Are we all “domestic extremists” now?

If you’re reading this then the chances are you could be a “domestic extremist”? Do you even know what that means? Don’t worry since not many of us do. It’s a word that’s crept into the lexicon over the last 10-15 years since the establishment of New Labour’s remodelled version of the secret state – institutions such as the National Public Order Investigation Unit, the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit and the National Domestic Extremism team.

These units were set up in response to the success of anti-capitalist, animal rights and environmental movements of the late nineties. In 2006 all three were merged under the Association of Chief Police Officers and a national database of domestic extremists was built up which now numbers several thousand.

By then the term had broadened to include – in the police’s own words -groups or individuals who “commit or plan serious criminal activity motivated by a political or ideological viewpoint”. Something can be a “serious crime” when it is carried out by “a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose”. So that could include the groups who sabotaged the badger cull or anti-fracking protests for example.

In truth anyone who wants to radically change society and build a more just, equal or sane world is likely to be viewed as a “domestic extremist” and get on the database. In fact journalists and photographers who have made complaints against the police and even politicians such as London Assembly Member Jenny Jones have had the label applied to them.

It is in the nature of the state to always be fearful and suspicious of the people it rules over. Those who rise to the top – the rich and powerful – deeply distrust the rest of us and with good reason: they know exactly how iniquitous and venal the system is they help to perpetuate. Accordingly the rest of us – the working class – are viewed as dangerous and unpredictable. The 2011 riots proved that beneath the apparently stable order of society there are tumultuous forces to be contained.

It is easy to let this make you paranoid and suspicious and that would be playing into the hands of the oppressors. The so-called “secret police” went overground during the last decade. Whereas before spying and surveillance were done covertly by groups like Special Branch, in the New Labour era, they also become a tool of intimidation through employing “in yer face” tactics of filming by Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT).

For several years it appeared that on every demo there would be a group of cops with cameras and sometimes they’d also have sheets of paper with mug shots of activists to watch out for. The situation became so ridiculous that I was even followed on one occasion when I wasn’t doing anything political at all. I simply went into a building where a meeting I was unaware of was taking place and on leaving I noticed a FIT team behind me!

The effect of all this has understandably been to deter some from being politically active. The reasons why the numbers of people on demos or involved in grassroots campaigns has declined in the past decade is complex and can’t be whittled down to one cause, but there is little doubt that covert surveillance and with it feelings of intimidation and criminalisation has been a factor.

But in the last two or there years the mood has shifted. Thanks in part to revelations about undercover cops in protest groups and the Edward Snowden leaks, the secret state has had the glare of publicity shone on it. Importantly it has moved beyond mere activist circles to the point where even ordinary people – to use that term – have felt their privacy and integrity is being threatened and violated.

New struggles have come along which have attracted a fresh influx of activists who are untainted by the past. The anti-fracking and badger cull campaigns spring to mind. Other activists, meanwhile, have been fighting back in the form of groups such FIT Watch, who have themselves filmed the surveillance teams, and NETPOL – the Network for Police Monitoring.

Last year on 5 February NETPOL launched the first “Domestic Extremist Awareness Day” by asking for campaigners to find out if secret records are held about them by making subject access requests to the Metropolitan Police’s National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit.

This year they are following that up by asking you to tell them on Facebook – or on Twitter using #domesticextremist – “what might make you a so-called domestic extremist”. Er, how many days have you got…?

To find out more about Domestic Awareness Day 2015 see: https://netpol.org/2015/01/28/domestic-extremist-awareness-day-2015/

To find out if the police hold data on you see:  https://netpol.org/campaigns/dont-be-on-a-database/subject-access-requests-an-introduction/

30 January: Islington Against Police Spies “Sack Bob Lambert” demo

Islington Against Police Spies (IAPS) was set up late last year following a meeting at London Metropolitan University. This is where disgraced ex-police spy Bob Lambert works as a lecturer in criminology. Before his career in academia, Lambert worked as an undercover cop for Special Branch and infiltrated political groups such as London Greenpeace. He then became operations manager of a top secret Scotland Yard unit called the Special Demonstrations Squad and managed other spies.

IAPS say: “In November we held a lively picket of London Metropolitan University in Holloway, launching our campaign to demand the sacking or resignation of Bob Lambert. Former police spy, Special Branch manipulator, abuser of women, agent provocateur, Lambert is now lecturing at London Met on policing and criminology.

As local residents we feel it is totally inappropriate for London Metropolitan to be employing a man with Lambert’s record in such a position; where he has not only influence and power over the lives of students, who may be young or vulnerable. Most particularly Lambert has shown he cannot be trusted not to abuse and lie to women.

Islington Against Police Spies have committed ourselves to holding regular events to keep putting pressure on the University and raising awareness of Lambert’s past, until he is forced to leave London Met. We call on anyone who thinks Bob Lambert should not be working in a supposedly progressive university to support our campaign.

