TOTW: Anarchists storm, occupy, helium factory

  • Posted on: 18 December 2017
  • By: @muse

Why are anarchists so serious all the time? Where are the flash mobs, the parodies, the theatre? Pranks are fun to execute with friends and also a great way to fuck with the State.

Many are familiar with the Situationist concept of detournement, but what about when Crass spliced together audio from speeches given by Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher and released it anonymously and the tape was taken seriously by the government as legitimate soviet propaganda?

Jello Biafra ran for mayor of San Francisco with the slogan "There's always room for Jello." All he needed was 1500 signatures or $1500 to receive equal airtime as other candidates, which he spent thoroughly mocking the entire political process. He finished third out of tenth place.

Jello may have been inspired by the Yippies, who threw fistfuls of money from the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange. Imagine witnessing the traders, some of them booing, as others scrambled to grab as much as they could, clutching the notes in greedy fists.

Not only were these pranks hilarious, but they earned political, social, and media attention in a way that in their frame of history protected them from the negative legal ramifications.

Why don't we do more fun things? Must everything be so clinically serious and/or dangerously illegal? Is there room in the gray for cutting up and showing spoof to power?

Oscar Wilde is incorrectly quoted as saying, "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you." Regardless of whether this was said or not, there is a point: sometimes you can say things in jest that you can't say seriously. It's not currently illegal to make audio projects that challenge the boundaries of free use and copyright law, or to run for political office as an art stunt, or to parody famous figures to highlight their absurdity. Stunts like these are fun, and they also capture the attention of broader audiences because they disrupt assumptions on all sides–they make people laugh, and then they make them think. Is there room for innovation in the vacuum of dry, serious, deliberation?

What are some of your favorite historically acknowledged pranks? Are there still opportunities for more? What fantasies might you unleash as pranks that seriously stick it to the State?



Fill balloons with red water (fake blood).
Fill a stroller with the "blood" balloons.
Push in front of driving vehicles of choice.
(I originally had this idea when I was almost run over by speeding cops).

Trigger warning (for real, be careful).

Hide dead fish in the air-vents of choice.


Post signs that machines are broken (vending, washing, ATM, toilets, etc). Similarly, post "cancelled" signs at city-hall and the like.


Take a razor-blade to a grocery story and skip along the isles opening food. Alternately, fill bulk bags of food and leave them around the store.

Freegan meal-planning!

Put portland cement in toilets of choice.

Plunge that, jerks!

Go around being a Mormon and super-glue the door-locks of choice.

Baby, it's cold outside!

Fly a sign for STI testing.

You'll bank; I've saw my friend do it.

When you get junk mail with postage-paid return envelopes, fill them with wood blocks and mail them back.

Going postal!

Cry and eat from mall trash cans.


Seed-bomb hemp seeds?

Go to class covered in mud?

Call into conservative radio shows and discuss indecent feelings?

Wear an orange vest and direct traffic at whim? Similarly, wear a sports referee jersey and get involved in important decision making.

Volunteer for pro-life events and pass out wire coat-hangers (pretend that you don't get it). Alternately, wear a fake pregnancy bump under your shirt and drink sweet-tea from a whiskey bottle.

Advertise as a MRA life-coach on Craigslist and lead feminist consciousness-raising meetings.

Tape-off and "reserve" entire rows of seats at business conferences. Look professional.

Usher rich-people's weddings. Try to get them to dance.

Cover the balconies and patios of "places to brunch" with bird-seed.

Request hipster coffee-houses grind "by-the-pound" beans then "step away for a phone call."

Wear a CIA or FBI shirt and go to dog-shows. Whisper into an ear piece and take close-up photos of expensive animals.

Advertise for a fundraiser to gentrify a neighborhood. Return "thank you" mail with pictures of suffering poor and publish the assholes' names.


I really like the examples that involve creating mass confusion, such as putting "cancelled" signs and cordoning off seating. They remind me of the old social psychology experiments on social influence such as the one where everyone faces backward in an elevator ( or a big group stands together and stares up into the sky, causing others to also stare. It's really easy to manipulate people in this way, especially today when people spend as little effort as they can actually engaging with the world and all its rules (since it's so goddamn miserable). I bet you'd have no problem directing traffic or posing as a valet driver, etc. haha!

