Insurgency Online: http://burn.ucsd.edu/~ats/mrta.htm

Dr. Michael Dartnell - mdartne@uwindsor.ca,
Department of Political Science | University of Windsor

"Insurgency online" is used in this discussion to refer to Internet communications by anti-government movements in both democratic and non-democratic societies. The common characteristic of these organizations is a call for far-reaching change in their host society and radical opposition to the existing political régime. In democratic societies, organizations as diverse as white supremacists, animal rights activists or ethnic nationalists now use Internet communications to reach a global public. In non-democratic societies, claims made on a political system might resemble classic North American-West European liberal democratic ideologies. Insurgency online also includes religious, gay and lesbian, and Marxist movements. The link between all of these diverse groups is their ability to send political messages to a wider local, national or global group regardless of government policies, politics or political culture in their physical location. The ways in which one group, the Peruvian Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (MRTA), uses Internet and especially World Wide Web (WWW) communications will be the focus below.

"Information terrorism" is a buzzword in current analyses of the political impact of Internet communications. However, the term does not precisely apply to the above form of anti-government activity. In fact, due to its association with "terrorism", the term tends to evoke things that society fears, dislikes or finds outrageous because it denotes the use of force in order to create fear and secure political ends. Information terrorism does not accurately describe insurgent movements that are active information providers on the Internet. Their activities demonstrate that a wide variety of movements understand that power in a global society is linked to ability to articulate, organize and communicate information over distance. (Stevenson 1999 and Schiller 1988) The case of the MRTA was selected to show how some insurgents exercise the power of information. The case sidesteps the conceptual problems of information terrorism and redirects analysis to information provision and its implications in terms of global communications. The most significant implication is the connection between contemporary information technology (IT) and a new "public sphere" in which ideas, debate, and public intervention (Kellner 1998) occurs in a non-physical "place". A critical element in the formation of this public sphere is the ability to independently produce images and text to autonomously represent values, interests, and needs. Rather than simple propaganda, the focus then is the broader social, cultural and political context of electronic security. Insurgency online will be used to more accurately describe phenomena and assess risks.

The role of IT in anti-government campaigns is shaped by the Internet's distinct yet interconnected informational and communicative aspects. The information and communication character of the Internet in turn conditions how insurgent groups globally transmit political messages. Communication by definition presupposes community, which makes the Internet a "site" of community development even though the resulting communities are non-physical or "virtual". Mark Alleyne argues that community and communication are intimately linked "because it is only through communication that values, for example, can be shared and made common to the group." (Alleyne 1995: 3) Given this intimate connection, the MRTA can be understood to express and articulate a sense of community in parallel to a dominant physical-place political culture. Information, that is, the content of communication, is relevant insofar as the MRTA uses Websites to spread specific messages. Such activities underline the fact that in contemporary societies information "itself is conditioned and structured by the social institutions and relations in which it is embedded."(Schiller 1988: 41) MRTA information is insurgent, political, and expresses Peruvian social divisions. Unlike more widely-known forms of contemporary global information (such as news or economic data), MRTA messages are not commodities even though news agencies transform information from the Website into a consumable thing. The power of communication and information manifest in online insurgency is a narrative that expresses value(s) and provides raw materials to construct political identities.

In light of its communicative and informational substructure, the MRTA's Internet campaign to explain, justify and rationalize political violence raises a series of conceptual, policy and civil rights issues. The group's narrative, which aims to discredit and pressure the Peruvian government, resembles those of many other groups (examples of anti-government/insurgent groups that have Websites include Abkhazian separatists, the Animal Liberation Front, the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the Free Burma Coalition, the Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Development in China, Columbia's Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN), the Cuban dissident movement, the East Timor Action Network, the Basque Herri Batasuna, Mexico's EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army), the Iraqi National Congress, Hezbollah, Japan's AUM Shinrikyo cult, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), and many others). The significance of the MRTA Website is not "technical training, but training in using the technology in a strategic way." (Agre 1996). The Internet in this context serves as an element in globalization that has a transnational character and impact, but is also paradoxically a catalyst for intensified ideological struggle and partial deterritorialization of national issues. As a phenomenon that is both global and local, insurgency online feeds into traditional media such as radio, television and newspapers. However, traditional media provide groups such as the MRTA with no independent capacity for interaction. In contrast, the Internet opens a possibility for the group to inform and influence a public by articulating a point of view and developing its own representations of events. As with other global media (eg. satellite television or cellular telephones), the impact of the "MRTA Solidarity Page" is thus linked to its role as a platform for messages that transcend domestic political boundaries (McAllester 1997).



The MRTA rejects parliamentary politics and situates itself in an indigenous tradition of anti-colonial liberation struggle. The group went underground shortly after it was created by radical-left organizations in 1984 and structured itself into armed units. The MRTA calls itself an organization of "the people" that is building a social coalition of trade unions, workers' groups, students, and peasants. As a "popular front movement", it seeks to create a socialist society that would emphasize communal ownership, but preserve limited private ownership. It argues that the IMF and international investors are re-creating oppressive conditions on a world-wide scale and opposes globalization because

    freedom under neo-liberalism is not for people, rather for capital. The function of the state is to be reduced to providing internal and external security. All forms of social policy are to disappear, since they degrade the conditions for capital and create regional disadvantages with respect to the world market . . . in Latin America, these policies, with all their catastrophic consequences, are a continuing form of imperialist exploitation ("Struggle Against Neo-Liberalism!").

