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Threats from anarchists have Tampa on lockdown ahead of GOP convention

The city of Tampa, Fla., is on virtual lockdown this week as local and federal law enforcement authorities ready for tens of thousands of protesters, politicians and media to swarm the coastal metropolis during the Republican National Convention.

With the Secret Service at the helm, the FBI, the Coast Guard and the military have taken extensive steps to guard against potential terrorist attacks as well as uprisings from anarchists intent on disrupting the five-day event.

“As far as demonstrators, we don’t make estimates or predict what will or will not happen — a part of our planning process is planning for any and all scenarios,” said George Ogilvie, a spokesman for the Secret Service, in an interview with The Hill.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a joint intelligence bulletin this week stating a “high confidence” that anarchist groups are “preparing to use violence and criminal tactics in an attempt to disrupt the Republican National Convention,” according to a copy provided to The Hill.

The city’s police department has bulked up its bike and horse units with a $50-million federal grant, adding more than a dozen all-terrain vehicles to speedily navigate Tampa’s streets if protests get out of control with roving mobs, as they have at previous conventions.

In an effort to extend a visual olive branch, police purchased more neutral-looking khaki uniforms for the roughly 1,000 officers expected to be on duty throughout the week, in hopes that they will appear more approachable and less threatening to demonstrators. Thousands of police from surrounding cities and counties are expected to bolster the local department’s ranks.

Federal officials have shut down a major nearby highway and positioned floating steel-cable barriers in the harbor to stop potential terrorists from launching an attack from the water. Air and water security zones and traffic restrictions have also been put into place, as an armored truck stands at the ready along with the regional bomb squad.

Local and federal officials have looked to past conventions for guidance, especially St. Paul, Minn., in 2008, where more than 700 people were arrested for protesting — nearly 300 on the first day — as some violent demonstrators broke windows and vandalized cars.

Authorities are aiming for a much more peaceful series of protests this week, however, and have established areas and routes near the convention center where protesting will be allowed.

“Working with the city and with the United States Secret Service, we’ll have a designated free speech zone and we’ll be working with them to make sure that’s open and available,” said James Davis, the communications director for the GOP convention.

“And we’ll be having our own freedom to assemble as well. We’re Republicans and believe in the right to free speech. We’ll be exercising that right as we gather to nominate Mitt Romney as our nominee.”

One of the largest rallies is expected to take place on Monday as the “Coalition to March on the RNC” meets at a downtown park about a mile away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum to hold a “peaceful” march in protest of Republican policies on healthcare, education and the economy. Many people from the local and out-of-state Occupy movements are anticipated to take part in that rally.