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What are 'black bloc' anarchists?
The controversial protest tactic has a checkered history.
- "Black blocs" are a common sight in protests.
- The black-garbed and masked protesters often commit acts of violence and vandalism, and the tactic is most commonly associated with anarchists.
- Learning about the history of the tactic and how its used can help you navigate and understand modern protest movements.
On January 20, 2017, white nationalist Richard Spencer was giving an interview during Donald Trump's inauguration when he was punched in the face. In 1999, hundreds of protesters formed a human chain in Seattle to prevent world leaders from entering a convention center scheduled to host WTO talks. In 1987, a large group of anti-capitalist and anti-government West Germans assembled to protest police violence.
Though they varied in nature and purpose, each of these instances share several characteristics. Most notably, perhaps, is the fact that each of these moments featured a black bloc.
Generally associated with anarchists, the black bloc is a controversial protest tactic — you've probably seen it before on the news even if you weren't aware of the term. It's fairly straightforward tactic: Protesters cover themselves in black clothing and face coverings, masking their identities so that they can commit acts of often violent and illegal civil disobedience.
The origin of the black bloc
Despite being straightforward, the black bloc is a relatively new phenomenon. It was first deployed in West Germany in the 1970s and '80s prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. West Germany had been hit with an economic recession, preventing many young people from finding jobs. One viable method to find housing was to squat in the abandoned buildings of the inner city — due to the recession and increasing movement to the suburbs, large swathes of West German inner cities were abandoned. In these squatter communities, radical, grassroots movements sprung up that criticized the West German government's policies, the use of nuclear power, and a mish-mash of other social and political issues.
Because they were squatting illegally and had developed some radical ideas, these anarchists clashed with police in a series of increasingly violent conflicts. Daniel Dylan Young, who writes for the anarchist site A-Infos, explains how the black bloc tactic evolved as a result. Note that Young refers to the anarchist squatters as "autonomen" in reference to their pursuit of autonomy from individuals and the state.
In response to violent state oppression radical activists developed the tactic of the Black Bloc: they went to protests and marches wearing black motorcycle helmets and ski masks and dressing in uniform black clothing (or, for the most prepared, wearing padding and steel-toed boots and bringing their own shields and truncheons). In Black Bloc, autonomen and other radicals could more effectively fend off police attacks, without being singled out as individuals for arrest and harassment later on. And, as everyone quickly figured out, 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. Masking up as a Black Bloc encouraged popular participation in public property destruction and violence against the state and capitalism. In this way the Black Bloc is a form of militance that mitigates the problematic dichotomy between popularly executed non-violent civil disobedience and elite, secretive guerilla terrorism and sabotage.
The tactic spread throughout Europe as the years went on. When Ronald Reagan visited West Germany in 1987 to deliver his "tear down this wall" speech, he was met by tens of thousands of protesters, about 2,000 of which were assembled in a black bloc. The reason for their uniform was made clear as they smashed store windows, flung bottles, fought police, and lit cars on fire.
The black bloc in the "Battle for Seattle"
Anti-WTO protesters run from exploding tear gas grenade in 1999. Photo credit: KIM STALLKNECHT / AFP / Getty Images
Today, the black bloc is seen in protests around the world, including the U.S. One of the first major instances of its use was in Seattle in 1999 at the WTO protests mentioned in earlier in this article. Forty thousand protesters arrived to demonstrate against the WTO's trade policies, many of whom were prolabor, anticapitalist, or anarchists. The anarchists formed a black bloc, blocking streets, smashing windows, destroying cop cars, and other acts of vandalism and violence.
The "Battle for Seattle" works as an excellent example of why the black bloc tactic is controversial. Its purpose is to get away with violent, illegal acts of civil disobedience. Some would argue this isn't the only time a black bloc is used, but historically, the tactic is deployed to commit violence and property damage. This is obviously not something the police would condone, but other, non-violent protesters often try to break up black blocs as well. After all, the use of violence can delegitimize a protest, making it easy to characterize the opposition as "thugs." Throughout the WTO protests, black bloc anarchists were chased away by other protesters numerous times, sometimes shouting "no violence, no violence."
Modern instances of black blocs
Activists assemble to protest Donald Trump's inauguration.Photo credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS / AFP / Getty Images
Since then, black bloc tactics have been deployed in the U.S. a number of times, and it seems like its use is ramping up. In the Occupy movement, a black bloc showed up in force, and their presence there was a serious bone of contention. In Occupy Oakland, black bloc'ers tried to set fire to a supermarket, only to be stopped by other protesters who linked their arms to protect the store. One Occupier said, "The Black Bloc anarchists, who have been active on the streets in Oakland and other cities, are the cancer of the Occupy movement."
When the extremely controversial writer Milo Yiannopolous was scheduled to speak at UC Berkley, massive protests broke out, also featuring a black bloc. The anarchist and anti-fascist black bloc'ers threw Molotov cocktails, lit cars on fire, and ultimately caused around $800,000 in property damage. However, Yiannopolous's speech was canceled, and while the vast majority of the student body condemned the violence, some supported the black bloc. Students wrote, "A peaceful protest was not going to cancel that event…. Only the destruction of glass and shooting of fireworks did that," and "To people with platforms who decide when a protest should and should not be violent: You speak from a place of immense privilege."
