Two weeks ago, the Wave of Action's anti-police-brutality march at Civic Space Park culminated in a flurry of hurled protester flags, police pepper-spray balls and six arrests. The group's demonstration against capitalism at Cesar Chavez Memorial Plaza on Nov. 1 drew a thinner crowd and produced just one arrest.
On Wednesday, members of the Phoenix group marched in downtown Phoenix to protest a host of issues, ranging from genetically modified foods to police brutality to government corruption.
Dozens of police officers tailed the Phoenix arm of Wednesday's "Million-Mask March" on bicycle or monitored the group via watch posts, but the event went peacefully.
The group's philosophy is nebulous, but its demonstrations tend to
follow a common narrative: Events are publicized on social media,
attended by mostly masked 20-somethings and shadowed by a heavy police
Depending on whom you ask, Wave of Action is either a tribute, an
affiliate, an offshoot or a knockoff of networks such as the
hacktivist group Anonymous or the Occupy movement. Even within Phoenix, memberships in what some call anarchist groups themselves are fluid, with various organizations continuously appearing and dissipating.
"Someone asked me what their cause was, and I said, 'I'm glad I'm not their spokesman,'" said Sgt. Trent Crump, a Phoenix police spokesman.
police's community-response squad and the department's Homeland Defense
Bureau have for years monitored similar movements on social media.
Crump said the group seems to be bent on disrupting the downtown area
and prefers to have an audience. The Oct. 25 anti-police-brutality
protest coincided with the city's annual Zombie Walk festival, which
drew more than 10,000 attendees.
The Nov. 1 event posed less of a threat, Crump said, because there were
no large-scale events downtown that day. But police noticed that one of
the members was provoking others, calling for participants to attend the
Seven have been arrested recently -- six at the anti-police-brutality
rally for charges including failure to obey police and obstructing a
public thoroughfare, and one at the anti-capitalism event for an
outstanding warrant from Peoria Municipal Court.
Police said the Oct. 25 event started peacefully enough but soon became a
public nuisance when marchers began entering the roadway, obstructing
traffic and disregarding orders from police.
Alexander Kennedy, one of those arrested Oct. 25, said the police
presence was thin at the movement's earlier marches against police
brutality, which have been happening since the Aug. 9 police shooting of
Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
He said it's only been since the media spotlight on Ferguson has dimmed that Phoenix
police began boosting their presence at Wave of Action events. Kennedy
said he's been targeted by police because of his involvement in Phoenix's Occupy movement.
Kennedy said he was the only one in his group arrested.
"It was like, 'This guy's an organizer, a known agitator,'" he said.
Crump said the police don't believe the group is necessarily dangerous,
but an inconvenience that diverts manpower from other areas of the city.
The group's Facebook page describes it as "struggling in solidarity with
the global uprising against misery," and features the motto "Destroy
what destroys you."
Participants say there is no leadership structure, per se, and that the
group's Facebook page serves as the most centralized means of
Anonymous is an international movement that gained notoriety for a
series of cyberattacks against the government and private companies. The
group has since become a sort of social vigilante, targeting
child-pornography sites and Hunter Moore, the creator of the most
infamous revenge-porn website.
It was the Anonymous brand that organized Wednesday's Million-Mask
March, and the movement served as an umbrella of the various
Dressed in the march's standard Guy Fawkes mask, protester T.J. Ammons, a
chef, said Wednesday that he was marching against genetically modified
foods and police brutality. Ammons said he believes a group of people,
regardless of pet causes, can unite to agree that the system is broken.
"The whole idea is, there are too many problems, so now it's just one
collective, so that we can cover all of the bases," he said. "And that's
where people get thrown off. But where does it say that you only have
to march for one idea? Where does it say that you only have to cover one
Ammons said he does not align with Wave of Action but participates in
other movements such as Anonymous' "Operation Safe Winter" and marches
against Monsanto, a St. Louis company that is among those that creates
genetically modified crops.
But some say decentralized leadership and philosophies has also bred
infighting amongst the splinter groups and even those within them.
Protesters, ostensibly angry over the same core system, are consistently
at odds over brand messaging and treatment of law enforcement, said
Harvey Donner, a student at Mesa Community College who marched on
Donner said he was disappointed that so many the marchers were
antagonistic toward police and government. Despite remaining inside
legal boundaries on Wednesday, many of the protesters joined in vague
government-hate chants and taunted nearby police.
Donner noted a moment during the march in which a group of people
waiting in line for a concert started cackling at the protesters.
"We're not painting a good message to the people," he said. "My personal
view is that we are at a point where we need to educate the public, and
you can't prove to people that there's a hood over their eyes by
punching them in the face."