Tuesday, March 31, 2009

And so it has come to this...

When the UK government passed anti-terrorist legislation giving the police more and more powers, people warned that it was only a matter of time before they were used against ordinary political protestors. And now it has happened. Overnight, five people in Plymouth were detained under anti-terrorist legislation in the leadup to the G20 summit in London. Initial reports - such as that from the Independent linked above - accused them of possessing "weapons, suspicious devices and suspected extremist material" (its repeated like a litany in that story). Later reports talked of "explosives". Clearly we have all been saved from a dangerous terrorist plot by extremists! But the reality turns out to be a little different:

Paul Netherton, Devon and Cornwall assistant chief constable, said imitation handguns and an imitation Kalashnikov, as well as devices made from fireworks, had been seized. The deactivated weapons were "not major" and "probably not even lethal".

Officers said they were investigating the possibility the group planned to attend the G20 summit, which they described as an "obvious line of inquiry".

A police source told the Guardian that initial inquiries indicate the five were "not planning a Guy Fawkes plot". "I think it was more designed to disrupt than injure or kill," the source said.

So, BB guns and firecrackers - both of which are legal in the UK. But it gets better. That "extremist material"?
Asked to clarify the nature of the material, Netherton said: "It's political, it relates to political organisations, it's not extreme but it's a different political view. It leads to motives and things like that."
And that's it. Holding "a different political view" is now prima facie evidence of terrorism in the UK. And to cap it all off, the search which led to all of this was sparked by... graffiti:
Netherton said the investigation was sparked when the 25-year-old man was arrested for spray-painting on a wall in Plymouth city centre. He would not comment on the nature of the graffiti.
So, spray-painting walls equals terrorism. Cthulhu knows what they think of people who protest in the streets.

This highlights perfectly the toxic recipe: anti-terror legislation plus a paranoid police force hostile to democracy equals protestors being equated with suicide bombers. It's dangerous to human rights, its dangerous to democracy, but its also a danger to the state itself. Because in western, democratic societies we have a particular view of states which equate protest with terrorism: they deserve to be overthrown.