The protest will be this Friday, 30 January, at 12.00 – 2.00pm, LMU Tower, 166-220 Holloway Road, London N7 8DB. The organisers say: “Bring placards, banners, anything to make noise. The bigger and noisier our protest, the more notice London Met will have to take of us.”

The website also has a list of senior management to email and call. There is even an email address and telephone no. for Lambert himself so you can “let him know what you think of his activities”.

https://islingtonagainstpolicespies.wordpress.com/

For further information see: https://network23.org/redblackgreen/police-spies-and-surveillance/

 

Activist Eric McDavid released from prison in the USA

Some rare good news today as activist Eric McDavid was released from prison after serving nine years of a near 20 year sentence. He went free due to the government’s failure to disclose documents to his defence at his trial in 2007.

He was convicted of conspiring to sabotage federal property which threatened the environment but always maintained he and his two co-defendants were entrapped by an “overzealous FBI” and its 19 year old informant, “Anna”, who literally “herded the group together from around the country, paying for their transportation, food and lodging,” according to one of his attorneys.

She admitted she was trained by the FBI to exploit Eric’s romantic desire for her by telling him: “We need to put the mission first. There’s time for romance later.” But at the trial she downplayed his feelings towards her and the government concealed this and other material from the defence. Records showed the FBI gave the missing correspondence to a special unit to “analyse…for behavioural insight into Eric McDavid.”

Documents which surfaced only after the trial show the FBI urgently ordered then inexplicably cancelled a lie detector test for Anna, and that extensive surveillance of Eric prior to him falling under Anna’s influence did not reveal any inclination to commit the offence for which he was charged.

His attorney stated: “There has never been a case in America that has involved this much entrapment, this much pushing by an informant, by the U.S. government and by the FBI behind it.” But at his trial, the judge said “It’s a new world since September 11, 2001” and sentenced him to nearly 235 months.

“Since 9-11, the United States government has mercilessly entrapped people, destroying their lives just to make political examples of them, especially in Muslim communities,” said Jenny Esquivel, Eric’s partner and one of the organizers of his support committee.

“The government has targeted leftists and anarchists with similar fervour. This, like so many other alleged conspiracies the public hears about, are FBI inventions from the start,” Esquivel said.

Enjoy your freedom Eric!

Here is a link to the page on Eric’s trial from the website Green is the New Red: http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/mcdavid-sentenced/434/

Sunday 16 November: Defend the Right to Protest Conference

WE DO NOT CONSENT: Defend the Right to Protest is a major conference taking place on Sunday 16 November  at SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, London WC1H 0XG, from 11am-late. Speakers include Helen Steel, Rob Evans, Merrick Badger, Alfie Meadows and Jenny Jones. Amongst the workshops will be “Undercover cops and the secret state”, “Protest, surveillance, stop and search – know your rights/get organized” and “*Fracking: the future face of protest policing?” Book tickets in advance via the website as places are limited. Wish I could be there.

http://www.defendtherighttoprotest.org/national-conference/

About the conference

The police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August sparked worldwide outrage and a protest movement that is still on the streets. Ferguson has become a symbol of the racism and violence that is the hallmark of policing across the world.

In Britain years of campaigning have exposed the extent of injustices past and present: the fitting-up of striking miners who took on Thatcher, the appalling response to the Hillsborough disaster, police spying on Stephen Lawrence’s family and the treatment of women activists by undercover cops. Those seeking accountability face a long, hard struggle with many powerful institutions ranged against them.

Now we see fresh attacks on our civil liberties. Despite the death of Ian Tomlinson in 2009, demonstrators continue to be kettled and physically abused by police. Trade unionists are hemmed in by anti-union laws and face further threats to their rights to strike and demonstrate. Legal aid cuts are stripping away people’s ability to challenge state policies and abuses. On top of this the Conservatives have pledged to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Austerity, escalating inequality and the “war on terror” form a wider context to this assault. Protests, occupations, organising and solidarity are the only tools we have to fight back and raise alternatives – whether it is in Ferguson, Hong Kong, Cairo or here in Britain.

We hope this conference will provide a space where we can come together to discuss what’s going on, share experiences, equip ourselves to defend our basic rights and think about how to build a stronger movement against injustice for the battles ahead.

 

Maggie and Big Mac – a match made in McHeaven

We all know there’s an obesity epidemic: you can hardly read a newspaper or turn on the tv without being told some mid numbing statistic such as two thirds of us are overweight or obese and huge amounts of the NHS budget are spent on treating obesity-related illness.

But where did it all begin and how did it happen? We hear about that less often. Once upon a time over 40 years ago the vast majority of us were slim. When I was at secondary school in the seventies there was one just one fat boy out of 30 in my class.

Then in 1974 all that began to change because two very important things happened. The Tories lost their second general election that year, which meant Thatcher went on to become the new leader, while in October McDonald’s opened its very first branch in the UK in Woolwich, south London.

These two seemingly unconnected events would have an enormous impact on the dietary habits of this country. By the time Thatcher became prime minister in 1979, McDonald’s were spreading. I had had my first and only meal in one near Victoria Station, shortly before I went vegetarian (it tasted awful!).

