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London’s Metropolitan Police has called for large businesses and the public to report suspicious anarchist activities immediately. A weekly communiqué (see below) issued by the City of Westminster’s Counter Terrorist Focus Desk said:
“Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy. Any information relating to anarchists should be reported to your local police.”
That was Sunday. The swell of internet-driven murmuring rage brought Project Griffin’s 33-word definition of anarchism and its appeal to dob in your Chomsky-reading neighbours to front page news on the Guardian.
Twitter tweeps retweeted shortened URLs prefixed with disbelief and Facebook folk guffawed about handing themselves in to Belgravia police station. Here was a document from the Metropolitan Police that, in one dinky box decorated with clip art, pushed McCarthyism to the local businesses and public institutions the newsletter went out to. The reds under your bed were back. But this time they wanted a smaller state. No state. A bigger society. A Big Societ…oh. Erm.
Queue the crash of arguments pointing out that the likes of Alan Greenspan, the American Tea Party and David Cameron are proponents of smaller states and stateless societies. Running alongside that is the Orwellian scenario of thought crime. Because you are an anarchist, you should be reported as dangerous. You are here being mentioned alongside Anders Breivik –– the bad man who killed all those people in Norway. You are here mentioned alongside terrorism. It says so. Right here.
Within 24 hours, police issued a climbdown blaming bad wording. “The Metropolitan Police service does not seek to stigmatise those people with legitimate political views. People purporting to be anarchists have caused criminal damage this year to business premises, and government buildings in Westminster. The message we were trying to convey was to gather information on criminal acts to help us prevent crime and bring offenders to justice.”
Here was a document that seemed to have copied and pasted its definition of anarchism from the first line of Wikipedia. Here was a document that, on the same page, asked people to report all sightings of a yellow dot topped with Arabic script as an Al-Qaeda symbol and misspelled “beach volleyball”. Like a badly designed school handout that’s gone a bit wild with a text box, it would be laughable if the consequences weren’t so serious.
Okay. It’s still laughable. But the subtext of their climbdown isn’t. It’s nose-on-face clear that policing priorities lie in the protection of commercial interests and business. Project Griffin is a “product” for raising “awareness of crime and terrorism issues within the business community”.
Opening a document by declaring the UK’s threat level from international terrorism as “substantial” in bold red letters and closing it with the mantra “if you suspect it, report it” in a bright red box cements paranoia. What the Counter Terrorist Focus Desk has done is equate anarchism with terrorism –– a calculation that criminalises a philosophy. By doing that, they have engendered fear. And to do that is an act of terrorism.
As threatening as the word seems, anarchy is rooted in unwavering optimism because it trusts individuals to come up with ethics and freedoms collectively. At the heart of the myriad of anarchist philosophies is a fundamental belief in fairness.
What Project Griffin has taught the wider public is that there is a section of the establishment with dangerously simplistic views of politics. It is the section concerned with running around the yard like a dog barking at anything that moves in the name of vigilance.