US authorities are braced for violent protests ahead of the Republican US presidential nominating convention that nominally kicks off in Tampa, Florida, today.
CNN obtained a copy of an alert from the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security warning that anarchists might be plotting violence at the event formally crowning former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as US President Barack Obama’s challenger.
Thousands of demonstrators are expected to converge on the Gulf coast city — including a large contingent from the Occupy movement that bunkered down for months last year in scores of parks and other sites across the country.
Due to Tropical Storm Isaac, the convention will nominally open today and then immediately adjourn to reconvene tomorrow, when the weather is expected to clear up.
Romney, a multimillionaire businessman, will accept the Republican presidential nomination at the end of the week in a raucous finale to several days of political theater attended by tens of thousands of delegates, journalists and party insiders.
CNN said that the FBI-DHS memo warned that anarchists “from New York” were planning to go to Tampa to disrupt the event and might even attempt to shut down the city’s bridges using improvised explosive devices.
The advisory warned that a similar plot could be under way for the Democratic National Convention, which is to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, from Sept. 4 to Sept. 7.
“FBI and DHS assess with high confidence anarchist extremists will target similar infrastructure in Tampa and Charlotte, with potentially significant impacts on public safety and transportation,” it said, according to CNN.
The memo urged state and local law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for suspicious people trying to purchase explosive materials or obtain weapons training.
Authorities have said it was hard to predict exactly how many demonstrators would swarm the Florida Gulf coast city, but say the numbers could exceed 15,000.
For the most part, authorities are anticipating peaceful protests, but are girding for the likelihood that at least some of the demonstrators will be intent on fomenting trouble.
Tampa’s police department spent more than US$500,000 on special khaki uniforms for the roughly 4,000 officers who will police the event. The city also invested nearly US$300,000 in the purchase of a truck specially outfitted for police commando units.
Protesters have erected what they called a “Romneyville” near the site of the convention — an updated variation on the idea of the “Hooverville” tent cities of the Great Depression — where protesters can be housed and fed.
There is a long tradition of public protest at the quadrennial political conventions, when the two major US political parties choose the standard bearers who will lead them into November’s presidential election.
In 2000, the Democratic convention in Los Angeles saw rock-throwing protesters clash with police firing rubber bullets and lobbing tear gas canisters.
Four years later, the Republic National Convention saw parts of New York City transformed into a fortress, and police place about 1,800 people under arrest.