Guy Fawkes mask

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A contemporary Guy Fawkes mask

The Guy Fawkes mask is a stylised depiction of Guy Fawkes, the best-known member of the Gunpowder Plot. The plot was an attempt to blow up the House of Lords in London on 5 November 1605, in order to restore a Catholic head of state. The use of a mask on an effigy, has long roots as part of Guy Fawkes Night celebrations.

A stylised portrayal of a face with an over-sized smile and red cheeks, a wide moustache upturned at both ends, and a thin vertical pointed beard, designed by illustrator David Lloyd, came to represent broader protest after it was used as a major plot element in V for Vendetta, published in 1982, and its 2006 film adaptation. After appearing in Internet forums, the mask became a well-known symbol for the online hacktivist group Anonymous, used in Project Chanology, the Occupy movement, and other anti-government and anti-establishment protests around the world.


Guy Fawkes effigies and collectors, all masked, 1903, by John Benjamin Stone.
A masked Guy being paraded on Guy Fawkes Night, 1868.

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was commemorated from early on by burning effigies of unpopular figures. Towards the end of the 18th century, reports appeared of children begging for money with grotesquely masked effigies of Guy Fawkes,[1] and 5 November gradually became known as Guy Fawkes Night, although many now prefer the term "Bonfire Night".[2] The 1864 Chambers Book of Days stated that:[3]

The universal mode of observance through all part of England, is the dressing up of a scarecrow figure, in such cast-habiliments as can be procured (the head-piece, generally a paper-cap, painted and knotted with paper strips in imitation of ribbons), parading it in a chair through the streets, and at nightfall burning it with great solemnity in a huge bonfire...

In 1847 The Lancet published "Notes of A Case of Death From Fright," in which the death of a two-year-old was attributed to the fright caused by seeing a boy wearing a red Guy Fawkes mask.[4]

In the 20th century in Britain, large numbers of cheap cardboard or paper Guy Fawkes masks were sold to children each autumn, or given out free with comics.[5][6] But by the 1980s, their popularity was fading as Guy Fawkes Night became increasingly supplanted by Halloween.[7]

In 1958 the wearing of Guy Fawkes masks on Bonfire Night was mentioned during a debate on the Criminal Law (Onus of Proof) Amendment Bill, in the Parliament of Western Australia, as an example of harmless and excusable (though technically unlawful) possession of a face mask at night.[8] The then Minister for Police, J.J. Brady, stated that "at one time it was traditional to wear masks on Guy Fawkes night. So, if tonight anyone is found wearing a Guy Fawkes mask I, as Minister for Police, will see that he is duly excused."[8]

The comic book series V for Vendetta, which started in 1982, "centers on a vigilante's efforts to destroy an authoritarian government in a dystopian future United Kingdom." Its main character wears a Guy Fawkes mask, and in the climax of the 2006 film adaptation, thousands of protesters adopt the same costume as they march on Parliament.[9]

When developing the story, illustrator David Lloyd made a handwritten note: "Why don't we portray him as a resurrected Guy Fawkes, complete with one of those papier-mâché masks, in a cape and a conical hat? He'd look really bizarre and it would give Guy Fawkes the image he's deserved all these years. We shouldn't burn the chap every Nov. 5th but celebrate his attempt to blow up Parliament!" Writer Alan Moore commented that, due to Lloyd's idea, "All of the various fragments in my head suddenly fell into place, united behind the single image of a Guy Fawkes mask."[10] He also noted "how interesting it was that we should have taken up the image right at the point where it was apparently being purged from the annals of English iconography."[11]

Adoption by protesters[edit]


Since the release in 2006 of the film V for Vendetta, the use of stylised "Guy Fawkes" masks, with moustache and pointed beard, has become widespread internationally among groups protesting against politicians, banks and financial institutions. The masks both conceal the identity and protect the face of individuals and demonstrate their commitment to a shared cause.[12][13]

