Constitutional Law

Hacktivist group's 'Million Mask March' sparks protests at US federal courthouses

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A “Million Mask March” on Thursday organized by the hacktivist group Anonymous on the anniversary of a failed British rebellion in 1605 reportedly created chaos in London.

But it also sparked apparently non-violent protests in the U.S. by individuals wearing the white mask associated with Anonymous and would-be assassin Guy Fawkes. They included at least two demonstrations at federal courthouses, according to and the Gadsden Times.

Articles in the Telegraph and The Week explain the significance of the Guy Fawkes anniversary, which commemorates a failed plot to assassinate King James I and his ministers by blowing up Westminster Palace as Parliament was opening. Lawmakers subsequently established Nov. 5, 1605 as a day of thanksgiving.

Traditionally, the anniversary was known as Bonfire Night and might involve burning the effigy of Guy Fawkes, although the historical plot has by now lost significance in the minds of many. However, in recent years the persona of Fawkes has been adopted by Anonymous as a symbol of protest, due to a graphic novel from the 1980s. V for Vendetta was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, both of whom are British. It was turned into a movie in 2006. The main character, an anarchist named V, wore the Guy Fawkes mask which has now been adopted by Anonymous.

On Thursday, about 35 people wearing bandanas, masks, scarves, hoods and even a gas mask marched through downtown Akron, Ohio, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. At one point they stopped outside the federal courthouse and shouted protests reports. A security guard urged them, with limited success, to make way for attorneys in business suits who were trying to get into the building.

Those who spoke with reporters offered a litany of objections to the current state of affairs in explanation of their demonstration.

“I’m against GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and the fluoridation of water, which is mass medicating the public,” city resident Paul Darlington, 40, told the Beacon Journal. “I’m against the government system for using our taxes and trying to steal our Social Security, mass murder of people all across the country for their oil and fracking.

“We’re here because we want to stand up for something. We just want to do something about how we feel about things. Everyone is so upset with the government, we’re just fed up.”

By 4 p.m., three protesters had been arrested outside the courthouse building, the newspaper reports. One was charged with burning a green flag and the others face disorderly conduct cases.

Only seven people showed up for the peaceful protest at the federal courthouse in Gadsden, Alabama, the Gadsden Times reports. A 27-year-old organizer who called himself “Levi” said the group had gotten a permit but was told they couldn’t use masks to cover their faces, although they could wear them on other areas of their bodies.

Masks were made illegal by the state in 1949, due to Ku Klux Klan activity, the newspaper says.

Levi said no one issue sparked the protest by his group, but cited concerns including police brutality, free-speech issues and spying by the National Security Agency.

Protesters also planned a stop at the new Kings County Courthouse near the conclusion of a march in Hansford, California, reports the Sentinel.

Over a dozen masked men and women showed up for the march, another Sentinel article reports.

“They’ve got a $124 million budget for the new courthouse,” a protester who identified himself as Francis told the newspaper, adding: “Last year, the entire budget for Kings County libraries was $2 million. That’s a tiny fraction.”

In London, authorities said 50 people were arrested during violent Million Mask March protests. These included the torching of a police car near the British Houses of Parliament and sent three police officers to the hospital, as well as injuring six police horses, reports CNN.

“There is no reason a select few can acquire so much while the majority suffers when we have the technology that would let every man, woman and child on Earth life better than the 1%,” said a YouTube video promoting the event, which was organized with the help of Facebook. “Installing a humanitarian-based, open-source government will ensure equality for all.”

Related coverage:

BBC News: “Million Mask March: What are Anonymous’ demands?”

RT (Russia Today): “2015 Million Mask March: Anonymous readies for global day of action in over 650 cities”

Geek Wire: “Amazon warns employees about ‘Million Mask March’ on Seattle HQ today”

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