• How To Avoid Getting Robbed

last modified December 17, 2012 by strypey


Many readers of Indymedia will remember the story of Rob Gilchrist, the man who spent years of his life hanging around various activists groups in Aotearoa in order to spy on them for the NZ Police. In January of this year, the Guardian newspaper reported that another network of direct action groups in the UK has been "Robbed" for more than seven years by Police Constable Mark Kennedy.

Like Gilchrist, Kennedy had spent enough time to become trusted by the activists, and socialised with them enough to be considered a friend by many. In both cases, any "security culture" practices the activists used to keep their activities secret - from keeping information on actions within a trusted group, to password-protected web services and encrypted emails - were rendered pointless by including Gilchrist, Kennedy and their ilk in the circle of trust. Worse, the increasing paranoia that motivated the move to greater "security culture" excluded many genuine supporters with weak social skills, or a different social culture to that of the majority of activists, from participation. Meanwhile, the informants were included in all the "secure" discussions and planning, as were the Police.

So we how do we avoid getting "Robbed"? It's pretty clear from the examples of Gilchrist and Kennedy (and the many others informants we are still working with without knowing it) that no level of "security culture" is effective when applied to every part of our day-to-day organisation. We know that most of what we do will be perfectly visible to the authorities, and we know that engaging in "secret squirrel" organising excludes potential allies. Comparing the aftermath of Operation 8 to that of Occupy shows us that it's much easier to demonize activists through the mass media when we organise in the shadows, than when we do it in plain sight. Occupiers got called a lot of names by anonymous trolls; hippies, bludgers, smelly etc, but I don't remember anyone trying to suggest we were terrorists.

So my suggestion is that most of our activism - especially when it involves the active prevention of violence through blockading violators or dismantling weapons - be organised and carried out in the public eye. I'm not saying that there's never a time or place for private communication, or covert direct action, I think there is, and obviously our ability to organise openly depends on having a government and a society which tolerates the expression of dissenting views. However, it seems to me that organising covertly when it's not necessary just makes it look like we lack the courage of our convictions, and makes it easier to paint us as a threat.

When we know that we are going to be publicly visible, we bear that in mind in all our communications and actions, and there's nothing useful for police spies to learn. Best of all, we have no need to exclude anyone from full participation in case they might be a spy, and there's no basis for the paranoia that often breaks down goodwill among diverse groups of activists. In the best case scenario, activism is increasingly seen as a legitimate part of a functioning democracy, rather than a refuge for anti-social extremists, and it becomes much easier to involve large numbers of people in courageous nonviolence. 

Originally published on Aotearoa.Indymedia.org (July, 2012

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