"Domestic extremist" is a new category which encompasses such "dangerous" people as anti-war demonstrators, climate change activists, and animal rights protesters.
As the Guardian reports,
Three national police units responsible for combating domestic extremism are run by the "terrorism and allied matters" committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). In total, it receives £9m in public funding, from police forces and the Home Office, and employs a staff of 100...
Surveillance officers are provided with "spotter cards" used to identify the faces of target individuals who police believe are at risk of becoming involved in domestic extremism. Targets include high-profile activists regularly seen taking part in protests. One spotter card, produced by the Met to monitor campaigners against an arms fair, includes a mugshot of the comedian Mark Thomas.
ACPO seems to be largely unaccountable to the public and is exempt from Freedom of Information requests as it's a private body - as this letter makes clear.
So what we have is a situation where unaccountable covert operations are taking place to monitor people who in most cases have committed no crime and have no criminal record.
Even if you do something as anodyne and uncontroversial as going to an anti-war or climate change demonstration, or attending a public meeting about airport expansion, you could be a candidate for tracking via the automatic number-plate recognition system.
When confronted with the notion that this surveillance of people who have done nothing wrong - and are very unlikely to do anything wrong, except if you call embarrassing the government being wrong - was unacceptable, Anton Setchell, national co-ordinator of domestic extremism operations for ACPO, retorted: "everyone who has a criminal record did not have one once."
Of course, that's an argument for 24/7 surveillance of the whole population. Which is where we're headed - by stealth. This country is becoming surveyed up to the eyeballs (or the camera-eye-balls) and we are making it easier for an authoritarian dictatorship to take over in the next few decades than you can possibly imagine.
Perhaps most annoying about this is that some of the biggest extremists in our society - for example, the kind of homophobes that beat up a police trainee in Liverpool earlier this week - aren't being tracked at all. Despite the fact that they are causing far more violence than any climate change protester. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that ACPO's definition of what constitutes a 'domestic extremist' is determined by its political agenda - which is extreme right wing.
Other dangerous groups who seem to have so far escaped surveillance as domestic extremists are:
- the UK Conservative Party, which is a European alliance with neo-Nazi homophobes from Latvia and Poland;
- the current leadership of the Roman Catholic church, which is forging an alliance of reactionaries by poaching the most conservative elements of the Church of England;
- the war criminal Tony Blair.
It's a crazy world when innocent people are molested for going about their business, while the real nutters are allowed a free rein. But what can you do?