Directing or blocking traffic is actually fucking easy. Just that unimaginative protesters have been instead doing it the worse way... namely Tian Nan Men-ing themselves in front of the traffic. The irony is how it'll be so much more effective with things than living bodies... but above that with things that carry the meaning of Law and Order (like cones and other semiotic devices). Almost everytime I witness or attend a protest that tries to disrupt traffic I end up shaking my head at the lack of creative use of stuff that's all over the place. Like how to turn construction sites into usable street lanes, or vice versa.


Ahhh in a much better world people would be as vicious-minded as I am and probably capitalism would be unworkable for how nihilistic people would be... But let's cross our fingers for 2048 tho. Perhaps the contemporary anarchist's flaw was just to be an obstinate civilized subject. Once this civility is broken you are starting to be a living creature again. Closer to the enlightment of childhood than moral prison of the elder.

"All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain"

This list reminds me of "anarchy textfiles" from the BBS days pre WWW. Also the "walmart fun" category of textfiles fraught with lists on disrupting walmarts

Same. Maybe that's why I find it so juvenile. Honestly, if you're performing a prank you found on the internet, it's probably around as cringe-worthy as a flash-mob, but mixed in with the impression that you have no friends.

Not that I'm not anti-prank, I love a lot of the shit Hoffman or the Suicide Club did. In fact, maybe I'm not opposed to some of these pranks at all, as much as the idea of coming up with ideas for pranks for other people to do. It either means you weren't brave enough to do it yourself, or you want someone else to do the same thing as you. Either way, I'm not interested.

What does ANY of this have to do with ME and my ILLEGALIST taoist hoodoo EGOism you ask?!? Become a MONTHLY patron and FIND OUT!

Blessed Be.

plenty of people are doing fun things, but Mass Society no longer exists in the same way it did when Abbie hoffman threw money onto the stock exchange you will probably never hear about it unless someone happens to forward an article from a local news station or an alt weekly newspaper. that is if they cover it at all.

you pine for a time when society was on one page all together. that shit is well dead. how do we move through an atomized non-society?

I had a difficult time thinking of pranks to make media-fodder, but I threw some out there in case someone wanted the idea. (Big media isn't something that I'm interested in, and I don't want the attention (makes me nervous)).
I think of pranks as ways to have fun. Sometimes pranks are just ways to feel good and inject humor into one's day.
Who was it that advised to break at least one stupid (low-risk) law everyday? You gotta keep the blood pumping and exercise creativity, I think. Build friendships that aren't based on being a fan of some TV show. Do something that you can pat yourself on the back for. Entertain yourself, you know? Feel some type of power in this atomized society.

I think that I got trailed once. I didn't think that I could really "out-maneuver" them, but I drove around funny and laughed at them when I doubled back. I mean, it was not a "good" experience, but I'm glad that didn't just tremble and sweat.

Maybe pranks are an "anti-depressant." They used to just call it fun and play.

Abbie brought a lot of good during the '70s, yet as the showbiz creed goes, you gotta repackage yourself after a while, or else, well... same thing will happen to you than happened to him in the '80s. The dude was do honest to twist himself to the hipster '80s.

I mean, stuff like this still happens. Have you already forgotten about Vermin Supreme?

I do agree that anarchists have gotten far too joyless in the past few years though.

I think it's gotta do with that anarcho-hipster crowd that has emerged sometime around 2010. Stiff, cold-booded, blockheaded pricks and their endemic academic approach to anything they write, and do.

'80s anarcho-punks would be so furious at all those anarcho-types we got today. They reek conformism and all the flat, disciplined, civilized behavior that comes with it. Sean Swain stood up as an example of how the best anarchists can do is to be turning the despotism of society into the big joke it really is. It ain't always easy to be a successful joker, but when you make it happen, gawd how powerful that is, spiritually.

yeah, Vermin Supreme is a good example, but there's room for a whole lot more, I'd say.

The whole anarchist praxis has to change to a more mature policy, sure, theres room for detournment, but not smashy-smashy, that's unhumorous tantrum. Also the distinction between reformism and recuperation must be made, reformism is what has already evolved society to a better condition in the last century than it ever was, society is never stagnant, it inproves incrementally over a longer period, instant revolution is a fantasy and results mostly in recuperati9n.

