Black Mask

From Anarchy In Action
Wall st is war st.jpg

An anarchist "street gang with an analysis," Black Mask was formed by Ben Morea and Ron Hahne in New York City in 1966. Later called Up Against the Wall, Motherfuckers, the group's militant and theatrical actions included the pioneering use of the black bloc, fighting their way into the Pentagon, and cutting the fence at Woodstock Festival. The group's member Osha Newmann described their asthetic as "flower power with thorns."[1]

Black Mask's many influences included the New York jazz scene, the beatniks, Dada, Surrealism, Situationism, Frantz Fanon, black nationalism, Anarchism and radical feminism. While somewhat disillusioned with the city's formal Anarchist groups, Morea knew and liked the Libertarian League and the local Anarchist Murray Bookchin. Black Mask also befriended the radical feminist Valerie Solanas who wrote SCUM Manifesto and later tried to assassinate the painter Andy Warhol. The Situationist International briefly invited Black Mask to affiliate but revoked the offer after deciding that Black Mask member Allan Hoffman was too mystical. Black Mask became a non-student chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.[2]

One of Black Mask's first actions entailed shutting down the Museum of Modern Art. Morea explains:

We felt that art itself, the creative effort, was an obviously worthwhile, valuable and even spiritual experience. The Museum and gallery system separated art from that living interchange and had nothing to do with the vital, creative urge. Museums weren't a living house, they were just a repository. We were searching for ways to raise questions about how things were presented and closing down MOMA was just one of them.

The action was a success. We'd announced our plans in advance and they closed the museum in fear of what we might do. A lot of people stopped and talked with us about what we were doing and this action and others attracted radical artists to our fold.[3]

In 1967, Black Mask wore black clothing and masks and walked through Wall Street with a sign declaring "Wall St. is War St." The historian Andrew Cornell notes that this action apparently marked the first use of what became known as the "black bloc" tactic. At an antiwar demonstration in October of the same year, Black Mask members briefly fought their way into a less-guarded door of the Pentagon.[4]

In 1968, the group changed their name to Up Against the Wall, Motherfuckers (UAW/MF).[5] Abbie Hoffman described UAW/MF as "the middle-class nightmare … an anti-media media phenomenon simply because their name could not be printed."[6]

In 1969, UAW/MF cut the fences at the Woodstock Festival, letting people in for free.[7]

Many UAW/MF members left New York in 1971 to escape what Cornell describes as an "escalating cycle of violent protest, drug use, and incarceration they found themselves becoming trapped in."[8] Cornell notes that UAW/MF was "an overwhelmingly male group whose members evinced a swaggering macho posture."[9]

  1. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 261.
  2. Andrew Cornell, Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the Twentieth Century (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016), 258-260.
  3. "Up Against The Wall Motherfucker! - Interview with Ben Morea", Libcom,
  4. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 260.
  5. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 260.
  6. Stuart Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School (New York: Verso, 2016), ch. 15.
  7. Horizontal Power Hour, "Ben Morea and Black Mask", 10 April 2012,
  8. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 263.
  9. Cornell, Unruly Equality, 261.