Do they have a point? Is violence and property damage a legitimate form of protest? Most would say no, and there's research to suggest that the use of violence is ultimately counter-productive in any movement. In a 2015 study on the efficacy of using violence in resistance movements, professors Erica Chenoweth and Kurt Schock analyzed a data set of various violent and nonviolent movements and their outcomes. They write,
Our results suggest that the political effects [of violence] are beneficial only in the short term, with much more unpredictable and varied long-term outcomes. Alternately, violent flanks may have both positive and negative political impacts, which make the overall effect of violent flanks difficult to determine. We conclude that large-scale maximalist nonviolent campaigns often succeed despite intra- or extramovement violent flanks, but seldom because of them.
Though the UC Berkeley students managed to get Yiannopoulous's speech canceled, they also opened themselves up to harsh criticism, likely turned public opinion away from them, and provided ammunition for the opposition. Essentially, the controversy behind black blocs boils down to the fact that winning a battle doesn't win you the war; of course, a black bloc anarchist would say it's hard to win a war without winning any battles.
Whatever your position on its use, understanding the black bloc, its purpose, and its likely outcomes can help in navigating the complexities of modern protest movements. The presence of violent fringes is inevitable in any sufficiently large protest. Recognizing their form can help protesters — radical or otherwise — prepare themselves for how to react.
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to life recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
- As the material that makes all living things what/who we are, DNA is the key to understanding and changing the world. British geneticist Bryan Sykes and Francis Collins (director of the Human Genome Project) explain how, through gene editing, scientists can better treat illnesses, eradicate diseases, and revolutionize personalized medicine.
- But existing and developing gene editing technologies are not without controversies. A major point of debate deals with the idea that gene editing is overstepping natural and ethical boundaries. Just because they can, does that mean that scientists should be edit DNA?
- Harvard professor Glenn Cohen introduces another subcategory of gene experiments: mixing human and animal DNA. "The question is which are okay, which are not okay, why can we generate some principles," Cohen says of human-animal chimeras and arguments concerning improving human life versus morality.
New studies stretch the boundaries of physics, achieving quantum entanglement in larger systems.
- New experiments with vibrating drums push the boundaries of quantum mechanics.
- Two teams of physicists create quantum entanglement in larger systems.
- Critics question whether the study gets around the famous Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
Recently published research pushes the boundaries of key concepts in quantum mechanics. Studies from two different teams used tiny drums to show that quantum entanglement, an effect generally linked to subatomic particles, can also be applied to much larger macroscopic systems. One of the teams also claims to have found a way to evade the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
One question that the scientists were hoping to answer pertained to whether larger systems can exhibit quantum entanglement in the same way as microscopic ones. Quantum mechanics proposes that two objects can become "entangled," whereby the properties of one object, such as position or velocity, can become connected to those of the other.
An experiment performed at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, led by physicist Shlomi Kotler and his colleagues, showed that a pair of vibrating aluminum membranes, each about 10 micrometers long, can be made to vibrate in sync, in such a way that they can be described to be quantum entangled. Kotler's team amplified the signal from their devices to "see" the entanglement much more clearly. Measuring their position and velocities returned the same numbers, indicating that they were indeed entangled.
Tiny aluminium membranes used by Kotler's team.Credit: Florent Lecoq and Shlomi Kotler/NIST
Evading the Heisenberg uncertainty principle?
Another experiment with quantum drums — each one-fifth the width of a human hair — by a team led by Prof. Mika Sillanpää at Aalto University in Finland, attempted to find what happens in the area between quantum and non-quantum behavior. Like the other researchers, they also achieved quantum entanglement for larger objects, but they also made a fascinating inquiry into getting around the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
The team's theoretical model was developed by Dr. Matt Woolley of the University of New South Wales. Photons in the microwave frequency were employed to create a synchronized vibrating pattern as well as to gauge the positions of the drums. The scientists managed to make the drums vibrate in opposite phases to each other, achieving "collective quantum motion."
The study's lead author, Dr. Laure Mercier de Lepinay, said: "In this situation, the quantum uncertainty of the drums' motion is canceled if the two drums are treated as one quantum-mechanical entity."
This effect allowed the team to measure both the positions and the momentum of the virtual drumheads at the same time. "One of the drums responds to all the forces of the other drum in the opposing way, kind of with a negative mass," Sillanpää explained.
Theoretically, this should not be possible under the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, one of the most well-known tenets of quantum mechanics. Proposed in the 1920s by Werner Heisenberg, the principle generally says that when dealing with the quantum world, where particles also act like waves, there's an inherent uncertainty in measuring both the position and the momentum of a particle at the same time. The more precisely you measure one variable, the more uncertainty in the measurement of the other. In other words, it is not possible to simultaneously pinpoint the exact values of the particle's position and momentum.
Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle Explained. Credit: Veritasium / Youtube.com
Big Think contributor astrophysicist Adam Frank, known for the 13.8 podcast, called this "a really fascinating paper as it shows that it's possible to make larger entangled systems which behave like a single quantum object. But because we're looking at a single quantum object, the measurement doesn't really seem to me to be 'getting around' the uncertainty principle, as we know that in entangled systems an observation of one part constrains the behavior of other parts."
Ethan Siegel, also an astrophysicist, commented, "The main achievement of this latest work is that they have created a macroscopic system where two components are successfully quantum mechanically entangled across large length scales and with large masses. But there is no fundamental evasion of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle here; each individual component is exactly as uncertain as the rules of quantum physics predicts. While it's important to explore the relationship between quantum entanglement and the different components of the systems, including what happens when you treat both components together as a single system, nothing that's been demonstrated in this research negates Heisenberg's most important contribution to physics."The papers, published in the journal Science, could help create new generations of ultra-sensitive measuring devices and quantum computers.