Tuesday, 2 August 2011

No anarchy in the UK, police advise people to grass up anarchists

The Westminster Counter Terrorism Police advise you
to inform on your friends and neighbours if you suspect
that they are guilty of having dissident political thoughts.
On 29 July 2011the City of Westminster Counter Terror Focus Desk released a newsletter which contained the statement:

"Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy. Any information relating to anarchists should be reported to your local police." (source)
This police call for people to grass up anarchists comes in the wake of a bizarre right-wing social networking campaign to downplay the atrocities committed by the far right terrorist Anders Breivik in Norway with misleading and unsourced statistics which claimed that anarchist/leftist terrorists have been responsible for more deaths atrocities than Islamic fundamentalists, separatist nationalists and far right organisations combined.

The first part of the police statement is ostensibly correct, however it is clear that whoever wrote it just stole their definition of anarchism from the first line of the Wikipedia article on the subject (without complying with Wikipedia's terms of use policy, which specify that to reuse Wikipedia content you must provide credit to the authors). Had the Westminster anti-terrorist police read further than the first sentence of the Wikipedia article they would have found that by the fourth sentence the Wikipedia article stated that "there is no single defining position that all anarchists hold, and those considered anarchists at best share a certain family resemblance" and that the remainder of the article offers detailed descriptions of the vast diversity of different anarchist philosophies.

For the police to lump all anarchists together as a threat to society is a classic use of gross over-simplification, over-generalisation and stereotyping. It is as stupid as seeing all Muslims as terrorists or all Irish as IRA plotters and it doesn't say much for the competence of anti-terror police, that they see fit to publish such simplistic and uninformed views.

The police have been trained to fear anarchism because its inherent anti-state philosophy conflicts with the principle duties of modern day police forces; to defend the interests of the establishment and to protect the private property of the wealthy. The fact that the policeman that wrote this "advice" had to look anarchism up on Wikipedia to find his definition and then just plagiarised the opening sentence without apparently bothering to read any further is illustrative of the police mentality that there is no need to fully understand dissident political thought, simply a necessity to prevent it.

On the same page of the Westminster counter terrorism leaflet there is a picture of a flag with some Arabic text and a similar request for the public to grass up Islamist terrorists with the statement "[This flag is] often seen used by al-Qaida in Iraq. Any sightings of these images should be reported to your local police." The fact that the second warning contains similar advice and features below the anarchist warning shows that in the minds of Westminster counter terrorist police, gathering intelligence on domestic anarchist groups is considered as a higher or at best an equivalent in priority to combating UK based al-Qaida terrorists.

It is easy to understand police fear of anarchist tactics like black bloc,
however their decision to lump them together with other anarchist philosophies
such as anarcho-syndicalists and existential anarchists highlights their ignorance.
It is easy to understand the reasons that the police fear anarchism, the anarchists they most often encounter in the line of duty are people like direct activists, squatters and protesters using the black bloc strategy. It is pretty clear that most coppers don't really have any real understanding of the philosophical term "anarchist" and just use it as a kind of pejorative to describe people that wont accept the status quo, similar to "troublemaker" or "radical". However it is difficult to imagine what benefit the police would get from informants passing on their knowledge of anarchist philosophies such as existentialist anarchism, participatory politics or somatherapy.

Anarchism and the study of anarchist philosophy is not illegal and human rights legislation disallows discrimination against people because of their political beliefs. The very idea of the police instructing people to report individuals who hold or study dissident philosophical ideas is frighteningly close to George Orwell's concept of thoughtcrime and brings to mind the fact that in the early days of the Nazi Germany dissident political thinkers such as anarchists, socialists and communists were rounded up and imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp.

