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Understanding the Black Bloc

Contending with the criminal anarchists who infiltrate peaceful protests to incite riots requires knowledge of their particular tendencies.

January 30, 2015  |  by Kory Flowers

Photo: Kory Flowers
Photo: Kory Flowers

Anarchists as a group have established themselves, particularly in the United States in recent years, as opportunistic purveyors of violence and destruction, utilizing incendiary events such as the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., amid racial tension between the police department and the black community as springboards for their signature chaos and havoc-laden tactics.

But Ferguson-inspired protests are just the latest events to be co-opted by anarchists. From the American political party conventions held every four years and the G8 Summits staged across the globe, to many lesser-known regional protests, a common and generally violent attendee often rears its ugly head.

While law enforcement typically recognizes anarchists by their trademark all-black clothing and mob stratagem, police are often otherwise unfamiliar with this criminal subculture. In order for law enforcement officers to effectively strategize for, safely interact with, and competently prosecute anarchists, a more in-depth examination is needed.

A Bloody History

The political philosophy of anarchism, purely advocating stateless societies and the notion of anti-authoritarian self-governance, has existed for more than 2,000 years. Tracing its roots to the writings of early anarchists such as William Godwin, Mikhail Bakunin, and others, the authentic philosophy of anarchism has attracted disciples throughout the ages from various industrial nation-states.

Of the multitude of anarchist uprisings and clashes with ruling governments throughout history, one incident is most commonly noted as the birth of modern American anarchism: The Haymarket Affair.

In 1886, before the formation of labor unions to protect common workers' rights, groups had begun to organize and strategize in order to mandate certain universal rights for laborers, including the establishment of the 8-hour workday. May 1, 1886, was set by the fledgling Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions in the United States and Canada as the target date by which the group hoped to cement the regulated 8-hour workday. Various affiliated labor unions staged strikes nationwide, including one in Chicago at Haymarket Square on May 3, 1886.

A clash between Chicago anarchist protestors and police forces ensued, and although official recollections of the details vary, the two-day riot left seven police officers and four protestors dead, and eight anarchists indicted for the murders of the officers. The following year, labor unions again demonstrated internationally for workers' rights, and officially trademarked May 1 as "International Workers' Day" in memory of those protestors killed during what became known as "The Haymarket Affair."


In hindsight, and from a certain skewed perspective, the roots of the modern-day anarchist could appear noble and utilitarian, viewed as a righteous struggle for the common worker versus the heartless capitalistic machine. However, when the typical criminal anarchists today stand face-to-face with helmeted police forces at political conventions or international financial summits armed with urine-filled water guns and surreptitious boxes of broken glass ready for throwing; they are far removed from their roots.

Holding the notion of anarchy is not illegal in and of itself, and the typical law-abiding anarchist utilizes non-violent civil disobedience and passive resistance to further their views. But a nefarious subset of anarchists simply seek to destroy property and often injure police forces. Such people have hijacked the traditional celebration of "May Day" or "International Workers' Day" on May 1 each year, and its historical significance has been lost. It is now a day of mayhem and havoc wreaked by criminal-minded anarchists across the country. Today, proactive urban police departments plan for and execute sophisticated surveillance and monitor such demonstrations in order to mitigate problems.

The criminal-minded anarchist mantra of "FSU" (F__k Shit Up), used as a unifying rallying cry and often seen in anarchist graffiti and signage, testifies to the malevolent intentions of some modern-day anarchists.

Cause Parasites

Modern-day anarchists have targeted many high-profile events in recent years to incite violence and chaos. For example, the "Occupy Wall Street" movement began in Zuccotti Park in New York City's financial district in September 2011, with an easily palatable message against corporate greed and an "us versus them" mentality separating the common worker from the "evil capitalistic one percent." And it served as a springboard for many criminal anarchists nationwide.

