Masked protesters marched up and down Camelback Road Thursday waving shredded American flags, shouting expletives, and flipping off passing drivers as part of a worldwide show of discontent organized by hacktivist collective Anonymous.
Phoenix authorities warned nearby businesses of possible violence and a squad of bicycle-mounted police officers hovered nearby, but the seven-hour demonstration remained peaceful — unlike some of the other 650 rallies across the globe. In London, where tens of thousands assembled, protesters set police cars on fire and sent three officers to the hospital.
In a video, Anonymous said the day of action, dubbed the “Million Mask March,” was intended to let “various governments” know that “the free flow of information” will never be stopped. The group, which previously has launched cyber attacks protesting censorship and homophobia and outed thousands for frequenting child pornography websites, also published a list Thursday of hundreds of Ku Klux Klan members and sympathizers.
“This is our way of standing up and saying we’re not sitting idly by,” said a 34-year-old West Valley resident with a bandanna tied over her nose and mouth. In accordance with one of Anonymous’s few rules, she declined to give her name.
Aside from their angry dispositions and dogged determination not to be silenced, however, the protesters lacked shared purpose.
Some carried signs denouncing capitalism and the military. Some sought to draw attention to the dangers of fracking. “Sol not coal!” one demonstrator scrawled on a sun-colored poster board. Others chanted, “Eat the Rich! We want a class war!”
“It’s not like we handed in a list of demands,” said a 32-year-old San Tan Valley resident, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask decorated with purple glitter, carrying a sign proclaiming: “There is no such things as have-to, only choices." “The point is just to maybe wake some people up," she said. "Shake some people out of complacency.”
One man donned a rubber Donald Trump mask with the words “I am oppression” and “swine” tattooed on its cheeks with a Sharpie. A woman, wearing nothing but a pair of pasties and a thong, painted her body with admonitions to “love all” and “get behind ascension.”
Police brutality was a popular complaint. As they marched, carrying signs that said things like “Cops are bullies” and “#BlackGirlsMatter #BlueLivesMurder,” the group chanted, “Fuck the police! Fuck the police!”
At one point, a woman mounted a planter box on the corner of 22nd Street and started preaching about the need to approach the situation more calmly and rationally and stop “dumping gasoline on the fire.” For example, she argued, it does no good to blame all police for the few who use unreasonable force.
Someone from the crowd interrupted: “We need to get more people angry at these fucked-up situations that are happening! The more people that are angry the more scared the government will be!”
“We can’t do that until we’re united!” the woman shot back.
“Fuck the police!” someone else shouted. Then dozens more joined in: “Fuck the police! Fuck the police!”
Protesting so many different issues at once may not be “the clearest way” to effect change, a 24-year-old from Arcadia observed. He attended the rally, face wrapped in a black scarf, to express his disapproval of the Trans Pacific Partnership.
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“But this way we can do it together,” he said. “Even if we disagree with each other about what we want to change, we know we need change.”