Send in the (embedded) clowns

The mainstream were not the only media reporting from Gleneagles. Matt Salusbury watched the whole event as a 'foot-soldier' of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army

Monday 11 July 2005 00:00 BST

e hear about embedded journalists in Iraq, attached to military units, living and eating with them, wearing their uniform, and submitting their dispatches to military censors for approval. Most "embed" material is broadcast without mentioning that reporters were censored. David Hambling's recent book Weapons Grade claims embedding is one of the military's "variations on brainwashing techniques". As a journalist from an activist background, I decided it was time to "embed" with the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (Circa), a surrealist army of clowns protesting at the G8 summit.

Friday 1 July, on the special train from London King's Cross to Edinburgh. Non-Clown Stuart Hodgekinson admits to being terrified of clowns from an early age. Stuart is in the Dissent Media Strategy Group, which was started with a view to actively placing "nice", issue-based, stories ahead of G8 - a departure from the prevailing "blanket nothing response" to the media. Activists are also annoyed with the media's narcissistic insistence that protesters only do what they do to get their voice and their images in the mainstream media. One activist - who didn't want to be named - says most people weren't going to the G8 to get on the telly, they were there because they "want to shut the G8 down".

Saturday 2 July. It's the Make Poverty History rally. Even the clowns are shocked by the huge turnout - more than a hundred clowns from as far afield as Ireland, Belgium, the US and Canada. Fluffy pink-trimmed camouflage is everywhere. My local NUJ branch warned I should be readily distinguishable from "the demonstrators", so I have a distinct black and white "urban" camouflage uniform and a press card round my neck. I organise a media "gaggle" (affinity group) with photographer Ian Te and Zoë Young, a film-maker who has been embedded with the Clown Army since their recruitment tour started in June. I spend most of the day covering her back as she films.

The Canadian freelancer Patrick Falby is allowed along "out of Clown", although he's more at home working for the London Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat, plus other agencies who "are only interested if it kicks off". Patrick is a graduate of a two-day "clown training" sessions, which is more than I can say for myself. I am being thrown into combat with only an evening's basic drilling in clowning manoeuvres.

BBC 4's documentary film team - cameraman Olly Bootle and his assistant Agnes - are welcomed aboard, also clown-trained but "out of clown", after orders from upstairs banned them from filming wearing the clown costumes they'd made, for fear it would compromise their objectivity. As a gesture of defiance, a strip of Clown Army style pink fishnet is wound around the camera mike.

A call comes in to say that the anarchist Black Bloc are penned in by police and we march off to assist them. Clowns kiss policemen and rub themselves up against riot vans on the way. As the policing gets heavier, the Clown Army suddenly changes into a sorted activists' affinity group, with some very serious huddles to discuss tactics.

Monday 3 July. At its open-air "spokesperson council", Circa evaluates Saturday's action and decides the approaching clowns are too easy for the police to spot. As I am wearying of the squeaky voices by now, I am deployed in an "undercover clown" role, to scout ahead in normal clothes and report on police deployments.

The Clown Army is alarmed by the growing media scrum it has attracted. This now includes Italians Lorenzo The Fresh Guy and Allesandro, who've been following the movement since 2000. Like most of the Clown media pool, they haven't got any commissions and are working on spec. They say it's much easier to get access to protesters than previously. At the G8 in Genoa, they found it impossible to gain images.

Suddenly, the police move in and detain clowns for on-street searches. Answering police questions in a squeaky clown voice is a good way to disguise nerves, it turns out. The BBC4 crew are also searched, despite showing their ID.

Tuesday 4 July. The clowns are encamped behind Stirling football ground. Their mainstream-media followers show all the signs of Stockholm Syndrome - like some kidnap victims, they are getting way too sympathetic with their hosts. Something weirder, though, has happened to me.

After days of dissing me for working for the corporate media, the protesters' own alternative media team and the legal defence team now beg me to use my press card to enter the Edinburgh Sheriff's court, to report back to them on hearings for the arrestees from Monday's carnival. In four days I have gone from embedded clown to undercover clown to desertion from the Clown Army to conscription as an activist court reporter.

This report was compiled under Clown Army restrictions.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in