The label “domestic extremist” exists to justify intrusive police surveillance on political campaigners
The glacially paced Undercover Policing Inquiry, set up in 2015 and still wading through demands by former police officers for anonymity, recently released a limited number of new cover names of members of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS) who spied on campaigners during the late 1960s and the 1970s.
Many ex-SDS officers are now deceased, whilst few of the groups they targeted in this period and who are linked to the latest batch of cover names have existed for decades.
Although Mark Kennedy, the undercover officer whose exposure triggered the public inquiry, was active as recently as 2010, the continuous obstruction by the Metropolitan Police and a desire by the inquiry to obtain evidence before more elderly former officers die too has undoubtedly had an impact on public perceptions of this long-running scandal.
It has helped create the impression that political policing, surveillance operations and the disruption of campaigns were unfortunate methods from some distant past, the world of TV series like ‘Life on Mars’ when the police were notorious for corruption, fitting up suspects and endemic racism
We know, however, that police intelligence-gathering on the activities of protest movements in the UK continues to this day. We know too that he label of “domestic extremist” remains a critical justification for this surveillance, even though a credible definition robust enough to withstand legal scrutiny has proven elusive.
This is why, on Monday 5 February, we are marking the fifth annual “Domestic Extremist Awareness Day” with a call for a complete end to the application of this meaningless but sinister label against all legitimate political dissent.
In previous years, we demanded the abolition of the secretive national unit responsible for mass surveillance on political campaigns. Its existence has proven an increasing embarrassment to the Metropolitan Police and it was eventually consigned to history, although its functions were largely absorbed into the police’s national counter-terrorism structures.
The smearing of individuals and campaigns has, however, endured unabated: a regular feature of Prevent ‘counter-radicalisation’ workshops where causes that have no association with terrorism are portrayed in the most negative light.
The revelations that led to the Undercover Policing Inquiry demonstrated how unaccountable political policing has a tendency to elevate the hunt for so-called ‘extremists’ to the point of obsession.
Netpol argues that the police have no business conducting surveillance based solely on people’s political beliefs – and as a first step, we must consign “domestic extremism”, a term that has absolutely no legal basis, to history too.
Taking to the streets and expressing our dissent is a right we can take enormous pride in exercising. On Monday 5 February, we are therefore holding a pre-work protest outside the Metropolitan Police’s new headquarters on Victoria Embankment between 8am and 9am. It is close to Westminster tube station (see map).
We are then heading to the Royal Courts of Justice for the latest hearing of the he Undercover Policing Inquiry, starting at 10am.
Why not come and join us? For further details, see this Facebook event
If you cannot make it, we are asking campaigners to share photos of their protests, actions and assemblies on social media – making it clear the police must stop spying on us – with the hashtag #DomesticExtremist.
In the final stages of this month’s general election, Prime Minister Theresa May attempted to bolster her increasingly fragile position with another attack on human rights laws, a move that was rightly condemned by national and international human rights groups.
With coinsiderably less publicity, however, a United Nations report on human rights in the UK, published in May, provided a reminder that legislation, on its own, does not protect our fundamental rights. People acting together to protect these rights are just as important. Read more
On Wednesday and Thursday this week, groups and individuals targeted by undercover police will address a hearing of the Undercover Policing Inquiry at the Royal Courts of Justice, demanding an end to further delaying tactics by the police.
A picket has been called for 9am to 10am outside the court, in support of those targeted by political policing units for nearly 50 years. These targets include many of the individuals and organisations who founded Netpol back in 2009.
This is a general call for people to support the picket, as this hearing is crucial for the future direction of the Inquiry.
Royal Courts of Justice, the Strand, London WC2A 2LL, 9-10 am.
People spied on by undercover police are attending a hearing this week to demand
- the immediate release of the cover names used by undercover police officers, the campaigning and community groups they spied on, and the personal files held on those spied on
- that Inquiry Chair Lord Pitchford puts a stop to police cynically delaying the Inquiry to avoid disclosure of their misconduct.
- vital changes in the way the Inquiry process, to redress a massive imbalance in resources between them and the police.
Feedback from supporters who took part in last week’s Domestic Extremism Awareness Day was very clear – people believe strongly that the freedom to protest remains valuable and important and deserves protection from efforts by the state to undermine and disrupt its effectiveness.
Campaigners resent the smearing of their activism as ‘extremism’, not only because this label is evidently so easy to apply without the slightest evidence, but because it seems deliberately intended to drive away wider public support. Read more
Launched in 2013, Netpol’s annual “Domestic Extremist Awareness Day” takes place on Monday 6 February. This year, we are calling for a complete end to the meaningless but sinister use of the ‘domestic extremist’ label against all legitimate political dissent.
As we have argued repeatedly over the last couple of years, the term “domestic extremist” means pretty much whatever the police want it to mean.
