Why did the police send Kennedy undercover?

The efforts of the police to undermine democratic protest expose the ugly political realities of Bri

Ed Ballard misses the point in his blog on the undercover cop Mark Kennedy's infiltration of a group of climate-change activists. The question is not "Was it worth it?" but "Why was it done?"

The answer to that question reveals something rotten in the state of Britain, something the vast majority of people are completely unaware of – the reality of the political nature of policing in this country.

All long-term campaigners on a range of issues – from the environment to the arms trade to animal rights – know, and have known since they began protesting, that the police are not the neutral body they pretend to be, but act on behalf of powerful vested interests: the corporations whose profits they defend and the government that is in bed with those corporations.

Indeed, the revolving door between the corporate and political worlds means, as far as protest is concerned, that they are one and the same.

An exaggeration? Afraid not. Only those who have never protested regularly nestle in the kind of blissful ignorance that allows them to question that this is the true state of play. A scratched head about why on earth the police would waste such vast resources on a bunch of "tree-huggers" is indicative of the successful propaganda that has constabulary spokespeople stating regularly, and with a straight face: "We are here to facilitate peaceful protest."

As long as this lie receives the oxygen of mainstream media validation, the public has no chance whatever of seeing the country as it really is. Warning: when the Met is silent, and when the Director of Public Prosecutions refuses to speak, as in this case, there is a nasty smell in the air that a wise person will follow to its source.

If the cap FITs

Something that smells very bad indeed, and is typical of the kind of strategy used constantly against campaign groups, is the policing of the movement against the arms manufacturer EDM MSM in Brighton. Want proof of the offensive odour? Try the Sussex force's own video footage, acquired and brilliantly combined with activist and CCTV images in the jaw-dropping documentary On the Verge. And be sure to reach for a nosegay as police "intervene" at venues due to show the film.

Feeling woozy yet? Step forward, the FIT team! Or Forward Intelligence Team, the police photographers who routinely turn up at perfectly legal protests and film completely innocent people for having the temerity to exercise their democratic rights.

This unit and its dubious operations provide probably the most convincing evidence of the police's view of campaigners as elements that are dangerous to the state. Only if you have had its camera inches from your face while knowing you have done absolutely nothing wrong can you know how laughable are police pronouncements on "facilitation".

How sinister and Orwellian that word becomes when one knows the truth behind it. So, it is in no way surprising that the police attempted to shut down the activist response to FIT recently, the FITwatch website, with an email to the web host. Unfortunately for them, the content was mirrored almost immediately on over 100 other sites, rendering their efforts useless.

Netcu, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, is another police organisation with a malodorous miasma surrounding it. Netcu was the source, in 2008, of a "green smear" story in the Observer (which was subsequently withdrawn, so obvious was the attempt to create panic about environmentalists). The article "revealed" that "a lone maverick eco-extremist may attempt a terrorist attack aimed at killing large numbers of Britons".

But the problem was that there was absolutely no evidence to back up this hysterical statement apart from the campaign group Earth First's perfectly reasonable claim that the world suffers from overpopulation. And just to clarify who exactly qualifies as a "domestic extremist", George Monbiot wrote soon afterwards that the villagers of Radley who had campaigned to save the local lake from being filled with ash by npower were just the sort of terrorists the state says we need to be protected from.

In the United States, too, a response to state repression of the environmental movement has resulted in the website Green is the New Red, which today reports: "The justice department warned as early as 2003 that the FBI's obsessive focus on animal rights and environmental activists, the 'number one domestic terrorism threat', would leave more dangerous threats unchecked."

So, wonder not why a police officer was sent deep undercover into an environmental campaign group. These protesters threaten powerful interests and bring with them the added "danger" of a social conscience, as well as the seed of a new kind of society, one that puts people and planet above profit. That cannot be allowed to take hold, now, can it?

Alison Banville is a campaigner on human rights, animal rights and environmental and political issues.

Photo: Will Ireland
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Rock solid-arity: how fans and bands helped save Team Rock's music magazines

“It was purely helping out friends in a time of need.”

A little over 25 years ago, a journalist friend let me in on the secret of publishing success. He cut his teeth in the Sixties as an editor in the Yippie underground press, wrote for Rolling Stone, Associated Press and the Chicago Sun-Times, then went on to teach at one of America’s most prestigious journalism schools.

The big secret, he had concluded, was community. No more, no less. Get to know your community and serve it well.

A quarter of a century on, it’s sometimes hard to remember what community looks like in newspapers and magazines. Carefully crafted pages have been obscured by a haze of clickbait, engineered to sucker everyone and anyone into donating a drive-by page view for ads. Community has given way to commodity.

