http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/torontog20summit/article/829194--behind-the-black-bloc-mob?bn=1Behind the Black Bloc mob
June 26, 2010
Anarchists try to block photographers. They would later set a police car on fire at the intersection of King and Bay during a protest at the G20 summit in Toronto. (June 26, 2010)
STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR
As suddenly as they burst onto the streets, they vanished into the crowd.
The men and women, clad in black clothes, their faces obscured with bandanas, ski goggles and gas masks, had spent the last hour storming through city streets, hurling rocks and debris through the windows of banks and big-chain stores.
They embraced the Black Bloc tactic, a popular sight at almost every international protest since the late 1990s: The crowd, dressed in their black uniforms, moves as a blob, its members indistinguishable from one another. One will run from the pack and lob a rock through a window, before disappearing back into the mob.
On Saturday, as the riot police shuffled closer to the intersection at College and University Aves.— shields up, gas masks on, guns raised — they disappeared again.
Dozens huddled on a patch of grass outside Queen’s Park. Protected by their peers, the ones in the middle changed into their street clothes. Within minutes, all that was left was a pile of black garments.
“Don’t take a f--king picture of me,” said one man, now wearing a brown T-shirt, as he walked away.
As they dispersed through the crowd, onlookers were left wondering: Who are these aggressive protesters?
Many in the black uniforms are self-proclaimed anarchists; some who are members of the Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance, a group the police say they have been watching for a year.
While Saturday marked their first rampage, many members of the Black Bloc have been attending the more peaceful protests throughout the week, unmasked and limiting their tactics to non-violent actions. Some performed anti-G20 raps; others held banners.
They bided their time and plotted their strategy.
Car loads of protesters arrived from Quebec for the weekend to join the Bloc, members said.
Expressed through an assortment of chants, the group’s causes are many: They’re anti-capitalist, anti-police, anti-colonial. While the labour members marched to have their voices heard, the anarchists are resolute that world leaders aren’t listening and don’t care.
Any change has to come at their own hands.
For the most part, their targets are specific and symbolic: As the crowd tore across Queen St., they hammered police cruisers, attacked banks and other corporate companies. Yet they left a record store, a local tavern and an independent hardware shop untouched.
“This isn’t violence. This is vandalism against violent corporations. We did not hurt anybody. They (the corporations) are the ones hurting people,” one man said.
Others pelted the Zanzibar strip bar with manikin limbs they had snatched from a nearby clothing store.
“This is all part of the sexist, male-dominated war machine we live in,” explained one member.
Factions within that group, however, appeared to just relish the mayhem. As the protest marched up Yonge St., they became more indiscriminate in what they damaged.
Two young activists sprinted onto Yonge-Dundas Square and battered the tourist information booth, sparking jeers from some crowd members.
On College St, a pack of masked protesters began to vandalize an empty BMW 4X4. A civilian car, albeit it an expensive civilian car.
“Stop it. They’re not our enemies,” one protester shouted.
The other retorted: “Yuppies are our enemy.”
While the end result seems chaotic, the Bloc is intricately organized. It’s made up of smaller groups of 10 or so activists, keeping head counts and decision-making quick and easy. Directions are passed through the mob with codes — on Saturday, “umbrella” was a call to move to the frontline.
And they seize opportunities quickly. After two failed attempts to breach the walls of riot police, the black-clad protesters congregated in the Queen St. and Spadina Ave. intersection. A Communist group set off a flare, distracting the crowd and police alike — and the mob took off across Queen.
One anarchist who identified himself as Roy defended the Black Bloc, saying the tactic makes a division among protesters in the eyes of the police, inherently protecting the “good protesters.”
“Because they’re there, others are safe. Right from the front (of the march) they were pointing guns at us just walking down the street,” he said.
But their presence was criticized by other protesters, who said the destruction was simply justifying the millions of dollars spent on summit security.
“Violence just brings more violence,” a woman said into a megaphone as an anarchist set fire to a police cruiser. “What you guys are doing, it’s breaking my heart.”
With files from Jayme Poisson and Jennifer Yang