Masked protesters decided the revolution must be livestreamed last night in London as supporters of the anarchist hacking collective Anonymous took to the streets to take selfies, pose with police officers, and protest against everything from the Conservative government to the war in Syria, via media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
Thousands of people of all ages participated in the "Million Mask March," which began at central London's Trafalgar Square, and hundreds of police were also out in force.
Anti-establishment group Anonymous is associated with hacking multinational corporations and government websites. The London event's Facebook page described it as a protest against the "abuses and malpractice of [the] government," increased state surveillance, the government's disregard for migrants, the poor, elderly, and disabled."
The final tally from the night saw 50 people arrested, including three men — aged between 38 and 55 — who were detained in advance of the march on suspicion of "being in possession of offensive weapons."
The UK's Metropolitan Police also said three officers were taken to hospital with injuries sustained policing the protests, though the injuries are not believed to be life threatening.
A police car was set alight at Queen Anne's Gate just before 8pm GMT. VICE News saw protesters smashing the windows of the vehicle and placing a flaming bag inside it, while approaching police officers shouted at observers to "stand back," before rushing to put the fire out.
A video captured by VICE News also showed a demonstrator being run over by a white Aston Martin sports car. The injured man was later taken away by medics.
Officials on megaphones announced repeatedly that face masks must be removed when demanded by a police officer. A statement issued in advance of the demonstration highlighted the UK law that gives officers the power to ask members of the public to remove facial coverings "where police anticipate there may be criminal offences."
Social media posts from Anonymous members warned attendees to meet in nearby pubs, and not to fully assemble or don masks until the designated start time that evening.
Speaking to VICE News at about 7pm in Parliament Square, a 51-year-old woman from Staines in Middlesex told VICE News she had attended because: "I've had enough of the government, I've had enough of this lot, I've been Anonymous for five years."
Nearby, Nathan Ottereoho, 47, observed an ongoing stand-off between police and protesters. "I think confrontation is a way forward," he said. "I don't know if I agree with it but it is a way forward, history has shown us that."
Valerio, a 32-year-old from Italy, told VICE News that while he's "not from here, of course I support it… You go by the rules they set for your or you mess things up. There's no alternative so people are pissed off."
Standing on Westminster Bridge, another man stood on a pillar. "We are the revolution," he shouted, before asking VICE News to follow him on YouTube.
The police periodically cornered groups of protesters off, saying they had to identify people within who had been "involved in the unrest."
Some demonstrators deviated from the norm with pig masks or bandanas covering their mouths, while one group of girls appealed to Korea, Vietnam, and China not to eat dog meat. Another woman pleaded with passers-by to remove their masks, as they were "supporting Time Warner" — the media organization that owns the rights to the Guy Fawkes masks.
A 20-year-old, who identified himself as "Black 1," told VICE News he purchased his mask from Amazon straight seeing V for Vendetta, the movie they feature in. Another woman was giving them the masks at the protest in return for donations.
As the night wore on, the diverse crowd dispersed and came together again across central London. A large group gathered at Buckingham Palace, away from the agreed route, before moving on to Trafalgar Square, rejoining with others as the protest passed its designated ending time.
In one corner, a police officer emphatically told a protester that his colleagues were "just trying to keep the fabric of society together," while another policeman warned us: "If you don't leave now you're all going to get arrested."
A sandy-haired man, whose friends were among more than 100 people still surrounded by police, noted: "I'm not sure how they're going to finish it, unless they're going to push them all into the tube [underground] station or something."
Nearby, another protester, held on the ground by several officers, shouted at them to "get your fucking leg off me," before being dragged away.
As a firework went off at the center of the surrounded group, Police Sergeant Safer denied that officers were kettling people: "There's no such word as that. It's containment."
This came as instructions that face masks must be removed were broadcast by green lasers onto Trafalgar Square's National Gallery.
After a wait of about an hour, people were taken from the group in ones and twos before being escorted to their waiting friends. One told VICE News he wasn't sure why he and a friend had been allowed to leave, but said: "We're smooth-talking, we sound American."
By the end of the night there were equal numbers of police to protesters. One demonstrator — torn between staying and going to bed — worried that his mom might be angry if he got in trouble with the authorities.
The Million Mask March is held annually in London, as well as in cities across the world. Last year, 10 people were arrested in the UK capital for charges including violence towards police officers and vandalism.
In a statement issued before the protest, Scotland Yard urged organizers to contact them in advance while issuing strict instructions for participants, stating that the march must be limited to Westminster, Trafalgar Square, and a section of the West End.
"We will always facilitate peaceful protest and have a strong history of doing so. However, over the last few this event has seen high levels of anti-social behavior, crime, and disorder," said Chief Superintendent Pippa Mills.
"This year we have strong reason to believe that peaceful protest is the last thing on the minds of many of the people who will come along."
She added: "It is unacceptable that a small minority should believe they have the right to break the law, harass people, damage buildings and attack police officers."
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