The MRTA vision for Peruvian society is state-centred and opposes globalization because it believes that social progress is best pursued at a national level. It uses daring, varied and populist tactics to send out its message. In 1988, the movement kidnapped a retired air force general and seized a truckload of chickens to distribute to striking miners. Together, the two actions aimed to send out a message that it fights for people's welfare against Peruvian elites. It also frequently uses media to focus public attention on its acts and ideas. In 1985, it created a pirate "November 4" radio station to broadcast press releases and appeals to boycott elections. In February 1987, it occupied seven Lima radio stations and broadcast an anti-militarist message.

The MRTA's media skills target a regime whose democratic credentials and human rights record are subject to debate. The US State Department recently stated that Peru's executive branch "often uses its control of the legislature and the judiciary to the detriment of the democratic process" (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor 1998). A recent report by a UN Special Rapporteur specified a number of weaknesses in the country's legal system. Most notably, it stated that anti-terrorist legislation failed to meet international standards by

    vaguely defining terrorism and treason and by punishing them with disproportionate penalties . . . [thereby failing] . . . to observe the rule of proportionality. In enacting such measures it failed to abide by its international obligations, and it suspended fundamental rights that are non-derogable even during a state of emergency, principally the right to have an independent and impartial judge to hear one's case (Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1998).

A recent document by Reporters Sans Frontières also noted that Peru is a society in which freedom of expression is "difficult" (Although it admitted that certain improvements occurred in 1996, the RSF report for 1997 cited a number of cases in which journalists were jailed, arrested, attacked, and threatened and harassed, administrative, legal and economic pressure was applied, and obstacles raised to the domestic free flow of information. See http://www.calvacom.fr/rsf/RSF_VA/Rapp_VA/Carte_VA/Rapp_VA.html).

The MRTA and Peruvian state have engaged in a struggle in which both sides experience victories and defeats. Facing fierce government response to its activities, the MRTA withdrew to the countryside at the end of the 1980s to continue its campaign. The government captured MRTA leader Victory Polay in February 1989. On April 28, 1989, the military surrounded a sizeable MRTA unit. Heavy fighting and aerial bombing ended in the guerrillas' capture and execution. The MRTA says about 62 people, including about 20 civilians, were killed. On January 9, 1990, an MRTA commando shot the official who it said ordered the executions: former defense minister E. Lopez Albujar. In July 1990, Polay and 46 other guerrillas escaped from Lima's Canto Grande prison through a 315-meter long tunnel, but he was re-arrested on June 10, 1992. In April 1992, another MRTA leader, Peter Cardenas Schulte, was captured. In May, police raided a MRTA computer center and seized important information about the movement's internal structure. Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori then declared victory over terrorism and the MRTA, but 30 Tupac Amaristas were arrested while plotting to occupy the Peruvian Congress and hold it hostage in exchange for jailed militants on November 30, 1995.

The MRTA stepped into the global media spotlight when it seized all guests assembled for a reception honoring Japan's Emperor at that country's ambassadorial residence in Lima on December 17, 1996. The goal of this attack was again to force the government to free imprisoned Tupac Amaristas. The group employed sophisticated techniques to explain its acts to a watching world: "they tried using cellular phones to call TV stations after they took more than 500 hostages in Peru, but the government blocked the signal. They let in 20 photographers, and the government will probably make sure that doesn't happen again" (McAllester 1997). The MRTA freed most hostages, but 72 people, including President Fujimori's brother, several generals, the heads of police divisions, Peru's Foreign Minister, Supreme Court judges, members of Congress from the ruling party, and ambassadors from Japan and Bolivia were held during a four-month stand-off. The MRTA's skillful presentation of its case in this incident included a Website. The tactic hampered Peruvian government efforts to manage the crisis: "'We can't very well cut phone lines and confiscate computers,' says one Peruvian government official" (Vogel, Moffett, and Sandberg, 1997). The incident ended when US-trained special forces stormed the embassy on April 22, 1997. All 14 members of the MRTA "Commando Edgar Sanchez", including leader Nestor Cerpa, were killed.

The "MRTA Solidarity Website", which carried the group message to the world during the embassy stand-off, was created and managed by a Toronto-based activist group "Arm The Spirit" (ATS). The server that provides computer space for users is "BURN!". It is run by a Latin American solidarity group that accesses the WWW through the University of California at San Diego. In order to better focus on the variety of Internet communications and limit problems inherent in accounting for Web pages that often change, this discussion refers to the MRTA Solidarity Page for April 22, 1997 (the day the Peruvian army stormed the compound) as a case in point (a mirror Website, Voz Rebelde, is the group's main Spanish-language site). At that time, the Website mixed textual and visual materials, presented documents in several languages, and provided hyper-links to other like-minded organizations, a variety of media as well as ATS. These links and users' ability to peruse a wide variety of materials give the site an interactive or hypermediated character. Altogether, these features give the site its communicative and informational qualities. However, since small insurgent organizations face staff shortages, financial limitations and other barriers to transmitting information on the Internet, the site is not fully synchronous. MRTA statements appeared punctually and were valuable in themselves, but materials on the site did not consistently appear as events occurred. Rather, by appearing later, they mainly served to comment on events over preceding days or months.