It is a critical justification for state surveillance on protest movements in the UK, but both the government and the police have struggled to devise a credible definition robust enough to withstand legal scrutiny. As a result, Prime Minister Theresa May’s flagship counter-terrorism and safeguarding bill, announced back in May 2016, is currently floundering precisely because government lawyers have still been unable to codify ‘extremism’ or ‘British values’ in ways that are compatible with fundamental rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Read more
The Information Commissioner, in rejecting an appeal by Netpol over the refusal of the police to release details of a programme to ‘deradicalise extremists’, has endorsed unfounded and unsubstantiated links between anti-fracking protests and the threat of terrorism.
In October 2015, we asked Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside police for details of referrals made in the prior ten months through Channel, a ‘counter radicalisation’ process that is part of the government’s anti-terrorism Prevent strategy. Channel supposedly offers voluntary support to people identified as “vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism” and although there are a number of agencies involved in it, the police play a central role in its delivery. Rather than overall statistics, we asked specifically for the number of individuals seen as allegedly at risk through their involvement in anti-fracking campaigns.
Our requests were the result of concerns raised with us by campaigners from the region who were angered that their opposition to fracking had been used as an excuse to refer them to Channel, in most cases by universities or further education colleges. All related to an alleged ‘risk’ to adults rather than children.
In a startling determination, the Information Commissioner has said:
Channel may be appropriate for anyone who is vulnerable to being drawn into any form of terrorism… It follows from this that, for a referral to be made to Channel, it must be suspected that an individual is at risk of becoming involved in terrorist related activity.
In effect, the Commissioner is insisting nobody is referred unless there is a good reason for doing so – even if this is for nothing more than expressing legitimate political opinions about fracking. Read more
Netpol has published a new report, ‘Protecting the Protectors: Monitoring the Policing of Anti-Fracking Protests since 2014’, which summarises our activities, findings and analysis of the policing of protests against fracking since 2014.
Drawing extensively on discussions with anti-fracking campaigners, as well as our own observations at prospective fracking sites, the report covers our
- •Engagement with – and development of resources for – anti-fracking campaigners
- Concerns with the policing of anti-fracking demonstrations and camps
- The intrusive surveillance of anti-fracking campaigners; and
- The opaque relationship between the police and the fracking industry .
We have argued that the way policing operations are planned for anti-fracking protests, the scale of intrusive surveillance against campaigners and ‘zero tolerance’ attitudes towards civil disobedience has a cumulative ‘chilling effect’ on freedoms of assembly and expression:
When coupled with an unfounded association with serious criminality and ‘extremism’ and an unwillingness by police to accommodate protests without routinely making arrests, this can start to quickly chip away at campaign groups’ support and participation and have a disruptive impact on their effectiveness and activities.
With the imminence of new test drilling and exploration sites around the country, the report also outlines the next phase of our campaigning work between now and September 2018.
Your can download a copy of the report here [, 1.2 Mb]
National Police Chiefs Council insists using controversial covert undercover tactics is a matter for local police commanders
In July 2015, the National Police Chiefs Council published new guidance on operations targeting anti-fracking protests. In response, Netpol produced a detailed briefing raising eighteen questions about the scale and tactics of policing operations and the necessity of undertaking significant intelligence-gathering targeting opponents of fracking. Now, nearly a year on, we have finally received a reply from Norfolk Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Sarah Hamlin, of the NPCC’s National Protest Working Group.
In the first of four posts examining what her answers tell us about police attitudes to the policing of protest, we look at intelligence-gathering and the labelling of protesters as ‘extremists’. Read more
Netpol has put together a new guide for activists on how to start resisting the government’s Prevent strategy at a local level
As part of our support for Together Against Prevent, the campaign tactic adopted by a growing number of organisations, this guide is intended to help activists to organise locally in order to resist the government’s draconian and discriminatory Prevent strategy.
This is a first version that we plan to extend as we discover new ideas for action – if you have any suggestions, contact us. The guide is also a Creative Commons document so please feel free to copy, adapt and expand on it. The text is set out below.
Government unveils new ‘counter-extremist’ bill – but still cannot define what extremism actually means
While most of the media insisting this week’s Queen’s Speech was largely overshadowed by the EU referendum, one new law proposed this week looks set to create even more controversy as existing ‘anti-radicalisation’ legislation, already sweeping, is strengthened further.
The government plans to introduce a Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill, which will ‘prevent radicalisation, tackle extremism in all its forms, and promote community integration’. A statement by the Home Office says it will protect “against the most dangerous extremists” and give police “a full range of powers to deal with extremism”.
Another counter-terrorism bill also formed part of the Queen’s Speech in May last year. It was subsequently criticised by David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism laws, who said it risked legitimising “the state to scrutinise [and the citizen to inform upon] the exercise of core democratic freedoms by large numbers of law-abiding people”. A year on, that bill had completely failed to progress any further because the government has been unable to find a “legally robust” definition of what ‘extremism’ actually means. Read more