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‘Domestic Extremism’ and Policing Democracy

November 6, 2009

We encourage readers who have something they want to say to send it to us, and if we like it, we’ll post it! This is the first example of a guest blogger in action, a pocket-polemic from Joe Hookham (ps – ewz in no way endorses his implied criticism of celebrity culture. It is awesome.)

McCarthy Would be Proud…

… or perhaps envious at the success of the U.K.’s leaders in inculcating us to believe that the public is an enemy of itself.

To those who aren’t sat at home dribbling brain matter in front of the T.V. mourning / berating famous-for-being-famous personalities, it is quite obvious that there is an increasingly prevalent police state emerging. And with it comes measures draconian enough to make Orwell do the whirling dervish in his grave.  

Recently, whilst in the midst of what is speculated to be the largest recession we’ve seen, the government have ingeniously squeezed £9 million out of our dead horse economy and redirected these already scarce resources to deal with ‘domestic extremism’. Unfortunately this is not a term to describe a vigorous episode of house cleaning. Rather it is another ambiguous blanket term, like ‘terrorism’, used to re-define national disturbances so that now organised protests fall under this definition. Surely these are resources which could be better spent than dealing with those with poignantly worded placards.

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Domestic extremists in action

The idea of domestic extremism was conjured up earlier this decade when angry individuals from the ARM (Animal Rights Militia) and other extreme ‘groups’ engaged in ironically inhumane actions such as desecrating graves and beating people up. But why has the term been stretched to cover peaceful protests? The papers, (well the Guardian), put it down to the few rogue protestors who occasionally get out of hand and climb a fence or generally cause a ruckus. However one might also believe it has a lot to do with the increasing amount of public concerns that are so prevalent.

The Iraq and Afghan wars are looking more and more like lost causes, the recession has came with faces of which blame can finally be ascribed to, the price of living is up, there is ever increasing technological unemployment and the list goes on. Naturally, just as there is a higher propensity for protesting in these frustrating times, there will of course be a higher risk of aggressive acts, which do of course occur during protests.

Nonetheless, measures have been made to attack the symptom (if it is even a legitimate concern at all) rather than directing attention to the causes. The result is a bureaucratic trinity comprising of the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), the Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NECTU) and the National Domestic Extremism Team (NDET). Why it takes three whole organisations to deal with almost this is any discontented tax-payers guess.

The major issue with the use of the term is that namely it has NO legal definition, thus the authority to define it in practical terms will rest ultimately with the police on the ground when disturbances occur. The protocols police officers operate under will be determined by the three aforementioned groups, which are of course funded on the condition that they can exhibit ‘results’, giving them the peverse incentive to use such powers as widely as possible, by for example monitoring a database of individuals.

We’ll skip the berating of the police force as aggressive and violent; we’ve all seen how well they keep their cool when people don’t kowtow to their badge. The point here is that people probably will not recognise this as yet further erosion of our liberty. People have gradually been made to sacrifice this liberty in the name of ‘freedom’ ever since this ‘War on Terror’ began, and blinded by this language to the obvious oxymoron. The argument “the innocent have nothing to fear” does not account for the right to live without obstruction. People are pulled over by police simply for being on a meaningless database and others face the wrath of disgruntled officers, sometimes manifesting itself as harsh physical outbursts (see particularly Emily Apple and Val Swain), additionally you can find your reputation tarnished should information be leaked.

What is also surprising about this misdirected effort is that according to MI5 ‘domestic extremism’ isn’t even a threat. So do these protest groups really warrant such special attention beyond the usual police escort? Well according to Anton Setchell of ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) they do, as in his words – “just because you have no criminal record does not mean that you are not of interest to the police…everyone who has got a criminal record did not have one once.” In other words, guilty until proven innocent.

There’s no doubt a few protestors will go rogue, but according to NETCU these individuals try to “hide their illegal activities by associating themselves with otherwise lawful campaigners”, as if joining a protest group suddenly makes your indiscretions invisible; on the contrary, protesters want to be noticed!

Protesting has to be an integral part of a well functioning democracy (though historically it has occasionally also been associated with revolution) and it is important that expression of this nature is not stifled. The public aren’t given power beyond selecting a political candidate they think is the lesser of two evils, and if they want to challenge those political representatives decisions on issues like the Iraq war, what can they do beyond writing a letter? It is those who recognise their relationship with the world around them and have a good sense of right and wrong that keep the establishment in check. Is it really these protestors who fight back against wrong-headed decision making that should be policed? Who is policing the government when they commit appalling transgressions like the illegal Iraq War? The people being silenced. Remember, people don’t generally die over here when protests get out of hand; countless do when wars are permitted.

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