Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The concerted effort to smear anti-fracking protesters as "extremists"

A report from Spinwatch has identified numerous schools, local councils and police forces that have been describing anti-fracking protests as "extremism", "extremists" and even "terrorist groups".

Labelling anti-fracking as "extremism" and "terrorism" 

The Spinwatch report identifies examples from various parts of the UK including North Yorkshire, Merseyside, Dorset and West Sussex. The unifying theme in all of these examples is that the documents and presentations equating anti-fracking protests with terrorism and extreme-right fanaticism are all linked with the Tory government's Prevent Strategy, which was signed off by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary.

Of course we know that the Tories are totally in hock to the fracking industry, so it serves their purposes to have their opponents labelled as "extremists" and "terrorists", but surely nobody in their right mind thinks that it's acceptable for multiple schools, councils and police forces to equate peaceful anti-fracking protests with savage murderers like ISIS and extreme-right fanatics like the MP killer Thomas Mair.

One of the worst examples of these smears against anti-fracking groups was identified in the Prevent policy of Chesswood School in West Sussex. The executive summary of their prevent policy identifies fracking protests as an "extremist ideology" associated with "terrorist groups" and equates environmental opposition to fracking with Al Qaida and far-right extremism.

British values

The Chesswood School Prevent document then goes on to define "extremist" as "vocal or active opposition to British values".

Whatever their opinion on the merits/harms of fracking, I'm pretty sure that most reasonable people would accept that anti-fracking protests consist of vocal or active opposition to fracking, not a vocal or active opposition to British values.

The Chesswood School Prevent strategy then goes on to define "British values" as respect for "democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs, and those without faith".

The right to peaceful protest is an absolutely essential part of individual liberty. It's ludicrous to imagine that it's possible to have a free and liberal society without the right to protest against the actions of the government, major institutions or other individuals.

If anyone is guilty of disregarding "British values" it's clearly people who insist on smearing anti-fracking protesters as extremists and terrorists simply for opposing what they consider to be unacceptable environmental destruction. Anyone who denies the right to protest such issues is obviously denying individual liberty, and clearly opposing the Chesswood School definition of "British values".

If respect for democracy is a "British value" then many would argue that the Tory party are extremists because of their abject disrespect for democracy. Think about the Tory election fraud at the 2015 General Election, Theresa May's Supreme Court appeal to try to scrap the principle of parliamentary sovereignty and the decision by the Tory run North Yorkshire County Council to allow fracking in Ryedale despite the 131:1 scale of public opposition to the plan.

Tory extremism

This concerted effort to define opposition to fracking as "extremism" and "terrorism" ties in with another of Theresa May's appalling right-wing authoritarian schemes.

Since 2014 the Tories have been pushing an extremism strategy that would allow them to revoke the human rights of people who have committed no crime whatever.

If Theresa May's extremism policy becomes law, then law-abiding citizens could be banned from attending protests or public events, and have all of their online activities pre-vetted by the police.

All that would need to be shown in order to impose these restrictions on people's human rights is that there is a suspicion that the individual could become involved in "harmful activities".

Theresa May's definition of "harmful activities" includes "a risk of public disorder", "a risk of harassment, alarm or distress" and the extremely vague "threat to the functioning of democracy".

So if Theresa May gets her way people could have their rights to free speech, free assembly, the presumption of innocence and peaceful protest scrapped simply because some police officer says they suspect the individual may at some future point cause "alarm or distress" to specified or unspecified persons.

With such extraordinarily low thresholds it's easy to see how the government could use Theresa May's extremism orders to shut down legitimate peaceful protests. All it would take is for a police officer or fracking company employee to claim "distress" because of an anti-fracking protest, then individual law-abiding anti-fracking protesters could be rounded up and stripped of their human rights, banned from protesting again, and forced into a monitoring regime to censor everything they write on the Internet.

Before he resigned in shame after his EU referendum gamble backfired David Cameron summed up the objectives of this policy when he said that "for too long we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens 'as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone'."

It's extraordinary that a serving Prime Minister could get away with expressing such a sinister intention to interfere in the lives of law-abiding citizens, but the mainstream press gave him a free pass on it.

The mainstream media also gave a free pass to Theresa May who is the architect of this policy of stripping law abiding citizens of their human rights, and now this fanatical right-wing authoritarian is the Prime Minister, and still the mainstream media refuse to draw sufficient attention to her autocratic tendencies and her outright contempt for human rights.


It's impossible to not see the connection between this concerted effort to define anti-fracking protesters as "extremists" and "terrorists" and Theresa May's policy of stripping law-abiding citizens of their human rights.

The Tory party are clearly intent on serving the interests of the fracking industry. The widespread effort to brand anti-fracking protesters as "extremists" is clearly useful to the frackers, as will be the Tory policy of stripping people of their right to participate in public or online protests based on nothing more than a suspicion that "alarm" or "distress" may be caused.

You'd have to be staggeringly naive to imagine that the mainstream press would put up a fight to protect our human rights from this next Tory assault, especially given the way Theresa May's appalling Snoopers' Charter drifted into law with barely a whimper of opposition from the media. So it will be down to the public to stop the Tories from achieving their wet dream of labelling law-abiding citizens as "extremists" in order to criminalise peaceful protest.

 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.