The City of London Corporation, through its police force, has described peaceful political opponents as terrorists. Unable to recognise a legitimate political opponent even when it sets up camp in front of its formerly favourite church, the City has again demonstrated a complete lack of faith in democratic politics. As an institution, this particular local authority makes the Vatican City appear positively revolutionary.
On Friday a London businessman handed Occupy London the City of London Police’s latest update on the terrorist threat. The title of the document specifies that it is intended for the City of London business community. Under the sub-heading “UK/International” it begins with a description of killing by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, in Columbia. Next, it mentions an American aid worker being held captive by Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. Lastly, under this heading it reports that two men have been sentenced to death in Belarus for crimes related to an explosion in the Minsk underground railway.
There is a second sub-heading, “Domestic”. This begins with Occupy London! The letter confirms that the worldwide Occupy movement shows no sign of abating and asks business people in the City of London to be vigilant against the political activists from Occupy London. The warning specifically points out that these political activists increasingly film all encounters and upload the footage to the internet. The warning also asks people to guard against reconnaissance activities undertaken by political activists in and around empty buildings. It mentions “hostile reconnaissance reports concerning individuals who would fit the anti capitalist profile”. After dealing with Occupy London, the document goes on to mention three other political protests and a nationwide strike by electricians working for Balfour Beatty on 7th December 2011!
Clearly, none of these groups of political activists and trades unionists fit the profile of terrorists. Occupy London has been completely peaceful from the beginning of the occupation. No-one has suggested otherwise. The nationwide electricians’ strike cannot be seen as a terrorist activity. It’s worth mentioning that strong links have now been built between the electricians and the occupy movement but those are political allegiances, not a plan for sabotage. No-one has ever accused the electricians of being dangerous criminals before. This isn’t an update on terrorism which might affect the City of London. The City of London Police must have known that a friendly business person who hand a copy of this letter to Occupy London. Therefore, this is a deliberate warning to Occupy London. As with the warning letters sent directly to activists in advance of recent trades union protests in London, which warned that employment chances would be blighted with a criminal record, this is a tactic designed to instill fear in political activists.
It is inconceivable that the City of London Police did not discuss this letter with their bosses at the City of London Corporation before sending it out. The City of London Corporation has launched eviction proceedings against Occupy London. On getting wind of an offer by St Paul’s Cathedral to accommodate a permanent tented settlement by Occupy London in the event of an eviction, the City of London Corporation issued a planning enforcement which covered the Cathedral’s land and would claim to be able to prevent such a move. Some people inside the Cathedral have briefed off the record that if the City of London Corporation were to prevent it from erecting such a tent on its own land, it would house it inside the Cathedral. For the first time in centuries and possibly forever, there is now a direct conflict between the Cathedral and the City. This is a conflict which the City knows it will lose. That is the context in which the City of London Police issued this update on terrorism.
Instead of jumping to wild conclusions, Occupy London’s official response is:
The document exhibits other signs of worrying paranoia. The reference to “suspected activists” seems to demonstrate a disturbing loss of perspective. Activism is not a crime and the desire to participate in democratic decision-making should not be a cause for concern for the police in any free society.
An institution that confuses active ciitizens with criminals and equates Al Qaeda with efforts to reimagine the city is an institution in grave danger of losing its way.
We would welcome clarification from the City of London Police as to what exactly constitutes “hostile reconnaissance reports concerning individuals who would fit the anti-capitalist profile.” What does hostility mean in this context? Does it come from those being reported on or those doing the reporting? The City of London police’s phrasing here is simply unclear and risks placing groundless fear in the place of constructive dialogue – which ultimately serves noone’s interests.
Here is a scan of the letter itself. Click on each image to enlarge it.
Instead of engaging with Occupy London’s political arguments, the City of London Corporation has engaged in conflict. Unfortunately it appears to be completely incompetent in handling political opponents. Politicians honed in the democratic competition have to be better than this. Even other corporations in London have obtained injunctions against Occupy London in advance of actions. The owners of Paternoster Square, where the London Stock Exchange is housed, took advantage of the one week’s warning of the beginning of Occupy London (the initial site was democratically chosen at Block the Bridge) and closed their property to the public with a court order. In an hilariously successful test of who was listening in, activists conducted conversations with suspected informers about other prospective occupation sites, with the result that the owners of Canary Wharf and most of the land around Liverpool Street Station have now obtained similar court orders. The City of London Corporation did not think of this strategy. Presumably it thought that Occupy London would not stick around, even though other parts of the international movement have been impressively persistent. Watching its strategy disintegrate, this latest development indicates that it has become truly fearful for its future.