Le Tute Bianche, W.O.M.B.L.E.S., Black Blocs, and Police Confrontation

Group Movement Situations

Understand your target and your position

The police are much easier to predict than most people fear. Too often, the paranoia of being surrounded occurs in situations where the police are fairly static in their positions. Is your target a building that the police are surrounding in full force? Have they left the streets outside of that perimeter free to protesters or do they have roving columns ready to strike? Have you completed your objective of blockading a conference and the police are trying to break through your formations? Are you just having a spontaneous street party and don’t know when, if, or where the police will show?

Answers to these questions seem simple and obvious, yet too often mobile protesters do not have a clear picture of what the situation is like and communication has broken down too much. Issues like this are what drove armies to have set hierarchies thousands of years ago, and in the framework of avoiding set leadership, communication is our only answer.

Before the day of action, you should already know what to expect. Also pay attention to what the police are intending to do or what extent they want to go to. Is it a city that has sworn off using projectiles? Is the event you are demonstrating at, such as an outdoor swearing-in ceremony, a place where the police are afraid to use tear gas? Have previous police actions demonstrated their intention to make sweeping arrests or do they only pick off stragglers?

While its critical to always be on your toes and never trust the police to operate in a certain way, there are always warning signs you can look for. If an empty bus appears, then you can expect sweep arrests. If a squad of bike police disappeared in another direction, they are probably out to outflank you.

Conversely, always be ready to exploit your own successes. Too often protesters, unready for a success or a hasty police retreat will merely remain in place and not seize their gains. Sticking your neck too far out can be dangerous, but that's when its crucial to have the protection of the masses following up behind.

Movement in a shield wall

For typical movement when not immediately in a confrontational position, you should still be at the ready. Traditionally defensively aware marchers have linked arms to prevent individuals from being nabbed. While carrying a shield in a wall formation, the threat of this is probably much less. But if necessary, persons using one-armed shields can use their free arm to grasp the shield arm of the adjacent person. This becomes problematic with different-handed people however. Furthermore, this tactic should not be employed when in a confrontation so as to allow freedom of movement for the shields.

The critical aspect to moving in any shield wall formation is unison. While demonstrators would discourage any individual to marshal a march, a form of organization is necessary. Unless it is possible to prepare and practice these tactics ahead of time, the best way is the use of simple commands that can be shouted (examples below), including warnings of what is ahead for those who cannot see.

For keeping tight in a march at any pace, the best method is a drum near the front (a drummer in the back won’t know what is going on well enough). Given that most marching routes will be pre-determined, directions should not be a major factor - apart from the tendency to lose formation when making turns. Should the shield wall be freely roaming or have loosely laid plans, calling out for slow turns is important ahead of time, especially since intersections are where a shield wall or any march is most vulnerable to ambush.


A system of scouts is critical to effectively moving a shield wall, especially when it is unknown where confrontation is to be expected. This does not necessitate a series of out-post necessarily, although that would be useful as well. What a mobile shield wall needs is eyes, which should be on at least all four corners of the march. Bicyclists or possible regular looking pedestrian scouts can cover their own angle of view and operate half of a block to a full block ahead watching their respective side. Communications should be kept with one or more people in the shield wall - presumably in the second row - who are known by others to be in touch with the scouts so that they will be given some priority in emergency situations.

Proper scouting afield can also relay information concerning vehicular movements, such as extra police units arriving in APC's, cars or vans. Another good warning sign is empty buses used for detaining large numbers of protesters.

If there are multiple targeted locations where the march is trying to head (such as trying to breech the perimeter preventing access to a public area), scouts are crucial as to informing which location would be best given shifts in the police strengths.


Metal inter-locked barriers are the typical means of blockading marches by the police. When a shield wall approaches a barrier it must be opened or knocked down prior to penetration by the wall. If police protection of the barrier is minimal, people in the back rows should be called ahead to remove the barriers so that the shield wall does not lose its cohesion in the act.

If police are present behind the barrier and safe from an advance, the shield wall should advance close enough so that people reaching from within the wall can pull it down. If the police resist the movement of a barrier, persons in the shield wall should try to advance so that their shields extend over the barriers protecting hands that are pulling it down and knocking away those of the police.

Splitting formations

The tendency for demonstrators to seek safety in numbers sometimes precludes wise tactical decisions. When safety is just as guaranteed with your march split in two, than it would be almost foolish not to split into two shield-wall covered marches that keep in con-tact. Simply put, a shield wall of 1000 people rushing a barricade on a street that is 60 feet wide will probably leave some 800 people standing around not helping because of a lack of space. Your odds improve the more the police are thinned and caught by surprise.

The most effective thing a shield wall can do is confuse authorities as to the intent of the march. To that end having one or more factions split up and take different routes will throw a police operation into disarray. Because the police are restricted to following ranking officers and their commands (at least while maneuvering) if your march splits while the shad-owing police force only has one officer among itself, it cannot break in two to follow both groups.

A shield wall should consider the possibility of splitting up tactically only when there are enough shields. This can be judged knowing if forming a testudo later on might be critical, but if not, than only a few rows of shields and the perimeter and rear groups are needed. A mass of 1000 shields isn't going to be any more effective as a shield wall than 500. Keep in mind if you might end up in an open space like a square or a park where the potential width of your wall may have to grow or your density of shield might be important to defend against flank attacks.

Knowing when to split up also depends on the local situation, but is definitely most effective when trying to breech a perimeter that has multiple entry points. The police work on a system of reserves, sending more officers to points that may be or are in trouble. So if two barricades are rushed simultaneously, the chances of one or both succeeding is significantly higher.

The main question is then, when can you split? A good rule of thumb for safety with a march is that there are enough people to cover slightly more than one city block. This is necessary to prevent being boxed in from two intersections at once. If numbers are double this, than splitting up is not only feasible but a very smart move. Also, keep in mind that the odds of getting boxed in a trap are greatly lessened when there are, say, three marches walking along different streets as the police have far more repositioning to do and are probably spread too thin if they didn't expect your move. Multiple shield walls roaming a city also provide far better coverage for affinity groups that may wish to perform more dangerous operations.


So should a situation come to this and the possibility of arrest or extreme caution becomes necessary, it might be time to beat a retreat. Historically, retreating armies suffer the worst losses. The same is true in demonstrations when people break and run in fear. While there is no real practical means of teaching people to avoid this panic, a few cool heads can save the day. The first critical thing a person can do in this situation is to yell "Don't run!" as the first fear should be stampeding other people - a horrible and demoralizing possibility.

The shield wall then in the front-line must act to play rear guard, which can be done by walking backwards at a good pace. If needed, a one-armed shield holder can brace him or herself by gabbing the arm of the person next to them. Calling out with "Hold the line!" may also help in keeping cohesion.

This should also provide physical and visual coverage for those who may have taken "illegal" actions and are a target for police forces. It also will provide grounds for those that find it critical to use projectiles to stem the police onslaught.

This type of situation is the most difficult to maintain cohesion during, but arguably the most important. If individual police officers are allowed into protester lines, they will begin arresting and beating those particulars. A shield wall that is maintained can save scores - but always remain wary of being boxed in at such times.

A scout in the rear can be used to determine which direction the retreat should take as well as to observe when it is safe to stop.

[From "Bodyhammer: Tactics and Self-Defense for the Modern Protester" by Sarin http://www.devo.com/sarin/shieldbook.pdf]

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