Please consider supporting my writing on Patreon.
Mention of the potential importance of carrying a mask has been made in both OPSEC for Activists Part 1 and OPSEC for Activists Part 2. There’s been brief mention of some of the reasons why it might be important to carry a mask, and this post will delve a little deeper into the subject.
There are a myriad good reasons to wear a mask to a protest, even if you feel no guilt or shame being there. Those reasons may include:
Dragnet Surveillance: It is not uncommon for police officers to record crowds of protesters at demonstrations. While having your face appear in this footage isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, for the sake of your privacy, it may be worth masking up anyway. Additionally, people whose faces appear in these videos are often either approached to testify against comrades in court cases, targeted for harassment by police, or accused of committing crimes due to proximity and convenience.
Child Custody Concerns: If you are a parent, it is entirely possible that your presence at protests could conceivably endanger your custody rights. If you have a vindictive ex, or other relative trying to gain custody of your children, they may cite your presence at protests as either neglect or child endangerment, depending on whether or not your children are at the demonstration with you. In light of this, it is best to wear a mask, and if you plan on bringing your children with you, you may wish to recommend that they wear masks as well.
Precarious Employment: If you are working for an employer who is either unsupportive of your political leanings, or doesn’t know you’re taking time off work to attend a demonstration (or deal with an arrest/court case), it may be wise to cover your face while you attend political actions. While it’s true that in most states and for most jobs, you can’t be fired for what you do in your time off, many employers are willing to either find ways to work around this, or flout these rules entirely. It’s not worth risking your livelihood by showing up on the evening news, when a simple bandana could save you from trouble in the first place.
Social Consequences: Perhaps you have a parent who worries too much, or a church community with varying values, or peers at work or school who might ostracize you. Perhaps you’re worried about future employment opportunities, or judgement from your in-laws, or weird looks from your neighbors. In any case, even if the social consequences aren’t terribly serious, it’s better to wear a mask than it is to allow potential social consequences to dissuade you from going to a demonstration at all.
Fascist Creeps: It is, perhaps, no surprise that white supremacists on the internet frequently go through photos from protests in order to identify and track down people whose politics don’t line up with their own. It is fairly common practice for them to circulate false rumors, attempt to get Child Protective Services involved in family situations, get people fired from their jobs, or attempt to fabricate incriminating evidence to turn over to law enforcement. Fascist creeps, as a matter of fact, represent all the threats laid out prior to their mention, as well as carrying with them the implicit threat of violence after the action is over. For the sake of protecting yourself from angry neo-nazis, it’s wise to not only mask up, but also to cover up any distinguishing marks such as tattoos, piercings, or scars as best as possible, in order to avoid being identified by the white supremacist fascists known as the “alt-right.”
Stock Photos: A much less serious threat than Actual Fucking Nazis, you do not want to be identifiable as part of a protest stock photo. The likelihood of accidentally being the poster child for a super awkward headline written by hyperconservatives isn’t high, per se, but as it’s easily avoidable by simply wearing a mask, the mask is probably the way to go.
Expanding the Anonymity Set: Even if you’ve gotten all the way through this post and don’t feel the need to wear a mask, I’d like to ask you to please consider whether or not any of the threats laid out affect anyone you care about. While there are certainly a myriad of ways to identify even masked activists, if someone is willing to put in the effort, the more of us who wear masks, the less likely someone is to be spotted and have their kids taken away, or fired from their job. The more masked demonstrators there are in the streets, the less likely any one of us will be tracked down and threatened (or attacked) by right wing extremists. Even if you are not personally at risk, wearing a mask is both an important act of solidarity with our comrades, and also an effective means of helping them disappear into the masked crowd.
So have fun storming the castle, stay safe, and Always Carry A Bandana.