If you look at things like 20th century pensions and capitalism conditioned satiation, that is most certainly a recuperated phenomena. The fact that humans continue to be addicted to things and other abstract surrogate activities demonstrates that reform and recuperation tend to be linked. Improvements to conditions can either happen on individual spiritual corporeal lines or it can happen on mass materialist lines which tends to grow and complexify the state over time as clearly happened after 2 world wars. The improvements of the 20th century came at the expense of more corporeal functions such as the friendly societies which represented more of a pre-ww1 consciousness.

The improvement that happened has largely been tied and conditioned to further state security and complexity and the further tertiary developments of capital and state as a whole along with more modernity.

Reformism is taking on a new form whereas recuperation is to retain the old form.

Why did the Muppet Show stop using Mad Harry the bomb-throwing anarchist? Harry was a regular feature on their 70s shows. But after 9/11, apparently, "bombs aren't funny". Even absurd puppet bombs. And this, I think, is why anarchists don't use humour so much nowadays.

To answer the question, we really need to start by asking: what is humour?

And there's a number of answers, depending who you ask. Bakhtin's is the best-known theory - he believes that carnivalesque and grotesque (which include the more surreal kinds of humour) are forms of entry to an idea of a world-turned-upside-down, a world of immanent flow where everything interpenetrates with everything else, all boundaries break down, everything eternally returns, and (this is crucial) there is no death or trauma (this is what distinguishes carnivalesque from, say, Lovecraftian horror, which is otherwise very similar). We can see Bakhtin in the background of the yippies, the Dadaists, the Situationists. And this kind of energy is also visible in moments of revolt, and events such as raves. Moments of autonomy when (as the Greeks put it) "obedience stopped, life is magical". And this is why humour can be profoundly subversive. The ability to laugh at seemingly ridiculous authority-figures, rather than fear them. The imagination of a carnivalesque world without fixed boundaries or fear of death or trauma. This - according to Graeber - is why pigs hate giant puppets.

This isn't the only theory, though. A lot of theories focus on the socially disciplinary functions of humour - especially mockery. Bergson thinks laughter is a way of sanctioning overly-rigid people, to encourage social openness. Hence why it's so easy to make powerful figures look ridiculous. Goffman says it's a way of defusing anxiety arising from embarrassment, or failure to perform social roles. Freud thinks people usually laugh at others' misfortunes, so humour contains unconscious, disavowed sadism. Wikipedia lists sixteen different theories, and they're very diverse. It's a mental means to recognise, or alternatively to process, anomalies in reasoning. It evolved as an aspect of "play-fighting" and other non-serious imitations of threatening situations, to ward off threat. It's a way to dissipate tension. It's a defence-mechanism to skirt around traumatic topics. It's a way to demonstrate intelligence, which was used at some point for mate-selection. And so on.

But I think the Bakhtinian theory (maybe with a bit of the Bergsonian one too) is the best fit for anarchism. And it explains why humour is in decline in anarchism. Generally, nobody laughs about things they find deeply traumatic. That's why "sick" humour isn't funny to everyone. It's why feminists insist rape jokes are never funny, even when the rapist is the butt of the joke. (Their official reason - that it encourages rape culture - is a rationalisation, but also revealing: why would joking about something encourage it? It would encourage it, only if joking prevents "taking seriously"). In this period of renewed totalitarianism, the state has got a lot better than it used to be at seeming deeply traumatic to anarchists, rather than stupid and powerless. Humour and fear tend to exclude one another. The state has created a very effective "politics of everyday fear".

Humorous protest was very possible in the 60s, even the 90s. It was very common on the summit protests - giant puppets and so on - but not seen so much after Genoa and Quebec. It's harder today I think. For one thing, it will often be criminalised harshly. Something purely humorous can still be considered harassing, or a breach of security, or part of whatever kind of collective responsibility they try to offload onto protesters. Baudrillard writes somewhere that the state abolished the possibility of "not being serious" when it started treating hoaxes the same way as real crimes - a hoax bank robber will still be shot, etc. Someone whose prank shuts down an airport will not necessarily be viewed (in the media or by the state) any more lightly than someone who shuts down an airport on purpose, out of anger. People go to jail for throwing pies these days. This really undermines the advantages of throwing a pie instead of throwing a brick. People from Trollstation have gone to jail for public pranks, because they inadvertently scared people. People have gone to jail for doing scary clown pranks on Halloween. Sometimes they've gone to jail for longer than people who've thrown bricks. The difference being, prison makes people angrier, but it makes the jokes less funny. So because people are more afraid, and angrier, we see more "serious", more militant tactics. Which tactically, is sometimes a shame. I've heard of a number of cases where police have retreated before lines of clowns or cheerleaders, because they simply don't know how to handle them - there's no script. Then again, I've also heard of cases where the police retreated under a hail of Molotovs, or in the face of a pacifist crowd (usually because of an expected media backlash).

