STIGMERGY: The C4SS Blog
On the Tactic of Burning Trash Cans

In the wake of the #DisruptJ20 protests in DC and around the world, there have been a lot of criticisms about tactics employed by various protesters. Fellow C4SS writer William Gillis previously tackled the issue of breaking windows and I have discussed the realities I saw in DC when it came to fighting back against the police. But there is one tactic I still constantly see being called into question which must be addressed: burning trash cans.

To an outsider watching these actions on video or in person, seeing a person or group of people rolling trash cans into the street and setting them on fire seems like pointless destruction. It feeds into the narrative that the left just likes to destroy things when they don’t get their way. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The tactic of utilizing trash cans and other objects like newspaper dispensers in such ways actually has a real and well thought out defensive purpose that has been proven to work.

See these trash cans aren’t being toppled and rolled into the streets for the fun of it. They are instead being effectively used as barriers against incoming cops. When the police swoop in to attack protesters with pepper spray, mace, batons, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades, protesters aim to defend themselves. Creating barriers helps slow the advancement of police and, when utilized effectively, can stop their advance altogether and even create police-free zones. The barriers are even more effective when on fire. An unlit trash can can merely be pushed out of the way but a pile of flaming trash cans, newspaper bins, and other materials leaves a lot more to be dealt with before advancement is possible.

After watching people being attacked in DC for protesting peacefully and seeing police kettle protesters in for mass arrests leaving little room for escape, I saw people employ these tactics successfully to push back the cops and give protesters a chance to recover and defend themselves against these armed foot soldiers of the state. So while I may make jokes about Antifa beating up fascist trash cans on K Street, I also understand the real reasoning and success behind utilizing such tactics as a means of self-defense.

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