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

Shield Wall Formations and Tactics

Setting up your formations

The only way to guarantee maximum effectiveness of the variety of shields and body armor employed is that every affinity group uses similar equipment as much as possible. Since rows are set up of one or more affinity groups marching together and it is in no one's interest to break up affinity groups, it would be foolish to have some people in your group arrive with massive shields, and others with just a helmet.

Once converging, everyone participating in shield wall formations can agree among each group as to who goes where. Groups with inner tube or tower shields will be urged to be near the front or at least highly exposed. Remember this isn’t a demonstration of heroics - it is a matter of practicality as to which affinity groups are in the front because they are helping to defend the entire march. By visual consensus it should not be hard to deter-mine who should position themselves where, unless certain groups do not feel comfort-able near the front. Remember that DIY equipment is made to be disposable, and swapping equipment might be an important function of solidarity even if you labored for hours on your particular shield.


Wedge Charge

This method, requiring much coordination is derived from a classic Viking method of charging. It requires a good deal of discipline, not to mention an awful lot of courage on the part of the person in front. This method also requires the space to make for a near running charge to provide maximum disarray and psychological intimidation against opponents.

A wedge will have one or two persons in front, using the two-handed method with as large a shield as possible. The two lines that follow to the right and left of the focal point slightly angle their shields to the outside direction.

Once in position a countdown to a charge should be given and the charge should be made at a quick pace of short steps to keep tight, as full sprinting will lose cohesion. The wedge works by focusing on one point and pressing upon it while the two angled sides deflect forces attempting to aid the one point and widening the breech. It also keeps a degree of cohesion for those attempting to break through. A normal flat line of attack may open a hole in one or two places, but they are difficult to expand upon and to even notice for reinforcements to converge upon.

Another advantage of the wedge is that if a person in the lead is about to be nabbed, there is immediate support behind him or her to pull them back away from arrest. It is then critical to remain close to the person in front of you. A wedge need not be more than 7-11 persons across or about 4 persons deep. Extra bodies can be used to fill the inside of the wedge, and form a solid line behind it - although at the ready to push through the breech.

Pulse charge

This is another method that takes discipline, and planning ahead of time. It probably is too complicated to be considered, but it’s included for the concept anyhow. The pulse, as the name implies is a series of quick and short engagements that are just as quickly broken off. This should work to throw the police off balance and catch them by surprise when the real push is made. If pre-arranged, such that 3 pulses will occur before the real press, then simple shouting commands will work.

The difficulty is being able to disengage - as people behind you may not be aware of your methods. A possible effective manner is to use only one line of shields, having a few people behind to ask the rest of the crowd to wait until the final real charge. Otherwise, this is probably a move too difficult to coordinate.

The Echelon Charge

Similar in effect to the wedge, but easier to set up, the echelon also works in a defensive manner. It is set up such that a given wing of the shield wall is extended ahead, sloping down to the other side of the wing, like the shape of a guillotine blade. Each person stands slightly behind and to the side of the person in front.

The principle behind this tactic is to turn the flank of a cordon of police and execute a breakthrough there. Traditionally, this is done on the right wing of the shield wall, turning the left wing of the police formation and for the sake of preparation, it is a good idea to keep this as a standard - unless the police have caught on of course. To add to the effect of pressing one corner of the opposing line, the weight of added bodies should be added to this side.

In effect, the one edge pushes through on one corner, turning the flank while the other end of the echelon advances enough to keep those police at bay. Hence the weight pushes through one side and the other wing of the police is helpless to come to their aid. This method not only breaks the police line, it also boxes them in to a degree, forcing a very disorganized withdraw on their point. The confusion should be enough to deter the police from pressing your weakened left wing.

Alternately, if an echelon is too difficult to form, a simple straight line with added weight to one side can have a similar effect.

Tortoise or Testudo

The tortoise formation is the essence of the shield wall. Now while typical advancements may only require a front row of shields, the tortoise formation aims to protect both the front and the top from raining projectiles such as tear gas canisters. A tight wall above and in the front can also protect against direct spray items such as pepper spray nozzles and water cannons.

Traditional tortoise formation dictates that the first row of shields lay theirs at ground level while the second row reaches over the shoulders of the first at an angle to double the front protection while then the third and subsequent rows protect the top. Additionally members on the side would protect the flanks if necessary.

As the tortoise was employed for protection against arrows and javelins in antiquity, it is only crucial today in situations of situations where police projectiles are thrown. As it is naturally a slow moving formation, it is not recommended for actions in defense against batons for the loss in visibility in finding gaps among the police lines.

For the purposes here, a formation with one front row of shields and the remainder providing ceiling support should suffice. As moving fast invariable develops cracks in the formation, move to a slow rhythm or the chant of "1, 2, 1, 2..." A tactical objective of the Tortoise is to get close enough to police rounds to render projectile weapons ineffective. This will relieve protesters in the rear of the need for flight.

Immediately once contact is made with the police lines, the tortoise should break into supportive rows of frontal shields aimed at defending each other against baton blows.


This defensive tactic, or a loose derivative of it should be employed when you have a single position to defend against imminent attack, and your numbers are rather small. This can arise typically when trying to block the path of vehicles in a spontaneous move.

The traditional square was a formation the British Imperial armies would use to defend from massed cavalry attacks. For our purposes, it works to prevent or at least pro-long arrest even when surrounded or when injecting yourselves into a compromise-able position.

The square is simply set to face around a point with your shields out. As you are immobile, kneeling will provide a smaller space for the police to try to crack. In reality, you will probably end up with more of a circular formation than an actual square, but the idea is the same. And if you happen to find a stockpile of muskets, what the hell, have a go at it.

Extreme self-defense tactics

When facing an opposing force that is hell bent on breaking laws and violating your rights by viciously attacking you, any code of self-defense allows for extreme measures. By this we mean to include the throwing of projectiles and use of bludgeon weapons which serve to distract and disorientate the opposition so that the demonstrators might regroup or escape.

While injury to others is never a facet to embrace in self-defense, we must recognize this possibility as it has happened in the past, and will probably occur again. If the police are prepared for the worst, so should we. While this is not the place for a moral treatise, the general philosophy is that we are fighting for life and freedom, and so long as we don’t fight for death and oppression as our enemies do, we have moral fortitude on our side.

Grease guns, smoke and paint bombs and other items don’t necessarily injure and also can provide tactical advantages in disorientating the police. But, as this is a booklet concerning self-defense tactics, we won’t get into specifics on more aggressive street fighting manners. And hey, how much do you need to know about throwing a brick?

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

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