The character developed as an Internet meme, common on imageboards such as 4chan as well as on video-sharing based Web sites such as YouTube. Initially the character was a stick figure who failed at everything emerged and became known as "Epic Fail Guy" (EFG). For reasons that have never been explained, it was increasingly shown as wearing a V for Vendetta "Guy Fawkes" mask (though this is likely a reference to the fact that Guy Fawkes failed to complete the gunpowder treason). In 2006, a pair of rival groups wearing Fawkes masks confronted each other outside the DC Comics offices. One group, led by freegan anarchist Adam Weismann, was protesting against the film V for Vendetta. The other group, led by libertarian Todd Seavey, counter-protested against the anarchist protestors in favour of DC Comics, and their masks were supplied by a Time Warner employee.[14][15]


Members of the group Anonymous wearing Guy Fawkes masks at a protest against the Church of Scientology in London, 2008.

The mask became associated with hacktivist group Anonymous's Project Chanology protests against the Church of Scientology in 2008.[16][17] The group protested the Church of Scientology in response to the Church forcing YouTube to pull a video of Tom Cruise discussing Scientology that was meant for internal use within the Church.[18] In response, Anonymous protested the litigious methods of the Church of Scientology over a period of several months. Protesters were encouraged to hide their faces, since it was common practice for Church members to photograph anti-Scientology protesters. The Guy Fawkes mask was a widely used method of hiding faces.[19]

As the protests continued, more protesters began opting to use the Guy Fawkes mask, which eventually took on symbolic status within the group.[20][21] Scott Stewart of University of Nebraska at Omaha's The Gateway wrote: "Many participants sported Guy Fawkes masks to draw attention both to their identity as Anonymous and the Church of Scientology's abuse of litigation and coercion to suppress anti-Scientology viewpoints."[19] The Internet-based group then adopted the character for its wider protests against authority.[20][21][22][23]

Wider use in popular protest[edit]

On 23 May 2009, protesters wearing the mask exploded a fake barrel of gunpowder outside Parliament while protesting over the issue of British MPs' expenses.[24]

Guy Fawkes mask at Occupy Protest in Buenos Aires Argentina 15 October 2011

During the 2011 Wisconsin protests, and then during the subsequent Occupy Wall Street and the ongoing Occupy movement, the mask appeared internationally[21] as a symbol of popular rebellion. In October 2011, campaigner Julian Assange attended the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest wearing such a mask, which he removed after a request by the police.[12]

In January 2012, Guy Fawkes masks were used by protesters against Poland's signing of ACTA.[25]

On 10 June 2012, in Mumbai, India, a group of 100 Anonymous members and college students gathered at Azad Maidan, dressed all in black and wearing Guy Fawkes masks, to protest against the Indian Government's censorship of the Internet.[26]

The mask, used by Bahraini protesters during the Arab Spring-inspired Bahraini uprising was banned in the country in February 2013,[27] few months after a similar decision by United Arab Emirates, another Persian Gulf country.[28] The Industry and Commerce Ministry of Bahrain said the ban of importing the mask, which it referred to as "revolution mask" was due to concerns over "public safety".[29] The decision, described by Voice of America as "unusual",[30] marked one of the latest in government efforts to suppress the two-year-old uprising.[28][31] However, a British-based rights activist[30] and Samuel Muston of The Independent[27] downplayed the effect of the ban. The Manama Voice reported that use of mask in protests increased following the ban.[32]

The masks were used by anti-government protestors in Thailand in 2012,[33] and by protestors in Turkey in 2013.[34] They were also used in protests in Brazil[35] and Egypt in 2013.[36]

In May 2013, the government of Saudi Arabia banned the importation of the masks, and said that it would confiscate any found on sale. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs stated that the mask is "a symbol of rebels and revenge", and warned imams and parents that "they could be used to incite the youth to destabilize security and spread chaos..."[37] On 22 September 2013, Saudi religious police prohibited the wearing of the Guy Fawkes mask, the day before Saudi Arabia's 83rd National Day.[38]

The wearing of masks during a riot or unlawful assembly has been banned in Canada, following the enactment of Bill C-309, and now carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.[39]

Protesters in the 2014 Venezuelan protests carried a wide variety of masks; one of them was the Guy Fawkes' mask, sometimes painted with the colours of the Venezuelan flag.[40][41]

Views of Moore and Lloyd[edit]

Graffiti of a Guy Fawkes mask painted on the facade of a building overlooking the Chez Pops Day Centre for youths in Montreal, Québec.

