Defending the environment is an ongoing battle for hearts and minds - and the environmentalists are winning. But Neil Goodwin sees dirty tricks American-style on the horizon.
Squall 13, Summer 1996, pp.18-19.
Hidden amidst the political in-fighting over the Government’s upgrading of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, came a call from increasingly frustrated chief constables for the assistance of the anti-terrorist squad in tackling “environmental extremism”. On April 10th the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) voted to involve Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch in co-ordinating a response to “top of the scale” activists.
Sources within the force are keen to point out that “people sitting down in the middle of the road” won’t be affected. The proposal only concerns acts of violent protest. But senior bomb-squad officers are said to be scathing over the prospect of wasting resources on what they consider to be “a public order issue”. “What are we talking about here most of the time? Criminal damage?” said one. “It’s a public relations disaster.” So why the initiative?
Increasing numbers of articulate and resourceful young people are embracing direct action as their only recourse to a cumbersome and alienating parliamentary system; a situation about which the Department of Education had been warning the government since 1984. “We can cope with the Toxteths,” wrote Stewart Benson, in his report, ‘New Codes of Social Control and the 17 plus’. “But if we have a highly educated and idle population we may possibly anticipate more serious conflict.”
Of greatest concern to Ministers is the way this challenge is now being taken up across the social and political spectrum. Middle England’s active endorsement of civil disobedience, and the accompanying media interest, has dealt a crippling blow to the roads programme, and prior to the present crisis in the beef industry, was poised to finish off live exports as well.
When riot police were used to clear Brightlingsea’s human barricade during last year’s animal export protests, Essex police received over 200 complaints a day. Sensing a disaster in community relations, Geoffrey Markham, the Assistant Chief Constable, apologised for upsetting local people, explaining: “It is a very different situation to what we are used to - when there are people of all ages sitting in the road. There were about 50 or 60 people who we would describe as hard-liners.”
Seventy nine year old Tilly Merritt was so angered by the harsher treatment meted out to so- called ‘professional protestors’ that she had her nose pierced and dyed her hair orange. “The police just couldn’t believe it,” she recalls “I said to them: ‘See I’m no different to these youngsters, they’re just ordinary people like me’.”
In dealing with the growing culture of dissent, the police have had to negotiate a political tightrope. When James Anderton, Greater Manchester’s former Chief Constable, ushered in the new era of pro-active policing in 1979, shifting “the matter of greatest concern” away from “basic crime - theft, burglary even violent crime” towards “acts of sedition designed to destroy our parliamentary system”, no-one could have predicted a scenario where elderly ladies regularly take to the streets to “subvert the authority of the state”.
The combined cost of policing the protests at Shoreham, Dover and Brightlingsea now stands at £5.4 million, while the No Ml 1 campaign cost the Metropolitan Police £6 million. The Home Office recently turned down an urgent request from Thames Valley police for extra funding for its joint operation with Hampshire police at Newbury. ‘Operation Prospect’ has so far cost £3.6 million, and is expected to reach £12 million by 1998.
With road protestors already speculating on future showdowns at Stonehenge, Sherwood Forest, and the Exeter-Honiton relief road, the massive haemorrhaging of police funds looks set to continue.
For years sections of the press have chipped away at the environmental coalition, trying to alienate potential middle-class supporters with insights into the squalid world of hippie “dole scroungers”, and tales of violence.
In 1994, John Harlow wrote his infamous “Green guerillas booby- trap sites” expose for the Sunday Times, heralding the so-called “Summer of Hate” with lurid accounts of spiked man-traps, crossbow attacks, and booby-trapped buildings at “flashpoints” such as the M11 Link Road and Solsbury Hill.
In July 1994 Madeleine Bunting used these unsubstantiated allegations of protest violence as the basis for her Guardian piece: “All Creatures Great and Smart”, and asked: “Now that environmental and animal protests have turned nasty, how long before their middle-class supporters quit in disgust?” No doubt the question on Michael Howard’s mind.
The Independent rounded-off 1994 with a front-page article entitled: “Crackdown on Green Terrorists”, quoting the head of Special Branch, John Howley, as saying: “There are a lot of people concerned about the environment... We are primarily concerned about the extremists, those who for example put bombs under cars.”
More recently, Contract Journal, the construction industry’s weekly magazine, exposed: “A CONFIDENTIAL report by senior Special Branch officers”, raising the bizarre possibility of “suicide attacks as a tactic to halt road construction contracts”. The document, which allegedly identifies 1,700 activists and names Earth First! and the Earth Liberation Front as two of the most radical groups, is reported as saying: “Radical environmentalists have made it clear that the emulation of animal rights groups is an objective. A further concern is that the ideal of martyrdom, thankfully as yet unseen, is an accepted philosophy in the environmentalist field.”
In tandem with this black propaganda, the Government has produced a series of measures designed to crush the protest movement. Beyond the criminal sanctions of the CJA, accompanied by the strictest of bail conditions (daily signings, 1km exclusion zones, night-time curfews), these include the setting up of a Forward Intelligence Team to co-ordinate evidence gathering on principle targets. The loosely-phrased Security Services Bill, currently making its way through parliament, gives MI5, with all its eavesdropping capabilities, “the function of acting in support of the prevention of serious crime”, including “conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose”.
Now, by linking environmentalists to the activities of the bomb squad, ACPO has further accelerated the process of forcing the movement underground, where it could join the likes of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) in social and political isolation. Once marginalised, road protestors could face fifteen-year sentences for criminal damage, as in the case of the ALF’s Keith Mann, instead of fifteen months.
No-one could have predicted a scenario where elderly ladies regularly take to the streets to "subvert the authority of the state".
“These are text book tactics,” says Jai, a veteran of several campaigns. “When the minor sentences don’t work, you start by harassing people - raiding their homes. When this fails, what do you do? You turn them into eco- terrorists. These tactics were used against Judi Bari in the States, when the FBI sought to subvert Earth First!”
The attempted murder of Judi Bari in May 1990 undoubtedly represents the worst-case scenario for green activists. Whilst co-ordinating what promised to be a huge non-violent mobilisation against strip-logging in the redwood forest region of Northern California, Bari and fellow activist Daryl Cherney were seriously injured by a car bomb.
During the FBI investigation into the bombing, initial police reports describing “damage under the driver’s seat” were dismissed. The location of the explosive device was eventually judged as being “immediately behind the driver’s seat”, and Bari and Cherney were subsequently charged with “illegal possession of explosives”.
“The official response to the bombing had nothing at all to do with finding the guilty parties,” says Bari, who was eventually cleared of the charge. “It was a ploy to isolate and intimidate key organisers of Redwood Summer in such a way as to undermine or completely destroy the anti-logging offensive we were planning. [The police] just used the whole thing to gamer a tremendous propaganda coup... eight solid weeks of sensational press coverage about us - and, by extension, all environmental activism - as being eco-terrorists.”
Bari began an investigation, and uncovered disturbing similarities between her own experience and what had occurred within the framework of known FBI domestic counter-intelligence programs (COINTELPROs) operating in the 1960s. She discovered that the stated purpose of the program was: “To expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralise” political dissent within the United States.
Despite the programmes’ alleged termination in 1971, a former FBI agent informed Bari: “Nothing else changed. We just kept right on using all the same illegal techniques for repressing political dissent we’d used all along. Only we began framing what we were doing in terms of ‘combating terrorism’ rather than neutralising political extremists.”
Last Summer, American activists issued grave warnings to their British counterparts over the introduction of an FBI-style counterintelligence program this side of the Atlantic.
“We’re becoming too effective,” says Jai. “This is not so much a movement anymore, but an underlying mood change. They now realise that as the environment gives out more and more warnings, the resistance is going to get bigger and more diverse. But for the moment, with the way things have been progressing here as to the monitoring of our activities - the harassment and searches - it’s like we too are about to be set up.”
UNLEASHING THE SPIES - the implications of allowing MI5 and the antiterrorist squad to carry out surveillance on environmental protestors - Squall 13, Summer 1996