The main purpose of the Website is to supply information about the MRTA, its ideology, and activities. The aim is amply achieved through several information formats. The first group of documents are regular press releases that outline how the MRTA interprets events. These are regularly changed and take advantage of the medium's variable nature. On April 22, 1997, 14 press releases were available. A second group of texts consists of interviews with MRTA leaders by both sympathetic newspapers and the mainstream press (throughout the Lima hostage crisis, the MRTA Solidarity Page posted interviews on events. Interviews available on April 22, 1997 included: "What Are The Goals of the Your Embassy Occupation?", Dec. 19, 1996; "How Long Will The Residence Stay Occupied?", Dec. 24, 1996; "Is The MRTA's Action Weakening Fujimori?", Dec. 30, 1996; and, "Is A Solution In Lima At Hand?", March 24, 1997). A third group of miscellaneous materials includes a statement from the early days of the hostage crisis, another from an MRTA representative in Europe, a call for peaceful resolution to the hostage crisis, a solidarity statement made on International Women's Day, and the text "Three Months of Occupation! No Surrender And No Defeat!". A final group of more lengthy theoretical-ideological texts that outline the group's world view are placed under a separate heading to highlight their importance (on April 22, 1997, these included: "Interview With Victor Polay - 1990"; "Interview With An MRTA Leader, Comandante Andres - January 1991"; "The Situation Of MRTA Political Prisoners In Peru - May 1996"; "Letter From MRTA Political Prisoners - November 1996"; "The Lives Of Political Prisoners In Peru Are In Danger!"; and, "Neo-Liberalism And Globalization").

Another general heading on the site employs the Internet's interactive capacities and communicative character by providing solidarity contacts to Latin American and foreign radical organizations that sympathize with the MRTA and its struggle. This interactive feature includes a variety of international contacts through "snail mail", telephone and Internet media. The contacts are supplemented by various types of documents. One group includes texts from imprisoned American activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, Turkish political prisoners, and the families of German Red Army Faction prisoners (the latter are members of the DHKP-C (Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front). The statement also included e-mail and WWW addresses: DHKC Informationbureau Amsterdam; "Classwar in Turkey and Kurdistan"; "Turkey Contra-Guerrilla State"; "Turkey Mailinglist Mirror"; "KURTULUS HAFTALIK SIYASI GAZETE"). Another group contains weekly news updates about the Lima incident from the Nicaragua Solidarity Network (NSN), a New York-based organization whose mailing address, telephone number, e-mail address and Website are listed (see Nicaragua Solidarity Network Of Greater New York, 339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012 USA, Tel: (212) 674-9499, E-mail: nicanet@nyxfer.blythe.org WWW: http://home.earthlink.net/~dbwilson/wnuhome.html or WWW: http://home.earthlink.net/~dbwilson/nsnhome.html). The NSN uses the Internet to maintain contacts with American and international supporters of various Latin American political causes. A regular NSN "Weekly News Update on the Americas" is available in identical electronic and print versions. NSN encourages reproduction of its updates and information as well as retransmission of its address.

Important solidarity contacts are incorporated on the Website through hyper-links. In addition to English-language connections, the Website is linked to sites in German, Italian (the Italian Solidarity Page "Solidarietà al M.R.T.A." includes high quality graphics and links to other left and extreme-left Websites. Links on this page included the MRTA mirror site Voz Rebelde, the Lima newspaper La Republica, CNN World News, Yahoo!, Reuters International Summary and the Tactical Media Crew Home Page and e-mail address), Japanese and Spanish, which enhance the site's transnational and communicative character and facilitate global media coverage. Each link provides contacts to international left-wing and Latin American solidarity networks. This multilingual and multinational network endows the Website with its most striking, politically potent, and truly global features, which are augmented by a selection of MRTA press releases posted in Spanish, English, German and Danish. The site's multilingualism demonstrates that even marginal political organizations can push the boundaries of IT use since, in 1997, the Internet's dominant language was English. The multiple languages on the Website demonstrate how Internet media facilitate exchange of information not available in a major international language. Danish materials are included due to the significant MRTA support community in that country, where the official MRTA page is located (See http://users.cybercity.dk/ ccc17427/). The variety of languages also illustrates how Internet communication is more highly focused than traditional media: inclusion of Italian, German and Danish reflects specific MRTA support demographics rather than market imperatives. A final element in the links section was short video clip of MRTA guerrillas preparing their departure for the Japanese embassy prior to its seizure. The quality of the video images was mediocre and revealed nothing critical about the MRTA, but shows how a group with limited means can hypermediate, representing itself to a global audience and circumventing government or corporate-generated images. The site also archives government and corporate print news media. The section assembled Peruvian and international press coverage of the hostage crisis that was organized into groups for December 1996, January to April 1997, and the Lima newspaper La Republica. The archive demonstrates the Internet's character as a hypermediated environment in which small groups can use mainstream information for their own ends.

