How To Nullify the Cowardly Black Bloc?

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.

UPDATE: Here’s are some more G20 photos from Sam and The Big Picture blog.


  1. Darren, I completely agree with you that those who resort to using Black Bloc tactics (not really an affiliation at all, but more of a combat fashion statement) ruin it for the 20,000+ other protesters trying to get their peaceful messages out to the world.

    However, while your ideas on how to deal with them are well intended, I think they’re misguided. Police already infiltrate & subvert protests groups in Canada, including peaceful ones. There have been documented cases where the police have gone so far as to instigate violence disguised as protesters, such as the infamous Montebello incident a few years ago:

    While I like your idea of the human shield, today in Toronto showed that riot police are willing to attack even peaceful protesters:

    And as for dealing with the Black Bloc with violent/aggressive tactics… well, violence just begets more violence at the end of the day.

    I’m not sure what the right solution is here (apart from trying to convince the media to ignore them, since it’s attention that they crave the most). What angers me though is that at the end of the day, the actions of these few violent protesters will be used as a justification for the summit’s billion-dollar security budget. Now that’s a damn injustice.

    1. I’m afraid that, if you believe it’s a good idea for world leaders to meet periodically (and I do), and the Black Bloc types exist (which they do), it seems like security will be a big-ticket item.

      Darren is sage in pointing out the Battle in Seattle as the key event: after Seattle, the security budgets skyrocketed, as that was seen as just a little too close.

      It’s not clear to me that there’s a winning scenario at this point: the Black Bloquistes are getting exactly what they want: a police response.

      That doesn’t mean this is the wrong response: they’re running through cities breaking things, and they’re not shy about it.

      In my opinion, the peaceful protestors are the ones who lose out the most: the police can be the police, and that’s pretty much all they need to do. The BBs get to be on TV, and demonstrate that they are uncontrollable.

      The peaceful marchers get burned by their violent fellow travelers. The solution is brutally simple: if you want to hold a telegenic, peaceful protest, you’d better be prepared to expel troublemakers. There may not be much trust or an obvious alliance, but committed protestors should probably reach out to the police regarding how to combat their common enemy.

      I’m too prone to simplifying social issues into familial analogies, but if you’re having a party and your drunk uncle keeps kicking over the neighborhood mailboxes, you first tell him to cut it out, then you get his two brothers to quietly tell him you’re going to call the cops if he doesn’t settle down and let them take him home, and if that doesn’t work you call the cops.

  2. Hey Darren,

    My first encounter with the term “Black Bloc” was a few hours ago when Boston’s Big Picture put up some pictures of the G20 protests.

    A quick search later, and Wikipedia has answers:

    The third paragraph is why I’m pointing the Wikipedia article out:
    “‘The Black Bloc’ is sometimes incorrectly reported as being the name of a specific anarchist group. It is, rather, a tactic that may be adopted by groups of various motivations and methods.”

    1. Thanks for that. I do think it’s reasonable to describe them as ‘a loose affiliation of anarchists’. I don’t think they’re, like, terrorist cells or anything, but there must be some degree of organization which occurs ahead of time.

  3. Attention is the oxygen, so if you can cut that off then they wouldn’t be as motivated to extreme tactics.

    But, that’s not going to happen. The media adores these people for the drama, the police adore them for the numerous justifications of new weapons in crowd control and surveillance, and the government loves them to show how they’re keeping us safe from the wolves among us. They’ll never be ignored so long as they serve multiple financial and state interests, which they do famously.

  4. I can’t help but think that these ‘black bloc’, so-called protesters represent a much more common and destructive aspect of the Canadian and indeed International left. These tactics have been a part of the left for more than a century.

    The CBC did a report on these thugs last week, wherein they interview several of the ‘anarchists’, some admittedly in favor of violent actions, some not. The ones, who said they were not in favor of violent protests, were also very clear that they ‘understood’ the violent tendencies and anger. The CBC reporter allowed this justification to go completely unchallenged.

    Excuse me, understood? I cannot imagine what the political and media response would be in Canada if violent protests against abortion were to take place, but I am sure no level of ‘understanding’ from non-violent anti-abortion activists would be tolerated on television news reports.

    For example, if you watch U.S. mainstream media coverage of the Tea Party protests (which have never turned violent), the people are portrayed as racists, bigots, hate mongers and dangerous. None of this is true about these people, yet there have been numerous cases of SEIU members, Black Panthers, and other leftist organizations engaging in violence not only against property, but against people. Where’s the outrage?

