Monday, 15 March 2010

Police provocateurs

At the weekend I was a steward on the march against the BNP in Barking. The event passed off uneventfully, but experience has shown that stewarding is always necessary  in case of the case of attacks  either by Fascists  - or the police. 

The only moment of doubt that it would be anything other than  peaceful  was when we were  told before the march - by a police officer - that the BNP had been given permission to hold a counter demonstration. As we initially thought, this turned out to be completely untrue, but the rumour still had the effect of un-nerving some of the demonstrators - most of them young people and students  - not exactly hardened Anti-Fascists. It is hard to avoid thinking that this misinformation was anything other  a deliberate police tactic.

So it was ironic to  see this weekend a  piece in The Observer about an undercover police officer from Special Branch's  SDS unit who infiltrated Youth Against Racism in Europe in the 1990s. From the melodramatic tone you would think he had gone undercover into the IRA, a football crew or the Mongols MC. Anyone who was actually  in the YRE will laugh at the officers' 'terrifying experience'; it was not exactly a challenge to infiltrate the organisation - all you had to do was sign a petition and turn up a meeting and you were in. Most of the activity was distinctly un-terrifying -  leafleting FE colleges and doing Saturday stalls.

Even the violent footage shown in The Observer's clip of Brick Lane in 1993 is evidence  of how  the  undercover cops missed the point. At Brick Lane, a long standing BNP paper sale was  run-off  by a very simple ruse:  Police lines separated the Fascists and protesters, so a small group simply went round a couple of blocks and then  joined the Fascists side of the street. Signing 'Rule Britannia' we were clapped by the Fascists as we joined them... immediately before steaming into them. The outwitted police had actually waived us through to join the Fascist lines. Despite their undercover operation they still couldn't comprehend that a group including blokes with short hair and bomber jackets could be anything other than Fascists.

It's not clear from The Observer piece whether 'Officer A' has turned whistle-blower because he had a stirring of conscience of whether he just wants to flog some Andy McNab style memoirs. He does confess to having some doubts when he found himself protesting outside a police station against deaths in police custody. He also  feels that the public should be made aware of how they risk such surveillance if they embark on any kind of political activism. Whatever - the effect  is the same as the malicious rumour from the police in Barking - the attempted intimidation of legitimate protest. 

It is scary and sinister stuff - but also laughable. Whilst they continue to be so amateur and inept we have little reason to be paranoid : As Lenin advised - the best thing to do with infiltrators and provocateurs is take their money and get them to do some of the donkey work.

1 comment:

journeyman said...

As a postscript to this story:

My first reaction to the story was that it was laughable - Apparently the copper tried to infiltrate a youth organisation in the '90s by sporting a balding pony tail and declaring a taste for prog rock for fuck;s sake !

And the Brick Lane story shows that when push came to shove their intelligence was worthless.

But there is a serious side to it - particularly the Welling demos, where I can well remember trying to protect the demo from one of the worst police attacks I have seen on any demonstration.

Hannah and Lois from the SP answer this much better than I could here: