The group of young men detained in Quebec City on charges of attempting to wreak violence at the Summit of the Americas belong to an underground collective called the Mouvement Germinal, a name inspired by a novel by Émile Zola that deals with workers' fight against evil capitalist bosses.
Some of the group's members have embraced the trappings of popular revolutionary struggles: photos and flags honouring Quebec's sovereignty struggle.
But associates say the seven men in their early 20s are hardly the band of violent plotters police have portrayed. The group, which includes a Canadian Forces reservist and a former soldier, is mainly made up of idealistic university students who went to Quebec City determined to pierce the notorious chain-link fence corralling the summit site.
Apparently inspired by lofty literary ideas, they were determined to meet police force with force of their own.
"Their intention was to break down the wall and hurt no one," said Philippe Leclerc, the head of a large student association at the University of Quebec in Montreal, who knows several of the members.
"They see it as a wall around democracy and they wanted to free democracy. If there hadn't been a wall, there would never have been an action like this."
He accused police of turning the young men into "martyrs" and "political prisoners," using them to justify the multimillion-dollar security budget for the summit. The police's splashy press conference to announce the arrests recalled the cynical Hollywood movie about political manipulation, Wag the Dog, he said.
"It's a big fear campaign."
Six Montreal-area residents, aged 20 to 23, were arrested this week with an arsenal of smoke grenades, shields and baseball bats that police say were to be used at the summit. A seventh man, Pierre-David Habel, 21, turned himself in to Ste. Foy police late Wednesday night and was arraigned Thursday.
The man alleged in an interview with Montreal's Le Devoir newspaper before he turned himself in that his group was set up by an undercover agent. Police said they would not comment on their investigation methods.
The group is believed to have obtained its arsenal from members who have belonged to the army reserve. At least two pieces of the seized equipment are readily available to reservists for military-training exercises.
Smoke grenades, commonly used for training practice, emit a smokescreen. So-called thunder flashes are diversionary tools that give off a loud bang, similar to a firecracker. They're meant to simulate grenade explosions by causing a flash of light and loud noise. Their effect can be to disorient opponents, but they are considered harmless, Lieutenant Richard Langlois, a spokesman for the National Defence Department, said.
Lt. Langlois said that the equipment is lent to reservists for training on an honour system, and pieces may be stolen. "These are things unfortunately that happen. We keep control as much as possible."
A spokeswoman for Le Mouvement Germinal said the group was created specifically for the Summit of the Americas about five months ago and now consists of about 15 members, and the seven arrested constitute half of the membership.
"We began with the principle of self-defence," said the spokeswoman, who declined to identify herself. "The police are using very strong means against the protesters. We said to ourselves, 'We can't arrive there empty-handed.'
"But there was never a question of hurting anyone. It was a point of honour."
In a press release issued by the group Thursday, it described itself as a "political self-defence movement," based on the principle of facing the force of police on equal footing.
"Our struggle has pitted us against the thugs of the State," the statement said. "To effectively resist ... organized force, it's necessary to also organize civil self-defence. That is where the spirit of the Mouvement Germinal was born."
Yanik Sévigny, a lawyer for six of the accused, said the RCMP's claims about his clients have been wildly exaggerated. "They [police]wanted to make a big show," he said. "They're making them out to be worse than they really are."
Charges against the men include conspiracy to commit mischief and possession of explosive substances. They are to spend the weekend in jail near Quebec City and appear in court on Monday.