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Tension between ‘Black Bloc’ and Occupy movement explodes in the wake of the NATO summit

By: Scott Ellingson ( 

In the wake of the media attention given to this ‘black bloc’ of Chicago anarchists at the battle of Michigan and Cermak last month, some in the more mainstream Occupy movement cried foul, exposing a critical enmity between non-violent protestor organizations and anarchist quasi-organizations that are oriented towards direct action.


At five o’clock in the afternoon on the first official day of the NATO summit, Sunday, May 27, the media’s cameras were glued to the violent confrontation between Chicago Police—sporting black riot gear and wielding shields and batons—against the water bottles and buckets of protestors who refused to disperse.

The battle of Michigan and Cermak arose after the successful permitted march of about three thousand protestors organized under the Occupy banner. The march ended with the emotional ceremony where Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan threw their medals towards McCormick place. After the march, the police demanded the groups disperse to the west, away from the summit. Some protestors did not heed the police’s demand.

The protestors at Michigan and Cermak were organized under the anarchist flag and in the tactic of the ‘black bloc,’ where participants cover their faces in black bandanas and wear black clothing to create the appearance of an unending block of humanity.

In the week after the summit, there were 1,017 articles aggregated by Google News mentioning the black bloc in context of the NATO summit. In the second week, that number had risen to 1,750. The schism between direct action and nonviolence, between anarchists and nonviolent Occupiers occurred mainly on Twitter and political blogs of the left and right.The radical anarchists argued that the violence of capitalism warranted a violent response in turn, while more mainstream Occupiers emphasized the passive power of sit-ins and non-violent occupations of the symbols of the wealthiest Americans. The more mainstream Occupiers also put an emphasis on the courting of a wide alliance of historically progressive institutions: labor unions, pro-immigration groups, and anti-war activists.

[Photo Courtesy of Chicago Tribune]

 On the Tuesday after the battle, Carl Gibson, founder of US Uncut, an anti-tax dodging group, published an open letter on the Huffington Post, decrying the anarchists for drawing the attention of the media away from veteran’s ceremony. Specifically, he argued that the anarchists’ “childish behavior” detracted from the “emotionally-gripping ceremony”, furthermore he said “And it would have been the media’s top story and the topic of everyone’s conversations if you didn’t have to act like a selfish bunch of clowns.”

In February, award-winning journalist Chris Hedges, on, led his prescient editorial against black bloc anarchists by calling them a “cancer of the Occupy movement” and “a gift from heaven to the security and surveillance state.” In arguing against the anarchists, Hedges restated the broad goal of the occupy movement at its origin:

‘This is a struggle to win the hearts and minds of the wider public and those within the structures of power (including the police) who are possessed of a conscience. It is not a war. Nonviolent movements, on some level, embrace police brutality. The continuing attempt by the state to crush peaceful protesters who call for simple acts of justice de-legitimizes the power elite.’

The defenders of the ‘black bloc’ tactic are sporadic and largely anonymous. Writing before the battle, the radical magazine Adbusters supported the anarchist faction of the Occupy movement in a May 7 blog post, noting the amount of media attention their unorthodox tactics elicited from the media and endorsing their vitality against the implied caution of the hidebound mainstream Occupiers and their labor allies. Adbusters did not mention violence as a tactic of the anarchists, but focused on “the de-arresting of comrades, throwing eggs filled with paint, using homemade smoke-creating incendiaries to confuse police, and the rejection of media.”

In the largely anonymous cyberspaces, one video introduction to black bloc tactics uploaded by user “rageunderground” on YouTube describes the mission of the black bloc as overtly public acts of violence, stating:

“‘Black Bloc’ activists are not Protesters, they are not there to protest, they are there to take direct action against the machineries of oppression. Their actions are designed to cause material damage to oppressive institutions, but much more importantly they are intended as theatre. As a dramatized illustration that even in the face of an overwhelming police state the people still have the power.”

 The continuing tension between the two groups is clear on Twitter, one of the de facto media distribution networks of the Occupy movement. Twitter user “OccupyRene” exemplified the uneasiness between the competing factions in the aftermath of the battle and the NATO summit in a Tweet on May 26:

“I’m no anarchist but I can’t deny that the black bloc saved our asses multiple times while marching last Saturday in Chicago”


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