Leftists of all varieties from all over the country – a significant portion of which were from New York City – decided that on January 20th, 2017, they would find their ways to Washington, D.C., the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States of America. Instead of celebrating his inauguration, however, they planned to protest it. Their reasons for protest were as wide and varied as their nuanced politics: feminists were upset that an individual they consider to be a misogynist was being sworn in; women were fearful that their reproductive rights would be eroded by the Republican-controlled federal government; Democrats were distraught over Hillary Clinton’s loss of the election despite winning the popular vote, and felt that the country they loved was going down the wrong track; and, of course, the most radical of the left – the anti-capitalist anarchists, communists, and socialists – were angered by what they saw as fascism’s return to power.
Not to be outdone by the others – that is, to control the narrative of the protests in general, to increase the donations their groups could receive, to increase the memberships within their groups, and to be the recipient of any forthcoming press – all the groups involved ensured that the protests were promoted under their unique branding. For example, liberals and Democrats organized under the “Women’s March on Washington”, the Iran- and North Korea-loving Workers World Party organized under the banner of “#J20 Resist”, and Bob Avakian’s Revolutionary Communist Party organized under a new front group called “Refuse Fascism” (click here for another Orderly Conduct article regarding Avakian’s RCP). The most notorious of all these campaigns, however, indeed was the anarchists’ “#DisruptJ20”, which most likely was initiated by anarchists local to the D.C. area. Shortly after Trump’s election victory, organizers operating under the banner of #DisruptJ20 put out a call for a black bloc to form in Logan Circle in Washington, D.C., on the morning of the inauguration.
BLACK BLOC & #DISRUPTJ20
Black bloc is the most notorious protest tactic utilized only by the most violent and radical of leftist activists. Though the origin of black bloc can be traced at least as far back to the 1970s in Europe, where it has a rich history, the most infamous case of black bloc in the United States occurred in Seattle, Washington, during the protests against the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference of 1999. Most of the country knows this to be the “Battle in Seattle,” whereas the radical left refer to it as “N30” (short for November 30th as “J20” is short for January 20th).
In the present day and age, black bloc is sometimes utilized to merely intimidate state authorities and politicians, law enforcement, and non-radical leftists and right-wing activists alike. At its worst, black bloc is utilized to give radical leftists the chance to commit violent, illegal acts, to foster riots, and to possibly get away with their crimes. This is black bloc stripped of all its leftist “revolution for a better world” fetishized propaganda, which depicts anarchism as the loving and reasonable replacement to evil, globalized, capitalist Western civilization.
So what in general is a black bloc? It is a gathering of anarchists and likeminded radical leftists who all agree to dress from head to toe in all black clothing in order to reduce the likelihood that they will be identified by law enforcement. This is meant to protect them from being arrested for any illegal activities they plan on engaging in during the black bloc action. The typical black bloc attire is a black bandanna wrapped around one’s face, black sunglasses (or goggles to deflect pepper spray), optional black hat, a black hoody, a black backpack (convenient for concealing weapons and a change of “civilian” clothes), durable black pants, black gloves, black socks, and black boots. The uniformity is never perfect, as some within the bloc may be wearing something of a different color, such as brown boots or a multicolored backpack, or may be wearing specialized gear such as knee guards and gas masks. Despite this, the black bloc remains a pretty effective way for the anarchists to anonymize themselves, or at least to delay how long it takes for law enforcement to identify them.
The anti-capitalist and anti-fascist (or “antifa”) nature of black bloc explains why activists utilizing it will target businesses, banks, and law enforcement during the protest. The reported few hundred radical leftists who participated in the N30 black bloc caused tens of millions of dollars in property damage, lost business, vandalism, and clean-up costs picked up by businesses, insurance agencies, and tax-payers. The black bloc that had gathered the morning of #J20 in Logan Circle neared 1,000 people.