Alan Moore, anarchist and author of V for Vendetta, has supported the use of the mask, and stated in a 2008 interview with Entertainment Weekly, "I was also quite heartened the other day when watching the news to see that there were demonstrations outside the Scientology headquarters over here, and that they suddenly flashed to a clip showing all these demonstrators wearing V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks. That pleased me. That gave me a warm little glow."[42] Whilst Moore didn't create such a character for the purposes it has served he explains to The Guardian, "suppose when I was writing V for Vendetta I would in my secret heart of hearts have thought: wouldn't it be great if these ideas actually made an impact? So when you start to see that idle fantasy intrude on the regular world… It's peculiar. It feels like a character I created 30 years ago has somehow escaped the realm of fiction."[43]

David Lloyd, the V for Vendetta illustrator and co-creator, has said:[12]

The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny – and I'm happy with people using it, it seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way. My feeling is the Anonymous group needed an all-purpose image to hide their identity and also symbolise that they stand for individualism - V for Vendetta is a story about one person against the system. We knew that V was going to be an escapee from a concentration camp where he had been subjected to medical experiments but then I had the idea that in his craziness he would decide to adopt the persona and mission of Guy Fawkes – our great historical revolutionary.

Sales and corporate ownership of rights[edit]

According to Time in 2011, the protesters' adoption of the mask had led to it becoming the top-selling item on, selling hundreds of thousands a year. Time Warner, one of the largest media companies in the world, owns the rights to the image and is paid a fee with the sale of each official mask.[44][45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ House of Commons Information Office (September 2006), The Gunpowder Plot (PDF), at, retrieved 15 February 2011 
  2. ^ BBC:Festivals and Events. Accessed 9 November 2012
  3. ^ Chambers Books of Days, 1864, pp. 549-550
  4. ^ The London Lancet: A Journal of British and Foreign Medical and Chemical Science, Criticism, Literature and News. Burgess, Stringer & Company. 1847. p. 37. 
  5. ^ Whizzer and Chips comic, 1969
  6. ^ Whoopee comic, 1983
  7. ^ Cannadine, David (4 November 2005), "Halloween v Guy Fawkes Day",, archived from the original on 12 November 2010, retrieved 7 November 2010 
  8. ^ a b "Legislative Assembly - Wednesday, 5th of November, 1958" (PDF). Parliament of Western Australia. 
  9. ^ Nickelsburg, Monica. "A Brief History Of the Guy Fawks Mask". The Week. The Week. Retrieved 26 September 2013. 
  10. ^ Moore, Alan (2011). Behind The Painted Smile. 
  11. ^ Moore, Alan (10 February 2012). "Viewpoint: V for Vendetta and the rise of Anonymous". BBC News. Retrieved 9 November 2012. 
  12. ^ a b c Waites, Rosie (20 October 2011). "V for Vendetta masks: Who's behind them?". London, UK: BBC News. Archived from the original on 21 January 2012. Retrieved 21 January 2012. 
  13. ^ Montes, Euclides (10 September 2011). "The V for Vendetta mask: a political sign of the times". The Guardian (London, UK: Guardian Media Group). ISSN 0261-3077. OCLC 60623878. Archived from the original on 21 January 2012. Retrieved 21 January 2012. Not only does wearing a Guy Fawkes mask at demonstrations give protesters anonymity, it's an instant symbol of rebellion 
  14. ^ Bilton, Nick. "Masked Anonymous Protesters Aid Time Warners Bottom Line". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  15. ^ Launder, William (2 May 2006). ""V" stands for very bad anarchist movie". Columbia News Service. Archived from the original on 13 March 2008. Retrieved 5 January 2007. 
