The violent protests we’re witnessing in Toronto this weekend are, to my mind, alternate versions of what might have been in Vancouver during the Olympics. There were plenty of protests in those three weeks, but they rarely turned violent, and were contained with a surprisingly light hand by Vancouver’s police forces (augmented by the RCMP and military).
In Vancouver, there were a handful of Black Bloc protesters. The Black Bloc is, to my understanding, a loose affiliation of anarchists. There’s a good background piece in the Globe and Mail:
The Black Bloc strategy is this: show up at large demonstrations and attack symbols of capitalism. The hope is that police will react, while the protesters shed their black clothes and melt into the crowd.
“It’s more of a philosophy or an approach, or actually I suppose the most accurate term is an extreme sport,” said security expert John Thompson, of the Mackenzie Institute, a think-tank based in Toronto…
The tactic has been around since the 1980s, and images of the aggressive protesters were captured during the 1999 World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Seattle.
Since then, the Black Bloc has been present at almost every world event, smashing, breaking and destroying stores, vehicles and anything else they come upon.
Neutralizing the Black Bloc
They’re cowardly thugs who obscure their faces and seek to disrupt conventional, non-violent protest. In doing so, they draw media attention away from the core issues being contested, and paint all protesters as aggressive, aimless hoodlums. While the media was focusing on five or six hundred protesters arrested, they didn’t spend much time on the 25,000-strong peaceful protest.
How would a group of private citizens nullify these delinquents? As I understand it, they seek media attention through violent confrontation with police. What tactics could regular people apply to prevent those confrontations from occurring? Some kind of human shield in-between the Black Bloc and police? And human shields around the stores they target? Non-violence in the face of thuggery?
Or maybe the right approach is to confront them violently, with a more organized force, with the single purpose of removing their masks and revealing their identities? Once you identify them, you turn that information over to the police, and run a kind of shaming campaign against them online?
Perhaps the right approach is to infiltrate the group long before the actual events, and to try to ‘game’ their organizational efforts–using misinformation and sabotage to neuter their actions?
On a related note, Sam took some nice photos of the damage done to Toronto stores.