Makeshift urban "Occupy" encampments instantly sprang up in metropolitan areas across the country, made up mainly of legitimate frustrated people who had grown discontented with the ever-expanding chasm between the upper-echelons of overpaid CEOs and powerful executives and the working class. However, many of these authentic gripes were overshadowed and even marginalized by criminal anarchists who saw this disenfranchisement as an opportunity to intermingle among the crowds and create chaos and destruction of property.

Occupy protests between crowds and police turned violent and led to property damage and arrests from Oakland, Calif., to New York City. The driving motivator was often criminal anarchists, quite unattached to the sensible gripes of Occupiers, who only sought to spawn violence and dissention.

The Democratic National Convention held in Charlotte, N.C., in September 2012 also drew the anarchist crowd. Because this convention is historically an extremely alluring event for criminal anarchists bent on mayhem and assured international media coverage, layers of federal and state law enforcement planning and forethought began months earlier to ensure the safety of delegates and attendees, and to protect the city. While the week-long convention ended with minimal disturbances because of the stellar police planning, undercover officers intercepted from anarchists urine-filled eggs, acid-filled Christmas ornaments, and water guns containing urine, all meant to be used against the law enforcement security forces throughout the city.

But anarchists don’t limit themselves to national events. On November 19, 2012, in Durham, N.C., a police officer arrested 17-year-old Jesus Huerta and took him into custody. While en route to the police department, Huerta used a concealed handgun to shoot and kill himself in the back of the police cruiser. Public outcry began almost immediately, demanding answers from and questioning the official statements of the Durham Police Department. Within days public demonstrations began under the banner of "Justice for Jesus," with the Huerta family publicly mourning and seeking answers and closure.

Several of the protests in the following months, however, were infiltrated by regional criminal anarchists who, once again, utilized the legitimate anger and frustration of the crowds to incite violence and discord. Masked criminal anarchists attempted to seize a police substation, broke windows, and spray-painted police cruisers, even as Huerta family members publicly called for peace and civility.

Most recently, after a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown, criminal anarchists have been lurking in the midst of both legitimate peaceful protests and criminal riots throughout Missouri and the rest of the country. As is their common protocol, anarchists have flocked to protests in Ferguson and many other large metropolitan areas in an effort to stir public emotion into criminal action, destruction, and outright pandemonium.


To effectively identify criminal anarchists among authentic protestors and demonstrators, officers need to know their common traits and physical identifiers. The most common symbol utilized by anarchists is the "Anarchy A," which is composed of a capital letter "A" within a circle. Officers may see this image in the form of graffiti, but more often as a body tattoo. Another common criminal anarchist tattoo consists of the letters "ACAB," which stand for All Cops Are Bastards. The black flag of anarchy also advertises the presence of criminal anarchists. The flag may appear as solid black or as a red and black divided rectangle, often hoisted in the air on flag sticks amid protesting crowds.

Typically, criminal anarchists employ a common mode of dress which is part of a tactic frequently called "Black Bloc." In the "Black Bloc" stratagem, throngs of criminal anarchists all dress in black clothing in an effort to appear as a unified assemblage, giving the appearance of solidarity for the particular cause at hand. This tactic is particularly troubling for law enforcement security forces, as no anarchist rioter can be distinguished from another, allowing virtual anonymity while conducting criminal acts as a group.

The more dangerous criminal anarchist rioters can assault police security forces, and then easily blend back into the mob and disappear. Even when viewing video surveillance footage after a criminal riot and attempting to determine the problematic catalysts for the criminality, officers can have difficulty differentiating one anarchist from another. Criminal anarchists also often wear dark-colored bandanas tied loosely around their necks, which can be used as makeshift gas masks to rebuff chemical munitions should they be deployed by police. These facial coverings also conceal the wearer's identity.

Criminal anarchists normally attempt to comingle in genuine protest demonstrations, and are known to wear their "Black Bloc" monochromatic uniform underneath outer clothes, so as not to immediately stand out in the crowd. Officers should also scan for backpacks, which may conceal containers of broken glass, acid-filled projectiles for throwing, or cans of spray paint for vandalism.

