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Home | Friday 30th October 2009 | Issue 697

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Here in the SchNEWS bunker we’ve been somewhat overwhelmed by the sudden interest of the mainstream media in the police state in recent months. OK, maybe it’s just jealousy that the professional hacks of Panorama and the Guardian find it so easy to reach the masses (while we humbly labour in the trenches of citizen journalism talking to the same few grizzled poll tax riot veterans and weirdbeards with crop-circle fixations) – but there’s definitely something a bit whiffy about the Guardian expose and the sudden outburst of liberal ire.

Leaving aside the thorny question of how ethical it is to splash people’s mugshots across the front page under headlines about domestic extremism (and then take a leaf out of the Daily Mail and appeal for the public to write in and identify them), should we be grateful they have taken our message to the multitudes? After all, it’s got people talking about police repression in a way our preaching in the wilderness has never managed to. But is it our message?

In the Guardian’s world there are two kinds of protesters, with a clear division between nice, fluffy though occasionally mischievous people who just want to make their point of view heard... and nasty anarchist thugs whose violence merits nothing less than a full blown state crack-down.

Missing from the picture is the idea of a wealthy corporate elite, pulling the strings and doing whatever it takes to maintain their privileged position. The National Extremism Tactical Co-ordinating Unit (NETCU) openly admit to being a pro-business section of the police.

The angle echoed throughout the paper this week has been outrage that powers originally developed for ‘tackling criminals involved in animal rights groups’ have been used against a ‘group of kids, clowns and campers’. The division between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ protesters might as well come directly from NETCU themselves (the paper even drags up the desecration of Gladys Hammonds grave as if it was a typical AR action). The Guardian’s sister paper, the Observer, last November carried a virtual NETCU press release entitled “Police warn of growing threat from eco-terrorists” - clearly helping them broaden their remit (See SchNEWS 655).

NETCU grew out of earlier bodies such as ARNI (Animal Rights National Index) and utilise tactics pioneered against the AR movement - like injunctions under the Protection from Harassment Act (See SchNEWS 581).

The injunctions, which effectively created zones of PFI martial law around corporate establishments, received virtually no mainstream coverage when they were used against AR people, a tiny amount when they were used against anti-arms trade campaigners in Brighton before being splashed all over the front pages when BAA had the effrontery to use them against climate campaigners at Heathrow.

At the moment the SOCPA legislation against interfering with the contractual relations of a corporation - which was used to put Sean Kirtley away for 16 months (See SchNEWS 695), only applies to ‘animal research organisations’. But, within the act is the provision for the Secretary of State to change that without returning to Parliament – How long before it is applied to ‘defence of the realm’ or ‘national energy security’?
NETCU’s intention with the persecution of the Sequani campaign was to imprison and give lifetime ASBOs to people who had done little more than stand outside a laboratory and conduct the kind of demonstration that the Guardian considers “an essential part of the democratic process”.

But is there really that much difference between the AR movement and the the more recent arrivals on the scene - the climate campaigners?

How much difference is there between the mass pulling down of fences at Ratcliffe-on-Soar last week (SchNEWS 696) and actions at Hillgrove Cat Farm (SchNEWS 196)? Both could be argued to be violent, and both were definitely illegal. An artificial division has been drawn between AR and anarchist groups and ‘environmental campaigners and anti-war protesters’ – who are in many cases the same people. The real division between protest groups and how much state attention they receive is not how violent they are but how effective – start to challenge the status quo and the mask of democracy inevitably slips away. 

Keywords: animal rights, netcu, newspapers, police, protection from harassment act, socpa, surveillance


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