Satirising politicians is still legal in America, but for how long? There's rumours Trump's attacking PBS because of their Sesame Street "Donald Grump", decades ago. He's suing some kid for a website where they portray him scratched by kittens. Parody is a crime in Russia, in Turkey. It's easily portrayed as harassment, libel, contempt, hate speech and so on. And then there's all the irregular crap - the bogus arrests, mass roundups, searches, no-fly lists, Twitter-motivated firings, grand juries. Statists have ways to take revenge for stuff that's "legal". I think the authoritarianism and repression have escalated to a point where people feel they "aren't playing any more". Hence why there's been a tone-shift - initially to insurrectionism, more recently to idpol. This is another part of the picture, I think - I've known insus and idpols with a sense of humour, but their public discourse is absolutely super-serious. Idpols especially don't want to be mocked or to mock others, because it undermines the rigidity of their meaning-system.

Or, it might just be that anarchism today is composed mostly of bitter older people and self-righteous younger ones - the clowns are somewhere else. We've seen a return to humour in some ways in the Internet counterculture. Memes, trolling (originally done "for the lulz"), online pranks - some of it very Situationist. There was a contest where the winning school got a free Taylor Swift concert - 4chan users made sure it was won by a school for the deaf. They got m00t of 4chan elected Time's Man of the Year. Classic stuff. But, this subculture has gone to the alt-right. Its centre of gravity was anarchist circa 2011, but alt-right by 2014. Why? Hard to say. Reaction-formation against idpol? Line of least resistance after the defeat of Anonymous and Occupy? Quiet "nudging" by malicious actors?
Or is the sadistic element in troll humour decisive here? I don't know. I feel like anarchism needs more of their kind of humour. But, at the same time, the world doesn't seem very funny right now.

That's something. You're right that the chans(not tumblr) are more characteristic of what a raunchy counterculture should be. I still think there will be a post altright development that will be more resonant to anarchy. That Stirner has a place on the leftypol areas is hope. The Stirner memes could be a gateway to the post left stuff the way punk was to more general anarchism.

nice thoughtful, thorough comment. The disappearance of anarchist presence in the internet troll culture is on my mind all the time. You're right that it seemed much more on the anarchist side in the past, for example Telecomix with their jellyfish and their data love and their videos and their crypto munitions bureau, and even Anonymous seemed way more anarchist than alt-right. Where have all of those people gone? I mean, maybe they went 'underground' but then that would suggest something in line with what you're saying, which is that something has gotten more serious about the world.

^this was supposed to be in response to @critic

It is, it's just hard to see because anews still hasn't fixed their shit nesting layout (look at the first character of the name).

"Why diid the Muppet Show stop using Mad Harry the bomb-throwing anarchist? Harry was a regular feature on their 70s shows. But after 9/11, apparently, "bombs aren't funny". Even absurd puppet bombs. And this, I think, is why anarchists don't use humour so much nowadays"

@critic you're a genius I'd have never thought of this theory!!! Wow. That reminds me of Emile dunno whyyy...

Makes sense, @critic... (or Emile) but you're wrong on the assumption that humor in protests has not survived the early '00s. It did, but maybe not in the English world who activist and anarchistic milieus are riddled with block-headed, humorless, skinny walking fridges. You haven't seen the sarcastic right-wing marches I've attended, or the clown insurgencies.

Oh, there are so many outlandish skits and pranks that I try to encourage my friends to pull off with me... But even easier would be to generate internet buzz about outlandish skits and pranks that aren't real.

One of my favorite recent examples was the #DraftOurDaughters ad campaign, where people created a bunch of very realistic-looking ads for Hilary Clinton's campaign about sending our daughters to war. Someone posted an article on Buzzfeed about it (see with the headline, "Hillary Clinton Wants To Get More Women In The Military And It’s AWESOME".. The ads look so believable, it was very difficult to tell they were fake.

Or consider this graffiti in Miami on top of an abandoned hospital overlooking a very wealthy neighborhood that read "YOUR MILLION DOLLAR HOUSES WILL SOON BE UNDERWATER" ( . That actually happened, but how easy would it be to photoshop similar graffiti and banner drops and write up fake articles and float them to some news outlets?

