Of the protestors who were hellbent on bringing all traffic outside the police station to a standstill, a good number of them had on those creepy, cream colored Guy Fawkes masks that have become the international symbol of association with the group Anonymous. For those who aren’t familiar with the group, Anonymous is a leaderless collective of “hacktivists”  that is essentially the personification of the internet. Started in 2003 on the imageboard site 4chan, Anonymous was originally only about getting “lulz”, a term that’s essentially shorthand for pranking someone. In 2008, they began to wage war on the Church of Scientology after they tried to take down a now infamous video of Tom Cruise acting like a delusional banshee at an International Association of Scientologists awards show.

Scientology’s principle crime, in this instance, was having the audacity to interfere with the group’s lulz, but over time the conflict morphed into something greater and led Anonymous to take on the more overtly political stances with which it is now commonly associated. In the past several years, Anonymous and its legion of hackers have taken on PayPal for refusing to accept donations for Wikileaks, supported the Arab Spring and Occupy movements in America and abroad, and gone after high profile criminal justice cases like the rape of a young woman by local high school football players in the town of Steubenville, Ohio. Most recently, they have been lauded by many for exposing white supremacist members of the Ku Klux Klan who have been actively supporting Darren Wilson.

Now, I am not terribly familiar with hacking culture and cannot offer much in the way of a substantive opinion on the relative merits of Anonymous’s online activities. However, I am an activist and a writer who has participated in and written about enough protests and social movements to permit myself to say my piece with regards to Anonymous’s physical presence in Ferguson while keeping a clear conscience. To this end, I feel it necessary to express my concern that Anonymous will do far more more harm than good when the grand jury’s decision is released in the coming days and to ask any Anons who are reading this to exercise caution and restraint should they come to Ferguson.

With no clear leadership on the ground, the protest movement in Ferguson is at great risk of being driven off course by individuals and groups who do not have the movement’s best interest at stake. Anonymous, by their very nature, is first and foremost among these groups because they are a completely decentralized outside force. While I’m sure there are members of Anonymous who live in the Greater St Louis Area, the vast majority of Anons do not live there and thus have little emotional investment in building coalitions that will work through nonviolent means to improve the health, wealth and well-being of the black community in places like Ferguson. Last night, as I stood on the sidewalk watching several young men in Guy Fawkes masks wander aimlessly into traffic and do the Macarena on the double yellow line of S. Florissant, I was struck by the realization that there was a decent chance someone like them would light the fuse that sent Ferguson spiraling out of control.

My one plea to any members of Anonymous who show up for the protests and rallies in Ferguson and all across St. Louis County would be this: take off your masks. On the internet and the realm of hacking I’m sure there are a million reasons why keeping your anonymity is crucial, but in our physical world, wearing those masks serve only to distance you from your humanity. Much like the safety of anonymity emboldens people to unleash torrents of hate speech in the comments section of online articles and on Twitter, those masks enable us to feel above reproach and apart from our fellows. To see someone is to know someone and when I look at a protestor in their full Anonymous get-up, all I see is a cipher. I cannot build community with someone when I don’t know their face or their name and I can’t trust someone who doesn’t trust the world enough to let it know who they are. I never know what to expect from a member of Anonymous and perhaps that’s the point, but I’d at the very least like to know unequivocally that they are on our side—that they don’t think this is a game. I guess we’ll find out soon.