Monday 10 January 2011

Police Infiltration and the 'Criminalisation of Dissent'

The BBC exposure of police infiltration in the environmental movement is hugely significant. PC Mark Kennedy (known as Mark Stone) posed as a green activist from Nottingham, whilst in reality, he was a police officer working with the Metropolitan Police Authority.  For almost 8 years he was able to act as an agent provocateur, recruiting and transporting activists, informing on everyone he knew.

It is not a new phenomenon in the green movement, but the open proof of this infiltration to a wider public is. Back in the early days of Earth First, it became clear that the police were trying to gain a foothold in the meetings, they seemed to know much more about what was going to happen than the activists did!

The damage done was far worse than just information being passed on to the authorities. A paranoia gripped the movement that made it harder to join in with the direct action movement. You could only trust those you had known for a long time, and even then, you might be wrong! The anti-road camps were notoriously hard to show solidarity with, as a new face invoked mistrust. This fear of infiltration effectively weakened the impact of direct action networks.

Even worse, as I have written about in the book, there was a process of 'criminalisation of dissent' in both the peace movement and the environmental direct action networks throughout the 90's and 00's. This had already taken place in the animal rights network, and made this movement almost impossible for new members to penetrate. In the animal rights network, I think this process led to even more dangerous radicalisation and acceptance of violence within some of the more secretive parts the movement, where as both the peace and environmental networks have always had a much stronger understanding of non-violence.

The criminalisation of the activists has had an impact on the wider public perception of direct action, and there has been an erosion of the importance that these movements have had on democracy and progress (suffragettes/civil rights/antiwar etc). As a priest, I've noticed how hard it has been to 'justify' my own involvement in direct action movements, even though there is plenty of support for it to be found in scripture.

Activists must find ways of exposing the problem of infiltration, without succumbing to the fear and paranoia that it provokes. Ironically, the case of PC Mark Kennedy, especially his perceived 'switch' to support those environmentalists about to be prosecuted, may help the direct action networks to be more daring, more effective and more open. The more open, non-violent, compassionate and courageous our activities are, the more police may eventually join our side!


  1. Perhaps what is needed is more fifthy columnists in the police. Those who, like Nicodemus, come to Jesus 'at night' (jn3).

  2. Unfortunately it's not actually true that he "switched" sides. This explains: