The Terrorism Act 2000 received Royal Assent on 24th July 2000 and will come into effect on the UK mainland in the spring of 2001. The Act redefines 'terrorism' to include damage to property and introduces a range of tough measures designed to combat this. It is clear from the Act that direct action can now be legally classified as terrorism.
- Northern Ireland: Bringing it all Back Home: Anti-'Terrorism' from the 70s to Today
- Hooligans K.O.ed?
- The Spanish State
In this article we have reports from several different countries in Europe, examining how this British legislation is mirrored across the continent. Reports come from both countries where anti-'terrorist' legislation is being newly introduced and countries where similar laws have been in place for decades, investigating how activists have responded to these attacks and what effect this legislation has had on political movements in the different countries.
But before seeing what we can learn from events elsewhere, we need to examine the new legislation, why it has been introduced and what sort of opposition there has been to it.
Why a New Terrorism Act?
While the peace process in Northern Ireland created the need for a re-examination of existing anti-terrorist legislation, the UK's signing up to two new international conventions on terrorism made new legislation a necessity in order to incorporate the conventions into domestic law. The 1998 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings and the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism both gained near universal support internationally, having been drawn up under the auspices of the United Nations.
Meanwhile, domestic politics on the mainland were also influencing the introduction of new anti-terrorist legislation. Although it is unclear to exactly what extent the legislation was specifically aimed at the direct action movement, the growing success of direct action was undoubtedly a major factor influencing the new law. Multinationals found that their profits were being reduced and their reputations degraded but were scared of starting civil claims for libel or trespass after seeing what a disaster the 'McLibel' trial had been for McDonalds. Although their spin doctors were advising them to call their opponents '(eco-) terrorists', this was not enough. Following calls from police and lobbying from companies like GM food giant Monsanto the definition of 'terrorism' was re-written to include "serious damage" to property not just people.
In calling for new powers against activists, the multinationals were certainly not alone. The police were finding themselves hit by increasing civil liability for wrongful arrests - in cases of mass arrests at actions this could lead to a bill of millions, as Hampshire police found out to their cost at Twyford Down, the first of the modern style of road protests. At a time when police budgets were under strain this was a most unwelcome development and as if that was not bad enough, some of this money was being used to fund more demonstrations, leading to even greater policing costs in the future. The final straw had to be the increasing number of juries who were not prepared to convict some of those charged with committing criminal damage, deciding they had done so with 'reasonable excuse', the first and most well known example being the women who damaged Hawk jets bound for Indonesia.
In drawing up the new Act, once again the British government was able to draw on its decades of experience in managing the apartheid statelet of Northern Ireland, the test laboratory of the British police state. Over the last 30 years in Northern Ireland criminal justice has largely taken second place to crime and disorder control. The question of absolute guilt or innocence has not been asked much - what has really mattered is the question of whether you, or anyone you knew or were related to, might be involved in a suspect social group, i.e. Republican or radical. By knowing what was going on, the state has been able to stop radical activity taking place and has been able to use personal information to harass and neutralise individuals or blackmail them into becoming informers. Individuals have been driven into a state of paranoia by being made aware that the state knew their every move and that at any time they could be taken down the police station. Much of the rest of the population was instilled with a general fear that it was under surveillance, similar to that used for social control in the 'socialist' countries of Eastern Europe, and far more effective than the usual deterrence of prison.
Mainland Britain is not currently experiencing anything like what has happened in Northern Ireland, but the legacy of Thatcherism and its subsequent Blairite political consensus has led to a more divided and disordered society. It is already well known that social authoritarianism, in particular the identification and managing of the unproductive and surplus elements in capitalist societies, is as essential and is indeed just as much a part of neo-liberalism as is economic liberalisation. Now, however, it was becoming clear that something more was needed for the new heretics that actively questioned and opposed the neo-liberal vision of progress and who contradicted the politicians' line that economic globalisation is the only possible future. In short, for this 'progress' to continue, those elements need to be excluded politically and ultimately socially.
