In the early morning of February 16, 2022, John Sondang Saito alias Tarzan, hurled two Molotov cocktails at a police post in Jatiwarna, Bekasi, West Java. His act of anarchy was an attempt to spread fear among police officers. His actions had limited impacts as not only were there no casualties but also the post was minimally damaged. During his apprehension by public witnesses, indications of his motives were uncovered. He possessed pamphlets protesting environmental exploitation in Indonesia and the excessive use of force by Indonesian security forces. This article discusses how John, currently detained under the Anti-Terrorism Act, became radicalizedand the security impact of anarchist terrorism in Indonesia.
Music as an Initiator for Self-radicalization
John’s journey to anarchism began in 2006 when he was in the third year of junior high school. He listened to anarchist punk bands such as The Exploited and The Casualties, whose lyrics contained anarchist themes. With his interest piqued, he depended on the internet to translate their lyrics and to seek more information on the bands. As the the term “anarchy” was commonly available on the band’s former MySpace pages, he expanded to learning about global anarchist movements. Inspired by the bands’ social and political protests, he also searched for information on social and political issues on MySpace, Friendster, and Facebook. This was when he learned that the Indonesian security forces violated human rights through unlawful killings such as the 1983-1985 Petrus killings, 1984 Tanjung Priok massacre, the 1989 Talangsari incident, and the 1998 Tri Sakti shootings. Aiding his online searches was his employment at an internet café where he he had unlimited internet access.
After three years of extensive research, he yearned to defend Indonesians whom he felt were oppressed by the government. This yearning led him to to share anarchist posts with his friends on his Friendster and Facebook pages. In 2010, he left his Catholic religion, became agnostic and further committed himself to anarchism. This was demonstrated via his numerous anarchy-related tattoos on his arms, fingers, and chest.
In 2018, he visited his village in North Tapanuli, North Sumatra, and found that private companies had seized customary land belonging to his community. He was frustrated at the government’s failure to protect indigenous people’s land and favouring capitalists. His frustration saw him participate in numerous protests including the violent May Day protest of 2018 in Jakarta. As an active participant, he sought to harm police officers by pelting them with rocks. Additionally, with new social media platforms, he reached out to other Indonesian anarchists through Instagram. These new connections further immersed him with perceived injustice in Indonesia and kept him abreast with protest schedules.
Perceived Injustice a Trigger for Action
His decision to escalate his actions stemmed from learning about two perceived injustice, namely the arrest of farmers protesting against mining operations in Wadas Village, Purworejo, Central Java and the killing of a villager protesting a gold mining project in Kasimbar, Parigi Moutong, Central Sulawesi. These incidents in February 2022 made John wanting to avenge the arrests and killing. Set on attacking the police, he learnt to make Molotov cocktails online. Using his own savings, he made two Molotov cocktails and printed two hundred copies of protest pamphlets.
National and Regional Security Concerns
It is troubling that John is not the only anarchist in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. These individuals pose a security concern for several reasons:
1) While most Indonesian anarchists reject violence, anarchist cells across Indonesia are committed to building their capabilities to to attack their enemies, for example mining companies, banks, anti-anarchist politicians, and multinational companies. Based on the author’s data, there have been at least 31 anarchist-related attacks since 2011 excluding John Sondang’s attack.
|S/N||Date||Target(s) of Attack(s)||Modus Operandi||Intent of Attack(s)|
|1||March 22, 2011||A McDonald’s outlet in Makassar, South Sulawesi||Smashing the outlet’s windows with bricks||To protest against mining projects in Kulon Progo, Takalar, and Bima.|
|2||March 25, 2011||BCA ATM in Makassar, South Sulawesi||Arson||To protest against the government’s use of excessive force against farmers.|
|3||April 6, 2011||BCA ATM in Manado, North Sulawesi||Arson||Calls of war against the state due to lack of state reaction to previous protests.|
|4||June 30, 2011||BNI ATM in Bandung||Arson||To protest against mining projects in Kulon Progo, Takalar, and Bima.|
|5||October 7, 2011||BRI ATM in Sleman, Yogyakarta||Arson||To protest against mining projects in Kulon Progo.|
|6||July 30, 2012||BRI Bank ATM in Makassar, South Sulawesi||Arson/Molotov cocktail bombing||To destroy symbols representing capitalism and the funders of mining projects.|
|7||August 23, 2012||Power plant in Kotamobagu, North Sulawesi||Failed detonation of planted incendiary device|
In solidarity with imprisoned anarchists in Yogyakarta (Billy Augustian and Reyhard Rumbayan, the arsonists of BRI ATM in Yogya) and those imprisoned in Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Greece, Argentina, and England.