In the late 19th Century William Melville of Scotland Yard
was the first of many police officers to use
underhand tactics to frame dissident political groups.
It is clear that the British establishment have feared anarchist philosophy for over a century. The Home Office and Metropolitan police spent 80 years hiding the fact that a police agent provocateur called Auguste Coulon working for MI5 founder William Melville planted bomb making materials in order to secure the conviction of a small group of anarchists in Walsall in 1891. The Anarchist newspaper "Commonweal" reported that "Inspector Melville the premier liar of Scotland Yard has been boasting openly that he has succeeded even beyond his hopes in splitting up the Anarchists into factions and has set them fighting each other instead of carrying on their work".

The British police have continued with the use of agent provocateurs to infiltrate anti-establishment groups in order to secure the imprisonment of their members. The most recent example being the case of undercover police officer Mark Kennedy who was found guilty of unlawfully spying on an environmental group and playing a key role in the plan to break into the Ratcliffe on Soare power station in 2009 for which 20 people were found guilty. When it emerged that Kennedy had been a police informer and that the Crown Prosecution Service had deliberately withheld vital evidence from the defence, the convictions were overturned by three senior judges who stated that Kennedy had played a "significant role in assisting, advising and supporting ... the very activity for which the appellants were prosecuted".

Not only have the British police authorities tried to bring down anarchist and other non-conformist political movements through the use of agent provocateurs, they have also benefited from reams of anti-dissent legislation designed to combat political protest. The Police have been allowed to brutalise people that choose to express their right to peaceful political protest with impunity for decades, from the murder of Blair Peach in 1979, through the brutal oppression of the miner's strike to the modern day kettling and baton charges familiar to virtually anyone who has attended an anti-establishment protest in recent years.

The Mark Kennedy case is another example
of how UK police use underhand and illegal tactics
to frame anti-establishment political groups.
The police tactic of kettling is one of the clearest examples of how the police view non-conformism as latent criminality. The tactic of mass detention is a clear partisan strategy to inflict discomfort and suffering on people that choose to protest against the actions of the establishment in order to dissuade them from ever doing it again. As part of the establishment machine the press will almost certainly concentrate on the actions of a tiny violent minority who are while the detention and intimidation of the peaceful majority is almost universally ignored.

Returning to the Westminster document and their broad definition of anarchism, (Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful), several commentators have pointed out that David Cameron's so-called "big society" seems to fit this description of anarchism. Since the election in 2010 the Tories have set about vigorously destroying the welfare state, selling off state infrastructure and sacking tens of thousands of government employees, making claims that the shortfalls in state provision should be made up by individuals and small community groups as part of the nebulous "big society" initiative.

Most anarchists would be appalled to see such ruthless ideologically driven destruction described as "anarchism", however the Tory slash and burn neo-conservative policies are more consistent with the over-simplistic definition of anarchism favoured by the police (reckless and wanton ideologically driven destruction) than the activities of most of Britain's disparate anarchist groups. Even though the Tory party look set to reduce the police force by 34,000 and have set about attacking police pay and pensions, the subservient police mentality prevents them from recognising that the real destructive force that should be countered is the neo-conservative ideology of the establishment, rather than the radical ideas of a few disparate and largely powerless anarchist groups.

The police mentality towards philosophical anarchists and anti-establishment groups brings to mind Pastor Martin Niemöller's famous statement about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
If you know anything about anarchism (or are capable of looking up some anarchist philosophy on Wikipedia) I recommend that you comply with police instructions and ensure that any information relating to anarchists is reported the local police. You should email as much anarchist literature as you can to  projectgriffin@met.pnn.police.uk or post it to Belgravia Police Station, 202-206 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 9SX.

If they are inundated with emails and letters explaining the basic fundamentals of the many diverse anarchist philosophies, perhaps they will think more carefully about publishing inflammatory material that attempts to build prejudice against and criminalise political thought by equating it with terrorism.

 If you enjoyed this post, maybe you could buy me a beer? £1 would get me a can of cheap lager whilst £3 would get me a lovely pint of real ale.


Anonymous said...

Well said!!

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