A Critique of Masked Movements

By Derrick Broze

Let’s 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, former antifa organizer and author of the upcoming Setting Sights: Histories and Reflections on Community Armed Self Defense. “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 individuals who arrive in black bloc gear. How can we expect other activists 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, while the purpose of the tactic is to protects ones identity, it also comes with risk.

“There is a real danger of masking up while in the moments of conflict , not only from law enforcement , but also the possibility of hidden white nationalist who infiltrate to cause disruption or to make antifa conflicts worse,” crow told AP. “We have seen it online with fake antifa sites calling for fake violence.”
The desire to protect ones identity is 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.
“There is always a cost benefit analysis that needs to be assessed before any strategy or tactic is used,” crow warned. “These questions have to be answered by those participating in the streets at any given time, and sometimes its absolutely necessary and infiltration does happen.”

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.

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.

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 for ActivistPost.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 [email protected]

This article may be freely reposted in part or in full with author attribution and source link.

Image Credit: Pixabay


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13 Comments on "A Critique of Masked Movements"

  1. You lost me at “Activists concerned with Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric”…. Maybe you meant to say Trump’s anti-ILLEGAL immigrant rhetoric? I don’t think President Trump has any problem with LEGAL immigrants.

  2. You lost me at “Alt-Right.” That was a manifestation of the “Left.” The Alt-Right is a hijacked movement of conservative and Republican types who were pigeon-holed and shoeboxed into a term and co-opted by the phony Right, just as the Tea Party movement was. What we end up seeing is a phony false left-right paradigm. The usual garbage. People would do well to steer clear.

    • “pigeon-holed, shoeboxed and co-opted”

      It all sounds perversely sexual to me.

      ” People would do well to steer clear.” – Best damned advice I’ve heard in several years!

  3. Vlad TheSkewerer | August 25, 2017 at 5:43 am | Reply

    So…wanting to secure borders that have been paid for in blood is now racist huh. But then again, this comes from folks who believe all whites are racists but whites who lived when slavery openly existed fought a civil war to end slavery.

    • That wasn’t the reason for the Civil War. Even when it was suggested, New York held its first race riot. That was more of a battle of tarriffs (the south would have lost on the deal, while the north would have come out on top) and the shifting economic landscape into industrialism vs agrarianism. This entire country was racist and nobody cared about blacks, natives, chinese, irish, etc. Lincoln did not care at all about the slave situation and his emancipation had as much legal force as Zimbabwe writing our laws. Though they could if they paid our legislators enough scratch. That war is deliberately mis-taught. As are all our wars. Social movements. Anything you can think of actually.

      • Vlad TheSkewerer | August 25, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Reply

        Big fan of Thomas Dilorenzo’s “The Real Lincoln” and agree totally, I think you misinterpreted what I wrote.

        • You should also read DiLorenzo’s follow up book, “Lincoln Unmasked.” DiLorenzo had so much material from the first book that he did not use that he got a whole second book out of it. Lincoln was truly an evil p&[email protected]

  4. All this wailing about protesters masking, and not one word about swat teams and other heavily armoured cops wearing masks. You dress like a stormtrooper, you should get treated like one.

    • That’s what I’m talking about. You want to hide your humanity behind a mask? Then don’t be surprised when you’re treated as the sub-human trash that you are.

      They mainly wear the masks to hide their demon possession anyway. Anonymity is just a convenient perk for them.

  5. Despite his protest of not taking sides, the overall tone of the article seems noticeably slanted to the Left…with more than a hint of anti-Government sentiment stirred in.

    As for the masks? Let ’em keep them. It makes target identification and acquisition that much easier. And we all know that’s where this is headed eventually. Until then, it’s all just a bunch of lip flapping to pass the time while we wait for the inevitable.

  6. Your criticism is well taken and shows that such masked individuals are anathema to a Western democracy. We older individuals grew up with Western movies where the bad guys were always masked with their bandanas and we instinctively knew they were criminals when we saw the masks. That is also one of the main reasons to oppose the full Female Muslim garment that masks the individual inside of it. Such apparel is contrary to our beliefs about the equality of the sexes and the openness of Western society.

  7. I think both sides are funded by the same people.

  8. Free Man (NOT) | August 25, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Reply

    I find it interesting that in many states it is illegal for an adult to wear a mask in public.
    Even as far back as the 1950’s growing up outside New Orleans it was true.
    These clowns should be given the choice: Remove the mask or be arrested.

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