As President George W. Bush was poised to accept the Republican Party nomination for president in 2004, anarchists paraded outside the Madison Square Garden convention location with a large green papier-mâché dragon that suddenly became engulfed in flames. According to an elderly bystander, Eric Cashdan, an electronics manufacturing representative, the fire and ensuing chaos was of no surprise to high ranking police at the scene who predicted the action and knew the identity of the arsonist.
“They were rubbing elbows with me on my left side,” said Mr. Cashdan. “One pointed toward the dragon and said, ‘He’s the one who’s going to light it.’ As if they knew in advance that someone was going to set it on fire.” A photograph of the senior officer was presented to the NYPD, but they refused to identify him.
The dragon had been at the lead of an anarchist contingent organized by the Don’t Just Vote Get Active campaign which was affiliated with CrimethInc.. Many members of the contingent were dressed in black bloc style clothing and carried black umbrellas. Once the fire broke out, the crowd scattered and police began aggressively making arrests. Amongst those arrested was Yusuke Joshua Banno, an anarchist from Tucson in town for the protest. The NYPD and the district attorney tried to paint Josh as the ringleader of a conspiracy to start the fire and create chaos in the streets. Thanks to cops who were willing to lie under oath and provide eye witness testimony claiming that Josh started the fire it is likely that Josh would have been convicted and sentenced to prison for a decade or more.
Fortunately time-sequence photographs taken by a Daily News photographer surfaced. The pictures clearly showed Josh far from where the fire began and obviously not in a position where he could have lit it. Ultimately charges were dropped, but not after Josh’s life and that of his family’s had been totally upended forcing them to relocate their homes thousands of miles away to NYC.
While the criminal cases have concluded, allowing Josh to resume his life in Arizona, a civil case brought by him against the city is ongoing. It is as a result of that ongoing litigation that evidence has surfaced that the police played a greater role in starting the fire than was previously believed by many. Jeffrey Fogel, a lawyer in the case stated: “It is our firm belief that the out-of-jurisdiction cop participated in torching the green dragon. Josh’s arrest was a cover-up for that.”
In the immediate aftermath of the fire and the police response, various internet sites including the once popular Indymedia, were abuzz with conspiracy theories about undercover police provocateurs who may have started the fire. One piece of evidence they had for this was a prominent photograph that showed a masked person running away from the burning dragon head wearing a green bracelet on their right wrist. The NYPD will have something they call “the color of the day” to designate who is “on the job,” which is police parlance for working as a cop. Police on duty will know “the color of the day,” which is often worn on a wristband, and will know not to beat or arrest those individuals. It is believed that green was “the color of the day” on August 29th, 2004, when the dragon was burned. It now seems more likely that some of these theories were on the mark.
This calls to mind the more recent cases of the Canadian undercover police who were caught carrying rocks, trying to infiltrate another anarchist contingent at a union sponsored 2007 protest in Quebec, or of Mark Kennedy, the British cop who infiltrated anarchist movements and traveled aboard to numerous countries, including to Germany where he is known to have been responsible for an act of arson. It is not unlikely that there are also cops deep undercover in the U.S. anarchist movement that could be engaging in similar activities.