|8||August 31, 2012||Power plant in Tuminting, North Sulawesi||Failed detonation of planted incendiary device|
In solidarity with imprisoned anarchists in Yogyakarta (Free Billy Augustian and Reyhard Rumbayan, the arsonists of BRI ATM in Yogya) and those imprisoned in Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Greece, Argentina, and England.
|9||September 19, 2012||Mandiri Bank ATM in Makassar, South Sulawesi||Arson/Molotov cocktail bombing||To destroy symbols representing capitalism and the funders of mining projects.|
|10||November 5, 2012||Luxury cars parked at Red Monkey Karaoke Bar in Manado, North Sulawesi||Failed detonation of planted incendiary device||In solidarity with Papuan rebels who were shot by the Indonesian military, with Filipinos who were fighting the SMI-Xstrata’s eco-disaster megaproject, with rebel Greek squators who were evicted and kidnapped by the state, and with anti-fascist fighters around the world who were fighting discrimination and terror.|
|11||November 11, 2012||An elementary schools in Lower Paniki, Manado, North Sulawesi||Arson||In solidarity with the imprisoned anarchists in Yogyakarta (Billy Augustian and Reyhard Rumbayan, the arsonists of BRI ATM in Yogya), Nicola Gai and Alfredo Cospito (members of Conspiracy of Cells of Fire), Theofilos Mavropoulos, Gabriel Pombo da Silva, and Marco Camenisch (members of Revolutionary Struggle), and the imprisoned anarchists in Chile and Bolivia.|
|12||January 5, 2013||A clothing shop belonging to the vice secretary of the Democratic Party in South Sumatra||Arson/Molotov cocktail bombing||In solidarity with the farmers’ struggle in Ogan Kemilir Ilir, with rebels in Papua, with the indigenous communities of Kalimantan, Mentawai, Jambi and Papua, and to protest mining projects on the southern coast of Java.|
|13||January 6, 2013||A car belonging to the vice secretary of the Democratic Party in South Sumatra||Arson||In solidarity with the farmers’ struggle in Ogan Kemilir Ilir, with rebels in Papua, with the indigenous communities of Kalimantan, Mentawai, Jambi and Papua, and to protest mining projects on the southern coast of Java.|
|14||January 14, 2013||Mandiri Bank ATM in Makassar, South Sulawesi||Arson/Molotov cocktail bombing||In solidarity with the farmers’ struggle in Ogan Kemilir Ilir, with rebels in Papua, with the indigenous communities of Kalimantan, Mentawai, Jambi and Papua, and to protest mining projects on the southern coast of Java.|
|15||January 20, 2013||BCA ATM in Makassar, South Sulawesi||Arson/Molotov cocktail bombing||To destroy symbols representing capitalism and the funders of mining projects.|
|16||January 31, 2013||Electrical substations in Jakarta||Sabotage|
|17||February 22, 2013||A shopping complex in North Jakarta||Arson/Molotov cocktail bombing||In solidarity with imprisoned anarchists.|
|18||March 31, 2013||Three buildings belonging to Hamdan Sati, the head of Tamiang district, Aceh||Arson||To protest against the arrest and reeducation of 64 anarcho-punk members in Aceh.|
|19||June 27, 2013||A karaoke bar at Sheraton Hotel in Central Jakarta||Arson||In solidarity with imprisoned anarchists, seeking revenge on perceived enemies and attempting to elicit societal collapse.|
|20||June 29, 2013||A clothing warehouse in West jakarta||Arson||In solidarity with imprisoned anarchists, seeking revenge on perceived enemies and attempting to elicit societal collapse.|
|21||August 20, 2013||Jakarta Institute of Arts||Planted incendiary device which burned the 3rd floor||The school’s artists were perceived to be ‘the puppets of civilisation.’|
|22||August 24, 2013||A police school in Balikpapan||Arson||To seek revenge against “enemies” for infringing their freedom.|
|23||September 24, 2013||CV Fajar Indah, a factory in Bandung producing bullet proof vests for police and army||Arson/Molotov cocktail bombing||To attack on police-associated entities.|
|24||March 6, 2018||A backhoe in a housing construction project||Arson/Molotov cocktail bombing||To protest against the municipal government’s housing project in Bandung, West Java.|
|25||May 1, 2018||A police post in Yogyakarta||Arson/Molotov cocktail bombing||To protest against the construction of Yogyakarta International Airport.|
|26||May 1, 2019||McDonald’s outlet in Makassar, South Sulawesi||Smashing the outlet’s sign boards with wooden sticks||To destroy symbols representing capitalism and the funders of mining projects.|