Terrorism Act 2000 at a Glance
Redefinition of 'Terrorism'
Now includes violence to people, damage to property, endangering life, threats to the health and safety of a section of the population and interference or disruption to electronic systems. Actions have to be designed to intimidate a section of the population or influence a government.
Proscription of Terrorist Organisations
New offences are created of being a member of, supporting or wearing the uniform of a proscribed (banned) organisation. Any action taken for the benefit of a proscribed organisation is automatically deemed terrorist, even including speaking at a meeting at which a member of a proscribed organisation also speaks. All these offences carry a potential 10 year sentence.
Funding and Terrorist Property
Counter Terrorist Powers
Includes wide-ranging powers to arrest and stop and search and reduces rights on arrest. The police gain the ability to hold people for up to seven days without anyone being informed and without a lawyer for two days.
Includes sections covering port and border controls and possession or collection of information. Also in this section, "directing at any level" terrorist activities carries a potential life sentence and "inciting terrorism overseas" makes it illegal to support by words armed struggle in another country.
Check out the Act: http://www.hmso.gov.uk/acts.htm
Also see Statewatch magazine, PO Box 1516, London N16 0EW, UK. Web: http://www.statewatch.org/
New 'Terrorism' = Political Exclusion
While the strict definition of terrorism is "the use of violence to instill fear in sections of the population to coerce others", the current usage of the word in mainstream politics is more like "a rhetorical insult whose content is determined not by any a priori academic test but rather by those wielding power in society". It is this wider sense that has been used as the basis for the new definition of 'terrorism' in the Act, a clearly ideological attempt to stigmatise and exclude the victims of the new law and to prejudice people against them. Anyone to whom the label of 'terrorist' sticks will find themselves increasingly sidelined as others will not want to be tarred with the same brush.
By deciding that somebody is not just a suspected criminal but a suspected terrorist, the odds are stacked against them from the start. Magistrates will be unlikely to refuse requests for continued detention, judges will be more likely to grant requests for Public Interest Immunity (i.e. a blackout on media reporting of a case), and journalists who ask 'who, where, what, when, why?' will find the answer to their first question clouds the others, making it easier for the police to persuade them that a bottle with paint brush cleaner is really a Molotov cocktail, for example.
Of course, most people rely on information from the media rather than everyday life in this area. One analysis of the phenomenon puts it well: "The power to name, label, and define terrorism is especially relevant... since terrorism is so distant and beyond the average person's experience. It is a case... where the media wield exceptional power over popular conceptions of reality." And there is another factor: most people do not realise how dependent on the police the mass media has now become. Approximately 35% of TV news is now related to crime stories. To obtain the latest information on high profile crimes and to include interviews with the police so as to appear authoritative, the media has to co-operate with them and individual companies cannot afford to stop playing ball over something controversial like activists/terrorists, as they know it will make their job harder. Besides, when it comes to extreme and unusual crimes, such as terrorism, there will be a tendency to trust the police's version of events. The increasing power and influence in police forces of their public and press relations departments is beyond the scope of this article, but is also an important issue.
So if it is clear then that the Terrorism Act represents at least to an extent an attack on the direct action movement, how then do we avoid this two-pronged ideological and legal attack? If the government is trying to put increasing pressure on us to try and split us and to isolate and stigmatise the radicals as 'terrorists' so they can be more easily repressed, how do we respond?
We Fought the Law and the Law Won
Despite some lacklustre attempts from the end of last year to start a campaign, no concerted effort to challenge the new legislation ever really got off the ground. This is understandable in a way, as campaigns of this sort rarely seem to get anywhere. The campaign against the Criminal Justice Bill/Act (CJB/A) of 1994 helped to kickstart the whole direct action movement of the 1990s and to bring together a whole lot of different subcultures from ravers to hunt sabs in opposition to the prospective Act. Networks and groups formed all over the country in opposition to the Bill and there were big demos through the centre of London, at least one of which ended in a riot. It didn't stop the CJA, but it did build a bigger more united movement prepared to defy it than had existed beforehand. We turned the government's own legislation to our advantage, but still we never really stood a chance of actually stopping its passage through parliament.
