“I’m anti-government, I don’t care who it is,” said a woman wearing a mask with the likeness of a 17th century British conspirator outside the Capitol on a dreary Sunday afternoon.
In the 400 years that have passed since Guy Fawkes’ infamous plot to destroy the British House of Lords and assassinate King James I, he’s become the unlikely hero of ideological rebels everywhere. If you’ve got grievances against the system, a grudge against the world order, and an insatiable urge to take down the masterfully hidden yet omnipresent powers-that-be, Fawkes is your guy. Forget Bonfire Night, welcome to the Million Mask March - all about embracing the kind of rebellion that Fawkes and his co-conspirators stood for, not burning it in an effigy.
“We’re all done and extremely tired of dealing with all this fucking corruption,” said one Fawkes-clad man from Ohio. He said he’d saved up for two years to make the trip down to Washington for the annual event, organized in cities worldwide by members of Anonymous - a loosely-defined collective of so-called political “hacktivists” who breach government and corporate servers in the name of justice.
In the spirit of Guy Fawkes (and that one scene from the 2005 thriller V for Vendetta), the group and like-minded individuals staged marches in cities worldwide that are, broadly speaking, anti-government and anti-corruption. Other issues, including police brutality and environmental degradation, are brought in yearly as recent news necessitates. The London event is typically one of the largest and most raucous, with numbers regularly stretching into the thousands. Masked marchers set fire to an American flag during this year’s event in Trafalgar Square.
Turnout stateside has typically been less reliable, varying with the urgency incurred by the year’s political climate. Since its first march in 2013, which drew an estimated 1,500 participants, the Washington iteration of the Million Mask March has waxed and waned. Last year’s event, just three days before the election, brought out hundreds who fumed at the moral and financial corruption of candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and an establishment they saw as having robbed them of a fair choice. It was a confrontational attitude which put them face-to-face with police and security officers at a number of government offices, leading to two arrests.
But some attendees this year remarked that the atmosphere seemed more muted, drawn back from the palpable sense of anger in previous events. Only about 50 people joined, with a morning spent smoking cigarettes outside the Washington Monument and White House in the midst of a cool autumn drizzle.
After briefly challenging an anti-immigration group for being anti-American “race haters,” they led a diffuse march with infrequent chants like “you won’t stop the revolution” to the Capitol and Monsanto’s Washington field office. One member of Anonymous announced his satisfaction at Trump being elected president. “He trolled his way into the White House and that’s legendary,” he said, “may he burn down the entire system as it needs to be burned down!”
Owing to the wide variety of opinions of the march normally hosts, others seemed to disagree, calling on Trump - and his predecessor Barack Obama - to be arrested and tried on corruption charges. It was over by early afternoon, far removed from the day-long, often frenetic marching seen in previous years.
One activist suggested an explanation may be an emerging schism within the group’s ranks after John Anthony Fairhurst, an organizer central to the Washington march since its inception in 2013, implied to reporter Ford Fischer that he regards physical force as a justifiable alternative to peaceful demonstration.
"Get ready. Lock and load,” he said at this year’s march. “That's what the second amendment is for."
Fairhurst’s remarks seemed to dismay his fellow Washington marchers, and drew the attention of others associated with Anonymous abroad. Kevin Allan, an Anonymous activist under the alias "Masterofmanythings,” contacted News2Share by email to comment that Fairhurst’s “violent nature” had alienated others in the movement and discouraged would-be marchers from attending.
I just saw your interview with John Fairhurst and thought I should reach out to you to clear up a few things. First, although John did work to organize the marches the idea came from Anonymous activists in the U.K. who flooded the streets with nearly 80,000 people to stand against parliament in 2011. Many within the Anonymous collective have disassociated with the march and Mr. Fairhurst because of his violent nature. For the last 4 years a group of anons have been collecting data on Fairhurst and many believe he is part of a cointelpro operation design to keep average americans from protesting at all. Anonymous as I and many know it, is not violent in any fashion and do not put themselves in the spotlight. If you look at the participation over the last few years it has only declined and the few that still follow Fairhurst are mostly groupies looking to be cool and have a party. Usually a protest has not only a list of grievances but also remedies for the issue, Fairhurst offers neither.
Other participants blamed depressed turnout on the weather, or decreasing enthusiasm for protest after a torrent of marches and rallies in the months following the election. Some observed that a polarized political climate seemed to favor street activism divided along political lines, so interest in an event seeking to unite anti-establishment activists from both sides may have waned.