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Brooklyn Revolutionaries: Urban Guerrillas or Paper Tigers?

November 13, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ They spoke of revolution, and stockpiled rifles, grenades, shotguns and other weapons. But mostly, members of the Provisional Party of Communists shuffled paper at their Brooklyn hideout.

After a police crackdown on the cult-like group, experts said its members were all talk, headed by leaders who kept them mired in paperwork and used weapons as props.

``This was a parody of a left-revolutionary group,″ said Chip Berlet, an analyst studying totalitarian movements at Political Research Associates in Cambridge, Mass.

Founded on Long Island by labor organizer Eugenio Perente-Ramos, the association had a small but loyal following on both coasts, according to organizations that track cults. Perente-Ramos died last year.

Police rounded up 35 men and women Tuesday and seized an arsenal and piles of documents Sunday and Monday from the group’s turn-of-the-century rowhouse headquarters. Only five suspects were charged, three of them on weapons offenses.

Neighbors said the suspects occupied five apartments in five connected rowhouses and and engaged in odd, secretive behavior, such as carrying boxes and silver plastic bags in and out and doing house repairs at all hours.

The weapons apparently were used mostly as props, to convince followers they were part of a revolutionary group, Berlet said. In reality, followers spent most days in a bureaucracy of forms, reports and meetings.

``This is not a group with a history of violence,″ Berlet said.

Among the items seized were two yellowed, hand-drawn organizational charts listing a ``Presidium of Politburo″ and ``Committee of Responsibility.″

Leaders built a ``paper empire″ and kept members typing, filing and filling out forms for up to 20 hours a day, said Jeff Whitnack, a respiratory therapist who was a member of the National Labor Federation _ one of the group’s aliases _ in the early 1980s.

The FBI had raided the same rowhouses in 1984 in a weapons investigation that fizzled. After that, the group caused no trouble. An anonymous child abuse complaint led police this week to discover the group’s cache of weapons, including a submachine gun in a viola case.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said that the ragtag arsenal was capable of mass destruction and that the group ``was arming itself for something.″

Experts painted a less menacing portrait, saying the group attracted young idealists who want to belong to an elite ``cadre of revolutionaries.″

They described the Provisional Party of Communists as an aimless cult formed in the 1970s by a former disc jockey. It claims 200 members nationwide, and has used scores of aliases, including the National Labor Federation and the Eastern Farm Workers Association.

The Brooklyn group prized privacy, its members even using aliases when dealing with neighbors. They said they were the buildings’ ``supers.″

``They were always very nocturnal, unpacking things off of trucks, vans in the middle of the night,″ said one tenant, Jhonn Puente.

Some tenants described being awakened by clicking typewriters and ranting speeches. Others wondered what the fuss was about.

``They seemed very nice to me. They didn’t bother us,″ said George Lamont, who lived in one of the buildings for 30 years. He added: ``They didn’t seem like radicals.″

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