Monday, November 10, 2008

Police Soften Up Public for Clampdown on Environmental Activists

You can see the beginning stages of a campaign by police to soften the public up for a repression of environmental protesters as campaigns around global warming hot up. As it looks possible for the government to push forward/allowing a number of massive carbon-white elephants, from locals schemes like the Bristol Ring Road or Bristol Airport Expansion to national projects like Heathrow or more coal fired power stations. There is a long tradition of non-violent direct action in the country from opposition to slavery, for universal suffrage to stopping apartheid. However the power-that-be don't seem to want to see it this way. This article shows how the cops have been briefing the media;

Police have warned of the growing threat of eco-terrorism after revealing they are investigating a group which has supporters who believe that reducing the Earth's population by four-fifths will help to protect the planet....Officers from a specialist unit dedicated to tackling domestic terrorism are monitoring an eco-movement called Earth First! which has advocates who state that cutting the Earth's population by 80 per cent will ease pressure on other species. Officers are concerned a 'lone maverick' eco-extremist may attempt a terrorist attack aimed at killing large numbers of Britons.

rIIIGHT. A lone maverick would be just that - a lone maverick outside any group. This could and sadly does happen anyway with or without the ideology of environmentalism. Interesting how the article then links the lone maverick to various groups like Earth First! who use non-violent direct action. This is lazy journalism to take the cops story at face value, for there have been a couple of people wounded by a bomb related to Earth First!....but those wounded (Judi Bari & Darryl Cherney) were from the group itself and while initially the cops tried to frame them for the bomb that nearly killed the activists themselves. A court case subsequently decided that the cops never bothered trying to find out who really did it, but were intent on framing the environmentalists and gathing more data about the protest movement. The jury in the case awarded the pair $4.4 million total damages for the illegal police actions;

The jury unanimously found that six of the seven FBI and OPD [Oakland Police Department] defendants framed Judi and Darryl in an effort to crush Earth First! and chill participation in Redwood Summer [protests].

We have seen this type of media operation before; All the major summits have a pre-ceding media campaign where the police express their 'fears' of violent protesters. For example in Genoa the police even uncovered actual weapons! However it turned out they were planted by the cops. The police who battered protesters without provocation turned out to the the real purveyors of violence. Another good example comes from Donson et al's 2004 research;

This paper argues that we are currently witnessing the development of a new type of folk devil...The paper examines the way in which anti-capitalist activists are constructed as a new class of folk devil through the media portrayal of protests and the associated political and expert comment. In this process prominent politicians and senior police officers identify activists as 'violent', 'mindless thugs', views widely reproduced in print and broadcast media. The reasons for, and results of, this construction are varied but it is argued that primary amongst these is the ability to trivialise and dismiss activists through a rejection of their behaviour as simply destructive and dangerous. This then facilitates a silencing of these alternative voices in terms of both wider debates on the pros and cons of citizens rights to protest within neo-liberal capitalist democracy and wider contested issues of social and economic justice.

The Observer article is a big 'un - almost 1000 words to drive the message home. Compare this with less than 100 words written about the arrest of a man accused of carrying a Waffen SS UK Members Handbook and two improvised explosive devices last week. The Observer article have this classic statement;

Reports on the Earth First! Journal website, which tells users how to send encrypted emails, reveals connections to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) which has been linked to a series of violent attacks in the US. ELF was classified as the top domestic terrorism threat in the US by the FBI in March 2001.

I would contest the use of the term 'violence' - and there are a couple of good debates about this issue on Bristol Indymedia (1,2)- no people were hurt by Earth First! only property. So that would be the March 2001, 6 months before radical Islamic terrorists crashed planes into the twin towers and killed thousands and the FBI failed to stop them? Oh the irony: perhaps they were too busy looking in the wrong place?

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