Online insurgents aim to send messages to as many people as possible, but also need to target a receptive public. MRTA messages went to a public shaped by the "online-off-line divide" created by constrained Internet access. Some features of this public are suggested by a counter that allows the Webmaster and users to monitor the number of "hits" (visitors) to the site. The Wall Street Journal reported that the site became "a hot spot in cyberspace. Internet surfers have logged on more than 16,000 times to one site set up by Tupac Amaru sympathizers in the U.S. and Canada 10 days ago" (Vogel , Moffett, and Sandberg). By April 22, 1997, the site was visited 88,035 times. In the period between seizure of the embassy on December 17, 1996 and April 22, 1997 (127 days), the site had 693.18 hits per day. In the 77 days from April 22 to July 7, 1997, the number of hits increased to 708.87 per day. They sharply decreased afterward: only 137.53 hits per day between July 7 and July 19, 1997 (a thirteen-day period). By July 7, 1997, the total number of hits rose to 142,618 and by July 19 to 144,406. By May 13, 1998, 172,620 hits were recorded, an increase of 28,214 or just over 100 hits per day in a nine-month period. The figures indicate that a message successfully reached a global public and that off-line factors shaped its reception. In particular, intense media focus on the embassy incident appears to have stimulated hit frequency. A subsequent loss of media attention led to fewer hits in the following weeks and months. This decline suggests that Internet communications are linked to other media since increased attention by traditional outlets stimulated attention on the site. A factor that certainly affected hits was widespread use of the site by journalists. Their recourse to the site allowed anti-government input into the structure of global communications, but also subjected their message to the influence of other global actors, especially a global media that is often criticized as "homogenizing". The relation between the two is undoubtedly highly complex and needs further explanation. By employing the Internet, both traditional media and insurgents communicate more easily and frequently than possible through radio, television or newspapers. The fact that many hits were journalists and not the general public highlights the Internet's limits and potential. The Internet enhances communication capacities for users with suitable skills, income, access or, ironically, locations (such as in Western societies). Viewed from this angle, Internet communication does not so much short-circuit as circumvent and transform previous hierarchies, creating new global elites that access, produce and transmit specific types of information.



The MRTA Website is a rich resource for analysts of politically violent groups in a context in which, despite globalization and rapid IT development, research remains difficult and controversial. Comprehensive analysis is especially hampered by lack of information about given conditions, vague categories applied across vast cultural and political divides and implicit assumptions about the nature of political violence. Rather than conceiving violence as an unfortunate and recurrent feature of most political systems, many analyses operate from a "Westphalian" or state-centred mind-set in which all non-state violence is considered illegitimate and all governments assumed to be legitimate, governing on the basis of consent and rule of law, and facilitating interest representation by various social groups. This image is contradicted by the fragility of legal frameworks, ongoing political repression and attempts to control information flows in many states (RSF, for example, singled out 20 states, so-called "enemies of the Net" that severely restrict or altogether curtail access to the Internet by their citizens: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Vietnam. See http://www.calvacom.fr/rsf/RSF_VA/Rapp_VA/Carte_VA/Rapp_VA.html). Where peaceful opposition is impossible or futile, violence is a tool to draw attention to opposition views or make demands on unresponsive systems.

Political violence is commonly represented in Western media (newspapers, radio, television) from a Westphalian perspective. British and American media moreover treat political violence as a symptom of individual psychological problems that is to be condemned rather than interpreted. When the MRTA seized the Japanese embassy in Lima in December 1996, one US media report alluded to the dangerous and uncontrollable consequences of IT: "like many other radical or revolutionary groups in the developing world, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, has found allies in cyberspace" ("Peruvian Rebels Wage Propaganda War On Internet", 1997). Like all political movements, the rebels were certainly producing propaganda. Indeed, political violence is in one sense "propaganda by deed" that aims to build morale, advertise, disorient, physically eliminate foes, and provoke government reaction (Thorton, 1964: 78-82). Their combined physical and non-physical impacts imbue violent tactics with a complexity and variety that parallels conventional political behaviour and necessitates corresponding analytical sophistication. To assess the meaning of violence in specific circumstances, ample contextual information is essential to account for the "subjective" perspective that constitutes the social knowledge and values behind behaviour (Weber, 1949: 110). In this sense, analyzing political violence is "more like interpreting a constellation of symptoms than tracing a chain of causes" since all explanation is partial and comprehensive significance difficult to understand and express (Geertz, 1973: 316).

The conceptual barriers to analysis are compounded by other factors. Violent acts by secret or semi-secret groups aim to gain maximum effect from surprise and little advance warning. Researchers may not have access to information about groups that link them to a "community" of interests, needs and values that would help explain the meaning of acts. In addition, globalization and IT structure a post-territorial environment in which more fluid political identities are established and maintained across borders, continents and time zones. Where politics once grew from personal ties built in meetings, signed agreements, physical proximity and local interaction, a rapidly changing network of international 'non-place' communities now exists through fax machines, satellite and cable television, video games, virtual reality, telephones, e-mail, the WWW and computers. In this diverse and globalized setting, providing information per se is not "terrorism" even if transmitted in support of politically violent groups.