The A30 'Action'
The A30 event, held on April 30th 2000, was a big photo call where everyone would 'dress for direct action' and get their photo taken all together to make some point about 'the diversity of our movement' or something. The organisers insisted it was not a media stunt and that the photo was primarily for our use rather than that of the media, which made little or no sense to anyone except themselves and was rather undermined by the fact that the only place the photo ever seems to have appeared was on the front page of The Guardian. The A30 thing was like one of those ideas for an action you have down the pub when you're pissed and think would be a great idea - "yeah, we can all dress up like off the front of the Sgt. Pepper album and get our photo taken..." - but then you wake up in the morning and realise that the action would have no point to it. The organisers of the A30 event seemed to have forgotten to sober up and succeeded in organising an 'action' with almost no point at all.
Many of the more liberal elements involved in the anti-CJA campaign seriously believed that we could stop the Bill becoming an Act. This was largely because to them the Bill seemed such an irrational act of pure prejudice that they thought simply demonstrating that despite our funny looking hair we were really a nice bunch of people would be enough to persuade the government to drop the legislation. Surely, after being shown how thoroughly harmless and generally nice we are the government couldn't still want to ban our parties and squats and protests and convoys? Unfortunately they did, at which some of the 'fluffies' considered the campaign lost. In the interests of anti-CJB propaganda they had painted the introduction of the Act as such a doomsday scenario ('if they pass this law, life as we know it will end' etc.) that all their hopes had been fixed on stopping it becoming law. For others, the passing of the Bill was pretty much a foregone conclusion and marked only the beginning of the campaign to defy the Act and make it unworkable.
The direct action movement was reasonably successful in defying the Act and keeping on keeping on despite it. The Act hit some things harder than it hit others, many parts of it have never really been used as existing legislation served the state just as well, other parts have had a large effect. Parts of the Act served merely to legitimise what the police were already doing and parts of it gave them new powers they have not yet used.
The CJA was easy to mobilise against in some respects because it was so obviously a simple rag-bag of Tory prejudices - one Bill to simultaneously hit football fans, new age travellers, squatters, hunt sabs, road protesters and ravers. It was specifically aimed at current youth subculture to the extent of even outlawing specific forms of music ("music characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats"). The Terrorism Bill is clear in its intention to include forms of direct action under the rubric of 'terrorism' but it is in no way so clearly and exclusively aimed at us as the CJA was. It is thus correspondingly harder to mobilise against. In 1994 we were clearly all lumped together in their minds and we thus became more of a collective force in practice.
That was several years ago now and we generally consider ourselves to have moved on a great deal since then. However, some old hands had a definite feeling of deja vu as the abortive campaign against the Terrorism Bill seemed set on re-enacting 1994 all over again.
"The First Time as Tragedy, the Second as Farce"
Why is it when faced with potentially severe repression we go all fucking liberal? You might expect that a harsh attack on us would meet with an appropriate response, but no - the immediate reaction of a lot of people seemed to be to set out to prove to 'public opinion' that we're not really terrorists at all, we're all jolly nice people. Nothing wrong with that you might say, and indeed no, except as a strategy to defeat the Terrorism Act it is doomed to failure. We always talk about how much we've moved on in the last 5 or 6 years, so why then did the Terrorism Bill make people revert back to the worst days of the Freedom Network and stage a totally pointless media stunt as the biggest single national 'action' against the Terrorism Bill? (See above.)
And still at the end of the day it didn't persuade any more people that we weren't terrorists than if we had adopted any other tactic. If there had been a re-run of the anti-CJA Hyde Park riot of 1994, people might at least have realised that we had something to be angry about and we might even have gained a bit more sympathy than by trying to come across as harmless and respectable as possible.
