At last week's hearing called by St. Paul City Council Member Dave Thune, we heard what's become the standard story line on police conduct during protests at the Republican National Convention. Critics would have us believe that thousands of earnest grandmas -- paragons of Minnesota Nice -- gathered peacefully in St. Paul throughout the convention to exercise their First Amendment rights.

Sure, there were a handful of bad apples -- black-clad anarchists who broke a few store windows. But police should have targeted them and left the peace-loving folks alone, insist critics.

In leftist la-la land, anarchists apparently huddle in little groups, holding high their Molotov cocktails for easy identification while calling out, "Over here, officer. We're the ones you're looking for."

Law enforcement officials have to act in the real world. At a news conference last week, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher described Sept. 1, the day of the biggest protest march, as "eight hours of chaos and mayhem."

In some cases, police officers found it difficult to distinguish anarchists from other participants in the march, which lawbreakers used as cover, said Fletcher in an interview. Some so-called peaceful protesters hindered police who were seeking to arrest anarchists.

Law enforcement challenges were compounded by the fact that the leaders of the legal march facilitated, and effectively condoned, the anarchist mayhem.

Protest activity at the convention was coordinated by two main groups. The first, an umbrella organization called the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, organized the legal march on Sept. 1. The second, a self-described anarchist group called the RNC Welcoming Committee, orchestrated the illegal activity and violence.

The coalition didn't explicitly advocate violence. But its leaders operated in coordination with groups that did, and sometimes worked directly with them.

Early in the protest planning process, the RNC Welcoming Committee made clear that it intended to use illegal, paramilitary guerrilla tactics to shut down the convention and disrupt the Twin Cities.

Months ago, the coalition declared its support for anarchist tactics, including "blockades" and "direct action." Coalition leaders joined with the RNC Welcoming Committee and other protest groups in endorsing "principles of unity," or "the St. Paul Principles," in which organizations that planned to protest on Sept. 1 pledged their "solidarity."

These principles appear on both the coalition's and the RNC Welcoming Committee's websites. By endorsing them, coalition leaders committed themselves to "respect for diversity of tactics and the plans of other groups."

"We have worked for common ground," the principles stated, "... to ensure that our various projects work in concert, with a commitment to ensure no one's plans are disrupted or undermined by fellow protesters."

While the principles provided that various protest groups' "actions and tactics" -- legal and illegal -- would be "organized to maintain a separation of time or space," signers agreed not to criticize any other group's tactics.

They also agreed to oppose any surveillance or infiltration of other groups by law enforcement, and vowed "not to assist law enforcement actions against activists and others."

Early in the protest planning process, anarchist groups announced their intention to encircle the Xcel Energy Center on the convention's opening day. Their goal was to prevent delegates from entering or leaving the building, and to use "swarm, seize, stay" tactics to bring the convention to a halt.

When the coalition applied for a permit to march on Sept. 1, it sought -- intentionally or unintentionally -- a route and time that would have facilitated the anarchists' plans. St. Paul officials expressed concerns about the coalition's request for a route that encircled the Xcel, and proposed an alternative. In response, the coalition launched a court battle. The judge echoed the city's concerns about encirclement, and approved a route that approached the convention site at only one point.

On Sept. 2, the day after the march, coalition leaders expressed their "solidarity" with anarchist actions by calling a joint news conference with the RNC Welcoming Committee and other groups to "denounce police repression and brutality, and discuss plans for continuing protests planned for the week of the RNC."

The coalition's press release also "condemned police raids" on anarchist sites, which had uncovered instruments of mayhem ranging from devices for disabling buses to the components of Molotov cocktails, according to the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.

Throughout the Republican National Convention, Twin Cities law enforcement officials faced daunting challenges. Though preemptive raids undercut anarchists' ability to wreak havoc, rioters were able to smash store and car windows, block intersections, attack delegate buses, slash tires and assault officers.

If police had not stopped the anarchists before nightfall on Sept. 1, according to Fletcher, "this town would have been destroyed."

Those who provided cover for the thugs who tried to shut down our cities shouldn't be bellyaching about police mistreatment. They should be ashamed.

Katherine Kersten • 612-673-1774 Join the conversation at my blog,