While the impact of the globalized and globalizing Internet, like television in the 1940s, is unclear, it has several discernible features. Firstly, it facilitates direct contact between users in non-contiguous physical locations. Senders and receivers enter two-way contact through interactive media. Direct exchange occurs alongside the practice of channeling passive users through centralized outlets in traditional media (interactivity enables Internet users to alter certain aspects of their environment. It is a method of control and contingent response between user and medium. Popular terms to describe interactive systems include multimedia, hypermedia, infotainment and edutainment). Secondly, Internet synchronicity allows users to "log on" at any time and receive information from distant physical locations as events occur. Thirdly, Internet technology hypermediates, that is, it integrates radio, television, telephone, e-mail and multi-user (chat room and conferencing) functions while providing access to powerful transnational computer data bases. Fourthly, its "network" transmission structure makes limiting, blocking, censoring or deflecting messages quite difficult, which facilitates non-linear communication and transcends physical-place hierarchies. Fifth, Internet media are variable forms of communication in which texts as well as audio, video and other materials are transmitted or altered to suit needs. Finally, Internet communication reaches a dynamic though limited demographic base. Access is shaped by specific class, race, ethnic, language, age and educational groups (the initial demographic was especially characterized by 18-35 year-old computer-literate white English-speaking North American men), but changes constantly and rapidly ("PC Meter Vice Chairman Steve Coffey says his company's profile of Web users is really changing: The fastest growing groups of users are now those under 18 and those over 55; those over 55 spend the most time looking at each page -- primarily financial information, which is what has drawn them to the Web in the first place. The average Web user surfs barely an hour a day -- the tiny contingent that surfs seven or more hours a day accounts for a majority of overall Web usage. Entertainment sites represent 14% of online time, vs. 1% for education sites. More than 25% of users visit adult sites, 12% of those while they're at work." TechWire, July 21, 1997). In 1999, Internet use is limited to those with higher incomes, institutional affiliation, textual literacy, higher education, and some informal or formal computer-based education. Even US users

    require a more sophisticated and expensive network connection, have a stronger gender, education, and income bias and are more likely to be students. In addition to the cost factor, there are also differences in how much people value CMC use. Younger men typically have a higher interest in technology, increasing the perceived benefit of CMC use and reducing the net cost (Bonchek, 1995).

Flexible and relatively cheap Internet communication gives anti-government, protest-oriented or insurgent movements the clear advantage of reaching a receptive public: "users want to be there, they have to be looking for information and they are in position to respond directly to the provider of information once it is received" (Rash, 1997: 15-16). The Internet thus more easily transcends information hierarchies based on language, editorial content and dialogue than do radio, television or print media even if hierarchies are more transformed than eliminated. Users are not physically adjacent to their servers. Their user name might reveal the location of their access (for e.g.: dartnell@yorku.ca locates my computer account at York University in Canada, but not where I access it), but not where they actually use the service.

A critical feature of the Internet is that the real advantages of decentralized information and new hierarchies accrue to those with access to computers, computer skills, and computer networks (Bonchek, 1995). Online insurgents belong to a relatively privileged strata that benefits from speed, low costs, asynchronicity, many-to-many communications, capacity for automation, and intelligent applications. In return, the medium improves organization, efficiency, recruitment and morale. Since lower cost and fewer government controls are only available to groups that access computer networks, a new inequality has emerged (Bonchek found that half of all Web users are over 35. Online users are as connected and concerned for their social relationships as their off-line peers, telephoning friends and relatives as frequently as the population as a whole. Politically, the 12-15 million online users are virtually identical to non-users in party identification, presidential voting, and congressional voting. Bonchek and Gill 1996). The Internet is a potent tool for insurgent organizers and operators. The MRTA uses it like other organizations: to improve cohesion and dialogue, reach a clientèle, and advertise nationally and globally. The medium facilitates a form of identity that is "no longer dependent on a territorial community (Gemeinschaft) or on formal organizations (Gesellschaft) but on networks (Verbindungnetzschaft)" (Richmond, 1994: 31). As in any social setting, the Internet structures behaviours and expectations. Forms of authority exist in moderated newsgroups and mailing lists, multi-user domains (MUDs) that shape relations, and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that set contractual conditions for subscribers. Since insurgent groups usually aim to shape behaviour and elicit responses rather than annihilate society, they must target a public and conform to online norms. A common way to incorporate interactivity on Websites is by providing e-mail addresses for users. In the 1996 U.S. presidential election, the Republican National Committee's interactive "town square" presented the party as "more approachable" to "highlight the interactivity that the RNC hoped would draw interest" (Rash: 18-19). While this scale of management, operation and financing is beyond most insurgent groups, the MRTA site incorporates interactivity through hyper-links, images and sound to support groups around the world.

Insurgency online demonstrates how electronic networking is now beyond exclusive control by governments and well-financed interests. Small organizations and individuals with Web pages and computer access now "reinforce the cosmopolitanism of the new professional and managerial classes living symbolically in a global frame of reference, unlike most of the population in any country" (Castells, 1996: 364). Due to the relative availability of low-cost ISPs, small and even unpopular groups participate in a new electronic narrative whereas previously "they were often frozen out of the traditional media, and their views often were not taken seriously" (Rash: 21). The reach of insurgents is further enhanced by search engines that index the WWW and newsgroups and make it possible to locate sites or information about movements and organizations by using key words. Their Websites usually provide links to other similar organizations. The MRTA Website even features Peruvian and foreign news reports on its activities, history and goals. At the same time, insurgency online recapitulates social conditions for small groups since, by comparison with the RNC, the MRTA Website is relatively unsophisticated.

