Let’s put our feelings aside for a moment and take a critical look at the strategy of wearing masks or covering your face during protests.
This essay is meant to be critical of activists – from the political left and right – who choose to wear masks, bandanas, and other face coverings designed to provide anonymity. This essay will not get into the specific faults and weaknesses of the groups involved, but rather pose questions and concerns to these activist groups and the public at large. We will be focusing on the efforts of the Alt-Right and the Anti Fascist Action (also known as Antifa) who oppose them.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s (s)election as President of the United States, we have seen a revival of Anti Fascist and Anti Racist groups. Activists concerned with Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric feared the new president would stoke the flames of the racists and bigots who for years have been forced to hide in the darkest corners of American life. Despite the reports from the corporate media, this tactic is not new and has historical roots. Since at least the 1930s, anti-fascists and anti-racists took the streets of Europe to fight actual fascists. In America 2017, the Antifa activities have tended to focus on pro-Donald Trump rallies, freedom of speech rallies, and the growing American Alt-Right.
The Alt-Right itself is a varied movement that includes conservatives who are sick of mainstream politics, traditionalists, ethnonationalists and supremacists, former anarcho-capitalists, and outright National Socialists. Some of these individuals found their way to this movement after growing tired of what they see as incessant and unnecessary focus on identity politics and political correctness in the form of language policing. Others are blatantly hateful and racist who would gladly use violence and force to enact their ethnostate, should they be given (or seize) power. This is why left-wing anarchists and socialists from across the U.S. have begun organizing counter-rallies and marches, and in some cases using initiatory violence to stop the Alt-Right from holding events and giving speeches.
The corporate media has struggled to clearly define who or what Antifa represents. The New York Post recently released an opinion piece titled, “Fighting Nazis doesn’t make ‘antifa’ the good guys.”
“In these tribal times, the impulse to support anyone who shares your enemies is powerful. But it’s a morally stunted reflex. This is America. You’re free to denounce totalitarians wherever you find them — even if they might hate the right people,” writer Jonah Goldberg explains.
CNN attempted to explain the movement by interviewing scott crow, a former Antifa organizer and anarchist author based in central Texas. “I fought (against) Nazis. I’ve had death threats. I’ve had guns drawn on me. I’ve drawn guns on fascists,” crow told CNN. “I’ve been in altercations. I’ve smoke-bombed places,” he said. “I’ve done a myriad of things to try and stop fascism and its flow over the years.” crow is someone who is extremely familiar with the tactics of Antifa and continues to support the efforts to fight Nazis and white supremacy. (Full disclosure: scott crow is a personal friend.)
Personally, I do not support or condone the calls for white supremacy or nationalism. At this point in time, I also do not support calls for preemptive violence. Finally, I also believe there is reason to suspect that the brewing conflict and media obsession with a couple hundred racists is part of a larger plan to engineer division in the United States. (More on that in my next article) However, these groups do exist. They are made up of living and breathing individuals. Both sides continue to stage protests and counter protests and engage in battle in the streets. These groups are not going anywhere any time soon so we might as well understand them. Even further, those who choose to pick a side need to be willing to examine both sides critically.
Antifa’s typical approach is to employ “Black Bloc,” a tactic that involves wearing all-black clothing. As I reported for Mint Press News, “although the black bloc tactic has been used as a legitimate way for protesters to shield their identities from law enforcement, it has also been exploited by law enforcement.”
