The Bristol riot – and how the media gaslight people into believing that protesters are perpetrators

Last Updated: March 23, 2021By Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s hard to tell which was the worst disgrace – the way the Bristol protest against an unjust piece of legislation was perverted into a riot or the way the media manipulated the story to blame the protesters.

I touched on this in my article about those events, much of which was based on what I saw on the social media. But it seems I was at least mostly right.

This means it is possible to reverse-engineer the ‘toolkit’ used by the mass media to convince us that these events were the opposite of what we have seen.

I’m grateful that I don’t even have to do much work on it – somebody has already done it.

(By the way, the author of the article is an anarchist. This means he’s someone who believes we should all take control of our own political lives and not hand that control over to members of political parties who are likely to be corrupt – and not someone who wants to reduce the nation to lawlessness, as certain media elements would like you to think. See how this works?)

So how do the media gaslight you into believing the police are the victims of a riot they have instigated? Let’s see…

First the press [respond] to the attack … by reporting it in ‘passive voice’. Reports stated ‘clashes occurred…’ or ‘clashes between protesters and police’. Words carefully chosen to not indicate who had started the clashes (the police) and who had been on the receiving end of the majority of the violence (those attending…) Whilst not technically a lie, the intention here is to avoid blaming the police, or to imply that the protesters were at fault. Of course had the protesters actually instigated the violence, the early reports would say exactly that, ‘crowds attack police’.

The article notes that reports use emotive language to describe members of the crowd, no matter what the event may be. So attendees at the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common were “protesters”:

People attending a vigil don’t sound very threatening or unlawful. Vigil invokes images of flowers, grief stricken speeches, candles, sadness. An accurate description of what had taken place on Clapham Common, but not the most useful if you want to paint the police positively. So many news outlets chose to term everyone present as ‘protesters’. Politicians, such as home secretary Priti Patel were quick to chime in condemning the ‘violence’ caused by ‘protesters’ at an ‘unlawful gathering’, and the press dutifully repeated these claims, often uncritically.

You’ve seen it; you know it’s what they do.

Next are the comments:

First they will report on any police injuries ‘six police received medical attention due to the protest’ they might say.

In the case of the Bristol protest, it was 20. I even commented on it in a tweet:

And how did they get their injuries?

Were they knocked out by an enraged protester with a bat… or did they feel faint from dehydration, trip over and crack a rib on a shield, catch their hand in a car door or break a finger bashing someone over the head?

Two more elements to take from the tweet: we were told that there had been arrests, and this immediately implies crime – or at the very least, the suspicion of crime.

And then there’s the fact that we never get statistics showing injuries among the crowd:

It is very rare that figures are collected for how many protesters were injured, and the assumption may be that this means that number is zero, and the police were thus on the receiving end of more violence than they dished out.

Another element is the othering of the crowd:

They’ll agree most of the thousands of people present were peaceful, support the cause, and shouldn’t have been attacked by the police. Then they will, in hushed tones, point out that there were a minority of THOSE PEOPLE present.

THOSE PEOPLE are, of course, the bogeypeople of the day: Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, ‘hardcore feminists’.

Labelling these people means they are othered – they aren’t us, they’re them – and this means they can be demonised:

They weren’t people like you and me, people rightly concerned about violence against women, and about police over reach. They were…

… well, they were whoever the media (and their political masters) want us to believe is “the enemy” of the day.

You will also see attempts to blame the victims of police violence:

They will talk about how the protesters stared shouting when police marched in.

Clapham Common and Bristol.

How there were swear words on placards.

“ACAB” – meaning “All Cops Are Bastards”. So, not even swear words on placards – just an acronym of which a swear word is a part. Politicians attacked protesters who used these at Westminster (protesting against what happened on Clapham Common) and Bristol.

“#KillTheBill” could be seen as brutally provocative – suggesting that we should murder police officers, perhaps?

How the event was an ‘unlawful gathering’.

Clapham Common and Bristol, again.

They will under no circumstances admit that the police may have escalated a calm situation or otherwise acted to make things worse.

Clapham Common and Bristol.

In the past police and press have even gone as far as suggesting police were right to assault a man in a wheelchair for rolling towards them ‘aggressively‘.

After that, the article states, we get the opinion pieces that throw away the ambiguous language and push the narrative on us wholeheartedly. I’m waiting for the headline Feminazis hijacked protest to castrate cops.

(That is one of the claims about Bristol, by the way:)

Dogs were repeatedly [deployed] throughout the night [despite] how dangerous that is for the protesters, for the dogs, and even for the police, at least one of whom very nearly got castrated by his charge.

Of course, it’s all very well for me (or a member of the Anarchist Federation) to say this happens. Can we see actual evidence of it?

Yes. Yes, we can:

The headline is Demonstrators against policing bill class with officers in Bristol. Almost exactly “clashes between protesters and police”, wouldn’t you say?

The BBC report on which I based my previous article is riddled with examples of the techniques listed above. Passive voice:

Protesters clashed with officers

Arrests and police injuries:

Eight people have already been arrested after 21 officers were injured.

(Clearly the report has been updated with an extra arrest.)


Home Secretary Priti Patel accused some protesters of “thuggery”

Avon and Somerset Police Chief Constable Andy Marsh said the protest had been “hijacked by extremists”


demonstrators scaled the station, threw fireworks into the crowd and daubed graffiti on the walls.

At times there were as few as 50 police officers, facing 100 or more violent protesters.

Denial that the police escalated an otherwise calm situation:

Horses and dogs were used to great effect, but their numbers have been cut in the last decade.

Let’s just remind ourselves of what happened, from eyewitness accounts:

Police had a choice, line up defensively by their station perhaps, even pull back a little, or escalate and create a dangerous and increasingly violent situation. They chose the latter, and sent in the dogs, literally in the case of the canine units who would soon deploy, and metaphorically in the case of the human officers who baton charged the crowd, striking at the heads of those standing, kicking folks on the floor, and even hitting a young woman sat on the floor hands raised telling them this was a peaceful protest. [Afed article]

During the chaos someone let off a few fireworks in the crowd. Potentially dangerous, but less dangerous than those police dogs who did get taken away at this point, spooked by the loud noises (its unclear if this was deliberate). [Afed again]

They horse charged people who were sitting down peacefully and then there was a w***er with a baton randomly hitting people and things escalated from there. I was watching the live feed for most of the event. [Annabella, Vox Political commenter]

You see how it works?

Well, now you know how it works, and you’ll be able to identify it when they do it again.

Source: What actually Happened in Bristol – and How a Narrative is Built

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No Comments

  1. Hecuba March 24, 2021 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Ahh yes ‘the passive voice’ – media are experts at using ‘the passive voice.’ Take one example – woman was assaulted yesterday.’ Gee who or what assaulted this woman – media conveniently does not say so therefore the violence woman experienced just happened!

    Now consider how the fascist media are doing the fascist tories work for them – vigil attended by women becomes a ‘demonstration or a protest action!’

    This phrase is the red flag one – ‘. Reports stated ‘clashes occurred…’ or ‘clashes between protesters and police’ which immediately makes me think ‘well who started the fight???

    Compare this to ‘crowds attack police’ or ‘protesters attack police.’ Now we know who the perpetrators are so remember whenever media reports ‘clashes occurred between police and protestors this is media code for – police instigated physical violence against demonstrators!’

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