The violence behind the mask

I have a confession to make.  I wear a mask sometimes.  I think I have a good excuse though: I play goal in pick-up hockey games in Ottawa.  My face may not be Tom Cruise-worthy, but I sure don’t want to look like Jacques Plante before he pioneered the wearing of face masks in the NHL back in 1959 (I even took a shot off the old noggin today and was happy that the wire and fibreglass contraption was between me and the puck!).

Most people in society don’t like it when other people they see walking down the street are sporting masks that hide their faces.  This may be why a majority of Canadians are opposed to Muslim women wearing nikabs which are, let’s ‘face’ it, masks.  It also explains why seeing a bunch of yahoos rampaging through your neighbourhood smashing windows while wearing disguises is not a great way to spend a Saturday evening.  And yet that is exactly what happened to a bunch of restaurant goers in downtown Hamilton last weekend.

A gaggle of self-styled anarchists calling themselves ‘the ungovernables’ (if they had been more clever they could at least have called themselves ‘the Untouchables’ and thereby made a neat reference to a great late 1950s TV series about crime fighters in 1930s Chicago) and arming themselves with rocks (no, I am not making this up) went on a vandalism spree in ‘gentrified’ Hamilton, smashing windows, gluing locks and spray painting ‘Hamilton is not your blank canvas’ (??) on a wall.  A blogger, either one of the marchers or a supporter, posted that the action was ‘frustration over the celebration of the revival of the city’s core’.


Hamilton has had a rough couple of decades, what with the loss of thousands of high-paying jobs in the steel mills at Dofasco and Stelco (I have relatives who worked at both) and the city’s downtown has seen better days.  So in light of efforts to improve it a group of anarchists took it upon themselves to smash local businesses?  Many of those hit were small shops, not the multinationals of the Starbucks ilk (that same blogger noted that a Starbucks franchise was too far away from the mob – had they been fit enough to jog over it could have been Seattle/Toronto all over again).  Let me get this straight: to help the little guy these idiots attacked the little guy. Is it just me or does this make no sense?

What then should we call last weekend’s events in the Steel City?  Gang violence?  Mob rule?  Terrorism?  It is hard to say.  For an act to be labelled terrorism there have to be two conditions: serious violence and ideological inspiration.  There seems to be little doubt about the latter but I am unsure whether property damage counts as ‘serious violence’.  No one was hurt as far as I have been able to determine.  So, was it an act of terrorism?  What do you think?

Or was it a pathetic frenzy by a bunch of losers?  There was also apparently an ‘anarchist book fair’ at a local high school that same weekend and the two events may be linked (an anarchist book fair?  Does that mean no one has to pay the HST?).  Some have agreed that downtown development needs to be discussed, as there are winners and losers when ‘gentrification’ happens, but that violence has no place in the debate.

Even if this does not qualify as terrorism it would be unwise to dismiss these acts as the frustrated actions by young people on the fringes of society and nothing more than petty crime.  After all, if you go back to David Rapoport’s classic thesis of the four waves of modern terrorism, it all began with the anarchist scourge of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  I do not want to give this crew more credit than they do not deserve, but anarchists did assassinate a Russian tsar, a Spanish prime minister, an Italian king and a US president.  Not all anarchists were content with lobbing stones through the plate glass of donut shops.

Many have said that we really need to re-tool our terrorism forces to worry less about Islamist extremists and focus on the far right.  In this vein we cannot ignore the far left, whether we are talking the shenanigans of Antifa, environmental activists – or anarchists.

I for one, though, am sick of morons with a cause hiding behind masks, whether they are jihadis or anarchists.  If you are really passionate about your cause, have the courage to show your face.  If not, don’t be surprised when we don’t take you seriously.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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