Home Office minister accused of ‘outright lies’ and ‘gaslighting’ campaigners over extremist claims in parliament

Brandon Lewis and police officer filming protest
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On 22 January, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott asked an Urgent Question in parliament about the government’s controversial Prevent programme. Abbott wanted to know why groups such as Extinction Rebellion (XR), Greenpeace, and vegan advocacy groups were included in a counter-terror document.

But in response, Home Office minister Brandon Lewis lied. Either that, or he’s totally ignorant about protest policing in the UK and how the police label campaigners as domestic extremists.

It’s okay. It’s just an “error of judgment”.

Lewis reiterated the fact that the original guidance had been withdrawn and repeated the police’s claim that XR’s inclusion had been an “error of judgment”.

He then told parliament:

we and the police have both said that protest groups are not extremist groups. And membership of a protest organisation is not nor should it ever be an indicator that an individual is vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.

But responding to the claim to The Canary, coordinator of the Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) Kevin Blowe called the response an “outright lie”, insisting:

The documents say the exact opposite. They asked public sector workers specifically to look out for and report unspecified concerns based on an alleged “threat”. There is no other way of describing this response, other than calling it an outright lie.

Read on...

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Stop ‘gaslighting’ campaigners

Blowe also had the following message for the government:

Rather than attempting to gaslight the broad spectrum of campaigners that were self-evidently smeared by counterterrorism police, the government needs to follow up its own decision to abandon the domestic extremist label by forcing the police to do so too. Nothing else is acceptable now.

Netpol is currently running a campaign to stop the police from labelling campaigners as domestic extremists – a term that has no legal definition. As its website notes:

There is no need to have a conviction or even face any suspicion of criminality to find yourself categorised in this way. The list of ‘domestic extremists’ includes Baroness Jenny Jones, comedian Mark Thomas, and veteran peace campaigner John Catt… none of whom have criminal records, as well as a number of journalists who appear to have been labelled ‘extremist’ simply for reporting on political protest and campaigns.

This isn’t fantasy or paranoia. Everyone on Netpol’s website, myself included, have seen files held on us by the police’s domestic extremist units.

This is nothing new

If Lewis isn’t telling an “outright lie”, his lack of knowledge is unforgivable. Because this isn’t anything new. The police have kept files on ‘domestic extremists’ for years, covering people in many of the protest groups listed in these documents. People have been harassed and spied on because the police consider them extremists.

And police forces and Prevent programmes across the country have long used the example of fracking protesters as a marker of extremism. In fact, Netpol won a three-year legal battle in 2018 against five police forces to get them to confirm or deny whether they had made any Prevent-related referrals based on involvement in anti-fracking protests. As a result, they confirmed they had.

Meanwhile, Green MP Caroline Lucas also showed how patently ridiculous Lewis’s claims were:

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Netpol’s campaign has three simple demands:

The police must stop categorising campaigning and protest activities as ‘extremism’.
There must be better protection against the routine surveillance of protesters and campaigners.
The policing of protest should be clearly separated from the policing of terrorism and extremism.

If Lewis wasn’t lying, then he should support these demands and act urgently to stop the police using these terms. If he was lying, it’s down to all of us to hold the government and the police to account and defend our right to protest.

Featured image via screengrab and Emily Apple

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  • Show Comments
    1. Home Office minister accused of ‘outright lies’ and ‘gaslighting’ campaigners over extremist claims in parliament.
      To Mr. Home Office minister Brandon Lewis.
      A Question?
      Do you know truly what your job role is in Govt is yes or no?
      Remembering you are our servant to us public/voters SIR.
      You cannot lie to Govt party member or us voters /residents,
      that pay your wages Brandon if you cannot do the job get out of it now before you trash it fully and put live a risk by you ignorance of the job you are supposed to be running for Boris + Tory Govt .
      We resident + voters be-leave now Boris has far too many Minister + M.P. in good public funded paid jobs that do not understand the job title’s or what the job entails they get paid good public money for.
      We will ADD your Tory party name Brandon to our list of Govt members not doing their job right within Tory Govt party now,
      Also remember Brandon this true ‘’fact we free voters—voted
      Tory party to full power to look after our needs so no more lies to us or any Govt party members in the H.O. Commons SIR on important matter concerning your job under Boris new Government.
      FACT come next G.E. this form of lies will not be forgotten by us free voter or any promises broken by any Tory Minister/M.P./Boris as well
      We could take back our votes at new G.E. time and place it with another party to win power Brandon /Boris knows we only lent him our votes to look after us all and the Tory Minister /M.P. to do the same so get on with doing your job in Tory Govt without need for lies

    2. This philosophy has been around for a long long while about domestic extremists. Now we know where the origin of this deeply entrenched comes from without any sign of leaving. I remember this political attitude from the 60’s.
      The Zombie Party isn’t giving up.

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