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  • The Criminalization of Dissent by Law Enforcement

    As we have seen, the concepts of “terrorism”, “extremism” and “ideological crime” are the means by which protest becomes signified as a threat. These concepts promote a discourse where the act of protest is seen as a danger to the current political order and therefore a threat to the so-called “national security”. Any protest in this security-thinking is perceived as suspect, not for any actual “disturbing” acts, but for its perceived potential to do so. This goes further than just physical acts of dissent. The very mental act of imagining different political realities than those espoused by contemporary neoliberal representative “democratic” Netherlands, have become foregrounded as potential “threats” as well. Participants of protest actions find themselves increasingly watched by various governmental agencies, analyzing protest from the perspective of “risk”, “security” and the worldwide fight against “terrorism”. These developments have not come suddenly, but have been following the more global shifts in the public perception and anxiety over “security” since the events of 9/11, the Madrid, London and Dubai bombings, and more locally, the political murders of politician Fortuyn and columnist Van Gogh in the Netherlands.

    The main threat construction is of course that of “terrorism”. Since the mid 2000s the “Terrorism”-frame has constantly been with us. We have read and still read about it in the newspapers, have heard and still hear about it on the radio and have seen and still see it on our TV’s. This constant concern with “terrorism” has altered many factors of our lives and expressed itself for instance in the establishment of a “national threat level” which keeps the Dutch population informed about the actual “terrorist threat” with matching color codes, it has expressed itself in the monthly parliamentary briefings on “terrorism”, the creation of an inter-Ministerial National Coordinator for Counter-terrorism and Security (NCTV), and more such institutional and structural changes. “Terrorism” as the ultimate new Evil and threat to humanity created a whole new vision of the world and the dangers it inhabits and thereby the role of the state to guarantee “safety”. It was presented in the popular media by events where many, sometimes 1000s of people, died by a bomb explosion or a plane-crash. “Death” then was what people had in mind when they heard the word “terrorism”.
    Those who listened more closely however, or more critically, could also hear other voices. For these dissident voices “terrorism” was understood as a blanket term for power. A s Alain Badiou expressed it, “terrorism is [a] non-existent substance, an empty name. But this void is precious since it can be filled”345. Logically then to Badiou “it is in the first instance filled (…) by what is allegedly in opposition to it”346. With “it” Badiou means those that are opposed to the governing or other powerful

    players who have control over the construction of dominant labels, and who can ascribe labels to those they deem the “other”. This is why the word terrorism has become such a big part of our vocabulary. It is a symbolic indicator for political use. In a time of crisis, be it economical, environment, political or even cultural or social, a time of growing uncertainties about the role of the state, political elites are worried about the “stability” of the dominant political order and take extreme measures to silence dissenting voices and others who might challenge the existing political establishment in words or in action. Those opposing the cutbacks, the austerity measures, the treatment of animals or the degrading and inhumane conditions under which refugees are welcomed in the Netherlands, to be locked up or deported, might find themselves trapped in the “void” of the construction that is “terrorism”.
    The word “terrorism” then becomes a tool to suppress protest in the name of “freedom” and “democracy”. A line is being drawn between the terrorist and the non-terrorist, in which a person can only be at either side of the line. Refusing to speak out against the person or group, protesters or social movements, signified as a possible “terrorist”, or even daring to speak out in their defense means placing yourself along with them, and become subjected to the stigmatizing and criminalization which is attached to the term.

    These developments are made the most explicit in the activities of law enforcement and security agencies, and their ongoing criminalization of dissent and dissenting voices. Protesters are increasingly met by the hostile gaze of the state, followed and watched by the security service. Such abuses of power are joined by other assaults on civil liberties, freedoms and rights as when demonstrations are heavily policed and protesters arrested under questionable or fabricated charges, beaten up, or when Dutch citizens are imprisoned in refugee detention centers for making use of the right to stay anonymous347. The concepts of “terrorism”, “extremism” and “ideological crime” are the means for the construction of a new discourse, a new social reality, by which such measures become legitimized and the whole of society is mobilized to be on constant alert for “threats”. The final demand of the government is the unquestionable support of the contemporary political order.
