Police intelligence gatherers at an east London pro-Palestine action. PHOTO: from the Netpol Flickr Pool

In a report published last week, David Anderson QC, a former independent reviewer of UK terrorism legislation, has called the ‘domestic extremism’ label applied by police to a wide range of campaigning groups ‘manifestly deficient’, and indicated the Home Office is under pressure to abandon it.

Lord Anderson, now a crossbench peer who was responsible between 2011 and 2017 for independent oversight of UK counter-terrorism legislation, published a report on 11 June assessing the progress made by MI5 and counter-terrorism policing (CTP) on a review conducted after the 2017 terrorist attacks in London and Manchester.

The report severely criticises the use of the term ‘domestic extremism’ and contains the first public indication that both the government and policing bodies are considering whether to ditch this controversial categorisation.

The label is, according to Anderson, not fit for purpose. It is, he said,

“…an amorphous concept, stretching from groups which currently pose no more than occasional public order concerns (animal rights, anti-fracking) to attack-planning by associates of the proscribed XRW (extreme right-wing) terrorist organisation National Action”.

2017 Terrorist Attacks MI5 And CTP Reviews: Implementation Stock-Take, pg 30

Anderson’s inclusion of anti-fracking as an example of “public order concerns” shows just how highly subjective the label has always been. As far back as 2016, the Home Office was forced to issue a statement confirming “support for anti-fracking is not an indicator of vulnerability” to extremism, but it has continued to appear in counter-terrorism profiles and as recently as July 2018 in a notorious case study in a Manchester ‘hateful extremism’ commission report.

Anderson says his “criticisms of the status quo are widely understood and shared in MI5 and CTP, as well as within the Home Office, [but] revised terminology proved more difficult to agree”.

Significantly, his report also indicates for the first time that at a workshop in December 2018, all government departments agreed in principle to eventually stop using the term “domestic extremism”, a decision he calls “straightforward and sensible”.

Netpol has contacted Anderson directly and he has confirmed that our interpretation of his report is correct.

He added that Home Office has been moving away from the existing terminology since last summer, although this is the first time we are aware of that there is a changing policy specifically on “domestic extremism”. The Home Office has been approached for comment.

Meanwhile, counter-terrorism police continue to smear campaigners and to target them for intrusive surveillance.

That is why we urge everyone to sign up to the key demands of our campaign, which we firmly believe we can win.

As well ending the categorisation of campaigning and protest activities as ‘domestic extremism’, we also seek a clear separation of protest policing from counter-terrorism and better protection for campaigners against surveillance, including independent oversight of how police use it in relation to political protest.

Broad local and national support for Netpol’s campaign

In a letter to the Guardian yesterday, over 150 campaigners, academics, lawyers, journalists and politicians added their support for the demands of Netpol’s “Protest Is Not Extremism” campaign, which calls on the police to stop categorising campaigning and protest activities as ‘domestic extremism’.

The letter says “categorising legitimate free speech and dissent as ‘domestic extremism’ intimidates and alienates people from taking part in protest activities, restricting their ability to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and association. This cannot continue”.

Please sign up in support of our campaign here.

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