DENVER - They adopted a bold name - Re-create 68 - promising a protesters' show of force like in Chicago 40 years ago when the Democratic National Convention comes to Denver in August.
But the Denver-based umbrella coalition ranging from anarchists to environmentalists has fractured in recent months. Prominent activists have split with Re-create 68 over its incendiary rhetoric and, according to some, its refusal to endorse nonviolent protest.
"My understanding was that there was some resistance to really settling on a commitment to non-violence," said Dana Balicki, whose group, Codepink, joined a new protest coalition for the convention.
Re-create 68 appeared shortly after Denver's selection as convention host. On its Web site, the group once vowed its protests here would make the 1968 clashes with police in Chicago "look like a small get-together."
The war in Iraq, government infringement of civil liberties and the environment dominated its message. The coalition once included Tent State University, a student organization that began at Rutgers University demanding that war funding be channeled to education, and Troops Out Now, a New York-based group.
Re-create 68 has since sought to tone down its rhetoric to appease would-be allies and critics. Its Web site has been edited to emphasize its members are drawing from the "optimism" of the 1968 protesters.
Co-founder Mark Cohen says the group's mission always was to "recreate" the spirit of political activism of the 1960s. The group says it opposes violence but reserves the right to "self-defense" during the Aug. 25-28 convention.
That hasn't stopped a dozen activist organizations from leaving its umbrella and forming a second protest coalition called the Alliance for Real Democracy. It includes Codepink, Students for Peace and Justice and Tent State University, among others.
Claire Ryder, a member of the Denver Green Party, said she attended some Re-create 68 meetings but now refuses to talk about them. Duke Austin of Boulder-based Students for Peace and Justice also declined to comment. So, too, did Codepink organizer Zoe Williams.
"We wish them the best," said Glenn Spagnuolo, Re-create 68's most prominent spokesman, who calls the protesters' rift a creation of the mainstream news media.
Unity dominated a recently weekly meeting of Recreate 68 in the basement of a Denver coffee shop. "Love is free will. Enter with luv," read a sign as organizers discussed convention preparations, including the topic, "Be positive: R68 is not exclusionary - we are working with everyone."
A former New Yorker, Spagnuolo, 37, has participated in heated Columbus Day parade protests in Denver. Many local residents oppose celebrating a man they say helped introduce centuries of oppression of Native Americans.
Spagnuolo also gained attention for supporting the free speech rights of University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, who triggered national outrage over an essay equating some Sept. 11 victims to Nazi Adolf Eichmann.
Re-create 68 has been at the forefront of efforts to get protest permits from the city, and is pressing officials to release information about police plans to handle demonstrations during the convention. The American Civil Liberties Union represents the group and 13 other plaintiffs.
It plans a large anti-war rally on the eve of the convention and at least 10,000 people for daily demonstrations addressing political prisoners, civil rights violations, immigrant rights, the environment and racism.
Sen. Barack Obama's historic candidacy didn't affect planning, Spagnuolo said.
"We firmly support the idea of a black president. That's a racial step forward," he said. "But we don't applaud what Obama stands for or what he's done the last couple of years. The only thing now is that imperialism has a black face instead of a white one."
But Re-create's rhetoric - and a plan to levitate the Denver Mint - can overshadow its efforts to pry information from the city.
"The DNC is setting up a very dangerous situation," Spagnuolo warned when the Denver convention host committee won a permit to use Civic Center park for a convention event. Re-create 68 insisted park permits go to groups not affiliated with the convention.
Spagnuolo warned the Democrats would be to blame if things "blow up." He later explained that people participating in Re-create 68 demonstrations nearby could spill over to Civic Center park and that he wasn't implying there would be violence.
"When they make a statement like that, we just can't ignore it. We have to prepare for the worst," said Charlie Brown, a Denver City councilman and one of Re-create 68's most outspoken critics.
Brown said the group puts Denver police in a "no-win" situation where they'll be criticized if they respond aggressively and if they take a laid-back approach.
Brown also criticized the group for being "selective" about First Amendment rights, noting its protests of the Columbus Day parade.
"They basically hate America, they hate both political parties, they hate capitalism, you can go down the list," Brown said. "Their real goal is to make it so bad here that no American city will ever want to host a convention."
Re-create 68's preparations include an attempt to encircle and levitate the Denver U.S. Mint and shake the money out to spread the wealth - a nod to Abbie Hoffman and protesters who tried to levitate the Pentagon in 1967.
"I think that everybody has a little bit of magic inside them and if we combine our energies, who knows what could happen," Spagnuolo said.