The #DisruptJ20 masked-up anarchists marched south down 13th Street, brandishing long wooden 2x4s, metal baseball bats, and carrying book bags stuffed with fireworks, crowbars, hammers, spray paint, and much more. Along the way they set off handheld pyrotechnics that shot flares into the sky and dragged heavy metal garbage cans and newspaper stands into the streets to effectuate makeshift blockades. Along with other propagandized slogans, they spray painted the “circle-A” “Anarchy is Order” Ⓐ symbol onto the fronts of condo buildings and businesses as well as onto civilian vehicles parked on the street. As they neared Franklin Square, the black bloc used hammers to smash the windows of a black SUV and a stretch Lincoln limousine parked in front of 1301 K Street, home to the Washington Post. A few hours later, the limousine would be looted and ultimately set on fire, but in the meantime the anarchists marched around Franklin Square, setting off M-80 fireworks and setting their sights on the Starbucks, Bank of America, and all of the other businesses located on I Street between 13th Street and 12th Street. They attacked the storefront windows with their feet and their bodies, with a trash can, with crowbars, hammers, rocks, and concrete that they ripped up from the sidewalk, causing massive, gaping holes in the windows. In the stillness after the vandalism, the small, shattered chips of glass gradually dislodging and falling from the windows sounded like a soft crackling fire, or like delicate, hollow icicles breaking as they hit the ground.
It was finally at this point on I Street, after the damage had already been done, that D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department arrived in force with police helicopters and ground vehicles and armored riot cops brandishing shields, pepper spray guns, flashbang grenades, and other non-lethal weapons. The black bloc ran in a circle to evade police, doubling back to Franklin Square, by which time civilians had come onto the street to see what was going on. They stared in awe at the damage that had been done, at the millions of fragments of broken glass piled along the sides of buildings in small sloping hills, as white as clean snow. Cowering behind a pillar of a building, a group of bystanders were visibly panicked by the sounds of sirens and explosions, by the choking smell of all the gases in the air, and by the sight of smoke and of the rioting, anonymized, black-clad masses fleeing from a police force that was frantically trying to restore order. It is hard to find what in that riotous moment of anarchism could possibly convince those bystanders that this was the way the go if they wanted a better world; that the black-clad anarchist was the person they should aspire to become.
Eventually the police were able to contain or “kettle” reportedly 230 of those involved in the black bloc action, arresting them. It has been said by federal prosecutors that they are going to be charged with felony rioting, which is punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $25,000.00 fine. Though various leftist groups had raised tens of thousands of dollars for bail in anticipation of mass arrests (undoubtedly funded in part by liberals and Democrats) and they certainly understood the nature of black bloc destructiveness, organizers were shocked by this news – because the historic reality of such destruction is that they usually get away with just a slap on the wrist.
Orderly Conduct seeks to explore why that is.
THE CONSPIRACY OF DUNCES
In response to all of this, Orderly Conduct poses this question: why didn’t the police just kettle the black bloc while they were in Logan Circle and prevent most of this from occurring to begin with? Or more precisely, why don’t lawmakers seek to find a way to render the black bloc tactic illegal? The history of black bloc all over the world is clear and uncontested by the activists who utilize it: it is meant to stop law enforcement from being able to identify or capture activists during and after the commission of a crime. A law giving law enforcement the authority to prevent a black bloc – to immediately arrest the masked-up, black-clad activists at their meet-up location – this makes a lot more sense than letting the black bloc run amok. Surely there must be some clever lawmakers out there who could craft nuanced legislation that clearly targets activists seeking to engage in a destructive black bloc while protecting the rights of innocent civilians who simply want to dress in all black. It really isn’t all that hard to distinguish a destructive anarchist from, say, Johnny Cash. Such legislation has never been passed, however, and probably has never even been proposed, and probably never will be – and Orderly Conduct argues that one of the reasons why such legislation is unlikely is because of the political nature behind radical leftists’ violence.
