It may be very difficult to not notice them during rallies. Hooded, dressed in black, they are hundreds, sometimes more, to parade during important local or more international political events.
A black bloc is a name given to groups of protesters who wear black clothing, scarves, sunglasses, ski masks, motorcycle helmets with padding, or other face-concealing and face-protecting items. The clothing is used to conceal marchers’ identities, and hinder criminal prosecution, by making it difficult to distinguish between participants. It is also used to protect their faces and eyes from items, such as pepper-spray, which are often used by law enforcement during protests or civil unrest. The tactic allows the group to appear as one large unified mass.
Black bloc has become a generic term for ultraradical, highly mobilised leftwing groups often associated with anti-capitalism, anti-globalisation, anti-fascism and anarchism.
The black bloc is not a group or organisation, it’s something that happens on marches or actions. It’s not pre-planned: it relies on people turning up with the same ideas and clothes. That is why there is a “uniform”: people who want to take direct action and resist containment arrive on the day in black and identify people with the same ideas this way.
In the legal sense, those who damage property or fight the police have committed crimes, so yes they are criminals. But in everyday language, a criminal is someone who lives by criminal means…
The tactic was developed in the 1980s in the European autonomist movement’s protests against squatter evictions, nuclear power and restrictions on abortion, as well as other influences. Black blocs gained broader media attention outside Europe during the 1999 Seattle WTO protests, when a black bloc damaged property of Gap, Starbucks, Old Navy, and other multinational retail locations in downtown Seattle.