Why are 'occupy' protesters wearing Vendetta masks?

Adam Parris-Long

Worldwide protests against capitalism and corporate greed have dominated headlines over the weekend, as the ‘occupy’ movement continues into its third week. The demonstrations went global following initial protests in New York’s Times Square, with international financial centres targeted by thousands.

Activists in London set up camp on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral after disruption broke out at Paternoster Square, home of the London Stock Exchange. Rome saw widespread rioting as a result of the protests, with more than 100 people injured and an estimated £1.75m damage caused. While the motives of those protesting varies internationally, many have chosen to unite by wearing the iconic ‘Guy Fawkes’ mask originating from Alan Moore’s graphic novel ‘V for Vendetta’.

[Gallery: Vendetta protest masks in pictures]

Often seen as a sign of rebellion, the Fawkes mask has been used for a number of years in protests and demonstrations. Online hacker collective ‘Anonymous’ have used the mask to symbolise the shroud of mystery that surrounds the group’s members as well as the anarchy it intends to create. But is use of the mask by ‘occupy’ protestors symbolic or simply a way to remain unidentifiable?


Alan Moore’s original ‘V for Vendetta’ graphic novel was set in a dystopian United Kingdom, under rule by fascist party “Norsefire”. The series portrays the UK after a nuclear war with revolutionary character ‘V’ attempting to overthrow the government. The character wears a mask of Guy Fawkes, would-be assassin of King James I in 1605. Moore’s work gained international notoriety after the novel was adapted for film in 2006, inspiring thousands to use the mask in protests across the globe.

Members of ‘Anonymous’ were first seen with the masks in early 2008, protesting against the Church of Scientology in what they called “project chanology”. The action was called after the church filed a copyright claim to YouTube, attempting to remove a leaked interview with Tom Cruise. Incensed by this, Anonymous turned out in force to a number of Scientology churches to protest the claim as Internet censorship. While members clad in ‘V’ masks stormed churches, many more attacked Scientologist websites and prank called centres across the globe.

Widespread usage

Many of those now involved in the ‘occupation’ of St Paul’s, London, would have also demonstrated in the protests surrounding the March 2009 G20 summit in London. While the protests were marred by the death of newspaper-seller Ian Tomlinson, many used ‘V’ masks to hide their identity whilst displaying a revolutionary ambition.

Four months on they were used at the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, where Italian students in ‘V’ masks occupied a building to provide an “info point” for demonstrators arriving in the city. Insignia of Alan Moore’s enigmatic ‘V’ character was also used during the occupation – spray painted onto a mast erected behind a protestor who addressed the press.

Usage of the mask primarily continued across global protests against financial institutions and at global summits. Though there is no recent ruling or statute in the UK on the wearing of masks, police in the US have moved to enforce a law dating back to 1845 that prohibits a “masked gathering of two or more people”. Unless they are holding a masquerade party, that is. New York police used the anti-mask law, updated in 1965, to arrest four protesters at the ‘occupy Wall Street’ demonstrations in late September.

Corporate agenda

Despite the ‘V’ mask being used as an anarchistic rebellion to capitalism and global financial institutions, protesters buying the iconic headwear have unwittingly lined the pockets of one of the largest media companies in the world, Time Warner.

The corporation holds rights to the ‘V’ image and is paid a licensing fee from every sale of the mask. In particular that is a blow to hacker group ‘Anonymous’ who are known for their hatred of ‘corporate America’ and gained infamy for their attacks on Mastercard, Visa and other global institutions.

This seems to have not perturbed protesters across the globe however, as many are still using the ‘V’ mask as the face of the ‘occupy’ demonstrations. Sales of the mask have jumped by 179% on Amazon.co.uk - coinciding with the demonstrations in London and across the globe.

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