Dealing with Anarchists

It is important to understand that not every public protest or demonstration will attract an element of criminal anarchists. The types of demonstrations unlawful anarchists most commonly attend include those against environmentally harmful practices, those against gentrification, and anti-police rallies. When you must deal with criminal anarchists, a few key focal points are crucial.

First of all, know that you will be recorded. Criminal anarchists most often surreptitiously video and audio record their interactions with police forces, in an effort to capture some demonizing interchange or illegal commands by an officer. When speaking with any criminal anarchist, always assume that you are being recorded, and know that even your most benign statement may be video edited and manipulated against you. The more tactically minded anarchists will often bait officers into making emotionally charged statements with confrontational and cantankerous interactions that they will capture on video.

Criminal anarchists will often be students of search and seizure laws, so agencies must ensure that officers clearly understand Fourth Amendment dictums. Law enforcement officers monitoring these volatile protests should also be experts in their local city ordinances which regulate demonstrators' limitations and rules. For instance, in many metropolitan areas, local ordinances dictate the maximum size of protest signs, the use of amplified sound, and the wearing of facial coverings during demonstrations. If you're aware of such ordinances in your jurisdiction you can use them to remove criminal anarchists from the situation on minor infractions.

Perhaps most importantly, police agencies should plan ahead. Agencies should know who may attend these unstable protests so they can somewhat predict challenges before they present themselves. Written tactical plans should dictate law enforcement security force usage and contingency plans. Delineated protest zones and separate cordoned areas for counter-protestors should be clearly defined.

Subversive, criminal-intentioned anarchists are not a new challenge for American police departments when monitoring and providing security for the appropriate, legal exercise of citizens' First Amendment right to free speech during protests and demonstrations. With exhaustive preplanning and adequate event-specific training prior to volatile public demonstrations, officers can safely and competently face and manage encounters with criminal anarchists.

Kory Flowers is a detective on the Greensboro (N.C.) Police Department who has extensive investigative and undercover experience tracking numerous criminal subversive groups, including anarchists and sovereign citizens. Flowers and his partner, Det. Rob Finch, train law enforcement officers nationwide on various extremist groups and criminal factions.

Comments (24)

Displaying 1 - 24 of 24

TRod99 @ 2/9/2015 5:57 AM

Come on Cory there was no legitimate cause nor group of wronged individuals involved in the occupy movement. Don't start an article then cave to the participants of an outrageous movement. Everyone present contributed to an illegal demonstration that destroyed public and private property.

plato's playdough @ 2/9/2015 12:58 PM

So when Mike Brown's dad was on vid (above) inciting the mob to "burn this bitch down" was he a member if the anarchist group, or just giving instructions to the blac bloc (hehe) ??

Nobody reported such a presence in the area. Governor didn't even provide the National Guard that was said to be in readiness.

ANYBODY could be behind the Fifth Column. Peek-a-boo.

Andrew Weatherly @ 4/4/2015 7:51 PM

Dear Law Enforcement,
It is us vs. you out there in the world, until we need you to do something. I teach full time in prison. I work with state employees (not private) in blue every work day.
My own experience of law enforcement is that I have had my crotch felt up, been illegally ticketed, been threatened in front of my children to have them removed, and lied to by nearly every law enforcement department everywhere I've lived. If a middle class, white, male, home owning, professional has had such poor experiences with law enforcement, it is no wonder so many people see the police as us vs. you.
We all respect professional who do their job professionally. We are all human and make mistakes. Own up when you are wrong instead of blustering through it. Protect and serve your communities instead of abuse and manipulate individuals. Get rid of the people who stain the blue line.
If you want respect, then give it first. Stay safe. We need good cops with heart.