In addition to hyper-links, e-mail, which exemplifies the Internet's communicative features, is central to the WWW. The Internet incorporates vast e-mail systems, including online services, company computers and network servers that allow small groups rapid, easy and cheap opportunities to reach most people with properly-outfitted computers. E-mail is a flexible tool that is accessed through various computer applications (Netscape Navigator, for example, directly links to e-mail addresses). In addition to simple texts, it can transmit word-processing files, images, sound, video or database materials. Users can send messages to multiple recipients or re-transmit messages to large mailing lists. Small insurgent groups use e-mail to directly contact media with press releases and urgent information (a capacity for rapid response by non-governmental insurgents was demonstrated in early 1999 following the arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Occalan. Kurdish activists from Central Asia to Vancouver were able to rapidly organize and coordinate demonstrations and protests) that can be easily handled, filed and retrieved. They can also communicate on a semi-private basis through automated mailing lists or "list servers" that re-transmit messages to members. Only members see messages and their response is sent to everyone on a list. List servers allow persons managing lists to monitor membership. Although list servers are not entirely private, they overcome physical barriers to internal debate and routine information. E-mail does pose certain risks for insurgents. One is that insurgent mass e-mailings might annoy a public or lead to a regulatory response if persistent and seen as extreme. Another is that unsolicited e-mail (sending out large quantities of unsolicited e-mail is called "spamming") might lead recipients to set their systems to refuse mail from specific senders (when e-mail messages emanating from a computer in the Balkans started to overload NATO's Website during the Kosovo campaign, the attacks were probably rapidly neutralized by just such a procedure. The danger then would be on the other foot: NATO would be able to trace the source of the "ping bombardment"). Yet another is that third parties might receive, change and re-transmit messages in an altered form (changing a message and resending it while pretending to be part of the organization that created it is called "spoofing") and seriously detract from a group's credibility.

Successful Internet use is based in effective interaction between services and users. It allows inurgents to move beyond passive (i.e., one-way) radio-television transmission and adopt two-way communication. There is no traditional mass public, but rather a network of potential online participants. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) benefited white supremacist organizations, for example, in terms of

    group efficiency and group recruitment . . . Lower communication and information costs have helped because of the groups' limited resources, and lower organization costs have helped because of the geographic dispersion of supremacist supporters. Group retention appears to have benefited from greater participation and better information (Bonchek, 1995).

Since the Internet transcends territorial limits, analysis needs to go beyond

    political and economic communities based predominantly on geographic proximity and physical contact [that] have less relevance in cyberspace because network communities can replace physically proximate communities. Political discourse can ignore national borders while affinities and affiliations transcend distances and human contact. Internet listservs and Usenet groups involve participants from around the world communicating directly with each other on topics of mutual interest (Reidenberg, 1997: 86).

Digital communications alter the conditions in which states exist and extend messaging capacities for a wide range of ethnic, religious, racist and ideological movements. However, while it can circumvent states, the Internet is itself subject to other globalizing or even state-linked influences such as corporations, political ideologies, religion, ethnicity, the environment, and other media. Analyses must adequately account for the influence of such factors. Older social forms also survive in new electronic conditions and further elaborate relations: "each new synthesis generates its own contradiction without necessarily eliminating previous forms" (Richmond: 200). Global networks have limits since, in many settings, individuals are restricted by states while off-line or have no hope of access. IT also gives governments a potent tool to monitor, regulate and control.

Placing the Internet in context highlights the fact that the three-hundred-year hegemony of states in international and domestic affairs is not over. Recognizable states will survive displacement of certain functions even if their capacity to act, achieve certain ends, and articulate defining narratives is altered. National governments will persist and since governments use "economic competition as a tool of political strategy, boundaries and cleavages between major economic regions are likely to remain for a long period" (Castells: 99). IT is thus part of globalization and complements existing dynamics, but is not an independent variable. Insurgents will use IT to globalize messages if conditions for democratic opposition are not available in their physical location and because they recognize the power of communications (as do all political movements). Whether they "hack" or simply pass messages depends on off-line political realities. Overall, the effect of IT is thus less to overwhelm states than to become part of the

    'global village' phenomenon, and as such another avenue through which problems in one state can fuse rapidly with public humanitarian (or political) concern in others, thereby creating new demands and items on the political agenda of the governments of the latter (Anderson, 1996: 76).

In other words, the Internet is another context in which politics occur, issues are generated and specific conditions pertain.



MRTA Internet use in its anti-government campaign consists of providing information about its goals and activities to a global public. A major issue raised by this insurgency online is the desirability, possibility and feasibility of blocking such information. Advocating armed resistance to democracies that facilitate free markets, social justice, and open public debate is unacceptable, but as the US State Department and other organizations note, contemporary Peru does not exemplify such conditions. Some states object to anti-government information that draws external opinion and support into domestic politics. This unease is understandable, but an effective alternative could be to encourage political and social equality, rule of law, and open debate in such settings. Overall, social, economic and political conditions rather than IT threaten states and democratic societies have little to fear. More than violating sovereignty, insurgency online tests the limits of free expression and irritates governments that do not foster democratic conditions.

