After years of campaigning by Netpol, policing in Britain has at last decided to abandon the “domestic extremism” label
Twelve months after Netpol revealed the decision of the Home Office and other government departments to finally stop using the “domestic extremists” label – and after almost a decade of our campaigning for an end to this highly subjective categorisation of campaigners – we can now confirm another important milestone.
Correspondence between Netpol and the National Police Coordination Centre (NPoCC), has verified that “police have moved away from using the term Domestic Extremism and are at present consulting on appropriate terminology to use in respect of all levels of protest”.
The NPoCC is part of the National Police Chiefs Council and is responsible primarily for mutual aid deployments between forces for large scale events, including protests. Its head, Nigel Goddard, was previously a Police Service of Northern Ireland superintendent responsible for public order policing during the G8 summit in Belfast in 2013, whilst his deputy was a commander in the same year during protests against fracking in Balcombe in West Sussex.
We were told by the NPoCC that another unit within the National Police Chiefs Council, the Counter Terrorism Policing Headquarters, remains the lead on developing whatever new protest intelligence label the police may decide to adopt. However, it also said that a new Strategic Intelligence & Briefing team within NPoCC had “transitioned ownership of the function out of Counter Terrorism Policing earlier this year”.
This seems to indicate that another of Netpol’s key demands – the complete separation of public order policing from the policing of terrorism threats – is finally underway.
Recruitment advertising for the NPoCC’s Strategic Intelligence & Briefing team that appeared in July this year (below) has started to refer to risk and threats “associated with aggravated activism [our emphasis] and those intent on committing offences at strategic protest and significant public order events”.
We have asked the NPoCC whether “aggravated activism” is one of the prospective new terms that is replacing “domestic extremism” and are still awaiting a reply. In July, the government told Green Party peer Jenny Jones that it “does not use the terminology of “aggravated activism” in relation to public order”.
Whatever new form of words is selected, Netpol remains opposed to the use of highly emotive language that, like “extremist”, is intended to alienate campaigners from the wider public and restricts their ability to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and association.
The controversial “domestic extremism” label
The histrionic labelling of social and political movements as “domestic extremists” has been enormously controversial because the police have struggled to provide a clear, legally robust or sustainable definition of what it means – leaving it open to considerable interpretation based on police bias and hostility towards particular protest groups.
It has often been used broadly and ambiguously in the same context as ‘violent extremism’ or even ‘terrorism’ and yet this is a label that the police have regularly attached to all kinds of political protest and campaigning, especially if it involves civil disobedience or direct action tactics.
Designating a campaign as ‘extremist’ has meant that all those associated with it may also find themselves labelled in this way – even if they never do anything unlawful.
In January 2020, the Guardian published a document produced by counter-terrorism police that had included Extinction Rebellion on a list of extremist ideologies that should be reported to the authorities on safeguarding grounds. It also advised public sector staff working with young people to look out for those who “participate in planned school walkouts”, an evident reference to the growing global School Climate Strikes movement.
Another internal police guide was also published in January that included a huge range of protest groups, from Stop the War and the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, alongside symbols for proscribed organisations banned by terrorism legislation, such as Al Qa’ida and National Action. A number threatened legal action unless this guide was withdrawn.
You can add your support our ‘Protest is Not Extremism’ campaign here