Not very funny is it? To be honest, it's even less funny than you might imagine.
The police's Prevent strategy for spotting extremism before it starts has long been criticised as overzealous, bordering on creating thoughtcrime. At a recent meeting for over 100 teachers in West Yorkshire, the Prevent officer cited environmental groups and named Caroline Lucas MP as an example of extremism.
Lucas was arrested in August 2013 at the Balcombe fracking site. I was in the same group that day. It was peaceful and stationary, sat in the road outside the fracking site on a Sunday. Police came and picked Lucas and her son off and arrested them, the rest of us were left alone. It was totally political. She was charged with minor offences and later acquitted.
Asked to comment on this recasting of Lucas, the assistant chief commissioner at West Yorkshire Police, Russ Foster, said:
The police acknowledge the right of people to protest in a lawful manner. However, should an individual seek to use violence in furtherance of their view, then Prevent would seek to engage with them.
Implication: To disobey a police officer is violence.
More interestingly Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers teaching union, adds
This is obviously a training session where the presenter didn’t follow his lesson plan properly, and was drawn into a very vague and ill-defined discussion of various forms of extremism, which he didn’t handle very well.
Sorry Mary, but this is the Prevent script. Across the Pennines, fracking activists and their parents have been visited by Prevent officers saying they are 'involved with extremists'.
Greater Manchester Police take the Prevent strategy into colleges, dishing out the All Communities Together Now workbook to students. Page 3 is headed Important Information About Terrorism. Seven examples are given.
- Animal rights extremists planning to damage the house of a director of a laboratory which tests products on animals;
- A right-wing extremist planting a bomb outside a pub used by the gay community;
- Irish extremists planning to abduct a British soldier;
- Left-wing extremist planning to assault a Neo-Nazi;
- An environmentalist group disrupting air traffic control systems by blocking the runway at an airport;
- An international terrorist group planning multiple co-ordinated attacks in crowded places;
- A religious fanatic who is fed a distorted interpretation of an ideology over the internet and plans to attack government premises.
The example is spiced up with 'disrupting air traffic control systems', which gives images of hacking computers and causing crashes. In real life, there are delays at airports all the time. Even an especially smelly turd can qualify for this definition of 'disrupting air traffic control systems'.
When climate activists have occupied infrastucture they've done so with full regard for people's safety. The Drax 29 stopped a coal train with a textbook use of railway protocol, right down to the red flag.
Among them was Mark Kennedy, a police spy whose authorisation papers from the head of the political spy units, barely two years after 7/7, said
This operation/deployment is focused on key areas of Domestic Extremism which I can say sit in the ‘priority area’ of DE for England and Wales
Yet a report into Kennedy and his unit said their targets
were not individuals engaging in peaceful protest, or even people who were found to be guilty of lesser public order offences. They were individuals intent on perpetrating acts of a serious and violent nature against citizens going about their everyday lives.
The Drax train action was was shortly after the Metropolitan Police had amalgamated their Special Branch - which ran the notorious Special Demonstration Squad - and their Anti-Terrorist Branch in 2006 to form Counter Terrorism Command. Within five years it had absorbed all the political policing units, creating a single unit for all forms of possible criminal dissent, whether you're sitting in a Suffolk lane or bombing a tube train.
One of those old units was the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU). Founded in 2004, its aim was to advise organisations that were targeted by animal rights activists but, like all the political secret police, it rapidly developed mission-creep.
The man who effectively ran it, Detective Chief Inspector Gordon Mills, gave briefings to the illegal construction industry blacklisting firm the Consulting Association. Like so many others, this spycop was not a police officer upholding the law - he was breaking the law in order to uphold something more important. NETCU certainly regarded campaigners who threaten corporate profits as dangerous extremists.
In 2012 Mills wrote a paper for the International Journal of Police Science and Management on the difference between the two words at the heart of this.
the word 'activist' would normally come within what society and the courts tolerate as a determined protestor for social change, who might engage in acts of civil disobedience which may lead them to commit minor offences.
Such as Caroline Lucas sitting in the gate way of a closed industrial site and getting charged then cleared of Obstruction of the Highway. It seems an officer must retire and be writing in a trade mag before you'll hear them say 'civil disobedience'.
In comparison, the word 'extremism' or 'extremist' carries much stronger connotations as it is commonly associated with those that attempt or carry out acts of extreme violence to achieve their ideological aims, especially witnessed within acts of terrorism.
Violence, which we've seen includes disobeying a police officer.
Terrorism, which Prevent says includes occupying a runway.
There are continuing problems, however, in using such an emotive term when seeking to describe protest campaigns. Milne (2009) believes that, because no definition has been given to the term 'extremism' in the UK, it provides a much broader meaning than terrorism and therefore can be open to abuse by the state.