You might have heard a lot about what an anarchist is. They are often characterized as bomb-chucking radicals, misled idealists, bearded recluses, or politically unsophisticated teenagers. Some of those definitions may be true some of the time. They're also often not true. You're never going to get a straight, reliable, definitive answer to what an anarchist is. To get you off in the right direction, though, here is what an anarchist most definitely is not:
See that kid who just walked out of Jamba Juice in the mall, wearing bondage pants with a circle A patch safety-pinned carefully to the ass pocket? Notice his fuck-the-world swagger. Notice his freshly Elmer's-glued mohawk. He is not an anarchist. He just got his first Sex Pistols album and he thinks "Anarchy in the U.K." is a pretty damn cool song. He wants to tap into the disaffected venom he heard on that track. He wants to be different in a different way. Hot Topic was having a sale on patches. That kid is not an anarchist.
Timothy McVeigh. He bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. He said "The government is continually growing bigger and more powerful, and the people need to prepare to defend themselves against government control" (1). He was anti-government and in favor of a violent means to his preferred end. He killed lots of innocent people. He was executed by lethal injection on June 12, 2001. He was not an anarchist.
Heard of Michael Moore? He directed Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Fahrenheit 9/11. He is very critical of the Bush administration. He wants things to change in the United States. He says hold your nose and vote for Kerry. Anything to get Bush out of office. He's not too into war. He's not a big fan of the right wing, and they're not big fans of him. Michael Moore is a reformist. Michael Moore is not an anarchist.
How about Communists? They are considered to be on the far left of the political spectrum. They generally don't believe in private property. They don't believe in the free market. They believe in sharing. They believe in overthrowing capitalism. They think the proletariat is oppressed by the bourgeoisie. They are into the idea of the state. Communists are not anarchists.
Check out Edward Lorenz. He "invented" this thing called Chaos Theory. He discovered it while trying to figure out how to predict the weather. Yes, Chaos Theory has "chaos" in its name. Do not be confused. Edward Lorenz did not want to smash the state. He wanted the upper-hand in "How about this weather?" conversations. Edward Lorenz was not an anarchist.
That guy you heard on the BART train? He was talking to his friend about how bad this country is. How there's no way in hell he's going to die in Iraq. His eyes were bloodshot, and he smelled of pot. He had a t-shirt on that said "Legalize it." He had dreadlocks. He was a stoner and he was stoned. He made a lot of absurdly obvious criticisms about the government, and said "dude" and "like" and "ya'know?" more times than necessary. He had an upside down American flag on his jacket. He is not an anarchist.
Those people who ran amok in Seattle, San Francisco, Ontario, Genoa, Dublin, Istanbul...? They blocked streets, waved flags, held signs, yelled at cops, smashed windows, peacefully protested, attaced cops, got beaten by cops, chanted stupid slogans, chanted clever slogans, danced naked, sang songs, and cried out for change. Well, some of them were anarchists, but most of them were not anarchists.
Anarchists are a motley crew and hold widely differing views on government, race, gender, religion, and all the other things upon which people disagree. Some of them are young. Some of them are old. Some of them smell bad and look funny. Some of them are indistinguishable from Republicans. Your mom might be one. Things like criminality, insanity, immaturity, and foolishness can not be broadly associated with anarchists. Some anarchists are complete idiots. Many aren't. All this should go without saying. Sadly, it doesn't, and it seems most people are sorely misinformed on what anarchy is, and who anarchists are. Now you know who they aren't. Are you interested in who they are?
People who are (ostensibly) anarchists:
P.S. - I'm anxiously awaiting finding out which of my radical ideas have already occurred to others. :)