashed on the entrance of affiliated political party offices in Chania, Crete.
Anarchists in Europe generally align arson attacks and other forms of actual sabotage or claims of destructive acts in propaganda communication with socio-political agendas, to include halting climate change and opposing production, transport, and use of fossil fuels.
An attack in Portland, Oregon, in early March 2021, employed tactics similar to those demonstrated in the incident recounted above. On March 6, 2021, the Portland Public Schools District announced its main office facility was vandalized with Black Lives Matter and Antifa mantras and anarchist symbols. Additionally, vehicles, including one food delivery truck and a maintenance vans, were set on fire. Although available information does not link anarchist elements in Portland, Oregon, to counterparts in Europe who have perpetrated or claimed responsibility for destructive acts in recent weeks, the similarities in attack methods in the Pacific Northwest are notable.
European extremists aligned with environmental and climate change agendas regularly advocate for direct action efforts, attempting to legitimize these unlawful, and damaging, tactics in targeting pipelines and rail transport of fossil fuels.
- A book published by Verso Books in January 2021, entitled “How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire,” asserts activists should stop thinking of direct action as “necessarily having to expose ourselves to the police. It’s possible to evade arrest.”
- The author, a “scholar of human ecology and associate senior lecturer at Sweden’s Lund University” maintains that the climate movement in the United States – notably, campaigns against Keystone XL Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as to force financial institutions and pension funds to divest investments in organizations that extract, produce, or develop fossil fuels – is “absolutely fundamental for inspiring the most recent years of climate activism in Europe as well.”
In at least one article posted in early 2021, further detailed below, European anarchist elements advocated for conducting sustained operations with destructive or damaging acts. These tactics seemed inspired by the successes attained in blockades of railroad tracks in Canada during February and March 2020 by supporters of the opposition of First Nations groups to construction of a pipeline across tribal land in British Columbia.
Rail blockades established in several provinces – some intermittent, some persistent – caused extensive disruptions and delays to train operations. A strategically placed blockade in the south of Ontario forced a cessation of railroad operations in the eastern part of CN’s network, halting intercity passenger service by VIA Rail as well.
The article notably adds a facet the Canadian rail blockaders generally eschewed – acts of violence intended to destroy or damage infrastructure or facilities.
- The “Contrepoints” article published on January 18, 2021, entitled “16 Easy Ways to Block a Railroad,” reiterates promotion of blockades, sabotage, and arson techniques originally espoused in a previous publication entitled, “Trainstopping…Blockade & Sabotage of Rail Traffic in the Context of the Anti-Nuclear Movement.”
This article does reference the rail blockades conducted in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en community opposing the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline on tribal land in early 2020. Specifically, the blockades are credited with making it “apparent to everyone how easily ’Canada’ could be [shut] down…Since then, dozens and dozens of railroad blockades have taken place across the territories…We hope that this text will serve as inspiration to respond even more intensely to the next call of First Peoples to block the country.”
Significantly, details on known methods employed during the 2020 Canadian rail blockades are lacking – like ghost blockades or shunts. This gap may indicate the article denotes an aspirational theme – more an attempt to seem current than to urge an emulation of the tactics employed in the Canadian rail blockades or to propose adaptations or alternatives.
Nonetheless, advocacy by European anarchists of destruction or damage to infrastructure does align with a notable trend in the interpretation of what constitutes “non-violent civil disobedience.” The traditional view of activists has been that non-violence means just that – opposition is demonstrated by peaceful actions that do not create a risk of harm to participants, workers, the public, or infrastructure and facilities. The competing perspective, which has gained broader adherence in recent years, is that “non-violence” means only that no harm comes to people. In this view, destruction or damage to property does not constitute an act of violence. Therefore, it is encouraged.
Online anarchist propaganda sites afford the opportunity for access to information on tactics employed by adherents and supporters internationally. For those inclined to categorize destruction or damage to property as “non-violent,” the recent spate of arson and vandalism by anarchists against infrastructure in Europe may resonate as tactics to emulate.
At the same time, there is a basis to believe European activists may be drawing a lesson from successes in impeding fossil fuels infrastructure projects in the United States and Canada – by seeking to undermine support of financial institutions for funding or investing in these initiatives and to impose disruptions with blockades that do not entail destruction or damage.
In any event, sustained vigilance by employees and contractors, with timely reporting of observations of indicators of concern, such as symbols and colors attributed to anarchist or extremist elements, break-ins to facilities along rights-of-way, intentional damage or manipulation of infrastructure, and gatherings of people in odd areas at or near railroad tracks and infrastructure, remains warranted – due to the continued advocacy in anarchist and extremist propaganda of direct actions using tactics specifically intended to vandalize, sabotage, or otherwise damage or undermine infrastructure.