The Million Mask March, an event organized by the Anonymous collective, unfolded in hundreds of cities around the world and the United States today.
The District of Columbia was no exception, and participants in the event peacefully assembled at national landmarks, occupied the Capitol building’s steps, shut down Pennsylvania Avenue, and briefly laid siege to the Department of Justice headquarters.
The March began at the Washington Monument at nine in the morning, where the group organized themselves as participants arrived from as far away as California, Oregon, Canada, Texas, Florida, and Maine. The air was filled with an excitement as more and more people arrived. Signs were made drawing attention to various causes including NSA surveillance, genetically modified foods, auditing the Federal Reserve, and freeing imprisoned Anons; most notably Jeremy Hammond and the PayPal 14.
Tense moments occurred when participants confronted a person identified by Anonymous counter-intelligence activities as being a suspected federal informant. Moments later, hundreds of additional participants arrived at once, bringing the focus back to the event itself. At this point, the participants divided with the vast majority marching to the White House, leaving only small contingent remaining to occupy the Washington Memorial.
Million Mask March activists at Washington Monument.
After marching one block on the sidewalk in the direction of the White House, protesters took to the streets blocking traffic as they walked. Metro Police followed in marked patrol vehicles. Protesters chanted as they walked, claiming the streets as their own because their tax dollars paid for the construction.
Million Mask March participants on their way to the White House.
After arriving on the street that runs between the White House and Lafayette Square, marchers could walk into the park to hear music from activist/musician Steve Grant and listen to speeches given by Anons who were inclined to speak, or attempt to occupy the area directly in the front White House over law enforcement’s objections. The decision was made to remain in place until noon, even if it meant getting arrested. At noon, the protesters planned to relinquish control of the area, and march to the Capitol building.
Million Mask March gathered outside of White House.
In Lafayette Square, speakers addressed the crowd on a range of topics including healthcare, genetically modified foods, NSA surveillance, freedom of speech, imprisoned Anons, as well as awakening people. Steven Grant put on a free concert and distributed CDs and t-shirts to the crowd at no cost. This area of the event was specifically designed as kid friendly, and families were found picnicking on blankets.
John Fairhurst and Steve Grant addressing the Million Mask March crowd.
At the White House fence, tensions between law enforcement and demonstrators escalated as more police vehicles arrived. The demonstrators ignored repeated law enforcement commands to move off of the street and in to Lafayette Square, thirty feet away, where the permitted event was taking place. Demonstrators were adamant that the First Amendment to the Constitution, which recognizes peaceable assembly as an inalienable right, was the only permit they required.
Anonymous activists refusing to leave the area in front of the White House.
In an attempt to contain the civil disobedience, law enforcement cordoned off the area with yellow police tape. The plastic tape was immediately torn down by an Anon who identified himself as Michael Carr. Law enforcement immediately descended on the man, placing him on the ground and detaining him. The arrest provoked outrage from protesters who surrounded the officer. Additional officers made an unsuccessful attempt to form a ring around the arrest site. One of the other masked protesters dropped to the ground and spoke to Carr through the legs of the officers, obtaining his vital information to be passed on to lawyers and make arrangements for any bail.
The incident occurred just minutes before the established time to turn the area back over to law enforcement. Anonymous held the area a half hour longer than initially planned. It was unclear if this delayed start was in response to Carr’s arrest.
Anonymous activist on the ground breaking the police ring to gather Michael Carr's information.
When the Marchers proceeded to the Capitol, they again left a small group behind in the Lafayette Square/White House area. Metro Police proactively blocked traffic ahead of the march. The number of participants led to the march filling all lanes of traffic traveling both directions. Motorists caught in the ensuing traffic jam recorded the protesters filing past on their cell phones and in some cases cheered the marchers on.
Anonymous activists blocking all lanes of traffic on Pennsylvania Ave.
Marchers were met on the Capitol steps by barricades and a large show of force from law enforcement. Undeterred, the marches used the barricades as seating and a back drop for speeches. They addressed law enforcement directly and proclaimed their peaceful intentions. Police and protesters facing off over the barricades began having small conversations over the walls and were soon laughing and joking about the other’s stereotype. The police would be asked for donuts, and they would instruct the protesters to find them in their mother’s basement. For a few brief moments, all tensions had evaporated.
An unidentified female protester then appeared to lose her balance while standing on one of the dividing walls, and rather than fall, jumped down on the police side of the barricade. She was immediately taken into to custody. The incident brought jeers from protesters who chanted “Shame on you!” and “Let her go!” repeatedly as she was being led up the steps into the Capitol.
Million Mask March occupying the steps of the Capitol.
The marchers then walked around the Capitol to the visitor’s entrance, and some began taking the tour inside while yet another arrest was made for crossing the barricades. In line for the tour, a white male presenting himself as a protester was identified as a plain clothes officer attempting to gather intelligence on protesters. Once identified and confronted, he quickly left the area.
Capitol Hill Police demonstrates a show of force on the steps.
As the desire to occupy the steps of the Capitol faded, the marchers took back to the streets without clear destination to disrupt traffic in order to draw more attention to the causes being represented. The strategy succeeded as some passersby joined the march, while others asked what the mask meant. At one point during the march, a pair of boys were being chastised by a police officer for riding their skateboards on the sidewalk when the Million Mask March passed. The boys joined the march and a few turns later, were skating freely down Pennsylvania Avenue as Anonymous blocked traffic in all directions. A few blocks later, the collective staged a short sit-in in the middle of the world’s most famous road, blocking all traffic. Many participants broke out into dance in the middle of the street.
John Fairhurst, Steven Grant, and Spektre Mous during the Million Mask March.
Once back underway, the March passed the headquarters for the United States Department of Justice. As protesters approached, the guards outside of the building retreated inside and closed the heavy metal-reinforced doors. This move emboldened protesters to briefly lay siege to the building. Activists climbed up poles and banged on the door while asking to speak with Attorney General Eric Holder. Mr. Holder was unavailable.
Million Mask March lays siege to the Department of Justice headquarters.
The next stop on the March was the building believed to headquarter Monsanto, a biotech giant with major interests in genetically modified foods. It was widely speculated among marchers that the building had received advance notice of their approach. Upon arrival, the protesters found the building completely sealed in the middle of a workday. The protesters briefly attempted to force their way inside the building until cooler heads prevailed and the groups began handing out flyers to pedestrians demonstrating the dangers of genetically modified organisms.
Anonymous activist channeling Tiananmen Square outside the World Bank.
At the intersection of Pennsylvania and 18th, the marchers again staged a sit-in, just outside the World Bank where they discussed the application of fiat money and the debt crisis. Another spontaneous bout of dancing in the streets occurred prior to moving on.
Million Mask March sit in outside of the World Bank.
The Million Mask March then returned to the White House to continue the protest, and begin planning for another march next year. To those that participated, the event was a resounding success. The civil disobedience gained the world’s attention and there was no violence. The activists reason that if people see the acts and research the causes, it was worth it. Anonymous has put the governments of the world on notice; an organizer with the event explained with two words:
John Fairhurst, a primary organizer and planner states that today did not go as planned, but that he was very happy with the way things turned out, and is eagerly looking forward to next year’s event.