Perspective: War Waged with Animal Cunning; with a Giant Event about to Hit the Headlines, Suzanne Willis Looks at the Shadowy Fringes of the Animal Rights Movement

The Birmingham Post (England), April 13, 2004 | Go to article overview

Perspective: War Waged with Animal Cunning; with a Giant Event about to Hit the Headlines, Suzanne Willis Looks at the Shadowy Fringes of the Animal Rights Movement


Byline: Suzanne Willis

This Saturday will see the biggest animal rights event in Britain this year. People will be coming from all over the world to Cambridge. There'll be marches, banners, stalls, food outlets selling vegan goodies -and lots of recruiting and talent-spotting that will be subtle, secretive and will probably go unnoticed by the wider public. That's how I was recruited. I became what the media would nowadays probably call a terrorist. I consider that I got out long before that point was reached, but there's no doubt I took my passion for fighting to protect animals to great lengths.

But it's not people like me, or the person I was, who are the cause for concern. You can see us most weekends demonstrating outside laboratories or breeding farms or see us on TV hassling hunts.

We are the saboteurs, the protesters who stand in the rain. We march, we demonstrate, we pursue our fight for animal rights to the borderlines (and probably a bit beyond) of what is currently legal in Britain -although what that now is, with Fuhrer Blunkett's new terror laws, is very much open to question.

I'm glad I didn't face anything like that when I was active in the movement although what goes on at these protests when the camera crews are absent has to be experienced to be believed. To explain what I mean, let's examine Saturday's event in Cambridge. It should all be friendly enough, with the local constabulary just there to see it all goes off without a hitch. Nice people, family men and women, same as you and me.

There'll be other public servants there, of course. Police Intelligence Units, who are at all big events -football matches being a prime example.

If you've got a practised eye you'll also be able to spot the Special Branch people -many working as cameramen who none of the other media people seem to know.

But the ones you need to worry about are the ones you won't spot. Heaven only knows what arm of Blunkett's hidden forces they represent and whom they answer too.

But even those aren't the real problem. It's the people who won't be there, who have been 'outsourced'in the modern jargon, that are the ones to be concerned about.

The forces of law and order can and will, of course, deny that they exist -just look at the history of policing in Northern Ireland. That's the whole point. Someone in some spooky arm of state security will have a completely unofficial link with a freelance, possibly exmilitary, who will perform certain tasks that are illegal (then it can be quite truthfully denied in Parliament or elsewhere) or who will infiltrate organisations being targeted by the forces of law and order.

Fantasy? Don't know what I'm talking about? O yes I do, because I 'turned' one of them.

At a key point in my life I started making a slow shift from very red politics and trade union activity to something much greener. I'll blur the details as I don't want to give anything away.

It was a personal, inner journey as well as a widening of political aims. Even before the miners' strike was broken, the 'struggle' as I saw it, had to move to new arenas and take on new targets.

It was a thought not original to me, which would flow like an increasingly-wider river to tributaries like road protesters (remember Swampy?) and the whole anti-globalisation movement.

But, after joining a vegetarian group and attending Green Party and Friends of the Earth events and anti-vivisection 'demos' as wecalled them in those days, I began to notice familiar faces turning up all the time. They noticed me, too, because I was befriended and invited to other meetings and then to smaller ones and then others with even fewer people.

This was before widespread use of the internet and when 'cellphones' were like walkie talkies rather than today's neat little mobiles, so my telephone (now safely untapped after my last stint as a strike organisers years before) eventually became a bit of a clearing house for messages.

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