Remember remember the 5th of November

Today, protesters aligned with the hacker-activist group Anonymous held mass demonstrations in over 400 cities, from Sydney to Brussels. Used first by the Anonymous group in 2008 as they entered into open warfare against the Church of Scientology, the Guy Fawkes mask has since spread throughout protest movements around the world. Here’s how it all began.

The story of the mask began on the night of November 5, 1605. Throughout the following 400 years, England celebrated this day to remember the unsuccessful attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up the British Parliament as part of the Gunpowder Treason Plot. Today, the 5th of November commemorates Fawkes subversive ideas, and his mask has become a symbol against corruption transforming identifiable citizens into anonymous dissidents.

Hacktivist group Anonymous borrowed the Guy Fawkes Day to call on supporters from “all countries, all tribes, all religions and from all over the world” to join a global initiative of non-violent civil disobedience. During the Million Mask March, from dawn till dust, an army of people in Guy Fawkes masks can be seen parading the boulevards of the world metropolises.  I own a plastic replica of the mask myself. I bought it for the same reason someone would buy a fake  “Harry Potter” wand. I never thought that the Guy Fawkes mask would gain notoriety outside the circle of comic book aficionados and become a political statement in itself.  This probably would never have happend without V for Vendetta.

mask

“My feeling is the Anonymous group needed an all-purpose image to hide their identity and also symbolize that they stand for individualism — V for Vendetta is a story about one person against the system,” British graphic novel artist David Lloyd,  the man who created the original image of the mask for a comic strip written by Alan Mooretold BBC.

The Guy Fawkes mask was featured prominently in the 2006 film entitled V for Vendetta, and in the comic book series of the same name. The story takes place in an imaginary version of Great Britain where a revolutionary dressed as Guy Fawkes is determined to overthrow the fascist regime. The film adaption of V for Vendetta was released by Warner Brothers. With the help of Anonymous, the mask has become one of the most popular disguises and has contributed to the $28 billion in revenue Time Warner accumulated last year. Gradually the Guy Fawkes mask has become an icon of popular culture. It has been banned in three countries: Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

V

But who are the people behind the masks? Although largely described in the media as a loose-knit band of hackers and activists, Anonymous has amalgamated into a powerful force in recent years, having successfully waged operations that have gained international attention, including anti-censorship protests against corporate and government websites, and orchestrating campaigns that called attentions on-and-offline to allegations of corruption on all levels. As a worldwide movement, the Anonymous strength is to be everywhere and nowhere. The group has in the past rallied in support of the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and Army soldier-turned-whistle-blower Chelsea Manning, as well as the Occupy movement.

Bibbi Abruzzini
Bibbi Abruzzini is a foreign correspondent for the BALTIC REVIEW and international news agencies in South Asia. She is Italian, grew up in Brussels and has reported from several countries, including Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Croatia, France, India, Italy, Lebanon, Nepal, Tunisia,Turkey and the US - writing largely about social and development issues.