Dozens (Yes, Dozens) Show Up For Anonymous' Million-Mask March

A small turnout in D.C. points to some holes in hacktavist group’s vague message. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

November 5th was Guy Fawkes Day, a day whose anti-government message the hacktavist group Anonymous sought to rebrand with their May 2013 announcement on YouTube and other forums of a "Million Mask March." Citizens were urged to don Guy Fawkes masks, as in the movie V for Vendetta, and assail the centers of power to protest against a host of perceived financial and governmental injustices. The video calling for the march on Washington D.C. received over 437,000 views ahead of the planned demonstration, and the Facebook page for the march on Washington showed more than 17,000 users pledging to attend. Anonymous hoped the event would be mirrored by protests in 447 locations around the globe.

Ahead of the "Masked March" events, it was hard to get any firm fix on how many people might actually show up anywhere, particularly when some of the online forums that were supposed to provide information for the march were urging Anonymous members not to attend it, dubbing the march a trap by federal authorities.

A quick check of hotels in the D.C. area showed no surge in reservations, so it came as no revelation, then, that the number of marchers on November 5th were hardly enough to block an intersection. In Washington D.C., the location with the biggest number of pledged attendees, the turnout was estimated by The Washington Post to have been in the low hundreds. A look at the pictures posted from the various "Million Masked March" events around the globe showed protesters at most locations numbering in the dozens, rather than thousands.

Given the diffuse nature of Anonymous—it has no official spokesmen, leaders, membership rolls or universally embraced doctrine—the root causes of the massive no-show are hard to identify, but a look at the assertions in the "Declaration of Freedom" in the Anonymous video announcing the march is suggestive. Prominent were concerns about Internet freedom and government surveillance that many civil liberties groups endorse. Other claims were far outside the mainstream, like the statement that laws passed after the Bill of Rights are unconstitutional… which technically would make slavery legal again (13th Amendment) and strip women of the right to vote (19th). A call for new Congressional elections, which Anonymous demanded be held under conditions of a media blackout, was followed by a complaint (with no apparent irony) of government infringement of First-Amendment press freedoms.

So, has Anonymous lost its rebel appeal? The group's hazy message, with no spokesmen, leaders, or firm political plans to provide steady direction, isn't helped by an ideology that veers between extreme left, extreme right and mainstream concerns. It is also possible that Anonymous' network in the U.S. has been crippled by the FBI.

Or maybe Anonymous just doesn't like crowds.