Note: despite the warning this post was too long for email, she persevered. You’ll likely need to click the link to my substack to view the full entry. Sorry, but I think this post is worth the trouble!
Two questions I get asked a lot: how do lefties turn out so many people yet still efficiently corral and move them through an urban area? and what is the interplay between the black bloc factions and the regular protest?
To answer this properly I’m going to share some links to better illuminate for you the degree of organization and planning it takes to successfully pull off a mass disruption, as well as illustrate the mutually-reinforcing, coordinated roles played by regular protesters and a black bloc. Then we’re going to break down the July 17 2020 Grant Park incident in Chicago, where black bloc and regular protestors put 49 police officers in the hospital during an attempt to tear down a Columbus statue. This incident was filmed from multiple angles, providing plenty of great footage for analysis. Quote from the linked article above:
The morning police news conference began with overhead video taken by city cameras, in an effort to show that some in the crowd of thousands that had marched toward the Columbus statue in Grant Park had planned an attack on police officers. It appeared at least a dozen people used umbrellas to shield people in the crowd who changed into all black clothing; distributed frozen water bottles, rocks and explosive devices that were thrown at officers; and used sharpened PVC pipe as a weapon, O’Shea said.
Theory and Concepts
First is a link to an leaked August 2017 agreement between bay area antifa and leftist activist groups, spelling out basic roles and supporting/training functions. This is one example of the type of coordination that is often done behind the scenes at ostensibly peaceful leftist protests, and contains some important basic principles. This is also known as “diversity of tactics.” Some notable points:
1. We agree to prioritize attending a non-violent direct action/de-escalation training in the next week, especially if we have not attended one in the past. A list of available trainings will be disseminated by email by Thursday, 8/17.
3. Participants agree to stand in solidarity with all counter-protestors resisting fascism on this day. While we may not personally like all the tactics we witness, we will not talk to the police or the media about any action taken by our fellow counter-protestors.
7. We will not talk to police except to direct them to the designated police liaison.
8. We will not take photos or video of Antifa except by permission or from behind, and even then we will take care not to show faces, shoes, or backpacks that could make them identifiable.
Second is a link explaining the critical role of the protest marshals, i.e the people wearing reflective vests in the stills and videos below. This position is crucial for keeping the action directed and controlled, and the characteristic lack of them is one of the biggest weaknesses at a right wing demonstration:
1. THE ROLE OF MARSHALS AT AN ACTION
To facilitate the action as planned;
To act as an information source between planners and demonstrators;
To help demonstrators be safe while and feel good about demonstrating;
To act as a buffer between police, hecklers and bystanders.
Third is a link to an explanation of Granovetter’s Riot Threshold Model, which is the linchpin to the black bloc being able to trigger a widespread violent incident:
The notion is that each person has some threshold of how many other people they have to see do something before they’ll do it. If they see that number of people do it, then they do it. If they don’t see that number do it, then they don’t do it. Nothing changed in their head that caused them to take action. It’s just that their threshold has been triggered.
If you have just a slightly different distribution of thresholds, you may get a completely different outcome. Take the example of 100 people who have thresholds ranging from 0 to 99. Under those conditions, everybody will riot. The person with a threshold of 0 takes action. The second person sees this first person riot, and the third person sees two other people rioting, and eventually everyone’s threshold is triggered and everyone is rioting. But if the person with a threshold of 1 was missing, no one else would riot and you would see only a single rioter!
Given that going to BLM protest is definitional self-selection for dislike of the police and a low violence threshold, the black bloc cadre is often large enough to leverage this principle through their own actions to create a violence cascade at will.
Imagery and Analysis
Let’s start with a map and still images, taken as screenshots from the two videos linked in the next section.
First up is an annotated map of Grant Park illustrating the course of the attack. Red is the path of the black bloc, yellow the accompanying protestors, blue (naturally) for the police:
This is Columbus Drive right before the march was redirected. Note the black bloc cadre near the front of the march.
This is the march the moment the protest marshals began to redirect the march towards the Columbus statue. The front and rear marshals are circled in yellow, notice the front marshals waving towards the path leading to the statue.
The bloc paused momentarily once out of the street to allow people the opportunity to bloc up and join if they desired. This individual is in the process of donning black clothing he had just dumped out of a backpack, and the umbrellas are an attempt to further obscure surveillance.
After a few minutes, the bloc moved toward its objective. The path is in red, the protest marshals circled in yellow. Note the route cleared through the crowd for the black bloc.
This is the last assembly point just short of the statue, which is just offscreen to the right. The bloc has reformed and the marshals (circled in yellow) have cleared space for the final approach.
Right before the charge, the black bloc dumped out aluminum cans and frozen water bottles for the protesters to throw at the police.
The bloc charged the police position under a hail of drink cans and tossed commercial fireworks. The banners carried at the front were disassembled, and the framing was used to stab and beat the officers.
The bright green hat is an observer from National Lawyers Guild, they collaborate closely with bloc members and often run bail/jail support programs for arrested rioters.
Note the smoke from explosives and the number of cans, two at the bottom have also just landed after narrowly missing officers.
NLG observers and protest marshals are circled here, note the explosion in the bike police line. Also note that the protestors are flowing around the statue, threatening to cut off the police and increasing their vulnerability to projectile attacks.
In the next two the police are overwhelmed and withdrawing, while the protestors keep the pressure on. Note the way the protestors are funneling the police, and a protestor bike barricade is forming at bottom right. NLG and Marshals circled in yellow.
In the second photo, take a closer look at the bike wall participants at the bottom right. Look closely at their upper arms; do you notice anything odd? (Answer found at the bottom)
In the next two photos the police have been pushed out of the area and their salient is collapsing while the protestor bike wall is strengthening, the last photo is the police being kettled. Note the protest marshals are in the front lines and clearly directing the action.
The next two photos show the black bloc having filled the space once the police were ejected, and a protest marshal supervising as the attempt to topple the statue begins. The attempt to bring down the statue ultimately failed, however the degree of dedication and skill needed to accomplish everything else that day should not be discounted.
I linked two important videos below, from which I grabbed the screenshots above. The first video is the breakdown CPD released of the beginning and midpoint of the assault, showing how the black bloc formed from the crowd and redirected the march toward the statue:
The second video is a separate video of the midpoint to the end, and illustrates the ersatz cavalry function the protesters fullfilled as a sort of flanking/blocking force, later building the bike wall and keeping LE from reentering the park once they had been pushed out. The black bloc was the center force pinning LE in place with constant pressure, then overrunning the statue and attempting to tear down the statue while the protesters kept LE overwhelmed and moving.
I hope this has been a helpful analysis for you, and if you liked it please subscribe, share, and join my patreon!
(answer to the question posed earlier about the bike wall photo: almost all have yellow armbands, likely to signify bike squad members and more proof this was preplanned.)
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