The use of balaclavas and scarves has been branded in the mainstream press as anything from a signal of thuggish criminality, to a pathetic aspirational-revolutionary fashion statement. This kind of ‘analysis’ exposes the distance between so-called journalists and demonstrators. They really have no idea about the social movement taking place before their eyes.
Concealments such as balaclavas, scarves, and notably ‘V for Vendetta’ masks, are being used as political constructions – wearing them at demonstrations indicates a concerted meaning, not simply a by-product of criminality. We are intentionally striving to remain anonymous, and we have very good reasons why.
‘Journalists’ such as Janice Turner of The Times spout the typically arrogant and myopic view of face covering.
Turner confidently declares that:
“… the increased use of masks by (UK) Uncut members is symptomatic of its drift from the mainstream. Covering the face manifests your social separation, your rejection of the rule of law for your own value system (…) A mask makes you an outlaw, bandit, fugitive, a rebel waging war against the State.”
(‘We must look each other in the eyes as equals’ – Janice Turner, The Times, p.27: Saturday 2nd April, 2011)
Right on, Janice – one mustn’t possibly drift from the mainstream! That would be ‘symptomatic’ of some strain of politically progressive disease, threatening your poor psychological immune system. The disenchanted mainstream, characterised by acquiescence, apathy, arrogance and ignorance is doing such a great job right now – well, at funding perpetual war, poverty, and destruction worldwide.
Although I contest the bias of Turner’s mask decoding, many of the mask wearers are indeed ‘rebel(s) waging war against the State’, and do indeed have their ‘own value system(s)’. And too right. Is this not something to be congratulated, in a ‘democracy’? If more people in the world took a similar interest in politics and values, the world would be a more beautiful and progressive place to live in.
Rather than masks being purely an indicator of identity or criminality, as writers such as Turner suggest, it is in fact an entirely practical decision, as well as a pre-meditated political statement, to wear one. Not an accident of thuggery.
For practical reasons, I advocate that all protestors/demonstrators conceal their faces and wear fairly unidentifiable clothing. This is a response to the encroaching police state that we find ourselves in. The highly controversial (yet lacking adequate public discussion) ‘FIT team’ (Forward Intelligence Team) is watching you unnervingly closely when you protest. Even if you manage to evade their shadowy surveillance, approximately 300 CCTV cameras will capture you on any given day.
Here are some excerpts from ‘Fitwatch’ (fitwatch.org.uk) describing the roles of FIT teams.
• ‘Spotting’ or identifying people they know from previous events. These people are sometimes then targeted for increased police surveillance, a stop and search or are ‘accompanied’
• Gaining intelligence on people they decide they have an interest in. FIT officers have testified in court they gain intelligence on people who have committed no offences and have done nothing wrong. They will focus on people who may frequently attend political protest, or who associate with someone already ‘known’. (…)
• Directing photographers or evidence gatherers to take photographs and footage of individuals or groups. (…) they have been known to follow a group of people for half an hour or more to obtain front, back, side and close up shots of each subject. They do NOT need to have suspicion that any offence has occurred, or will occur.
• Obtaining personal details of people they are interested in. This is frequently done by carrying out a stop and search to obtain people’s details, but other methods have also been used. They frequently misuse S60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which gives them a blanket power to stop and search everyone, without need for suspicion.
• Writing intelligence reports including descriptions, names and any other intelligence obtained for inclusion onto a police database. In London these are entered onto the CRIMINT (criminal intelligence) database
• ‘Accompanying’ activists they are interested in. This is supposedly carried out to prevent crimes taking place, although it often resembles harassment. They have been known to ‘accompany’ protesters for many hours, and this has included following them to their places of work, their homes, into pubs and shops, on trains and buses, even tailing their cars as they drive home.
• Gaining pre-event intelligence. This usually involves surveillance of meetings, and the identification of individuals thought to be organisers
(FIT – The Role, http://www.fitwatch.org.uk/forward-intelligence-teams/fit-the-role/, accessed 2ndApril 2011. Omissions and emphases added).
I can testify that the FIT teams do indeed fulfil this role as Big Brother’s slavishly mobile employees. I have been at gatherings when a van full of ‘FIT’ (clearly working on pre-event intelligence) has sidled up, silently captured all of ‘our’ faces (as if public groups are that easily discernable), and then crept off again. These kinds of gatherings are political, often hobbyist as much as activist. There is no suggestion of criminality or mal intent attached, and therefore they can have no intelligence suggesting anything of the like – these are just free political assemblies which, er, are supposed to be a pillar of any democracy. But it seems in modern Britain, political assembly is a dangerous act to be documented, harassed, and infiltrated.
Unfortunately, FIT’s photos and videos are not destined for the dustbin. They go onto databases and spotter cards, so that perfectly innocent people – or ‘dissenters’ – like you and I, can be ‘kept an eye on’: i.e., spied on, harassed, and targeted next time. FIT teams cast a worrying shadow over habeas corpus, treating the political public as guilty until proven innocent and with a total lack of respect, in the hope of catching a tiny minority of protesters who commit violent acts. My experience from protests is that whilst acts of political destruction are often well organised, violence, a totally different ball game, is primarily by the Police, and secondarily by drunk, rogue, or occasionally provoked/kettled protesters. Not something particularly preventable or curable with FIT teams, and certainly not warranting such a sacrifice of our civil liberties.
‘Nothing to hide, nothing to fear’, is the shrill retort of the naïve. This statement overlooks philosophies of privacy, anonymity, and liberty. In the same way that people wearing Burkas are wearing a construction of meaning, many people wearing balaclavas also a wearing a construction of meaning very important to them, and there is no reason that a religious philosophy should be regarded higher than a political philosophy in the system of law. But nevertheless, let’s address the terms. I am not ashamed to say today, that yes, I am ‘hiding’ something, but that is not a crime (unless Theresa May has her way). I hide my face from CCTV cameras and FIT teams because I do not agree with the unlawful, persecutory way that they will use my identity, and I refuse to enable it. The Love Police is all about lowering fear and raising love – I do not wish to increase fear, but the reality of our situation is that we are being targeted. As The Love Police walked away from 10 Downing Street on March 26th 2011, people in and around the group were ambushed by a van-full of police officers: one thrown to the floor, many with balaclavas forcibly ripped off, many subjected to a search. Those who are really in fear are the employees of the State. They see that elements are rebelling, and they are scared. The State is not built by us, it is built over us, and our right to make it crumble when it becomes diseased is being, and will be, vehemently opposed by its system justifying employees.
The Forward Intelligence Team is a particularly grotesque tentacle of the State, mutating the colourful environment of protest and demonstration into an intimidating, intelligence gathering operation that treats democratic processes with utmost suspicion. So I advise you all to cover your faces, unless you feel it is acceptable to risk your innocent and unknowing mug-shot being kept on a police database, and potentially being targeted in the future. If you disagree with this level of surveillance, take the simple step of concealing your face and disable their tactic. If Theresa May is successful and the police are granted increased rights to use force to remove our concealment, then we shall outwit them. If it means I have to demonstrate in a full morph suit that would require me to be totally stripped in order to identify me, I’ll do it, and I’ll have a really great time.