    On the level of “politics”, the very fabric of society becomes rewritten as the whole meaning of “political” becomes reduced to parliamentary party politics and the agency of social movements becomes denied and criminalized under the pretext of being “undemocratic” or “dangerous”. The very essence of what it means to be political is challenged and transformed into a question of what is permitted. The question over dissent or direct street politics and protest becomes a question over what is “criminal”, what counts as an “ideological crime” or as “extremism”, and what does not. “Dissent” in its broadest meaning is thereby denied to exist, constructed as threat to national security and suppressed by law enforcement agencies who have extended leeway for using special powers by new laws for fighting “terrorism”.
    Starting with the fight against “terrorism” the Netherlands adopted the Terrorist Offences Acts in 2004, following the EU Framework Decision on Terrorism of 2002. Because of the vague definitions of what really constituted “terrorism”in both these legislative documents it was apparent from the very beginning that measures against “terrorism” could also be used against protesters. This was made even more likely by the fact that various members of parliament already proposed to include protest under the denominator of “terrorism”, even before the act was actually enacted. Protest, according to such right wing members of parliament, and according to business lobby groups, and journalists of mainstream media could always become “terrorist” in nature and should therefore also be treated or “dealt with” as “terrorism”. Anti-terrorism measures and new exceptional laws were implemented all over Europe. The Dutch Terrorist Offences Act was only one of the most outrageous, defining the concept of “terrorism” extremely vague and broad. The Netherlands went further than most other European countries by adding extra prohibitions to the definition than strictly required by the EU, banning “recruitment for armed struggle” and adding “conspiracy” charges to many existing articles of the Criminal Code. Scared by the 9/11–mania and the everyday saturation of images and governmental campaigns of “danger”, without any clear definition of “terrorism”, and the wide scope of acts which might be considered as “terrorism”, it would only be a matter of time until also other categories of people would find themselves investigated or even arrested and imprisoned under the guise of fighting “terrorism”. The contemporary situation where an activist has been charged with “terrorism” for her writings against the governmental control of migrants is just one illustration of this.
    This determination of treating dissent as “terrorism” was taken further by law enforcement agencies in 2004 when investigations of crimes assumed to be “political” (read protests) were designated as investigations of “national importance” and the UCTA, the Unit Counter-Terrorism and Special Tasks, was created to investigate both activism and “terrorism” as the Orwellian sounding term “ideological crime”, in close cooperation with the AIVD. This shared responsibility and cooperation between intelligence service and investigative service meant a huge break in the earlier (officially) more clear separation of investigative and intelligence powers. Because both “terrorism” and protest, in their security mindset, do not necessarily follow the absolute legal norms as defined in the law book, they are both constructed as “anti-democratic”, and therefore many so-called democratic rights are denied to them. The mentioned separation between investigation and intelligence gathering does not count for those designated as “undemocratic”. Other democratically held rights are also waived as when the presumption of innocence, where a person is innocent until proven guilty, becomes a presumption of guilt. We can recall the words of Minister Verhagen when he told parliament, that it was better to have 10 innocent people in jail than one alleged “terrorist” out on the streets. In the case of “terrorism” of which protest is seen as a potential part, the AIVD gathers intelligence and warns law enforcement agencies about protest as “extremism” and the UCTA similarly so for protest as politically motivated “ideological crime”.
    Having analyzed the more specific concerns about protest as national threat by the AIVD in chapter 2 we have seen that the scope of what counts as a “danger” has been subjected to large changes over the years. Before 2005 it was the act of damage or the perceived harm an act might cause by which the AIVD would determine if something comprised a threat to national security. With the concept of “extremism”, protest which does not act within the legal boundaries or does not see the parliament as the main focal point in its struggle for social change has become considered a threat and can expect to have the attention of the AIVD. This concern about legality goes directly against the official purpose of the AIVD, as keeping the Dutch society safe from national threats, because, as we have also seen, legality is a bad measure of risk and more a measure of desired or uncivil, not necessarily dangerous, behavior.
    By examples from protest groups as Respect for Animals and SHAC-NL and analysis of various AIVD reports we have also seen that the AIVD as an organization has established its own “regime of truth” in which acts of graffiti or vandalism, when deemed to be politically motivated, are transformed into “extremists” acts, and thereby as threats to the nation. It has also become clear that the AIVD’s labeling and public condemnation of protest groups happens without any evidence of such groups even participating in illegal or semi-legal acts. We have also seen that such unproven accusations are without hesitation taken over by media, government and even society at large, thereby criminalizing social movements in a significant way and with serious consequences, who in their turn cannot defend against allegations of the AIVD as its assertions are not based on any known factual evidence which can be refuted.
