The ink was barely dry on my Boar comment piece two weeks ago when the story of Britain’s ‘domestic extremists’ broke in the press. My article had principally been about protest and the discourse of protest. The thrust of the argument was basically that language and images are manipulated by both policy makers and the (mainstream) press, because of a fundamental adherence to capitalist structures and principles. This underpins what is and what isn’t reported. In the case of the former, it also underpins how it is reported. The subtle, but nonetheless ideologically loaded language we find in mainstream journalism frames the debate, and tends to marginalize protest as either fluffy and irrelevant, or as the ‘bloodlust of violent hardliners’. Direct quote.
Rarely are one’s wild accusations of ulterior motive confirmed with such alacrity by the accused. So it is, however, with the highly instrumental phrase ‘domestic extremist’.
According to MI5’s homepage, groups that have fallen into the category of ‘domestic extremist’ include ‘violent Scottish and Welsh nationalists, right- and left-wing extremists, animal rights extremists and other militant single-issue protesters.’ A dearth of violent incidents perpetrated by Scottish and Welsh separatists underscores the real focus of the language; ‘domestic extremists’ are activists and protestors, tout court.
Within the activist community this story was met at first with uproar, though this response has segued into a mock bravado. The Facebook group ‘We Are All Domestic Extremists Now’ – with 878 members at the time of writing – and hoodies brandishing the phrase are indicators of the sheer absurdity of the new terminology.
The police have been compiling the personal details of thousands of activists who attend political meetings and protests, storing them on a network of nationwide intelligence databases. If this system were a way of monitoring those with criminal records it would be a dubious enough activity in itself. Yet there is no prerequisite for those on the list to have ever committed a crime.
Without delving too deeply into theory, it is worth considering both the language and the bureaucracy of ‘domestic extremism’ and the corresponding database. The portmanteau phrase is as clumsy as ‘terrorist suspect’ is. The intention, arguably realised, of that phrase was to retire the assumed innocence (until proven guilty) in judicial process, by marrying the two words together, slur-like, into ‘terrorissuspect’. The word ‘terrorist’ is all we really hear. ‘Suspect’ is just an irritating afterthought to factual accuracy. As for ‘domestic extremist’, the connotations we are meant to infer are of ‘home-grown terrorism’. Both ‘domestic’ and, more importantly, ‘extremist’ are plucked straight from the vocabulary of the War on Terror.
If you think I’m raving then consider the bureaucratic side of things. A number of the national police units responsible for combating ‘domestic extremism’ are run by the ‘terrorism and allied matters’ committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). The Home Office gives it a staff of 100, and a public budget of £9m per year. In short, the apparatus to monitor and presumably combat ‘domestic extremism’ are physically located within anti-terror departments.
If we follow this logic to its final analysis, it is safe to conclude that I must be a terrorist. I know for a fact that I have been photographed and filmed at a number of demonstrations by police Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT), and will therefore crop up on the government charts somewhere or other. Of course, such an outlandish statement is untrue – the ‘being a terrorist’ part I mean – but it makes you wonder how government policy views protesting, and therefore how they want the public to view protesting.
So how ought we to react to all this? By and large I think the Facebook group/hoodie approach I mentioned above is probably best. Only by scrutinizing and ridiculing language is it rendered impotent. No matter how much the government would like to criminalise peaceful protest, and elevate militant direct action into the lexicon of national security, we must not allow ourselves to passively accept the Trojan horse of this language. Inside lurks an unwelcome horde of dangerous ideological assertions.