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ANARCHY IN THE UK
the media's fascination with anarchists!
from SchNEWS Issue 224, Friday 20th August 1999

"A picture is developing of a cabal of anarchist ringleaders who ally themselves to protest movements and subvert them for their own ends." - Evening Standard, August 11

What is it about anarchists that makes everyone love them so much? While the solar eclipse has been looming, their image has been stock fare for news editors and police who have kept them paramount upon the nation's consciousness, with word of their suspected activities on everyone's lips.

'Anarchist violence erupted at an eclipse site yesterday as police fought to close down an illegal rave' barked the Express on August 11.

What has so stirred the blood of this particular tabloid? Apparently, 'Officers believe members of the anarchist group Reclaim the Streets - who played a key role in the riots in London in June - are on the site'. June 18's memorable day of action against London's financial centre, is still playing on some people's minds. And the trouble seems to be spreading, with: 'Anarchists 'hijacking' GM food protest groups', as proclaims the Evening Standard (Aug 11), identifying 'links between organisers of the GM food protests and those responsible for the 18 June action'. No shit, Sherlock.

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But the career of those anarchists seems not only to have broadened; now, they're mobile: 'Some of the most ancient stones in Penwith could be desecrated and vandalised by travelling anarchists prior to next week's total eclipse' we read in The Cornishman (Aug 5).

Again, it is 'The same groups of anarchists who have recently rioted in central London [who] are on their way to target the Men an Tol stones near Morvah.' Might they not be tired after infiltrating anti-GM groups and raving all night? Apparently not; as, reports the paper, those wacky anarchists are getting a bit arty: 'We believe that they intend to disrupt the eclipse celebrations at the stones....by painting the holed stone white to make it look like a Polo-Mint'.

Phew! You can see why, in the words of one Cornwall resident reported in The West Briton: 'People are scared to go out of their doors. People will protect their property in any way they can. The police seem to have no conception of how scared everyone is out here.'

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On the other hand, the mass action and street carnival that London saw on June 18 was aimed at hurting some of the major financial institutions based in the banking district hardly a threat to yer average Jo(e), who stands to gain as much 'trickledown' from the selling of futures as did Bob Crachitt.

So: from whence such terror? If, as the Evening Standard claims, 'A picture is developing of a cabal of anarchist ringleaders' - just who is painting it? The police have recently released to the press a number of stills from CCTV footage of the riot, which, apparently, a crack team of City of London and Metropolitan officers have been busily scrutinising since the day. Their analysis, claim the police in a recent report, points to a number of individuals orchestrating the rioting.

Police 'have pinpointed six smartly-dressed men as the ringleaders' babbles the Sun of August 10. The Mail lets on that 'The ringleaders carried mobile phones and could be seen huddled in corners apparently communicating with each other' , before offering the predictable revelation that 'a number of rioters drank huge quantities of alcohol and took drugs.' The Evening Standard of the day before adds, darkly: 'One even carried a copy of the Financial Times.'

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If anyone who wore a suit must have been in charge of the riot, you'd better not make too much effort dressing up for Hallowe'en this year, lest you're held responsible for the entire festival. By dint of similar reasoning, the police note that some funds went into hiring the vans and soundsystem for the event, and that someone involved in Reclaim the Streets has a pot of wedge from his rich folks. Ergo: he funded the do.

The police seem to be just the kind of people whose salacious minds lap up tabloid sensationalism and take it literally. You can imagine their team, huddled wide-eyed over monitor screens, whispering to one another like children telling ghost stories around a campfire. Look - there's that 'man in a suit with a mobile phone who called the shots in the City riot' (The Independent).

Well, someone at SchNEWS knows someone, whose sister's boyfriend's cousin's uncle plays darts with the person in that photo; and he never actually carried a mobile. These kids seem to convince themselves of more-or-less what they want to believe, before passing down the hot gossip to the public.

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For theirs is the same kind of Playschool logic as makes for damn good copy, as amply proven by the quantity of press coverage generated by the police report. The police are by no means innocent of this, when that same report of theirs announces their intent 'to achieve long-term attrition' against direct action groups. It's an informal conspiracy which is convenient for all sides; the media get some great stories, the police and government to engineer a climate favourable to their ends.

The promise of a new police campaign against grassroots activists chimes strangely well with a recent Home Office consultation paper, seeking to increase police powers to target 'animal rights, and, to a lesser extent environmental rights activists' . The key shift here is semantic; at once redefining 'violence' to include 'serious disruption' , while loosening the category of 'terrorism' from one purely denoting certain types of violence against people, to the US definition of 'serious violence against persons or property, or the threat to use such violence'.

The meaning of words is as much a site of struggle as the fields or the streets, as well anyone might remember, who next gets nicked with banner in hand, and labelled 'terrorist'.

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Meanwhile, who reports on all the other groups around the world who took action on June 18; the unemployed, the unions, the landless and indigenous groups, who stand to get at least as surely screwed by the free trade policies of the G8 summit which then took place?

In fact, there was one dissenting press article, which spoke of June 18 in terms of IMF policy and the 'social and environmental breakdown [which] is occurring across the world' (The Guardian Aug 14). But, you see, we know the author; glance at the name and you'll see an aging ex-superstar comedian from north London. (And the article all, presumably, inspired by literature he gleaned from the info-stalls we did at a benefit gig he put on for us last year). One other paper, at least, puts forward a calm voice of reason .

'Anarchist fears groundless', says the Cornish Guardian on August 12, assuring us: 'Fears that troublemakers would descend on Penzance on Monday for an "anarchist jamboree" proved unfounded.'

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