The Internet's link to predictions, hopes and expectations of dramatic transformation has historic parallels (in addition, U.S. analysts point to the examples of FDR's successful use of radio and the famous televised debates between JFK and Richard Nixon). Improved printing techniques, rising literacy and the end to royal censorship after the French Revolution, for example, also created a new media and public.

    The first months of the Revolution saw an extraordinary explosion of periodical publications: 42 titles between May and July 1789, more than 250 titles in the second half of 1789. The explosion was prepared, after the meeting of the Assembly of Notables, by multiplication of lampoons, certain of which appeared in many volumes at regular intervals, in this way announcing periodicals. It was facilitated by manufacturing conditions: material needed to publish a newspaper were not expensive; a single person could write, edit, print and sell a newspaper. The revolutionary paper, written on mediocre paper, crammed with printing errors, is as breathless a manufacture as the reality about which it commented and almost always linked to the personality of a single writer who did not sign articles, but made the entire newspaper (Ozouf, 1988, p. 714. My translation).

The French revolutionaries saw newspapers and pamphlets as tools to realize unmediated governance (Mirabeau wrote that newspapers "establish communications that cannot fail to produce harmony of sentiments, of opinions, of plans, and of action that constitutes the real public force, the true safeguard of the constitution." Comte de Mirabeau, Les États-Généraux, Le Jay, publisher). They thought print media would draw individuals into a public sphere, facilitate expression of authentic social interests, introduce "reason" into political life and realize harmonious cooperation. Radical Jacques-Pierre Brissot argued that the press "can teach the same truth at the same moment to millions of men; through the press, they can discuss it without tumult, decide calmly and give their opinion" (Brissot, 1789, cited in Ozouf: 10). Independent newspapers and political pamphlets became widespread forms of print media (on July 5, 1788, Louis XVI invited "all learned and educated persons in the kingdom" to write "papers" and "information" about the state of current affairs. This led to avalanche of publications, including the first independent newspaper such as Brissot's Le Patriote français and Mirabeau's Les États généraux. About 500 publications appeared between 1789 and 1792. On August 26, 1789, Article 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizens stated that "free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law"). In the political crises of the ancien régime (especially in 1771-74 and 1787-89), pamphlets embodied "confrontation between defenders of the monarchy and ministerial 'reform' on the one side, and the partisans of the parlements and some putative historical 'constitution' on the other" (Van Kley, 1991: 460). But the new media had ambiguous effects. They were tools for debate, expressed sharp socio-political divisions, spread ideas, and reached large numbers of people, but did not foster direct democracy or social harmony. As compulsory public education further widened the reading public, Napoleonic censorship circumscribed information and ideas. The revolutionary press was crushed and printing technology monopolized by the state. In the mid-term, new technology facilitated control and regulation rather than popular interests or needs (other examples of the effects of the eighteenth-century print revolution were British Wilkite agitation to attract popular support for a campaign against oligarchic rule in the 1760s and the United Irishmen campaign of the 1790s. See Brewer, John. (1981). Party Ideology and Popular Politics at the Accession of George III. Cambridge University Press, and Curtin, Nancy J. (1998). The United Irishmen: Popular Politics in Ulster and Dublin 1791-1798. Oxford: Clarendon Press).

The Internet sparks cultural, social and political optimism and fears in a context in which an "information society" is being self-consciously constructed as a defining narrative over and above other themes (See Bolter and Grushin, 1999). In this light, the Internet is a tool to facilitate information and digitally transpose political "stories" (See Plummer, 1995) that displaces "the question of freedom from a presupposition of and a conclusion to theory to become instead a pretheoretical or nonfoundational discursive preference" (Poster, 1995). Identity in this society is epitomized by sound bites that highlight the electronic construction of reality: "much as image-conscious coverage of political campaigns directs our attention away from the substance toward the packaging and stagecraft, recent accounts of identity emphasize the sense in which we construct, even fabricate ourselves" (Adatto, 1993: 18). Internet narratives thus join a context in which "politics is largely a contest for control of television images" (Adatto: 12). A significant issue then is how insurgency online might inject content (despite inherent class, geographic, linguistic, gender and racial bias) into a highly stylized political culture in which specific issues and contexts are substantively marginalized.

Insurgency online certainly moves marginal organizations closer to the mainstream and resembles Internet communication by conventional groups, but has different ends. Until recently, obtaining information about extremist, radical or illegal opposition groups was even difficult for specialists (when I started research on the French extreme-left group Action directe, my over-riding concern was how to get information on an illegal organization about which few people knew or cared to know anything. It took several months and considerable luck to assemble my research. Groups such as AD now place information about themselves and their activities on the WWW). The Internet now provides extra-legal groups relatively easy access to a wider public, a venue for publicity, and a "marketplace for ideas". Insurgency online is part of a global "boundary crisis" that is altering the conditions for politics and policies. The Internet is a superb public relations tool, means to tell an insurgent story, and way to avoid regulation and control. It enhances insurgents' ability to locate and communicate with like-minded people. A small organization can appear larger, well-financed and well-organized, fabricating a representation of its legitimacy. The MRTA Website provided access to global mass media, allowed better communication with other groups and even drew its ideological enemies closer: "Shining Path's page can be used to access the Web page of its MRTA rival" ("Peruvian Rebels Wage Propaganda War On Internet", 1997). Potential overall results might include stronger self-identification, recruitment and morale building.