  5. That is correct. Fox News and the majority of Talk Radio hosts portray the Tea Party movement in a positive light, in many cases, a very positive light. On the other hand, NBC, MSNBC, ABC, CBS CNN, most newspapers, weekly newsmagazines, as well as public schools, colleges, and even members of the Obama Administration regularly depict Tea Partiers in an extremely negative way.

    There is no question the U.S. is very divided at the moment. However, from Stalin to Mao to Castro, violence is a historical and inseparable part of the left. The left wants revolution, not improvement.

    1. I provided evidence of my claims regarding Fox News. Can you do the same for some of the sources you mentioned?

      To say that “violence is a historical and inseparable part of the left” is simply inaccurate. You referred to Mao, Stalin and Castro, but failed to mention Ghandi, Mandela, Havel and the Dalai Lama. Are these not leaders of non-violent revolutions?

      Let me turn your final statement around: the Right wants stasis, not improvement (consider, for example, the American South during the Civil War). I think both are a pretty oversimplified analyses of the political landscape.

  6. MSNBC: Keith Olbermann on a daily basis attacks the Tea Party supporters as racist, bigots and dangerous. CNN’s Anderson Cooper is the one who coined the phrase ‘tea bagger’ Newsweek’s Joe Klein referred to Glenn Beck as a modern day Father Coughlin, conservative speakers such as David Horowitz, (the lovely) Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter have to travel with body guards when visiting universities.
    I believe that the right does want improvement, just not at the cost of an ever expanding government. But I admit that’s a matter of opinion, not fact. You & I will disagree on that and that’s okay.
    Your mention of the American South during the civil war doesn’t quite equate to today as current left/right; Democrat/Republican divides didn’t necessarily apply back then. It was the Democratic Party who supported slavery and the Whigs (who later became Republicans) who supported abolition. It was only in the early 1960’s when the Democratic Party endorsed Civil rights. That’s why the recently deceased Senator Robert Byrd (a former high ranking Klansman) was a lifelong Democrat and why former Senator Strom Thurmond left the Democrats to become a Dixiecrat before reforming his views on race relations and turning Republican.
    To be clear, both sides have historical examples of racism and violence. What I said in my previous post was an over simplification. No party, group or individual has a monopoly on being good or evil. Even Gandhi’s suggestion that the Jews not forcibly resist the Nazis didn’t work out too well.
    My point, is to put fourth my belief that in Western countries, in 2010, there are no right-of-center equivalents to the leftists who promote, engage in and justify ‘violent resistance’ on a scale that is comparable, and if there were, the media and political class would not tolerate such justification.

    1. As for the Civil War, I’m not sure the names of the parties matter as much as what the sides were fighting for. You may disagree.

      At what scale are these radical leftists? Beyond the dozens of Black Bloc anarchists at events like the G20 and the Olympics, who else are you referring to that promote and engage in violent resistance?

      Because I’d point you to Neo-Nazis and White Power advocates across the West, specifically in Germany, Austria and other parts of Eastern Europe. Surely there are as many or more of these.

      You’re right to point out that the media doesn’t sufficiently condemn violence, whether the motivation is political or otherwise. I’m afraid, as Todd pointed out above, covering it is their bread and butter.

      Also, for the record, Anderson Cooper certainly didn’t coin the term ‘tea bagger’. John Waters didn’t coin it either, but he popularized it long before the Tea Party existed.

  7. wearing a mask and destroying property is most assuredly cowardly and deeply hypocritical.
    How can they demand transparency and the end to their sociopathic nature yet do exactly that themselves.
    The perpetrators of these actions are no different than the sleazy corporations they supposedly hate’
    They are a completely counter productive form of protest.
    In my opinion the only true form of protest is solutions to the problems, clearly presented and irrefutable.
    When all governments are crisis managing, how can they possible consider a protest unless the problem is equal to their immediate concerns.
    Giving them answers cuts through all the crap and brings them into accountability.

  8. unfortunately it pretty much works like this:

    as a group of protesters you want to draw attention, speaking of getting media coverage to show the rest of the world that you disagree with this or that. in the last years news showed more and more interest towards “sensational” footage – which a peaceful protest cant deliver. ergo, the more you smash the more attention you get. sadly but true. while homicide rates declines, the news coverage rises…

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: