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Cloak and Blather

On two occasions in recent days, shadowy authorities have initiated steps to clamp down on protesters expected at August‘s Democratic National Convention, and each time, as soon as their efforts were exposed, they backed off without identifying themselves.

First, two weeks ago, state Senator Tom Hayden uncovered a million-dollar state-budget request that would have funneled $125,000 worth of pepper spray, tear gas, semiautomatic launchers and gas guns, as well as a $2,400 paper shredder, to the Los Angeles Police Department. The money was “all bundled up in a secret package to be funded through the California Highway Patrol,” according to Hayden. When the request was flushed into public view, he added, “it kind of faded out.”

Not only was the request dropped, but Hayden has been unable to find out who penned it. LAPD officials, he said, “claim not to know.”

Last week brought another “orphan,” in the senator’s words. Hayden heard from some “very reliable people” that Mayor Richard Riordan had asked Governor Gray Davis to mobilize the National Guard for the week of the convention. Concerned about a potentially disastrous police overreaction, Hayden called the Governor‘s Office. He was promptly told that the rumors were false. Within half an hour, though, he got a callback from the governor’s press office, informing him that such “rumblings” had, in fact, reached Sacramento. The press deputy would provide no further details.

In response to the Weekly‘s inquiries, Phil Trounstein of Governor Davis’ office said unequivocally, “It‘s not true. It did not happen. There was no request to authorize the National Guard.” Moments later, though, after being confronted with Hayden’s account, Trounstein allowed that during meetings with city officials, “the question of the National Guard came up, and the Governor‘s Office made it clear that that was not a possibility.”

Trounstein declined to specify how the issue “came up” or who brought it up, but did insist that the request did not emanate from Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan: “It did not happen.”

Mayor Riordan’s office was equally adamant, though not entirely in agreement with Trounstein. Mayoral spokesman Manuel Valencia insisted that the whole notion of someone trying to bring in the National Guard was “absolutely false.” He added, “That has not been happening. It never came up as an issue. There‘s just been no discussion about it.”

Valencia even offered a word of advice to the careless, gutter-mongering sources: “I don’t know where the rumor is coming from, but you should go back to your sources and tell them to stop spreading it, because it‘s just not true.”

Of course, only time will tell if Mayor Riordan appreciates this strongly worded admonishment from a subordinate. One of the scurrilous sources was the mayor himself. In a cable-television interview with host Bill Rosendahl, aired last Thursday, Mayor Riordan commented enigmatically about radical protesters who might “try to get the police to overreact by doing things like throwing urine in their faces or even sometimes dropping an inflammable bomb.”

Rosendahl then asked if the mayor thought it a “prudent idea” to have the National Guard at the ready.

“Oh yeah, clearly,” Riordan responded. “Governor Davis and our office and the FBI and others have been working closely together. The governor has been great. He’s going to have the CHP help. He‘ll have the National Guard standing by. I don’t think it‘s necessary, but it’s very comforting to have it.”

Riordan‘s answer implies that calling in the Guard was the governor’s idea, a claim energetically denied by Davis‘ people. In the same interview, Rosendahl asked the mayor about the surreptitious million-dollar police-funding request, the one that Hayden had unearthed. On that matter, at least, Riordan got with the program: “I know nothing about it. I haven’t even heard about it,” he answered. The mayor emphasized, however, that “some of these demonstrators are experts at causing chaos, and we have to be prepared for that.”

From all the equivocations, Hayden said he was able to draw one clear conclusion: City officials “are making outrageous claims that only lead in one direction, which is justifying a crackdown. No one will say it, but it‘s happening.”