|27||February 26, 2021||A police post in Palembang, South Sumatra||Arson/Molotov cocktail bombing||In solidarity with imprisoned anarchists overseas.|
|28||May 18, 2021||A state construction company, PT. Waskita Beton Precast Inc corporation in Klaten, Central Java||Arson/Molotov cocktail bombing||In solidarity with those oppressed by the police.|
|29||May 21, 2021||A state construction company, PT. Adhi Karya Persada Construction Division II Palembang, South Sumatra||Arson/Molotov cocktail bombing||In solidarity with those oppressed by the police.|
|30||May 21, 2021||BNI ATM in Palembang, South Sumatra||Arson/Molotov cocktail bombing||In solidarity with those oppressed by the police.|
|31||April 11, 2022||A police post in Pejompongan, West Jakarta||Arson/Molotov cocktail bombing||To protest against the extension of President Jokowi’s term.|
2) Although these attacks have not harmed or killed anyone because the perpetrators only wanted to damage properties, anarchists may change the modus operandi and targets. Noteworthily, Indonesian anarchists remain connected to and inspired by global anarchist communities, such as the Informal Anarchist Federation (FAI), the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), and the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran. These connections facilitate imitation of attack tactics in Indonesia. Additionally, Indonesian anarchists would likely adhere to any calls by these overseas groups to employ more fatal tactics. Indonesian anarchists, particularly those affiliated with the ELF, also seek international attention from their fellow anarchists overseas. Such attention could be garnered by conducting “spectacular” attacks. Such attacks will probably conducted on international events, high rank government and state owned or private company officers.
3) Indonesian anarchists have listed ten state-owned companies and its senior management as targets for their involvement in mining projects and the oppression of farmers. Unless the government provides protection to these companies and its staff, attacks on these companies are probable. Notably, two of these companies were attacked in May 2021.
4) Southeast Asian anarchists have established a strong brotherhood where happenings in one country could trigger an attack in another. For instance, in 2012, the Indonesian government imprisoned two anarchists responsible for burning down an ATM in Sleman, Yogyakarta. To avenge their imprisonment, Filipino anarchists vandalized the wall of the Indonesian Embassy in Manila.
5) As with religiously-motivated violent extremism, the internet is vital for radicalization, capability building and coordination. While there are many online counternarrative initiatives and efforts to disrupt such communications for religiously violent extremism in Indonesia, there have yet to be similar efforts for anarchism.
To prevent future anarchist attacks in Indonesia, it is imperative for the Indonesian government, academicians, and NGOs to consider the following: 1) The Indonesian government and academicians must map out anarchists operating in Indonesia to understand how the anarchists operate and how to deradicalize them. Greater attention should be focused on anarchists in Aceh, South & North Sumatra, Jakarta, West Java, Central Java, East Kalimantan, South Sulawesi, and North Sulawesi because they are most active in these provinces.
2) The Indonesian government and NGOs must design deradicalization programs for anarchists while in detention. Noteworthily, it will be ideal to separate such inmates from those detained for religiously-linked terrorism as there have been precedence of general crimes inmates being radicalized. To reinforce deradicalization, there must be outlets to listen to the grievances of these inmates and facilitate peaceful solutions. As most Indonesian anarchists are young and unemployed, aiding these inmates secure employment post-release. This could help them mature and open up new avenues to solving issues without violence.
3) The government should prioritize peaceful dialogue to solve conflicts mainly triggered by mining-related projects. Peaceful dialogues will prevent providing fodder for anarchists to seek violence. 4) The Indonesian anti-terror police should establish a task force focusing on anarcho-terrorism. This includes the monitoring of anarcho-terrorism movements overseas of the potentiality of Indonesian anarchists imitating overseas attacks.