For those of you who have been kettled, spied-on, beaten-up or impregnated this won’t come as a massive shock, but for the rest of you maybe it has. The recent expose of Police Scotland defining peaceful protestors defending communities against fracking as ‘domestic extremists’ might need some unpacking.
After reports of Police Scotland labelling anti-fracking campaigners as “domestic extremists”, Scottish Green Party MSP Patrick Harvie asks Nicola Sturgeon what the Scottish Government is doing to protect them. pic.twitter.com/QWBd73fyeS
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) September 20, 2018
The roots of this outrage are many – but we should note three: first the (little noticed) conflation of independence supporting voters with ISIS (Separatists and Extremists) at the last General Election, second the long-standing attacks on environmental protestors in the USA and the militarisation of the police (see Barbarism in Dakota) which is part of a wider pattern in western societies, third the criminalisation of legitimate protest and the new surveillance tools being used against peaceful protesters in England.
Joey Mahmoud, executive vice president of Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Pipeline which will carry North Dakota oil to an Illinois terminal said the protest movement “induced individuals to break into and shut down pump stations on four operational pipelines. Had these actions been undertaken by foreign nationals, they could only be described as acts of terrorism.”
As Patrick Harvie of the Greens has put it:
“People who have been peacefully protesting for their own communities not to be put in danger by fracking tycoons have also been dubbed extremists. Let me say unequivocally, anti-fracking campaigners who exercise their democratic right to protest are heroes, no matter what Police Scotland thinks of them. Issues of justice are devolved and ministers in Scotland are responsible for overseeing policing in our country. All this begs the question of when ministers, including the First Minister, knew that Police Scotland tarred our activists with such a disgusting slur.”
The Ferret report that Detective Chief Superintendent, Gerry Mclean wrote to the Scottish Parliament saying:
“The Police Scotland Annual Police Plan for 2017-18 did contain the following commentary: ‘There continues to be protests around shale oil and gas extraction and unconventional oil and gas extraction, and unconventional oil and gas extraction, both commonly referred to as ‘fracking’.’
“This paragraph was contained within a wider and diverse section of the annual police plan under the heading of Domestic Extremism.”
“Police Scotland does not consider any form of lawful and peaceful protest to constitute domestic extremism; however, we accept that from a presentational perspective a misinterpretation of this position may have been given from the way this small section of the annual police plan was worded and presented.
“No such reference is contained in the current Annual Police Plan for 2018-19.”
But the idea that such attitudes or such strategic views are wished away with a bit of PR editing is unconvincing. We need a public inquiry into SpyCops in Scotland and we need public control over the police handling of peaceful protest.
This has been a strategic part of British policing for a decade, it’s not some clerical error, or typo.
We don’t even know what ‘domestic extremism’ really means.
The Guardian reported in 2009 that there was no official or legal definition of domestic extremism.
However, they report that a “vague stab” at a working definition by senior officers is that domestic extremists are individuals or groups “that carry out criminal acts of direct action in furtherance of a campaign. These people and activities usually seek to prevent something from happening or to change legislation or domestic policy, but attempt to do so outside of the normal democratic process.” The same article quotes activists criticising this definition as too loose, worded to give “police the licence to carry out widespread surveillance of whole organisations that are a legitimate part of the democratic process.”
The Independent described the definition as “a label for radical environmental activism – a sort of terrorism-lite.” It quoted David Howarth, a former Liberal Democrats MP and law professor, who opposed what he saw as “an astonishing conflation of legitimate protest with terrorism”.