But occasionally, there are glimpses of hope. Six months ago, TeamRock.com, built around a group of specialist music magazines including Classic Rock, Metal Hammer and Prog, went into administration.

The Christmas closure came brutally quickly. The Scottish Sun reported that stunned staff in the company’s Lanarkshire headquarters were told they had been made redundant “as a joiner changed the locks on their offices”. In total, 73 staff were laid off; nearly 30 in Scotland and more than 40 in London.

At the close of 2016, the future for the Team Rock brand and its stable of magazine titles was bleaker than a Black Sabbath album. But last month, in an extraordinary reversal of fortunes, TeamRock.com was named the most influential rock music website in the world.

Bargain-basement buy back

Just a fortnight after its shock closure, the brand was bought by former owners Future Plc. In a no-brainer deal, the Bath-based publisher re-acquired the three magazines it had sold to Team Rock’s founders in 2013. It bought back assets sold for £10m at the knockdown price of £800,000 with the bonus of TeamRock.com and Team Rock Radio. The deal rescued large parts of the Team Rock operation – but its soul was saved by the rock and metal community.

Oblivious to any discussions going on to rescue the magazines, readers, music fans and bands came together in a stunning display of loyalty. Hearing that Team Rock staff wouldn’t be getting paid their Christmas wage they took to social media to pledge their support and raised almost £90,000 for redundant staff.

Ben Ward, the organiser of the crowdfunding campaign and frontman for heavy metal band Orange Goblin said he started the appeal with no thought for the business. “It was purely helping out friends in a time of need,” he explained.

He had read all three Team Rock magazines for years, socialised with their staff and promoted his own and other bands in their pages. “To think of a world without any of those magazines – it was devastating,” he said.

The response to the campaign brought him some cheer, with members of bands such as Queen, Rush and Avenged Sevenfold all posting about it on their social media pages. He added: “The whole Christmas period, my phone just wouldn't stop beeping with notifications for another donation.”

Show of solidarity

Though the fundraiser blew up all Ward's expectations, beating his initial target by more than 400 per cent, he didn't seem completely surprised by the scale of the response.

“Heavy metal and hard rock, people that are into that sort of music, we've always been sort of looked down upon. We know it's not commercially the done thing, we know it's not the norm to walk around with long hair and tattoos and dirty leather jackets. But when you see a fellow metal head in the supermarket, you always give them an approving nod. There's a kind of solidarity.”

While favourable capitalist arithmetic has kept the presses rolling – and the online servers going – for Team Rock, it was the music community – empowered by social media – who delivered the real resurrection. With a combined Facebook following of more than 3.5million and a total social media audience of almost five million, it was no surprise TeamRock.com was soon number one in its field.

“What's brilliant about this is that it's based on what music fans share with each other,” explains editor-in-chief Scott Rowley.

TeamRock.com became the most influential rock site based on social media sharing, and came fifth in the top 100 sites across all music genres. The site above it is a hip-hop title, again featured for the strength of its community, according to Rowley. “Those people really know what they're talking about, they want very specific content, and they're not getting served it elsewhere,” he said. “When they get it, they love it and they share it and talk about it and that's their world.”

Responsiblity

Following the outpouring of support for the rock magazines, Rowley now feels a heightened sense of responsibility to do “the right thing” and steer clear of cynical decisions to get clicks or put certain bands on the cover just to sell copies. He believes future success will come down to trust. “Sometimes that feels precarious, but equally I think we're in good hands,” he explains. “We're a business, we've got to make money, but we know what smells fake and where the limits are.”

Zillah Byng-Thorne, CEO of owner Future, recognises the need to balance the realities of running a listed company with the authenticity needed to maintain trust. “What Future is interested in is the passion that underpins specialist media,” she says. “I don't really mind what your passion is, what's important is that it's a passion.”

“No one is sitting around thinking, 'I wonder what bands sound like Thin Lizzy?',” says Rowley. “We're much more a part of their lifestyle, interrupting their day to tell them someone’s just released an album or announced a tour.”

“But it doesn't have to always be about fishing for clicks,” he adds. “I remember [Classic Rock online editor] Fraser Lewry saying, 'Sometimes on social we should just be being social'.”

Being social. Listening. Contributing to the conversation. Sharing the passion. That old-fashioned notion of serving the community. It seems Ward would agree, as he offers the new owners of the magazines he helped to save some advice: “Don't make the same mistakes, investing in things that weren't really necessary from the magazine’s point of view. I'm in no position to tell anyone how to run their business, but on behalf of the rock and metal community…keep it interesting, keep it relevant.”