Demonstrators facing off with police officers in downtown Washington appeared to be using some tactics associated with “black bloc” groups, which have been seen for decades across Europe and, most recently, cropped up during anti-Trump protests that erupted in Portland after Election Day.
“Black bloc” activists frequently take “advantage of the legitimate protesters to destroy things and emphasize their anarchist roots,” according to David Gomez, a former senior FBI counterterrorism official in Seattle, a city that has had high-profile encounters with such groups.
People in such groups will wear masks to cover their faces and dress in black so they can identify each other, Gomez said during an interview late last year. They will often attack the windows of cars, “preferably expensive ones,” and try to provoke police into responding, he said.
“They’re basically anti-capitalists,” Gomez said. “They like to destroy or damage businesses that reflect their view of the world order.”
Similar groups have also been a fixture of political protests across Europe for decades, cropping up repeatedly in Greece, where police had numerous standoffs with self-described anarchists clad in motorcycle helmets and face masks.
After Trump’s election last November, as protests unfolded in cities across the country, police in Portland said blamed anarchists “aligned with the black bloc groups” for destroying property in that city at the height of the demonstrations.