Peter, who is twenty-two and recently earned a university degree in business, has a lanky frame and bushy hair that tumbles forward over his eyes. He lives with his parents and works part time as a waiter. At least, that was his life before the protests. Now he’s the de-facto leader of a cell of brawlers, none of whom knew one another before meeting in the streets this summer. They consider themselves front-line defenders of their home town and the tip of the spear against Chinese authoritarianism.

“We’re slapping China in the face,” Peter told me. “At first, I didn’t want to use violence, but I came to think that, without violence, it’s useless.”…

Peter jabbed impatiently at his phone, scanning the encrypted-messaging groups that the protesters use to coördinate their actions. Virtually every aspect of the pro-democracy movement—from press announcements to strategic questions and the fighters’ plans and rendezvous points—is coördinated on the encrypted-messaging app Telegram. Peter was getting information from scouts who move around the perimeter of the protests, climbing onto rooftops to track the police.

Peter’s eyes crinkled in a grin; he showed his friends a picture of a riot-police van.

“They’re waiting for us.”