Insurgency online is part of a shift from territorial politics to multiple and overlapping authority. Suggestions that politics will be radically transformed to serve individual input or create community should be qualified due to the Internet's newness, limited public, possible regulatory spin-offs, and persistent countervailing tendencies (the Chinese state might actually be strengthening itself. The Indian government's May 1998 nuclear tests and those made by France in 1995 are also signs that globalization might not lead all states to relinquish their sovereignty). Radio and television were also initially seen to herald new individualism and new communities, but greatly enhanced the role of interest groups. Similarly, the Internet's capacity to integrate groups outside the mainstream may be its greatest future impact. The nature of interest articulation to national and international systems ("Referring to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event yesterday demonstrating the use of the Internet as a lobbying tool for communicating with (lobbying) government officials, James Thurber, director of American University's Center for Congressional Studies, says: 'This is an example of the future... The linkage between a direct lobbying effort and the Internet is going to improve the capacity of these large organizations to pressure individual members of Congress to do what they want them to do. With these sites, they can just click an icon, and they have programs that will automatically send a letter to the right members of Congress.'" Washington Post, 18 May 98) will change since players and ideas now

    exist in the power game through and by the media, in the whole variety of an increasingly diverse media system, that includes computer-mediated communication networks. The fact that politics has to be framed in the language of electronically based media has profound consequences on the characteristics, organization, and goals of political processes, political actors, and political institutions (Castells: 476).

The sustainability of insurgent access to a wider public through the Internet is unclear. Insurgency online is now flourishing due to audience fragmentation, eroding national boundaries, increased cynicism about governments, and awareness of trans-national issues such as the environment and human rights. These conditions might be short-term spin-off effects of globalization rather than long-term social transformation. Limited Internet access in most regions of the world suggests that broader political participation is probably not at hand. Computer literacy, network access, educational levels and economic resources would have to increase many times over current levels. Beyond this, other limits exist. The explosion of online information also requires time, energy, and mental effort to sort, filter, interpret, and utilize. Since fragmentation, regulatory breakdown, cynicism and raised consciousness in the French revolution were followed by a universalistic, regulating, and uncritical Napoleonic dictatorship, it is not clear "whether, on balance, communications have served to empower citizens or states" (Bell: 172). Some observers even assert that global communications have "no other meaning but that of binding humankind to a destiny of cerebral automation and mental underdevelopment" (Baudrillard 1997).

Insurgency online changes the conditions of sovereignty. Few insurgents and radical groups want to abolish states (the contents of the Sinn Fein mailing list are a revealing case in point. A main point of discussion over the April 10, 1998 Belfast agreement - assuming participants represent any significant body of opinion within SF - was the possibility that it might undermine the sovereignty of a future united Ireland), which in any case retain capacities to wage war, make peace, are the central goal of many political movements, and remain critical international actors (the July 1997 hand-over of Hong Kong from Great Britain to the People's Republic of China highlights the continued importance of the state. While incorporating Hong Kong into China was in some sense a triumph of a global value of decolonization, the Chinese government portrayed the event as a national victory. The prevailing image is one of increasing complexity). Insurgency online might rather unsettle specific governments and substantiate a new global bipolarity "between abstract, universal instrumentalism, and historically rooted, particularistic identities" (Castells: 3). Given the dynamic nature of human societies, this bipolarity might be subsumed by other organizing principles. Since political discourse has long been mediated by electronic machines, the Internet more concretely changes how interests are expressed: "machines enable new forms of decentralized dialogue and create new combinations of human-machine assemblages, new individual and collective 'voices,' 'specters', 'interactivities' which are the new building blocks of political formations and groupings" (Poster, 1995). The MRTA shows how information and communication are linked to the essence of political conflict: the will to deliver a message. However, insurgency online is part of a shifting narrative, not a meta-narrative of death, destruction and chaos. Continued insurgency online depends on social and electronic conditions since, even more than French revolutionary pamphlets, it might disappear without physical trace.



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MRTA Documents

"How Long Will The Residence Stay Occupied?" (December 24, 1996).

"Is The MRTA's Action Weakening Fujimori?" (December 30, 1996).

"Is A Solution In Lima At Hand?" (March 24, 1997).

"Interview With Victor Polay - 1990"; "Interview With An MRTA Leader, Comandante Andres - January 1991".

"The Lives Of Political Prisoners In Peru Are In Danger!".

"Letter From MRTA Political Prisoners - November 1996".

"Neo-Liberalism And Globalization".

"The Situation Of MRTA Political Prisoners In Peru - May 1996".

"Struggle Against Neo-Liberalism!", MRTA Communiqué.

"What Are The Goals of the Your Embassy Occupation?" (December 19, 1996).


Other Documents

"1997 Report", Reporters Sans Frontières.

"Peru Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998", Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, February 26, 1998.

"Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mr Param Cumaraswamy: Report on the Mission to Peru", Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva, Switzerland, February 19, 1998.



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November 7, 1999.