In recent months a number of very long sentences have been handed down to people active in the animal rights movement in the UK. The SHAC 7, named after the campaign Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign with which they were involved, were sentenced to between 4 and 11 years in prison after being found guilty of ‘Conspiracy to blackmail’ animal experimenters Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS). No evidence was presented to demonstrate that any of the campaigners were involved in illegal direct action against the company. They were prosecuted because SHAC was deemed to have influenced ‘persons unknown’ to carry out direct action against companies linked to HLS. In addition to prison, four of those convicted received indefinite Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) effectively making it a criminal offence for them to ever protest against animal experimenters again. These convictions followed on from the May 2008 sentencing of Sean Kirtley from the Stop Sequani Animal Torture campaign to 4 ½ years in prison for updating the campaign’s website. Kirtley was found to be guilty of ‘Conspiracy to interfere with the contractual relations of an animal research facility’.
Whatever we might think about the controversial tactics employed by some in the animal rights movement, it is clear that the state is making political prisoners of people who have dared to campaign (very successful) against big businesses. By attacking animal testing these campaigners have attacked the entire pharmaceutical industry, one of the most profitable industries in modern Britain. The state, acting on that industry’s behalf, is making sure an example is made of any ‘ringleaders’ it can find in the movement, in a concerted attempt to squash it. By attacking those coordinating legal, above-ground campaigns the state’s aim seems to be to force animal rights protest out of the public arena and cut off public support for it.
This attempt to criminalise an entire protest movement is something that has parallels in other countries as well. In the US the ‘Green scare’, a concerted attempt by the authorities to class direct action against environmentally destructive housing developments and logging as ‘terrorist’, is clocking up more and more massive convictions. Just this month, Marie Mason was sentenced to 21 years in prison for causing $1m damage to a genetic engineering research lab in an action that didn’t hurt anyone. A spokesperson for the US Government said that “this prosecution sends a clear message.”
Isn’t that exactly what these politically motivated crackdowns and repression are all about? By labelling those involved in or supporting direct action that hurts the corporations ‘terrorists’, ‘blackmailers’ and ‘conspirators’ the average person is encouraged to fear and detest them. The aim is to make successful direct action and anyone associated with it illegal and repugnant. The news coverage of the SHAC trial turned into an Orwellian two minute hate against those involved. Attention was focussed on the lurid details of intimidatory direct actions against employees of companies associated with HLS without mentioning that none of those convicted had been linked to these actions. The less salacious facts weren’t allowed to get in the way of populist demonisation and scaremongering.
The media role in this process is important. In November last year, a fear mongering feature about ‘green extremism’ appeared in The Observer, co-authored by Nick Denning, a military intelligence officer. The piece claimed that a “lone maverick” influenced by the ideas of eco-direct action group Earth First! could be about to embark on a terrorist killing spree in order to reduce the world’s population. The article name-checked the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU), a branch of the police whose remit seems to be the repression of politically-motivated direct action campaigns. Evidently worried that their cash would start drying up now that key figures in the animal liberation movement were being sent down for long sentences, the article was seen by many as a bid by NETCU for a new role as instigators of a future UK ‘green scare’.
NETCU are facing stiff competition to be the nation’s number one political policing unit. Special Branch already see terrorism as their baby and the Forward Intelligence Teams have a reputation for being on the frontline of the repression of activists. As if that wasn’t enough, a new Confidential Intelligence Unit (CIU) is being set up to “manage the covert intelligence function for domestic extremism” and “Develop the business of the confidential intelligence unit to support NCDE [National Covert Domestic Extremist] units and the wider DE [Domestic Extremism] policing objectives.” A number of struggles have been mentioned in the remit for this new unit including anti-aviation campaigns, Palestinian solidarity, wildcat strikers and animal rights. Serious money and resources is being ploughed into the surveillance, isolation and rendering ineffective of those who dare to disrupt the status quo.
We must never forget that the state is prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to curtail any threat to its authority or to the profits of big business. As anarchists we should ensure that we challenge and resist this repression and support those on the receiving end of it. Those involved in direct action should always take sensible precautions to avoid detection and capture. We should be aware of the risks and how to minimise them without falling into the trap of being too paranoid to do anything. The aim of repression is to make us give up out of fear. For practical advice on security check out this comprehensive guide: www.activistsecurity.org/booklet-2.6.doc