Olympic threat to freedom and liberty

Wenlock in police uniform

Hugh Robertson MP, minister for sport, has a message for you.  Here it is:

“If you know of people, including neighbours, who are going to break the law during the Olympics you should let the authorities know.”

He said protesters targeting the Games will be “letting down” Britain.

Mr Robertson said the right to peaceful protest was enshrined in English law but added: “If people get involved in illegal activity we expect the police to crack down straight away. This is an opportunity for us all to show the world the best of Britain and the last thing I want is that ruined by Occupy London protests or anything like that.”

Does this sound a little bit… familiar? Fear of informants among family, friends and neighbours is a characteristic of most totalitarian regimes. When the state is so authoritarian that everyone is guilty of some crime or another, everyone must fear being reported by everyone else, perhaps in return for some government favour or some hope of immunity. I note that Mr Robertson implies that any dissent, any protest should be reported, not just illegal behaviour.

General clampdown on protest

Before we go any further, it’s worth looking at what happened at the last big event. Prior to the royal wedding last year the police arrested people pre-emptively, people who only wished to protest in a perfectly legitimate way. Some of them merely had signs expressing their objection to the public spectacle. I suggest you read my blog post on this, The suppression of dissent. Protesters have often been intimidated by police in the past, and it has been happening a lot recently too. A protest in November last year was heavily intimidated in the days before with talk of rubber bullets and water cannon, and with letters sent to warn people away. In the end it wasn’t as bad as that, but the police effectively silenced the protest and kept it out of sight.

Protesters have routinely been kettled, including “hyper-kettling” and beaten with batons. Alfie Meadows was injured so badly by a police baton that he needed emergency brain surgery, yet he was charged with violent disorder instead of the police officer that did that to him. The Met deny responsibility even when innocent bystanders are unlawfully killed (murdered) such as in the case of Ian Tomlinson. Kettling has recently been found legal, although hyper-kettling was not considered in that judgement. We have seen armed police at protests recently. Austerity is causing massive dissent. NHS cuts, service cuts and closures, welfare cuts have all been controversial and provoked protest. Despite all this, most protests go unreported by the press unless there is violence.

I would expect peaceful protest around the Olympic games; something of that expense and magnitude and with so much corruption will of course be a focus of unhappiness from those who see what is happening. I think that it is highly likely that we will see pre-emptive arrests before the Olympic games, and in all likelihood it will be worse than those at the royal wedding. I seriously doubt that the police will care whether or not a planned protest was going to be peaceful and obedient or was going to break the law. In fact the last government already made arrangements to make even peaceful protest, a vital right, illegal around the Olympics.

More Information: How protest is being outlawed [New Statesman] From kettles to courtrooms: The police crackdown on protest [Red Pepper]

Olympic Security

It is the security operation around the games themselves that worry me though. The Met police have been acquiring new toys recently. Water cannon are still a possibility, but these CBRN barriers will certainly be used.

CBRN barrier

CBRN barrier - rear

CBRN stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear. That’s right, the police are so scared about rebellion that they are using steel cordons designed for use around nuclear accidents and incidents of a similar level. Pretty intimidating, don’t you think? They have also acquired these nifty watchtowers:

#operationtrafalgar #totalpolicing on Twitpic No running, no heavy petting, no bombing. on Twitpic

These towers will be dotted around London so that the police can make sure that you are being watched, and that you know it. Lest you forget, though, we are being offered some Olympic merchandise to remind us about everything. Here’s Olympic mascot Wenlock in his police uniform:

Wenlock in police uniform, Photo by Dan Hancox
Olympic mascot Wenlock in police uniform - Photo by Dan Hancox

More information: Kettling 2.0: The Olympic State of Exception and TSG Action Figures [Games Monitor]

Absurd security around the Olympics

Even with all the security equipment the government are obviously scared of dissent. During the games there will be 13,500 troops deployed as security staff, in addition to an unknown number of police officers. MI5 has recalled 3,500 agents and cancelled holidays around the games. HMS Ocean will be moored on the Thames estuary with Royal Marines on board, and HMS Bulwark will be present for events around Weymouth. There will be Surface to Air Missiles around London ready to bring down any threatening aircraft. There will be an SAS unit nearby. So that these can all be deployed quickly to quash any naughtiness, 290 CCTV cameras have been moved from Birmingham to London.

More details: Olympics 2012 security: welcome to lockdown London [Guardian]

Draconian clampdown on Olympic terms and symbols

Just what is and isn’t allowed has also been tightened up. The last government introduced a law to make all the changes for the games. The no marketing right protocol says that businesses are forbidden to associate activity with the Olympic Games. No Olympic Rings can be used in any signs or displays, the phrase “London 2012” is protected and enforced, and you can’t use “2012” either because the enforcement got a bit over-zealous. First we have the case of Cafe Olympic, a fairly generic name and innocuous enough, you would have thought. The name had to be changed. A butcher in Weymouth had to remove display of Olympic rings and the number 2012 made from sausages.

Section 22 of the Olympics Act 2006 gives police power to enter private property including homes where they believe that an advert referring to the Olympics is either being displayed or created, and to seize materials. Although intended to prevent businesses from associating themselves with the Olympics, it equally applies to political posters or banners made in protest. Questions have been asked about that: The law and the Olympics [BBC] Police powers for 2012 Olympics alarm critics [Guardian]

Surveillance state

In a slightly bizarre move it seems that border control at our airports and ports have access to information on people involved in the Olympics – even torch bearers. When Bryony Gordon was stopped on entry to the UK she was questioned on what she was doing at the Olympics – who knows why – because the person checking her could see that she is going to be a torch bearer.

All of this security clampdown is really just the last straw. I have already written about how the Olympics are full of corruption, taken over by corporate involvement, hugely expensive (Possibly as much as £24 billion in reality) and has many more problems. See my previous blog post, Olympic Opulence: Bread and circuses without the bread. Even the BBC published an article with 10 reasons some people will dread the Olympics which I recommend that you read.

I wouldn’t object to an Olympic games that focussed on the sport and the athletes. These Olympic games, though, are an expensive, corrupt, authoritarian farce. Are you sure that they are worth the price?


Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

8 thoughts on “Olympic threat to freedom and liberty”

  1. Are those really police watchtowers or are they some new-fangled type of portaloo? They had better label them clearly to avoid accidents by short-sighted people getting caught short…

  2. While I agree that there is something very chilling about the attitude being taken towards protest, particularly given the legitimate concerns over the association of DOW and ATOS with the Olympics and Paralympics respectively, the latter in particular being a real kick in the teeth to British disabled people, we do need to recognise that there absolutely needs to be a huge security operation given the level of terrorist threat. Marines, warships, SAMs, SAS are all needed irrespective of protest, and linking the two weakens the case that there is something very un-British in the current government rhetoric against protest.

    1. I’m afraid I disagree with you. The “terrorist threat” has been massively overblown to keep people afraid and in their place. Governments implement useless security theatre which makes people feel like something is being done and that they should trust the government and fear some vague notion of terrorism. I strongly resent such security theatre as a massive imposition on my freedom – that’s why I won’t fly anymore. I absolutely link the military involvement and the weaponry with the suppression of protest, it is all part of the same clampdown on dissent.

  3. Since Trenton Oldfield’s actions at the Boat Race yesterday, this sort of action from the Government to silence anti-Government “anti-capitalist extremist” protest and strike action during (and after) the Olympics can only be strengthened. The first thing the Government will do is make an example of Oldfield and give him a substantial sentence to set an example and send a clear warning shot to others. I just hope we don’t see sedition laws brought back in.

  4. Great piece – your thoughts here are precise and true.

     In the days following 9/11, I remember radio DJs in the US telling listeners to report their neighbors if they saw suspicious activity.  Many of them did this on their own, without any enforcement needed.  Some people will revert to paranoia and fascist attitudes without even realizing it.  It was frightening, shameful – and in every way aided the rise of extremist authority in the US.  I stood with other protesters in March of 2003 and watched as police beat and pepper-sprayed unarmed citizens engaged in peaceful protest.  The shock has never left me.  
    With the rise of the Occupy movement we’ve seen this policing behavior reach its logical conclusion – we see how obvious and open the corruption is, we see unarmed people being beaten – and there is no reaction.  The President responds to the murder of a black youth, but not to the beatings of innocent citizens exercising their civil rights.  The whole world has been so beaten down (literally), everywhere that it is impossible for us to truly criticize the so-called ‘authoritarian states’ whether we mean China or Iran or North Korea without taking a good look at ourselves, first – not that we do anything without media endorsement.  If the media isn’t talking about it, it can be undermined and ignored.  Time will tell if social media like Twitter will really help to educate the public at large and bring about change in a way the ‘media’ most certainly never will.  You can’t suppress the flood forever.Before, during and after the Chinese Olympics, US news commentators spoke at great length about authoritarian measures enacted on the Chinese people to ‘behave’ and impress the visiting nations, being both critical and even impressed at how it was done.   I wonder if  those commentators will have anything to say about Great Britain doing the same thing?   

  5. I think you’ll find that it isn’t just dissent that the police are watching out for but the very real and possible threat of terrorist action.

  6. I do agree with much of what you say. The Olympics have forgotten what they are about… bringing together people of all nations etc. etc. I think that they should be held only with the resources available without this outpouring of public cash. And the Government need not worry their preparation has been in vain. There will be protests… if I can see it coming they clearly can.

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