Or how about this website ( that created a fake logo and news story that the Redskins had finally changed their name? I am very critical of the source of my news and yet I believed this was true until something came up in my feed later outing it as a 'hoax'. This example is less funny, the group who organized the website hosted a press conference at the height of the buzz as an opportunity to revitalize the name change debate.

So, yeah, I'm down for organizing attention-garnering skits and pranks and flashmobs IRL, but I'm also down for satirical 'reportbacks' of actions such as the Boston Tea Party Affinity Group marching through downtown with flutes and drums smashing Starbucks windows and throwing coffee into the streets, or of masses of people circling congressional hearings on health insurance with pikes and torches waving petitions with millions of signatures in support of The Guillotine Insurance Act. These examples don't quite fall in that sweet spot of being realistic enough to make you second-guess, but they're super funny! (at least I think so)

This development in machine learning assisted video editing that the media has been talking about lately ought to have some interesting consequences on pranks, parodies, and hoaxes in the future. Maybe on reality as well..

Yeah... I've seen some of those celeb porn video fakes doing the rounds and they're scarily realistic. It would certainly be possible for someone to release "low-res home video footage" showing Trump fucking Hillary Clinton, or snorting coke or whatever. Some of our more paranoid brethren are suggesting the CIA had this tech 10 years before Hollywood and this proves they could have faked things like Bin Laden videos. But remember, tech alters the opportunity structure for everyone. We can use it, so can the pigs, the alt-right, Russia, Fox News, evil ex-partners, random angry kids, etc. And eventually, everyone will be aware that it can be used, and this will change standards for what people believe. Certainly it would be possible for pigs to plant someone's face on someone else of similar build and thus "place" them in "CCTV footage" from a protest or crime scene. On the other hand, once everyone realises this is possible (it only takes one scandal!), it will become harder to convict someone based on CCTV footage alone, everyone will be using the "it was faked" defense (if we aren't in martial law by then). This is mostly good for anarchists... though on the other hand, we're likely to see abusers in positions of power (e.g. cops caught killing people; sexual predators; Abu Ghraib...) making the same claim. And fake news will become even more prevalent: how do we prove whether footage of angry crowds burning down the Chinese government HQ are real or not? I could imagine such footage spreading in China, actually leading to a real revolt, just because it signals that the opportunity structure has opened, it breaks the communication problem. But again it's reversable - say the HQ is really burnt down, it's all over the Internet, but the Chinese government says it's faked. Similarly people could conceivably trigger panics, currency withdrawals, stock market fluctuations, conceivably even a global economic crash... Remember these things can go viral really quickly on social media too, and how quickly markets react (I'm hearing the Bitcoin bubble actually resulted from a single marketplace inflating the price, which markets wrongly took as a signal). Early on, it might be possible to expose fakes through video glitches or comparison with real footage (e.g. if we have unedited protest footage, we can prove the face has been grafted on). But this will motivate workarounds. Eliminating glitches is just a technical process. Controlling for source footage matches (given that algorithms are getting good at spotting this stuff) - i.e. the Trump sex video is identical to a porn clip from 2005, except for the face - isn't a problem if the editing is done from unique footage. Say, you've added Trump onto your dad's home movie which he never published. But can Trump still prove the guy's hands or dick are too big for it to be him? Will people start changing their appearances regularly, to make it harder to gain sufficient footage for a realistic fake on a particular day (i.e. we can prove we weren't the person in the video, because on the day of the protest we had a week-long temporary tattoo which isn't in the video)? And how long since we start getting "consumer prosthetics" which can completely and realistically alter someone's face (and fingerprints, and DNA) *in real life*? (DNA editing is already a real thing in a medical context). And all this in the context of widespread social media, smart cities and face recognition. Generalised transparency + generalised anonymity will certainly be an interesting combination.

Also relevant:
(Chapter 2)

According to this source, groups which view the system as reformable use moderate tactics, groups which view the system as unreformable and want to overthrow it use militant tactics. Groups use carnivalesque, satirical, and shaming tactics when they don't realistically believe the system can be reformed, but continue to maintain a marginal hope that it can be. Hence they focus a lot of energy on mocking and shaming the elite to mend its ways.

I'm not sure this is actually relevant to clown blocs and the like, but I believe it's why Daily Show-style satire is tolerated, and why idpols rely so heavily on shaming.

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