Violence erupted on the fringes of the May Day rally in Paris on Tuesday, with 1,200 black-clad protesters running amok in the French capital.
Wearing black jackets and face masks, these “black bloc” protesters, who fall on the extreme left of the political spectrum and regularly clash with police at demonstrations around the world, ran amok, looting and setting fire to a McDonald's restaurant, torching a car, a mechanical digger and a scooter.
After the incident, the French authorities, who are finding it difficult to put a stop to such a well-organised movement, came under fire for not stopping them.
“We know that we are all filmed during the demonstrations,” a member of the movement told the French press. “We must be careful and we organize ourselves accordingly.”
“Basically, we are fighting to be able to exist politically without ending up in prison,” the activist said.
The “black bloc” member went on to describe how the group manages to meet at events without being stopped by the police, explaining how activists arrive at the event in “lots of different groups” and head for a meeting point.
“We've learned not to use the internet and trust each other. We know that there are spots where we will find each other.”
The 'bloc' assembles in 30 minutes to an hour and after that they “get the thing going”, the activist said.
“Black bloc” protesters are described variously as anti-capitalists, anti-globalization, anarchists and anti-fascists.
“To smash a McDonald's for me goes beyond being a symbol — it is useful. To break a shop window, to burn a car is not violent, because we attack only the symbol, the material, the money,” they said.
The damaged McDonalds restaurant on the annual May Day workers' rally in Paris on May 1, 2018. Photo: AFP
Once the event is over, the challenge for the protesters is to avoid arrest.
The technique is to “get dressed in a certain way, change without anyone seeing us, and exit the event in the same way that we came, without anyone knowing, as if nobody had come,” said the “black bloc” member.
But even if they are arrested, the movement is experienced and well-organised to the point of exchanging advice on the internet about how to behave if they are taken into police custody or searched.
And why are they going to all this trouble?
“We are not satisfied with just being indignant, just criticizing, petitioning against something that never changes anything. We go directly to taking action,” said the activist.
And how do they feel about the police?
Here the activist defends himself: “Sometimes we are forced to attack the cops, but personally they are not my main target, I will not attack cops if they did not do anything to me,” adding that the way the authorities work is “outdated”.
During the May 1st demonstration, the French police took several minutes to intervene after the violence began.
“They justified themselves by saying that if they had intervened on the bridge [Pont d'Austerlitz] it could have led to deaths. I think they are overwhelmed, they do not have the means.
“We have techniques, we are well organized, and there are too many people, it's unmanageable for them, there are loopholes and they are exploited.”