Environmental campaigners and anti-capitalist activists could be considered terrorists under the government’s Prevent program, designed to counter terrorism, Police have said. They offered the advice to groups of teachers during training sessions on the strategy; teaching unions have reacted furiously.
Teachers taking part in the training session were told by police that anti-fracking protesters could be regarded as extremists if their protest turned violent. They were also warned that alongside nationalist and Islamic groups, green and anti-capitalist campaigners could be viewed as a threat. The Green Party MP Caroline Lucas was offered as an example thanks to her arrest at an anti-fracking protest, the Daily Mail has reported.
Dylan Murphy, a history teacher present at the training day, said: “The thing that set alarm bells ringing in my head was when he started talking about environmental activists. I thought, “Are you equating anti-fracking protests and environmental protesters with neo-Nazis and terrorists?””
Amanda Brown, assistant general secretary of the NUT teaching union, said: “I’m quite alarmed that a police officer, who people would trust and think is offering the right advice, would say that it might be considered as extremism that someone is expressing their right, in a democracy, to express a view.”
The training session was being delivered to around 100 teachers from schools near Holmfirst, West Yorkshire.
Russ Foster, assistant chief commissioner at West Yorkshire Police, denied that they were equating peaceful protest with terrorism, saying: “The police acknowledge the right of people to protest in a lawful manner. However, should an individual seek to use violence in furtherance of their view, then Prevent would seek to engage with them.”
The government has defined extremism in its Prevent strategy as: “Vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”
An update to the legislation demands that public bodies including schools, prisons, universities, local authorities and heath boards play a role in preventing people from “being drawn into terrorism,” hence the teacher training session. However, much like other anti-radical policies which promote ‘British values,’ it has come under criticism for its vague, catch-all wording.
Christians have questioned whether its promotion of nebulous British values may erode their freedom of speech and their ability to discuss the Bible freely. There are also questions regarding the efficacy of Prevent on campuses, as Islamic extremists continue to speak freely at universities across the country.
Nonetheless, in seeking to curtail the violent activities of green activists, Britain is not alone. Earlier this year the Royal Canadian Mounted Police prepared a memo which classed climate change activists as a “serious safety threat” to themselves and others.
The memo called out “anti-petroleum extremists” on the “political fringe” on their use of violent tactics including “threats to life and property, improvised explosive devices, arson, vandalism, sabotage, thefts, and break and enters, most notably in New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.”