What’s the point?
Masking up at an eviction resistance or a demonstration has two aims – first, to make it hard to identify you personally. This is done by hiding some identifying features like hair colour/length, face shape, etc, and by obscuring others such as eye colour, skin colour, and sex. The second goal is to protect each other by making it difficult to follow or pick out any one person in a crowd – this is done by all looking the same.
Why would you want to be anonymous, or help other people to be? The main reason is that if things kick off and you’re involved, you don’t want to be identified – that could mean jail time. What feels like justified self-defence against brutality at the time can be portrayed as irrational “hooliganism” by the courts and the press later. Even if you didn’t do anything but stand near where something happened, they can fabricate evidence once they’ve identified who you are and where you were. This happens, so it’s best to be safe and stay anonymous. The other reason is to stop police intelligence gathering. They film people at protests and try to build up a picture of who is there regularly, who the “ringleaders” are, etc. Do you want police extremist units to see you as a “serial protestor”, or a “ringleader”? Do you want them searching your house for evidence because they have you flagged as a probable organiser? Probably not.
There are a few reasons why people mask up by wearing all black (rather than being in, say, a ‘red bloc’ or a ‘beige bloc’):
- Camera operatives rely on shadows for depth perception, so black hides your form. Most shades of black actually look the same to cctv cameras
- Black is easy to co-ordinate. All wearing the same shade of the same colour makes it very very difficult to track individuals in a crowd. This won’t work for red, or beige, or blue – everyone will look a bit different, with some wearing bright red, some wearing dark red, etc
- Lots of anarchists like black because the colour symbolises their beliefs – just like the black flag, the black rose, etc. I don’t want to get into that stuff in this article. If you like poetry though, check this out – http://iamugg.tumblr.com/post/55385983721/why-is-our-flag-black-black-is-a-shade-of
1. Black means *plain* black
Black means plain black – no labels! Cover them with gaffa tape or dye. Pen is harder to use for this than you’d expect, and electical tape often comes off easily. It’s worth bringing spare if you can. Sometimes you can make a hoody plain by turning it inside out
2. Covering your head
- Hoods are vital – they hide hair, shape of head, etc.
- In summer months, get a thin raincoat (the cheap ones that don’t actually keep off the rain work well) and wear that instead of a hoody. That way you won’t overheat. Wear a black baseball cap. Make sure your hair is well tucked in and not visible. So long as you keep your head down, the baseball cap makes overhead cameras useless.
- In winter months, get a loose hoody. Get a black hat and make sure it hides your hair. Try to pull it down to cover your eyebrows if you can.
3. Masking your face
- Material pulled up over your nose (this is what most people do). Make sure it’s tight enough and won’t fall down when you run! If possible, get something elasticated. Try make your eyebrows harder to see by wearing a hat, if you’re doing this. Don’t forget to make sure your mask is big enough – it should reach all the way from the top of your nose, to well below your neck
- a scarf (in winter, you can go about with these and not draw too much attention. Legally the police can’t confiscate a scarf as it’s main purpose is to keep you warm, not hide your face) Don’t try this in summer! Like 2, you need a hat to go with this. Experiment so you can tie the scarf behind your head quickly and securely
- a black t-shirt. This works surprisingly well! Put the t-shirt over your head and position the hole at the top so you can see out of it with your eyes. Then tie the arms behind your head. Check out this youtube vid if that doesn’t make sense – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwF_B0Gr4k4
- a proper balaclava (makes you look a bit more scary – but they’re good!)
Goggles/shades *can* be good but there are pros and cons. On the plus side, they will make cs-spray, pepper spray, and tear gas less effective, while also hiding your eye colour and making it harder to see your skin colour. On the other hand, some goggles can fuck up your eyes if you get punched or hit, and when you wear shades with a mask they often just steam up. As well as that, only a minority of people in a black bloc wear shades or goggles, so it can end up making you more identifiable! (it’s easy for cops to follow the only person in a crowd wearing a ski-mask)
- It’s important to try and hide your skin colour a bit. If no-one does this, then anyone who is a minority on the demo will stick out and might as well not be masked up. So, wear gloves where possible, as an act of solidarity and inclusiveness as much as for your own security.