The whole thing is a flawed strategy - it means the harsher they repress you and the worse names they call you the more inoffensive you have to act. They pick on soft targets: simply demonstrating to everyone how much of a soft target you are is unlikely to get you anywhere. The problem is that we feel forced to respond to their attacks on their terms. They attempt to nail us with a media PR strategy and so we feel forced to respond on those terms and to project a rival media PR image, which is something we have generally moved away from in recent years after being fucked over by the media so many times, not only by bad publicity but by trivialising 'good' publicity as well ('no publicity is good publicity' we might say).
War of the Image
So we are forced on to the terrain of the media, of trying to manage our own representation, which inevitably leads us into watering down the politics, claiming that we're only here to enliven and enrich British democracy, that our right to peaceful protest has been taken away and so on. Maybe it would be better not to respond on their chosen terrain at all, but to respond in other ways that we are better at. Let's face it - they are very good at the media thing and we're not, and a media PR war is one we can never win because they OWN the media. It actually fits into their strategy of repression to try and get us to play their media game running round trying to 'raise awareness', because people with more liberal politics will agree to play and will end up having to be more and more liberal to stay in the game. They will eventually be obliged to actually or effectively distance themselves from the more radical elements that will generally refuse to participate in the battle for 'public opinion'.
Playing to the media agenda of what is considered to be respectable behaviour and what is considered 'terrorism' is also unlikely to win you much 'public' support either. Any support that means anything is given out of some realisation of direct connection or solidarity. A simple appeal to conscience is unlikely to win much support. Attempts to prove to people that everyone was under threat and that, once the Bill was passed almost anyone would be classed as a terrorist did not make much of an impression because it was completely obvious to everyone that this was not the case. The new law doesn't concern most people in an immediate way. Most people know they are not under attack and strenuously proclaiming the opposite doesn't change anything but merely convinces people that you are as mad as the government is claiming you are. The Act might technically cover all sorts of activities that it would never in practice be used against. People competed with each other to think up the most 'normal' and inoffensive thing that could technically be covered by the legislation no matter how unlikely it was that the law would ever actually be used against this.
Lay Down the Law
There seems to be something in the nature of campaigns against pieces of legislation that leads otherwise radical movements into the trap of believing in the ideology of law. For example, some people have suggested the new Act might open up the possibility of prosecuting states or large companies for 'terrorism' - which is unlikely to succeed to say the least! Even as an exercise in demonstrating 'who are the real terrorists' this position misses the point. What the law says on a piece of paper matters only to a certain extent; if it becomes necessary to bend, break or ignore those words then that is what will be done.
Trying to prosecute the government under its own laws forgets that the whole state apparatus, legal system, parliament, courts, executive and all is merely "a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie" as some hot-headed young radical once said, and these elements are not really separate or independent entities that can be played off against each other in that way.
Campaigning against specific pieces of legislation, like conducting a war for 'public opinion', forces us on to their territory. Law is ideology - the whole edifice of law and justice is part of the ideological mask of capital. At the end of the day, to use a hackneyed phrase, 'All power comes from the barrel of a gun'. This is why international law is such a joke and the people who believe in it are even bigger jokers - unless there is a power (with guns) to enforce the law then the law is a dead letter. The USA effectively ignores any international laws it chooses to. What really matters therefore is POWER - both actual and potential power (e.g. the potential threat of trouble keeps the government from doing certain things) - and the balance of forces currently existing in society, not what is written on pieces of paper. Admittedly, this paper serves the practical function of augmenting their power, but to see only the law and not the balance of power that lies behind it is blind. Does this law come from a position of strength or of weakness? Is it their response to an assertion of our power or a product of our weakness? Are there other factors at work? Do they have the power to enforce the law? All these questions are forgotten if we see only what is written on pieces of paper.
So what really matters more than them calling us terrorists is where the resources go. They can call us terrorists all they like and it doesn't make that much difference. If however, they allocate extra resources to us or decide to put MI5 on our case in a big way, whether or not they are simultaneously calling us terrorists, that's what will make a big difference.