Jack Black @ 4/5/2015 1:27 PM

If this is the best "intelligence" police have on the black bloc then it is indeed a phenomenon they do not understand. While black bloc anarchists have caused significant property destruction over the years, none of these main events are even listed in this article. Instead the author attempts to smear not just the black bloc but recent events such as protests against the killing of Mike Brown and the rise of the Occupy movement, neither of which had significant black bloc presence (with the exception of Occupy Oakland).

rfk @ 4/6/2015 7:03 AM

Keep in mind that the Selma/Montgomery civil rights marches were "illegal demonstrations" too. Funny how differently we view them half a century later.

Swaf @ 4/8/2015 12:29 AM

60 years after Sela we see what lawbreaking ends in. The thugs who broke the laws then are the grandfathers of today's anarchists. Funny how nothing ever changes despite the revisionists among us.

mikedelic @ 4/9/2015 9:39 AM

this is great everyone should read it.

Anastasia Beaverhausen @ 4/10/2015 10:58 AM

I applaud this article for the even-handedness. Some of us in Occupy saw Black Bloc as our saviours, the people willing to get between the police who were illegally shutting down a peaceful protest and throwing people on concrete and us. But actually there are good and bad among us all: cops, Occupy, anarchists. The author tries to understand not only tactics but motivation and tries to - if not love his enemies, then at least understand them with compassion. If peaceful protests were not kettled and hothoused by police (I am in Europe where it's bad) then Black Bloc would not get the traction that it does have. It is not illegal to stand in the street and call out for justice, and police who find all protests illegal make the problem worse. I guarantee that the more you pepper spray and water cannon and kettle, the more Black Bloc will come.

Timothy W. Crane @ 10/9/2015 5:48 PM

I find it sad that our police departments are sent out to politically organized events yet know nothing of political thought. If your idea of an anarchist is a criminal element dressed in a black ski mask, then I can only pray that you are all stripped of martial power and are never allowed to teach a child. With political anarchism being based on the EVALUATION OF THE NEED for political structures and viable methods for removal of IMPEDIMENTS (unjustified powers), then all who protest are in fact guilty of mid stage anarchist thought, as they have already seen illegitimacy in the actions taken in which they protest.

Learn a little, drop the black short brand and don the one red. (a historical Italian Easter egg hunt if you will).

You will probably find that those on both sides with "purely destructive intent" are equally not ignorant, but mal-informed. Not that hard to be radicallized from either side amidst a propaganda war.

Where did The Anarchist Gandhi hide his mask?

Anthony Henderson @ 6/16/2016 10:36 AM

More misinformation designed to fuel the fascist machine! The author is either a) Stupid and hasn't researched what anarchists, or the philosophy of anarchism, actually is and just regurgitates the usual parrot fashion pre-conception of what its all about; or b) Knows the philosophy and intentionally misrepresents it so as to fuel police aggression! My money is on b!!

Emma Goldman @ 12/17/2016 1:54 PM

Anarchism is a rejection of the State monopoly on force. They use force to destroy capitalism and oppression, not to "FSU" which is something that I have never heard, probably because it's a Pig lie.
Anarchists don't hate cops as people, they hate cops because they protect the oppressing class, and capitalism.

Mikael @ 1/2/2017 1:06 AM

Leaving all the very confused reasoning in this article aside, it is interesting that it doesn't mention the actual reason for the Chicago events being called "the Haymarket Affair", that is, the use of police agent provocateurs and the miscarriage of justice involved in the state killings of the 8 hour workday activists resulting from it.

When police encounter protesters at events, I think most are conscious of the fact that the people donning black clothes are 1/100 of the total anarchist movement, which comprises labor unions, farm-workers associations, tenants rights associations, student unions, media cooperatives ... This article is like, really, really, confused!

A concerned anarchist @ 1/16/2017 10:02 PM

This article is so uninformed, ham-fisted, badly researched and terribly written that I decided not to bother spotting every single mistake, but rather spout provocations.

I won't cease from my fight until the last cop is hanged with last robber baron's entrails and burnt together with politicians.

FuzzyLugnutz @ 1/20/2017 8:54 AM

I see all the other replies are from those who hate cops, law & order, as well as America itself. The Black Bloc is a Soros & Black Panther funded, racially charged hate group! I fear for our police & innocent citizens having seen & heard young black men & women discussing terrorist tactics (& let's not forget that the Black Panthers book is full of hate & directions on how bombs!!!) along w/ knowing D.C. Is already full of illegal guns & the scumbags who think nothing about killing others. I am glad that the police are aware of these terrorists & I can only hope & pray that if anything horrible is planned, law enforcement is able to stop it before it happens & harms or kills innocent, peaceful, law abiding citizens.

Marcus @ 1/20/2017 12:33 PM

BB tactics will have greater significance in the coming years if First Amendment rights are shorted by agencies.

Sigh @ 1/22/2017 10:27 AM

Some clueless folks commenting here. For those that think the BB is a "Soros and Black Panther funded" group, they started in the 1980s in Germany. For cop haters, there are thousands of good cops for every bad one, yes, the bad ones need to be weeded out, they tarnish the shields of the rest. Too much to comment on, keep on fighting the good fight.

Jeffery Joseph Haas @ 1/22/2017 11:22 PM

Congratulations on a well written and informative piece of journalism.
Now if only larger police forces would or could read this, maybe they would lighten up on the peaceful folks and focus on these PARASITES.
Law enforcement NEEDS to unmask and identify them, and the left needs to wise up and recognize that these people are NOT their friends or a friend to liberal values anywhere.

Blake Friel @ 1/27/2017 6:31 AM

Anarchist are a bunch of morons and everyone defending them know nothing of history, human nature, or the roles of society. Thank you for this article speaking of the black block tactic. Lets be honest, everyone who participates in these are utter cowards. They commit acts of violence one to scurry away like the coward they are back to the block to hide because they know they wouldn't stand a chance on their own against any normal person. Just look at the attack on the idiot Spencer. How much of a limp noodle wristed man do you have to be that you can't even knock over a man that you have a running sucker punch on? Then he runs away because he knew if he stuck around he would be beaten to a pulp because all he could do was attack the unprepared. Bunch of idiotic cowards who participate in these things.

Zombee @ 2/3/2017 2:40 PM

The Police need to fight fire with fire. Cover your badges wear military style face masks. These Black Bloc terrorists should not be free to perpetrate the violence and property destruction we witnessed at Berkeley. The general public expects law enforcement to get a handle on this. If the cops wont do the job then the public will eventually go vigilante. Break out the rubber bullets, the flash bang grenades and start making some arrests and convictions.

Dexter Peabody @ 2/5/2017 7:15 AM

If ordinary Americans ever come to believe that constituted forces of law and orders have lost control, the anarchists are in a heap o' trouble.

Dexter Peabody @ 2/5/2017 7:16 AM

If ordinary Americans ever come to believe that constituted forces of law and orders have lost control, the anarchists are in a heap o' trouble.

Anna @ 2/12/2017 4:28 PM

What we want to know, in Sacramento, is the entire chain of command in Jerry Brown's insane political circus responsible for shutting down the police investigation into the violent black bloc attacks in June 2016. Because Dexter Peabody above is correct, if LE has their hands tied, Jerry Brown might be the first to come to understand the consequences of shutting down law and order, caveat being, if he has not gone totally senile.

Diane D @ 2/14/2017 3:23 PM

The Black Bloc is terrorizing Blue cities. Honestly, why should we care? We need new borders, with Blue cities on the other side of the wall. If they try to harm us in flyover country, they will have different results.

Cavalry 9 @ 4/9/2018 5:14 PM

OF COURSE people rioted when Huerte was shot! You have to be an idiot to think he got a gun into a patrol car after being arrested. The officer would have to be a moron to miss it. Why would he not have blown the cop away first? Makes no sense and youre lying or stupid ifyou think it does.

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