Guy Fawkes Day marked with march on Parliament

LONDON — About 200 protesters, many from London's anti-capitalist Occupy movement, marched to Parliament on Guy Fawkes Day, the annual commemoration of the English revolutionary who tried to blow up the building in the 17th century.

Many of Saturday's protesters were wearing a grinning, somewhat sinister mask of Guy Fawkes that has become an icon of the Occupy Movement around the world. The rally was largely peaceful, but the group was kept from getting close to Parliament by a heavy police presence.

Some activists said that donning the masks is a way of reminding governments that authority can be challenged by the masses. "I think people are giving a polite nod to a kind of violent radicalism," said Laurie Penny, a blogger and frequent protester.

Many of the demonstrators had marched from St. Paul's Cathedral in London, where the Occupy movement has set up camp for weeks to protest social inequality and the excesses of the banking industry. Two protesters were arrested for suspected criminal damage and unlawful protest, police said.

Saturday's rally coincided with Guy Fawkes Day, which is celebrated every year in Britain on Nov. 5 to mark the failure of the plot hatched by Fawkes and 12 other conspirators to destroy Parliament with explosives in 1605, assassinate King James I and install a Catholic monarch in the botched "Gunpowder Plot."

The conspiracy fell apart when authorities found out about it and caught Fawkes guarding barrels of gunpowder in the cellar of Parliament. Fawkes was tried as a traitor, and the king's narrow escape has been celebrated every year on Nov. 5, with fireworks and the burning of effigies known as "guys" across the country.

But some regard Fawkes as a folk hero, and Saturday's protesters have a similar political message to his: Rebel against state power.

In Britain and elsewhere, Fawkes' story — or rather a popular culture version of it — has been seized upon as a potent symbol by two increasingly popular anti-government movements.

Stylized Guy Fawkes plastic masks, with a clownish, sinister mustachioed smile and features loosely based on drawings of the revolutionary, have been worn by hundreds of antiestablishment protesters from the Occupy Wall Street movement from New York to Hong Kong. Before that, members of the international rogue collective of "hackivists" known as Anonymous had worn the now instantly recognizable masks during protests against the Church of Scientology.

The masks owed their popularity not so much to Fawkes' story, but to the comic book-turned-movie "V for Vendetta," which features a violent, anarchist freedom fighter who fashions himself a modern day Guy Fawkes and rebels against a fascist government.