  16. ^ Bilton, Nick (28 August 2011). "Masked Protesters Aid Time Warner’s Bottom Line". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  17. ^ Thompson, Nick (5 November 2011). "Guy Fawkes mask inspires Occupy protests around the world". CNN World. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  18. ^ "The Cruise Indoctrination Video Scientology Tried To Suppress",, 15 January 2008. Retrieved 23 September 2013
  19. ^ a b Stewart, Scott (25 March 2008). "Cyberterrorism, hacktivism: Trying to find hope: Anonymous fights Co$ while Chinese launch cyber attacks on human rights groups". The Gateway (University of Nebraska at Omaha). Retrieved 25 March 2008. 
  20. ^ a b John S. Forrester (11 February 2008), Dozens of masked protesters blast Scientology church. Web-based foes guard IDs, assert risk of retribution, The Boston Globe 
  21. ^ a b c Kwek, Glenda (14 October 2011). "V for vague: Occupy Sydney's faceless leaders". The Sydney Morning Herald Times. Retrieved 20 July 2012. 
  22. ^ Sieczkowski, Cavan (5 November 2012). "Anonymous Claims To Have Hacked 28,000 PayPal Passwords For Guy Fawkes Day". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  23. ^ Matyszczyk, Chris (9 August 2011). "Anonymous: Facebook's going down November 5". CNET. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  24. ^ "Flashmob protest at MPs' expenses". BBC News. 23 May 2009. Retrieved 24 September 2010. 
  25. ^ Gera, Vanessa. "Poland signs copyright treaty that drew protests". Associated Press. Retrieved 21 July 2012. 
  26. ^ Anonymous India to use RTI in fight against Internet censorship retrieved 24 June 2012
  27. ^ a b Muston, Samuel (25 February 2013). "Anti-protest: Bahrain bans import of plastic Guy Fawkes masks". The Independent (London). Retrieved 26 February 2013. 
  28. ^ a b Sorcha Pollak (27 February 2013). "Bahrain Bans ‘V for Vendetta' Masks". Time (magazine). Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  29. ^ "Bahrain bans Guy Fawkes mask". Al Akhbar (Lebanon). 25 February 2013. Retrieved 26 February 2013. 
  30. ^ a b Matthew Hilburn (27 February 2013). "Bahrain Bans Import of Protest Masks". Voice of America. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  31. ^ "Bahrain bans 'Anonymous' Guy Fawkes mask". Russia Today. 26 February 2013. Retrieved 28 February 2013. 
  32. ^ البحرينيون يتحدون قرار منع قناع "فانديتا" (صور) (in Arabic). Manama Voice. 3 March 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2013. 
  33. ^ "White masks rally goes international". Bangkok Post. 23 June 2013. 
  34. ^ "In pictures: Turkey's protesters see the funny side". The Observers. 6 June 2013. 
  35. ^ Watts, Jonathan (18 June 2013). "Brazil protests erupt over public services and World Cup costs". The Guardian (London). 
  36. ^ Peterson, Josh (25 September 2013). "Egyptian protesters seen wearing ‘Anonymous’ masks". The Daily Caller. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  37. ^ Riyadh Bureau, Saudi Arabia Bans Import of V for Vendetta Masks, 30 May 2013. Retrieved 29 June 2013
  38. ^ "Saudi religious police confiscate Guy Fawkes masks ahead of National Day". Al Arabiya. 22 September 2013. Retrieved 26 September 2013. 
  39. ^ Meagan Fitzpatrick, "Wearing a mask at a riot is now a crime", CBC News, 19 June 2013 Retrieved 28 October 2013
  40. ^ Associated Press (1 March 2014). "AP Photos: Inventive masks in Venezuela protests". 
  41. ^ Reuters / Jorge Silva (21 April 2014). "Easter anti-government riots in Venezuela". (photo caption) Anti-government protesters, many wearing Guy Fawkes masks, threw Molotov cocktails at police during riots in Caracas on April 20, 2014. 
  42. ^ Gopalan, Nisha (21 July 2008). "Alan Moore Still Knows the Score!". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 24 September 2010. 
  43. ^ Lamont, Tom. "Alan Moore – meet the man behind the protest mask". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 26 September 2013. 
  44. ^ Carbone, Nick (29 August 2011). "How Time Warner Profits from the 'Anonymous' Hackers". Time. Retrieved 30 August 2011. 
  45. ^ Bilton, Nick (28 August 2011). "Masked Protesters Aid Time Warner's Bottom Line". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 July 2012. 

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