In response, the counter protesters (which often include those on the right concerned with free speech and the aforementioned racists and supremacists) have begun gearing up for battle. The right-wing protesters have begun to don masks and shields. They say this is only done in defense of the violence from Antifa. Either way, we end up with a situation where both sides are masked, dressed for conflict, and fighting in the streets. Not only is this rarely effective in changing anyone’s mind, but it also creates the potential for infiltration and provocateurs.
scott crow has direct experience of the danger of infiltration of activist groups. He was formerly friends and allies with Brandon Darby, the current managing director and editor-in-chief of Breitbart Texas. In the early 2000s, Darby was a prominent activist around the Austin community and worked with scott crow in the early days of the Common Ground Collective’s relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Darby’s story has been covered extensively in articles and in two documentaries, Informant and Better This World, which detail his role helping the FBI arrest young activists David McKay and Bradley Crowder during the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. Two months later, Darby admitted his involvement with the feds. “The simple truth,” he wrote on Indymedia.org, “is that I have chosen to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
The news shook the Texas activist community and caused many to question the role Darby played influencing McKay’s and Crowder’s decision. Exact details as to when Darby became an informant for the FBI are murky, but we know that by early 2007 he had begun providing the bureau with details on possible acts of violence. Darby has since gone on to become a celebrated hero to some and a traitor to many more. Despite crow and other activists’ close relationship to Darby they were unable to stop the infiltration.
When Antifa or ARA issue a call for countering racists they are often inundated with a large number of random individuals who arrive in black bloc gear. How can we expect other activists who are working under the Antifa or anti-racist banner who employ the black bloc tactic (including masks) to successfully identify and remove possible provocateurs and infiltrators? As scott crow points out, the purpose of the tactic is to protects ones identity. “People put on the masks so that we can all become anonymous, right? And then, therefore, we are able to move more freely and do what we need to do, whether it is illegal or not,” he told CNN.
This is completely understandable, but it also opens the door to infiltrators who only desire to initiate chaos and violence without any purpose or message. Police masquerading as black bloc activists have been exposed at the 2001 G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy, and at protests in 2007 in Quebec, and police posed as activists to infiltrate the Occupy movement. Law enforcement isn’t the only institution going undercover to infiltrate activist groups. Corporate entities also have a history of attempting to spy on peaceful, law-abiding activists. A 2013 report by the Center for Corporate Policy found that a large number of corporations are hiring former law enforcement, CIA, NSA, FBI, and military employees to act as spies.
We must also consider the infiltration of the right-wing groups, especially the more extreme racist and supremacist groups. While some on the Internet believe the entire Charlottesville march was a product of paid protesters, we do not have to imagine the entire rally to be fake to understand the danger of provocateurs. As the Alt-Right and their supporters begin to don masks and helmets it is likely that police or private actors will infiltrate for their own purposes.
It is also not only these two masked groups who face infiltration. The online hacker collective Anonymous has seen and felt the repercussions of the FBI’s hand. The most publicized incident involved the hacker Sabu, aka Hector Xavier Monsegur. Ironically, when the Anonymous collective brings their protests from the Internet to the streets, their supporters also wear masks.
I am not necessarily calling for all those who practice these tactics to reveal themselves. I am simply trying to pose an important question: How can we as activists and organizers prevent infiltration and provocateurs while also protecting our anonymity? Practicing a culture of security and only working with people you can completely trust are great starting points. Don’t share your protest plans publicly when possible and only communicate face to face, away from computers and phones. Beyond that, it’s up to each individual and every community to decide how to police these weaknesses.
Lastly, I would like to make it clear that I do not support the actions of the racists, bigots, supremacists, and fascists. I also do not support or desire for the extreme left, statist-communists to take the upper hand and wield the power of the State. I fear the rise of hate and I fear the loss of free political speech. While there are always consequences for one’s chosen speech, I fear that attacking the opinions of bigots will pave the way to attacking anyone with a different opinion. As I have noted before, we need to unite against the authoritarian right and left.
Derrick Broze is an investigative journalist and liberty activist. He is the Lead Investigative Reporter forActivistPost.com and the founder of the TheConsciousResistance.com. Follow him on Twitter. Derrick is the author of three books: The Conscious Resistance: Reflections on Anarchy and Spirituality and Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion, Vol. 1 and Finding Freedom in an Age of Confusion, Vol. 2
Derrick is available for interviews. Please contact Derrick@activistpost.com
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Contributed by Derrick Broze of www.activistpost.com.