    This state-sanctioned securitized knowledge, taken over by the mainstream media without any criticism of its lack of “proof”, is what generates the current tendency where protest is more and more seen as illegitimate in contemporary Dutch society. In its suppression of protest as “extremism” and “ideological crime” under the banner of “national security”, the real security is for the dominant political structure, not for the migrants locked up in detention centers and protested by the no border activists, the unemployed and people on social welfare who risk losing much of their possibility for a humane life by the austerity measures, and also not for the animals who are subjected to gruesome tests in animal laboratories and against which animal rights activists are protesting. Through a politics of blaming, the governing structure and the cultural, political and economical values that sustain it are exposed as increasingly authoritarian in nature, disturbed by any dissenting act which might threaten their dominance.
    The AIVD in its criminalization of dissent and practical condemnation of protest is joined by the UCTA, the investigation service of the National Police. The investigation of “organized crime” and “terrorism”, as well as protest-related criminal acts as “ideological crime” takes the politically motivated persecution of dissent to an extreme level. Its focus is entirely on the level of thoughts, which might be the motivation for certain minor or major criminal offenses and thereby constructed as related to “terrorism” and investigated by UCTA as terrorism-related crimes. The UCTA, and its mother organization National Investigation Service (Dienst Nationale Recherche, DNR), go further than just prosecuting criminal acts. “Ideological crime” is not a category of the Penal Code, and thereby the DNR in fact proscribes what kind of thoughts are allowed and which ones are not. The examples mentioned in chapter 3 about the prosecution of an animal rights protest group and the current investigation of Anna for her writings have to be read in this context and illustrate how far the DNR is willing to go by manipulating events and words, and by investing huge resources for minor or non-existing crimes. Through its reports and investigations the DNR, similarly to the AIVD, constructs an image of protesters as dangerous ideologically-driven “terrorists” who should be segregated from society. This is done by charging activists for being members of a criminal organization, in the case of the BPRC protests, or for being terrorists, in the case of Anna. As we have also seen, criminal prosecutions like these are not by chance. As we could see they are part of a meticulous strategy outlined step by step in internal memo’s by the OM (Public Prosecution Service) and the DNR and perspective of the wider persecution of dissent by law enforcement agencies and the AIVD, as well as the condemnation of dissent by right-wing journalists, members of parliament and industry lobby groups.
    What the examples of “terrorism”, “ideological crime” and “extremism” show is the increasingly authoritarian face of the government. In a supposed “democratic” society no person should suffer the wrath of government agencies, by having their house searched and personal belongings taken, arrested or to be put in custody, without any actual proof that this person has committed a serious crime. “Maybe”, or as “an exception to the rule”, is not good enough. Exceptions have the tendency to soon become the rule. As also Claude Paye has explored in relation to the worldwide “war on terror”, or the Global War on Liberty348, exceptional laws and measures have followed in its wake, so far that now we can not talk about a “state of exception” anymore, but the extraordinary situation where exceptional measures have become such a normalized part of our world as a “state of permanence”349.
    The arrest and investigation of Anna follows exactly in this tradition. Under the presumption of stopping the alleged instigation, and finding out who really had written the texts, a fishing expedition has been started by the DNR to gather data about anyone involved with Anna in protesting against the migration regime. How big this fishing net is will only become more clear over time. The question which should be asked however is, since when did caring for people without papers, or caring for animals, become such a terrible crime that all means are justified to catch these ideological criminals? And since when has the act of writing political criticism in todays world become the equivalent to “terrorism”?