In 1982 McDonald’s moved its UK headquarters to Finchley, Thatcher’s parliamentary constituency, and the following year she opened the building. The two shared the same get rich quick, I’m all right jack, profit rules ethos. The Tories were now about “getting government off people’s backs” which meant rich pickings for fast food companies opening branches on our high streets. One of the first things the Tories did after getting elected was to abolish the nutritional standards for school dinners.

Henceforth obesity began taking off, slowly at first so not many people noticed it. The eighties was after all the decade of acquisitive materialism and fast food chimed perfectly with the ethos of the rat race. Thatcher loved McDonald’s and visited again in 1989 on the 10th anniversary of her prime ministership.

But this time, however, the company was under sustained pressure from a variety of groups – environmental, animal rights, trades unions and anti-capitalist. One group coalesced all these protests into a hard hitting campaign and that was London Greenpeace. Not to be confused with the much larger Greenpeace international, it was as its name implied a London-based collective of people who wanted to radically change society.

Though it was originally concerned with peace/anti-nuclear campaigning by the eighties it was part of the rising tide of animal liberation and green anarchism. In 1985 the group started producing “anti-MuckDonald’s” leaflets and posters and calling for days of action on October 16th – World Food day.

Meanwhile the fact that the company’s HQ – a monstrous edifice adorned with the golden arches and even a “Hamburger University” – was plainly evident on Finchley Road, right next to the tube, hadn’t gone unnoticed. The same year as the first anti-McDonald’s day, two young animal liberationists  tried to set fire to the building but were caught. Both went to gaol.

A couple of years later London Greenpeace decided to make the HQ the focus of its World Food Day actions. Over the years many pickets were held and there was even street theatre with a Ronald McDonald lookalike “slaughtering” a pantomime cow in front of passers by.

On one occasion in the late eighties McDonald’s head of security Sid Nicholson was spotted watching the picket with a police officer from Special Branch. This officer was well known for targeting animal rights protesters and he was undoubtedly passing on the details of people who were campaigning against the burger giant.

About a year later five London Greenpeace activists were sued for libel. It soon became clear that McDonald’s had placed spies within the group to gain information on the activists but only much later during the McLibel trial was it revealed that McDonald’s and Special Branch had been swapping information about them. Helen Steel and Dave Morris sued the police and received £10,000 each in an out of court settlement.

But that was just the beginning. It wasn’t until 2011 that the full extent of the secret state’s penetration of this small anarchist collective was uncovered. Two spies from a top secret Special Branch unit called the Special Demonstrations Squad were active in the group between 1984 and 1992. One of them, Robert Lambert, actually part-wrote the What’s Wrong with McDonald’s factsheet that became the subject of the libel writ. His successor, John Dines, was group treasurer at the time the writs were served and was party to the discussions between the defendants, no doubt passing intelligence back to his bosses at Scotland Yard.

What is now apparent with three decades-worth of hindsight is how serious a threat the anti-McDonald’s movement was taken to be. For Thatcher and the Tories, the Big Mac was a potent symbol of the society they wished to create – anti-unions, low pay, quick turnover, wealth driven, extolling a tacky consumerism while treating the environment and animals as mere commodities to be bought and sold for profit.

Anyone who got in the way of their plans was a threat and that included this small band of people, many of whom were unemployed, squatters, and marginalised. There would have been discussions at the highest levels about what to do with these miscreants, how the danger they posed needed to be nipped in the bud. Sid Nicholson – with his police connections – would have been the ideal middleman between the company and Scotland Yard.

When Thatcher visited McDonald’s again in 1989 it would have been at the same time as its executives were deciding to take action. Perhaps she was even party to the decision to hire private investigators to infiltrate London Greenpeace? We may never know for sure but what we can be certain of is that the state and McDonald’s worked hand in hand to try to silence opposition to the Big Mac – without success!

Who to blame for the decline in the AR movement

When the scandal of police spies broke in 2011 the Met was obliged to be seen doing something and set up Operation Herne. Three years and well over £1.5m later all we have are two reports. The first investigated the theft of dead children’s identities. The second is more general and looks at the allegations made by the whistleblower, Peter Francis.
At over 80 pages, the second report is very long and detailed but there is one section I would like to share with you on page 18, under the heading “History of the Special Demonstrations Squad”.
“Today the prevalence of large scale public demonstrations and protest is no longer as common place as it has been in the recent past. There are a number of possible explanations predominantly the introduction of social media and the development of the internet. However, it is also possible that intelligence led policing of such events contributed to the reduction.
There is no doubt that the ability of the Police and public order commanders to deal with large scale disorder and protest was enhanced by the use of intelligence from undercover officers.”
So there you have it, the decline in animal rights and other protest movements is down to Facebook, Twitter and undercover policing. Simple really.
http://www.derbyshire.police.uk/Documents/About-Us/Herne/Operation-Herne—Report-2—Allegations-of-Peter-Francis.pdf