- If you have any tattoos on your hand/arm then be really careful not to show them! Police pick up on that kind of thing.
Try to wear something baggy – this helps to cover your body shape and makes you harder to recognise. Coats are good for this.
Most people in a bloc will be wearing blue jeans, or black trousers. As before, try to keep it baggy, especially if you’re going for the jeans. Black is better, but there is some lee-way on this. If you’re wearing trackies, watch out for any identifying marks – a lot of them have distinctive stripes or branding that will need to be covered up
- This is a tricky one! People do get picked up or tracked because they wore distinctive shoes on a demo. So wear shoes that are plain and generic, if you have them. If you’re with a group, it may be worth all covering your shoes in black gaffa tape, so that they look the same.
- If you can fit a spare pair of shoes in your bag and wear different ones when masked/not masked, that’s great
- Make sure your shoes are cheap – they’re normally the most identifiable part of your outfit. If anything “spikey” happens you will need to get rid of them.
- If you’re taking a rucksack, make sure it is also plain black with no labels
- Get a big plastic carrier bag and keep it in the rucksack. That way when you ‘de-block’ you can put the rucksack inside it. Carrier bags are also easier to ditch if you see cops tailing you on your way home.
- Another option is to get a thin rucksack or one of those sports bags that school kids use for their PE kits. Then, you put your black-bloc outfit on over the top of it, keeping the bag underneath where it can’t be seen. I’m not convinced by this method – but it’s up to you
10. To carry with you
- Spare masks (if it’s someone’s first time on a bloc, they might not realise how important masking up is. It’s your responsibility to look after them – we need to look out for each other)
- A very different change of clothes (look like a non-violent hippy, suit, normal person, waiter, whatever. Just not some anarcho-punk out to cause trouble!). The easiest way to do this is to wear lots of layers
- A slightly different mask (e.g. switch between a pull up mask and a balaclava during the bloc – this will make it harder to keep track of you)
- Different shoes, if you can
- Supplies – this isn’t the place for a full-blown list of what is useful on a demo or eviction resistance. But as a bare minimum, make sure you have enough food/water to get you through the day and keep your energy levels up – you need to be able to run and think clearly at all times. Having spare for other people is always a good move too, if you can
11. when to mask up/down
- Don’t go off alone. Cops will notice and may try to pick you off or search you
- You may need to burn your outfit after the demo. Better safe than sorry! Cops *will* take all black clothing in your house as evidence if you get raided. If anything was smashed near you, tiny glass shards get stuck in your clothing which *will* get picked up by forensics, who can work out exactly which window they came from
- Whatever you do, don’t tag yourself on facebook pictures or send texts about things that happened on the day!
- Masking up is only one part of staying safe. If anything “spiky” happens, you need to make sure there is no forensic (i.e. fingerprints, blood) evidence on the scene to link you to it. You need to be really careful what you say in public, especially on texts/phone/social media. You need to not talk to people who could be undercovers, or might inform on you in the future (even if they seem sound now – are you sure they won’t rat you out a few months down the line?). You need to not take electronics like iphones along which track your location and get linked back to you.
- There are other ways to hide too. By merging with a crowd. By dodging cameras. By wearing things that ‘naturally’ make you harder to recognise (hair different, peaked cap and sunglasses – this WILL make you look like a journo/undercover, though!). Keeping aware of cameras around you. Blocking cameras. And probably more….
- Oh and one last thing – *never* be fashion conscious. People have been done time because they thought their anonymous clothes looked stupid and changed into something nicer!
If you’ve got this far, you might have noticed that there’s no section on when black bloc tactics should be used – that’s because I think it should be up to you. All I’ll say is – don’t be too quick to mask up (there’s some situations where it isn’t appropriate or doesn’t help, obviously), but also don’t be too cynical or quick to judge people either. You don’t know what someone behind a mask has to hide, or what they’re planning. Cynicism leads to frustration, frustration leads to apathy, apathy leads to the dark side 😛
Legal notice – This article is for information purposes only. I do not condone breaking laws, or getting away with criminal activity. Not that I condemn it, either 😛 😀 .