Photograph credit: Warren Wong
We should never underestimate the politics of fashion.
The pandemic-era dad joke goes something like this, “I never imagined I’d walk into a bank wearing a mask and demanding money.” Antifa, always on the avant-garde of social trends, were wearing masks long before the rest of us caught on and adopted the fashion. The cool kids were doing it, as well as donning All Black Everything, since before the turn of the century, adopting the look from the twentieth century atonomenist (autonomist Marxist) movement in Europe.
Masks serve a clear purpose. A message inserted inside packaging for thousands of masks at the 1999 “Carnival of Capitalism” protests that violently converged on London’s futures exchange read, “Those in authority fear the mask for their power partly resides in identifying, stamping and cataloguing: in knowing who you are … our masks are not to conceal our identity but to reveal it … Today we shall give this resistance a face; for by putting on our masks we reveal our unity; and by raising our voices in the street together, we speak our anger at the facelessness of power …”
The benefits of this sartorial choice are obvious to the revolutionaries. The New York Times quotes a 2001 post from Daniel Dylan Young: “‘Everyone quickly figured out,’ Mr. Young wrote, that ‘having a massive group of people all dressed the same with their faces covered not only helps in defending against the police, but also makes it easier for saboteurs to take the offensive against storefronts, banks and any other material symbols and power centers of capitalism and the state.’ … The creation of mass anonymity protects practitioners from the threat of post-action doxxing …, a process by which their identities and contact information, including addresses and places of employment, are publicized.” The benefits of anonymity and intimidation have not been lost on criminal elements of our society in the current mania over mask mandates.
An entire sub-genre of Riot Fashion has emerged, with particular attention to fabrics that provide better resistance against flammables, tear gas and other chemical contaminants, and to military style yet fashionable shoes such as Doc Martins to complete the look. The purpose is multi-fold. A large mass of all-black clad and masked troopers is clearly intimidating. The uniformity of the look provides both anonymity and a sense of group solidarity. The aesthetic of riot maintains the ideology of the movement. It blurs distinctions of class, gender, and ethnicity, an outcome wholly consistent with the broader social objectives of the radical Left. The look is simplistic and cost effective. Says one black bloc artist, “It’s tactical, and practical, and it’s also an art form.”
“Riot Fashion” is an extract from Michael Wilkerson’s upcoming book, Why America Matters: The case for a new exceptionalism.
© 2021 Michael Wilkerson