There are many Democrats in positions of power and influence (especially so-called “progressives”) who consider black bloc to be an illegitimate form of protest and consider the radicals utilizing it to be misguided. Nonetheless, these very same Democrats still view the black bloc as a political act rather than simply a criminal one, and even though they view the radicals as misguided, they still consider them to be well-intentioned and socially righteous or conscious. As such, though most of these Democrats will generally outwardly denounce the destructive nature of a black bloc and of radicalism, it is clear that they have a degree of empathy with the activists. They hold a basic yet perverse kind of solidarity with them. Democrat, liberal, or radical leftist alike agree that, for example, President Trump and fascism are bad and should be protested and resisted against. There is some common ground there, and the Democrats’ outward disagreement is simply against the method of protest, not the protest itself. Those Democrats do not at all view the radical leftist as the insurgents they aspire to be, and the Democrats understand that, as long as they denounce the violence and as long as the target of the violence is seen as some right-wing element, they sometimes could actually benefit from the violence – it has political capital. There is little to no political gain for them to ever craft legislation that would outlaw it, law and order be damned. This is the same rationale behind President Obama’s essentially passive stance on rioting protesters in Ferguson, Missouri; behind Mayor de Blasio allowing Black Lives Matters protesters to shut down highways and bridges in New York City whenever they feel like it; and behind NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Vivertio’s active campaigning for the release of federal prisoner Oscar López Rivera, leader of the left-wing terrorist group FALN, which was responsible for dozens of bombings throughout New York City, Chicago, and other U.S cities, some of which were deadly. (Rivera’s sentenced was ultimately commuted by Obama, despite Rivera refusing to renounce his ways.) These “progressive” politicians are but a few examples of Democrats who have at times irresponsibly underplayed the violence committed by radical leftists due to its political relevancy.
Another reason why it is highly unlikely that we will ever see anti-black bloc legislation is that, in addition to Democrats, there are plenty of powerful radical leftist civil liberty organizations that will resist it. One such powerful group is the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a bar association comprised of radical leftists who are present at leftist protests as “legal observers”. Technically they are not protest participants, though the reality is that most of them are actually activists and agree with the protest. The pretense for their presence is that they watch protests to ensure that the law is being upheld and to gather information on those arrested so they can track them through the booking process and offer them legal aid. The real reason for their presence, however, is not to objectively ensure that the law is upheld, but rather to monitor the police (whom they despise), to make police officers second-guess their actions – and to defend protesters even if they observe them committing crimes. For instance, on December 13, 2014, two NYPD officers were assaulted in one incident on the Brooklyn Bridge by six anarchists during a Black Lives Matter protest after the officers tried to stop one of them, Eric Linsker, from throwing a large garbage can onto police a level below him. The incident was caught on camera, and it is clear as day that at least two NLG legal observers were witness to it. (All NLG legal observers are deliberately noticeable due to the bright neon green hats they wear during protests.) Rather than cooperating with police and helping them identify the assaulters (who all managed to escape after the incident) – rather than upholding the law, as they claim is their mandate as legal observers – the NLG instead went on to defend the assaulters after they were ultimately arrested and charged. Martin Stolar, the former head of the NLG’s New York City chapter, personally defended Linsker, and a photo was taken of the two sharing a laugh during his arraignment – because to radical leftists, assaulting police is fun business. (Click here to read another Orderly Conduct article regarding how radical leftist civil liberty organizations operate out of a disdain for law enforcement.)
IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME
Out of the thousands of American activists who have participated in black blocs, only a miniscule portion of them have ever faced significant legal repercussions. Due to the influence of all these aforementioned powerful leftist elements, Orderly Conduct is predicting that this trend will continue, especially with regards to those arrested during the #DisruptJ20 black bloc. Orderly Conduct predicts that most of them will have their charges dropped or reduced significantly and will face no jail time; that only a handful of those arrested may spend a few weeks in jail; and that perhaps only one or two will be sentenced to months or a year in prison. In fact, Orderly Conduct believes that what we are probably really looking at here are lawsuits filed against the Metropolitan Police Department and the city, claiming false arrests as a violation of the activists’ rights (some who will claim they’re part of the media), especially if the city drops many of the cases. If D.C. is anything like New York City, they will probably find it cheaper to settle the suits than to fight them, even if they have evidence that the activists are guilty. This will result in payouts to the activists, so they will essentially be rewarded for bad behavior. If that sounds absolutely ridiculous to you, understand this: it happens all the time.
So while there is good reason for there to be legislation against black bloc from a law and order perspective, and that it most likely can be crafted with enough nuance so that nobody’s civil rights are being violated, it is clear that there are too many political components at work here who will never allow it to come to be. Seeing how President Trump is going to be in office for at least four years – and how the left has made it clear that they think he is the worst politician to ascend to high office since Adolf Hitler – it is safe to say that we can expect more of what happened in D.C. to happen throughout the entire country for some time to come.
So be prepared, because destructive black blocs will soon be coming to a major city near you – and be sure to thank your local Democrat for allowing it to happen.
Editor’s note: to see a partial list of the sources used to form this article, please click here.