As a law enforcement, we recognize that Americans have the constitutionally protected right to assemble, speak, and petition the government and we safeguard these rights. Our interest in these activities should only be the safety and security of the public. Even so, we also have to understand that the larger a public demonstration becomes and the longer it goes, there is the potential that individuals from a wide variety of extremist viewpoints will be attracted to it because of the media attention it receives. Recent demonstrations around the world have been attended by individuals displaying extremist behavior and/or symbols of extremist ideology. Last September, in Calais, France, extremists clashed with protestors at an immigration rally forcing police to step in to end the confrontation.[i] Here in the United States, last July, armed militia members attended an anti-immigration rally in Phoenix, Arizona in order to “protect” a local political candidate even though he did not solicit their services.[ii]
As such it is highly probable that if violent extremists are present at a demonstration they will employ tactics to incite violence. Individuals will often use a lawful protest as an opportunity to instigate criminal behavior. Organized groups often employ tactics commonly referred to as ‘Black Bloc’ tactics. Black Bloc tactics have been used by numerous anarchist and revolutionary extremists for years. The hallmark of these tactics include the wearing of common colors to prohibit the identification of offenders, the use of protective equipment to counter police crowd control measures, the use of barricades to slow police response, paint bombs to obscure the vision of police officers – by covering their patrol vehicles or an officer’s helmet visor, and the use of Molotov cocktails to destroy property. These offenders will often operate in small teams and will use the cover of the larger crowd to conduct their attacks. After the attacks are conducted, the offender will return into the crowd to evade capture.
Today, the use of social networking services to encourage people to engage in acts of violence and other criminal activity has also been seen. Incidents of “spontaneous” group violence, theft, and robbery has occurred in several U.S. cities. Most of these incidents involved large groups looting stores, assaulting pedestrians, and then fleeing. Often times, these incidents are organized through the use of social networking sites and/or text messaging – similar to how a traditional flash mob might be organized. During the August 2011 riots in the United Kingdom; homes, businesses, and vehicles were destroyed and individuals were attacked. The British authorities stated the rioters used an instant messaging service to persuade others to join in on the unrest.[iii]
A successful campaign of organized Black Bloc tactics and general criminal activity can turn a peaceful demonstration into civil disorder. Individuals who take advantage of these events for their own illicit purposes can damage public and private property, as well as injure persons. This disruption to society, however brief, could have an impact on the local economy and would result in a significant cost to the communities affected. As law enforcement officers, we have to be prepared to protect an individual’s right to protest, all while protecting our communities, its citizens, and ourselves.
[i] Chazan, David. “Far-right Extremists Lead Hundreds in Calais Anti-Migrant Protests”. The Telegraph. 07 SEPT 2014.
[ii] Thompson, Catherine. “Candidate For AZ Governor Has No Idea Why Militia Was With Him At Protest”. TPM. 18 JUL 2014.
[iii] Halliday, Josh. “London Riots: BlackBerry to Help Police Probe Messenger Looting “Role”.
Guardian.co.uk. 08 AUG 2011.
 Thompson, Catherine. “Candidate For AZ Governor Has No Idea Why Militia Was With Him At Protest”. TPM. 18 JUL 2014.
 Halliday, Josh. “London Riots: BlackBerry to Help Police Probe Messenger Looting “Role”.
Guardian.co.uk. 08 AUG 2011.