    The criminalization of dissent continues. If protest in some cases entails the breaking of the law, this likelihood is made more likely by the introduction of exceptional laws, creating special zones for protest and other exceptional regulations and measures to which protesters might not want to submit, as the very act of protest, of civil disobedience, lies in the fact of not listening to government, of rebelling against authority seen as unjust, or in following ones own moral guidelines. The examples mentioned in this thesis are but a few of many other governmental acts of repression, which are part of a much larger project of governmental authoritarian control over the political space and over what counts as disobedience is being rewritten and criminalized as not fitting the post 9/11 world. Demands for change or creating actual change is only allowed to happen through parliament. All other means are declared “terrorist”, “extremist” or as “ideological crime”. The very right for political and public expression, the right to disagree with government, the possibility to want a whole new society based on other values is criminalized on that very basis and shows again the domineering face of the state. In wanting to channel all discontent through parliament, by voting leaders in or out, political leaders seem to want to make sure that there will not be any real or structural changes in society and the existing neoliberal mode of governance with its own specific structures of domination is reproduced. Such reflects the wider values of society, or to be more precise, of authority. The transgression of laws or not accepting parliament as the main institutions of authority are on their way to become the equivalent to “terrorism”.
    Dissent, and imagining alternative political realities can in some cases form a threat to the current governmental order. Social movements like no other know that real changes for the betterment of society have never been made within the established governmental structure, but aways by pressure from outside. “Electoral democracy” as Samir Amin calls the current mode of governance350, has failed to produce real change. And also Amin agrees that “[a]ll changes tending toward real social transformation, even radical reforms”351 were waged outside of parliament, not within. Samir Amin argues that representative democratic regimes have lost the ideal of being both “representative” to the people, for Amin representing only the interests of “monopoly capital”, or being “ democratic”, by not allowing people to speak their minds freely352.
    It is for this reason that in a time of crisis emergency powers are the first tool to be used by the powers that be against dissenting voices. The practice of the AIVD and DNR have to be seen in this light. Such emergency powers have the tendency to be continuously renewed without end, even when the initial deemed “dangers” are not there any more. Philip Marfleet, writing about the Emergency State of Egypt353, shows how the declared “National Emergency” continued in what Human Right regime had become habituated to powers which were no longer exceptional measures, but routine means of maintaining social control”355. Paye makes a similar point for the United States, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Italy, and the European Union in general. A similar situation seems to occur in the Netherlands. Even if no terrorist attack has happened in the Netherlands as of yet, the exceptional measures and laws do not seem to be called back for any time soon – if ever. Exceptional measures then might soon not be that exceptional anymore as they become the habitual means of suppression. Marfleet’s words were written in 2009, arguing that no government based on coercion could rule for a very long time and would at some point collapse, as coercion can never create a stable society. We all know what happened only two years later when millions of Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo, marched and camped at Tahrir Square and finally brought down Hosni Mubarak in what would become the second revolution in a long range of popular uprisings in the Arabic world, the Arabic Spring.
    By this thesis I have hoped to show how law enforcement agencies construct and employ concepts which should be highly controversial, but are actually not discussed at all in media, in parliament, or in social movements themselves for that matter, and how such concepts are used for the criminalization and suppression of social movements, their struggles and the very ideas they hold dear. Many questions remain however. How can we read the current criminalization of dissent in terms of notions of democracy, politics, conformism, and security? What can we say about the wider decline of the public political sphere? How and why did the understanding of “political” shift from collective action towards electoral party politics and further governmental decision-making? And finally, what is the role of the EU and commercial enterprises in these processes?
    The research and the writing of this thesis were not without difficulties. Future anthropological research would do well to take into account the complexities in terms of access to security and state agencies and conduct fieldwork over a longer period of time to be able to get a more extensive understanding of the way in which law enforcement agencies work. It would also be interesting to see how other not mentioned recent modalities of control as deradicalization policies, by which a wide range of state agencies, ministries, social workers and researchers work together to deradicalize alleged to-be-terrorists, as well as public order management by police, could be seen to fit in the contemporary security landscape and how these modalities, each in their own way, might work towards the

    criminalization of dissent. More productive research might also be be achieved by taking into account more social movements than just the no border and animal rights movement, as the squatters movement, the environmental movement, the anti-austerity measures movement, the students movement or the environmental movement. Finally, on a more international level, the interconnections and cooperation between the Dutch government and Dutch security agencies with European agencies as Europol, the European Working Group on Terrorism, the EU secret service Sit-Cen, or with other national agencies, could be the focus for a research on how such networks operate and how the criminalization of dissent in the Netherlands is influenced by wider developments and decisions taken in Brussels and elsewhere.
    The Criminalization of Dissent by Law Enforcement