Despite the pessimism of much of this article, the state will not use the new Act against activists straight away. There is no reason to assume the usage and implementation of the Terrorism Act will not be as patchy as has been the case with the CJA; most likely bits of it will have an effect whereas others we will never hear of again. Predicting which bits of the legislation will actually affect us is a tricky business. In the meantime the state and the media will try to recast radicals as terrorists so as to ensure public acceptance of any draconian measures eventually taken against us. Of course it will be crucial to educate ourselves and others at risk from the powers in the Act. It is important to emphasise that if the Northern Ireland experience is anything to go by, very few will be charged and even fewer convicted of the offences contained in the Act.
Nevertheless, we need to consider how we respond to this sort of attack given the self-proclaimed strategy of "long-term attrition" launched against us. Should we attempt to start up separate campaigns against new legislation like the Terrorism Act or do we just carry on doing what we were doing anyway?
Our two central concerns have got to be both that we need to survive, stay out of jail and carry on taking action and also to make sure we avoid the stigmatisation and isolation of being labelled 'terrorists'. On the first count: If we carry on doing what we do and we carry on doing it better then obviously they will pass laws against us - it is to be expected. If we cannot stop them doing this then we need to learn to survive despite what they might throw at us. This is the purpose of looking at similar legislation that has been introduced in other places at various times and how that worked, what effect it had and how people worked around it. This last point being the most important, because this new law is not the end of the world and it's not going to stop people doing things, but it might possibly change what we do and how we do it. So by looking at other countries we can learn what we might now have to do.
One possible response to 'anti-terrorist' repression was expressed well by The Red Army Faction (RAF) in the 1970s:
"In our original concept, we planned to combine urban guerrilla activity with grass-roots work. What we wanted was for each of us to work simultaneously within existing socialist groups at the workplace and in local districts, helping to influence the discussion process, learning, gaining experience. It has become clear that this cannot be done. These groups are under such close surveillance by the political police, their meetings, timetables and the content of their discussions so well monitored, that it is impossible to attend without being put under surveillance oneself. We have learned that individuals cannot combine legal and illegal activity."
While this is true to a certain extent, in the UK today we are not in the same situation as the RAF were in Germany in the 70s and we might be unwise to cut ourselves off unnecessarily from all mass struggle as they did. In fact, doing the exact opposite might be a better survival strategy.
Given the differences in the two situations it is entirely possible that we can carry on doing both more covert and more open political work at the same time. Repression can force groups to become more insular and paranoid, not trusting anyone, becoming ever more secretive as they disappear 'underground'. This is a danger we should try and avoid while also avoiding being frightened into inactivity.
And as for avoiding being stuck with the label of 'terrorists': we need to recognise that this is a real danger but that hopeless liberal appeals to 'public opinion' are not necessarily any solution to it. In this country, we have, over the last decade, whether we like it or not, benefitted greatly from an underlying level of public support for direct action. From the road protests to anti-genetics actions, we have been protected from the more severe repression experienced by activists in other countries by this tacit public approval. We might often be scathing about this mainstream support but it has in many ways been a great advantage to us and it is something we should not take for granted. If we lose this public support we will quite probably end up going deeper underground, becoming more isolated from the mainstream of society and spending longer amounts of time in prison.
Ironically, by just getting on with stopping roads being built, stopping genetic engineering or whatever, we're actually more likely to develop real links with people and to develop some genuine solidarity that might help counter-act the stigmatisation of being labelled terrorists than we are through hyperbolic campaigns against specific pieces of legislation. We need to learn from the experience of fighting the CJA without simply repeating it - trying to persuade people how nice you are doesn't work - defiance does. We can use the law to mobilise and build a stronger resistance but we shouldn't focus on that one piece of legislation; we should focus beyond it..
1) From 'The Psychology of Political Violence' in Anarchism & Other Essays (1910). On a more modern note check out Chomsky's writings on the subject, such as The Culture of Terrorism (1988) and Pirates and Emperors: International Terrorism in the Real World (1986).
