You’ve probably heard of the term ‘domestic extremist‘. You might think that it’s a label saved for those who are plotting radical actions, such as bombing trains or financial districts. But if you’re an activist, it’s likely that your name is one of thousands that have been logged onto the police’s domestic extremist database. There’s a number of reasons why you might find yourself on the database, including having organised protests, having blocked roads, and being in a campaign group that is new or emerging. Even comedian and journalist Mark Thomas has been listed as an extremist (which he then used as material for his stand-up shows).
Canary editor Emily Apple is another who has made it onto the database. In 2019, she wrote:
I’m not some hardened criminal. I’m in good company on the database with some of the bravest people I’ve ever met. And none of us engage in serious criminality. Our inclusion on this database is because we believe in a better world, so we’re unable to just sit back and not do anything to create that better world.
Apple has made no secret that being labelled a domestic extremist has affected her mental health; the intense police harassment and violence towards her has caused her to have two breakdowns.
However, the state has now ditched the term ‘domestic extremist’, at least when it refers to activists. Instead, the likes of Apple and Thomas are referred to as ‘aggravated activists’. In a new report highlighted by the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol), the government has revealed its Counter-Terrorism Policing ‘Terminology and Thresholds Matrix’, which was launched in September 2020. The matrix determines how the state categorises an individual as an aggravated activist, and at what level: low, moderate or substantial.
Low-level aggravated activists include those who take part in activity “beyond peaceful protest”, which is subjective to say the least. It’s likely that if you take part in ecological blockades, such as Extinction Rebellion’s road-blocking, you’ll be lumped into the category of being a low-level aggravated activist.
But the very moment your actions affect UK business interests, you’re then lumped into the category of high-level aggravated activism. So if you’re putting your body in the way to stop the expansion of an open-cast coal mine, or if you’re preventing bulldozers from digging up trees for the HS2 railway, you could fall into this high-level category.
Beware the anarchists
Anarchists, meanwhile, are deemed high-level aggravated activists, no matter what they do, even if they’re standing in the road with a banner on a “peaceful protest”. The very fact that the state deems someone an anarchist means that they are automatically seen as a high-risk threat.
The matrix describes anarchism as an ideology with intended outcomes that are of “substantial risk”. It describes ideologies of substantial risk as those where:
The ideological outcome would be the death or subjugation of specific group or a significant proportion of the population (e.g. a race or a religion) or in the dismantling of the state or rule of law (e.g. anarchism) or the relocation of a significant proportion of the population (e.g. a race or a religion) from a country of geographic area.
Yes, that’s right: anarchists are now lumped in with dictatorial ideologies that ethnically cleanse a whole geographical area, either by murdering them or by forcing them to relocate.
I make no secret of the fact that I am an anarchist. In fact, it even says so in my Canary bio. So, according to the matrix, the state deems any political action I take part in – or, I assume, any article I write – to be a substantial threat.
Even more worryingly, the report doesn’t actually outline the criteria that the state uses to categorise someone as an anarchist. In my case, it is easy: I write publicly that I’m an anarchist, and the state will therefore label me as such. But what about all of those who are anti-capitalist, but don’t necessarily define themselves under the anarchist label? Does the state decide for itself which of us it categorises as anarchist?
Netpol argues that:
Senior officers using their political beliefs to try and label ours is a way to enable and justify the continuing funding and resources of the surveillance state.
Anarchism is beautiful
It is, perhaps, unsurprising that the state deems anarchists as people of substantial risk. We pose a threat to capitalism and to the state, at least in theory.
Over the course of generations, Britain’s ruling elites have done their best to paint a false picture of what anarchism actually is – likely for fear that if the public truly knew what anarchism was, they’d become anarchists themselves! The UK’s most powerful label anarchists as selfish individuals actively seeking out violence. Politicians and the mainstream media regularly talk about how a situation could “descend into anarchy”, as if the very definition of anarchism is chaos.
But anarchism doesn’t amount to chaos. In fact, the opposite is true. As anarchists, yes, we do believe in the dismantling of states and governments, but that’s because our alternatives are so much better. In our utopia, we don’t see land as a commodity to be exploited for profit. And we don’t believe that an Eton-educated, entitled rich man – who has zero grasp on what it means to be working class – has any right to make decisions for us. Instead, we believe in everyone having the agency to make decisions for themselves, their communities, and their workplaces. We have varying ideas of how to go about this, some of which could be setting up local communes within our neighbourhoods, making decisions together, and dividing up responsibilities equally.
As anarchists, we want to see nation-state borders dismantled: we believe that freedom of movement is a right for absolutely everyone, not just for white people who have the privilege of holding the correct passport, and we want land decolonised. The anarchist collective Crimethinc says:
Nation-states have always led to cultural and linguistic homogenization and genocide, and borders have revealed themselves to be increasingly murderous mechanisms.
Colonization is crucial to the global spread of capitalism and the devastation it has entailed. This devastation has ongoing repercussions at every level. Colonization is the basis of the United States; it has also been foundational to the major European states that functioned as the architects of the current global system of statism and capitalism.
Anarchist ideals are beautiful precisely because they benefit everyone, and not just a tiny 1% of the population. However, that is also why they’re deemed dangerous, and why the police, intelligence agencies and the government label us as high-level aggravated activists.
Featured image via Eliza Egret
You can read a more detailed overview of the matrix in Netpol’s article: Lost in the Matrix – how police surveillance is mapping protest movements
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