On Friday, Washington witnessed the dawn—and probably the dusk—of Operation American Spring, a populist protest that was supposed to involve millions of patriots occupying the National Mall nonviolently until the president and various other high officials agreed to resign. Turnout was a bit lower than the organizers anticipated: Instead of 10 to 20 million revolutionaries, they got a couple hundred. The National Journal's dispatch from the fizzled insurrection makes it all sound rather charming, with a woman called Momma Bear stepping up to take charge of the march when it became clear that the formal organizers weren't quite up to the task. The issues inspiring the crowd included Benghazi, the Bundy ranch, and the general state of the U.S. Constitution.
But the detail that leaped out at me was this:
Two hundred people or so, largely white and near the age of retirement, milled around among a few scattered college-age kids, many of whom donned Guy Fawkes masks.
Guy Fawkes masks! At this point those things have taken on enough contradictory meanings to fuel a dozen semioticians' PhD theses.
Maybe the meanings aren't completely contradictory. Those V for Vendetta masks tend to show up in networked, decentralized movements that directly defy authority: Anonymous, Occupy, the Indignados, the Arab Spring. Operation American Spring was clearly modeled on both the Arab Spring and Occupy, a fact that dismayed the protest's critics on the right. Should it be surprising that some of the demonstrators decided that this was how to dress for the part?
But even that common ground might be slipping away: Twitter's telling me people put on the masks at a rally for the military regime in Egypt, and I'm hard pressed to think of anything anti-authoritarian about that. At this point someone should start a cable news show where no one is identified, everyone wears a Guy Fawkes mask, and nobody agrees about anything. It'll be like Crossfire crossed with 4chan.