2) Some activists who have claimed the whole thing was cooked up entirely to attack us seem to be overstating the case a little. The Act certainly doesn't seem to be a response to any particular escalation of activity on our part (it was in process before J18). Its timing would rather suggest that it had relatively little to do with us and rather more to do with Northern Ireland and the international situation. For example, the main supporters of 'terrorism' in foreign states that the government has been having problems with have been radical Muslims based in the UK, using it as a base from which to attack oil-rich British allies in the Gulf, causing much diplomatic embarrassment for the British government. The Egyptian dictatorship under Hosni Mubarak has openly gloated about its role in securing the new legislation. However, the version of the Prevention of Terrorism Act currently in force already covers international terrorism. The new Act adds extra powers to this, like the proscription of terrorist organisations and extends financial controls. But, the really new thing in the Act - the parts which extend the term 'terrorism' to cover property damage, seem to be much more clearly aimed at the direct action movement. The government consultation paper that led to the new law stated that among its targets were "animal rights and to a lesser extent environmental activists... and... [their] persistent, and destructive campaigns". (Do or Die No. 8, p.294)
3) 'Get Off My Back, Jack', The Big Issue, July 31st 2000, p.7
4) See 'Legislation against Terrorism: An Analysis of the Responses to the Government's Consultation Paper (Cm 4178)' - http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/oicd/terresp.htm Unfortunately some of those responding preferred to remain anonymous...
5) The new power in Section 41 of the Act to arrest anyone suspected of being a terrorist is likely to be used at radical demonstrations. Professor Clive Walker, who is writing the authoritative book on the new Act, notes in an as yet unpublished article in the Journal of Terrorism and Political Violence that the equivalent power in previous legislation was used to mass arrest the Kurds who occupied the Greek Embassy in London in early 1998.
6) An excellent example of the new penology is the proposed computer system being developed for the UK that will aid sentencing of criminals by providing a risk assessment based on factors such as previous offences, age and postcode. This marks a fundamental shift from imprisoning people for what they have done or so as to try to teach them not to reoffend, towards imprisoning people for what they might do in the future. Instead of being people they are simply figures in an actuarial calculation of risk and fodder for the industrial-corrections complex to grow fat on.
7) Primoratz - 'What is Terrorism?' in Terrorism, ed. Connor Gearty, a book well worth reading for anyone interested in the subject.
8) See the excellent article written by Paul Roseberg for Indymedia, 'The Empire Strikes Back: Police Repression of Protest from Seattle to L.A.', available at: http://la.indymedia.org/images/empire_strikes.pdf [ Link broken at 22/7/02 - try http://r2kphilly.org/pdf/empire-strikes.pdf or search for the title on http://www.google.com/ ]
9) Farnen - 'Terrorism and the Mass Media: A Systemic Analysis of a Symbiotic Process' p.103 in Terrorism Op. Cit.
10) This tendency is being exported. See 'Riots Threaten Prague Autumn' in The Guardian on 24th August 2000, which revealed that Scotland Yard was sending one of its experts in 'media management' to Prague for the S26 protest.
11) To refer to someone or to some form of action as 'liberal', is not to say anything about his or her level of militancy, about whether or not they are 'up for it' or not. Liberalism is the political ideology of capitalism - the set of ideas that go hand in hand with capitalism. It is a political rendering of the relations of the marketplace and takes for granted the artificial separation and individualised competition of the market as being the natural condition of human life. In the market it appears that everyone is equal as individuals to buy and sell and to interact through this exchange. This 'equality' ideologically obscures capitalist exploitation, because not all buyers and sellers are equal. Therefore, liberalism does not recognise the existence of classes and assumes all human beings to share the same common set of interests. Believing in democracy, the law, our 'rights' as members of civil society, that we are all just individuals... are all attitudes characteristic of liberalism.
12) Bust cards and other information will be on the TA2000 website well before the Act comes into force.
13) 'Executive Summary', Carnival Against Global Capitalism: 18th June 1999 (City of London police report)
14) Red Army Faction - 'The Concept of the Urban Guerrilla' (April 1971) in Televisionaries: The Red Army Faction Story 1963-1993 by Tom Vague (AKPress, 1994), pp.26-30