"If activists have nothing to hide, why are they wearing masks?"
I've heard that question over and over again. It usually comes in the form of a soundbite from someone affiliated with a corporation, industry or government agency that is attempting to smear lawful activists as "terrorists."
Their reasoning goes something like this: If you aren't doing anything wrong, you have no reason to hide your face. If you are hiding your face, it's an admission of criminal activity. Therefore, wearing a mask justifies rounding up lawful activists as "terrorists."
That's exactly what happened in the recent arrests of four activists on Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act charges in California. The FBI argues that activists "wearing bandanas to hide their faces" were intimidating, and that this therefore amounted to a campaign of terror.
That's exactly what happened in the recent
arrests of four activists on Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act charges in
that activists 'wearing bandanas to hide their faces' were intimidating, and
that this therefore amounted to a campaign of terror.
To those not familiar with grassroots activism, that might seem like a
pretty reasonable point. Masks are generally associated with bandits, ninjas
Hamburgler, all of which are quite intimidating. So, why would
someone want to cover their face at a protest?
Spying. The FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Forces
routinely spy on lawful, above-ground activists. For instance, the ACLU
exposed FBI agents
spying on animal rights activists who were leafleting outside of
HoneyBaked Hams. And
corporations have been tracking who activists are dating.
Blacklists. Government 'watchlists' have millions
of names. Recently in Maryland, it was exposed that law enforcement
kept terrorist files on environmentalists, antiwar activists, and nuns.
Grand jury witch hunts. Vocal, public activists are
routinely hauled before
grand juries in political witch hunts, and forced to testify about
their political beliefs and political associations. If they refuse, they
face jail time.
Infiltration. The government has been using paid
informants and provacateurs to keep tabs on lawful protest movements.
The recent case of the RNC 8 is a good example, and even more disturbing
'Anna,' the FBI informant who befriended activists and entrapped
Legal attacks. FBI agents have shown their
incompetence in attempts to track down underground members of the Animal
Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front. There have been arrests,
but those crimes overwhelmingly remain unsolved. Instead, law
enforcement has been cracking down on the public faces of those
movements and labeling them 'eco-terrorists.' A good example of that is
the SHAC 7
In this political climate, many activists have told me they face a
difficult decision. If they take to the streets and protest on a
controversial campaign (especially a campaign that has involved both legal
and illegal tactics), they risk this surveillance, harassment and
If they don't take to the streets, they are compromising their beliefs
and remaining silent about the things that matter.
For many, a solution has been to continue protesting on these campaigns,
but with masks covering their faces. It clearly isn't always the best
solution. It can alienate and isolate everyday people who might otherwise be
open to the message of the protest.
It clearly infuriates the feds that activists want to protect their
identities while continuing to advocate for what they believe. A Joint
Terrorism Task Force has even gone so far as to
an animal rights activist on felony charges for wearing a mask at a protest.
It would be a mistake, though, to blindly buy the FBI rhetoric. Wearing a mask may or may not best campaign decision for activists. But wearing a mask doesn't mean activists are guilty, or that they are 'terrorists.' For many activists, it simply means they don't trust FBI agents and corporations. The developments of the last few days have shown they have good reason to feel that way.
keywords: masks activists ALF wear