Smash down the door, six in the morning comes the Law, to protect you from your wicked ways, and pin you to the floor. The sound of your front-door splintering on its hinges as the battering ram hits it is a singularly significant moment. Especially if you live with your partner and children, the invasion of armed, black clad riot police screaming orders and brutally throwing you and your loved ones face down on the ground at gunpoint by automatic weapons means you’ve done something the State is not best pleased about.
When it happens to a respected university lecturer and civil rights campaigner, we assume it means we are talking pure history. The invasion must have been perpetrated by the KGB in Communist Russia during a purge of intellectual dissidents, or perhaps by the Gestapo raiding members of the resistance in Occupied Europe during World War 2.
But, no. This is what happened to sociologist Andrej Holm, in progressive champion of democracy and civil liberties Germany, on 31st July, 2007. He was accused of being a member of a left-wing terrorist organisation – die Militant Gruppe – and would spend the next three years of his life attempting to clear his name and stay out of prison.
The most shocking elements of this story are the reasons for his targeting by security forces. Essentially, the police Googled the words ‘gentrification’ and ‘precariousness’, and up popped his name, the prime suspect. Andrej Holm is a respected academic with a history of political affiliation and involvement with left-wing groups, having published papers on the divisive nature of globalized urban centers and the inherent oppression caused by gentrifying neighborhoods and driving poor people out of their communities in the name of development.
His connection with three men accused of attempted arson on military vehicles confirms his guilt, in the eyes of the State, for he met them without a mobile phone, and organised these meetings through encrypted messages sent from internet cafes. Any such attempts at privacy are deemed ‘conspiratorial’ in the eyes of authority.
But really, the significance of Andrej Holm’s arrest and persecution is far more sinister. Selected with all the randomness of Google – which is to say, not randomly at all – he became the excuse for the Polizei to launch a multi-million Euro investigation and surveillance operation involving thousands of hours of manpower with him at the center. This illegal police operation built documents on literally thousands of people connected with left-wing political organisations. Data on their emails, interactions and affiliations, has been compiled and processed in a webbed network orbiting around Holm. His arrest was the official culmination of this operation, but of course, all that data will remain on file and for use in future efforts by the Polizei.
The point being that the age of PRISM, ubiquitous broad-spectrum surveillance and the death of privacy, has its roots in the very existence of a State. By its very nature, the State intrudes in every aspect of civilian life and mercilessly collates data to crush opposition. As in Russia, as in Nazi Germany, Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, the modern State is no benign presence, no harmless and benevolent faction of bureaucrats, but a ruthless authority that brooks no genuine or implied challenge to its monopoly on violence and control.
Recently in the UK the House of Lords rejected the first draft of the Bill that would introduce IPNAs – Injunctions on Public Nuisance and Annoyance. This incredibly broad term could feasibly extend to carol singers, buskers, children playing noisily, and in fact, anyone. It would give police sweeping powers to criminalize people for being a pest, for arguing, for objecting. At the moment, they are discussing unlimited powers to enact IPNAs on people, with an unlimited time of effectiveness. Ostensibly being introduced to replace Anti-Social Behavior Orders (ASBOs), in fact the IPNAs are the legal straw-man police and politicians need in order to mask their ongoing extension of repression of any challenge to their powers. It is mortifying to think what a debt we owe to the House of Lords for rejecting this first draft, but as with most laws it will be watered down ever so slightly, then bunged with clauses at the last minute that slip their way through and change the game. For examples, see the tacking of a ban on residential squatting on to a Bill about Legal Aid in 2011.
If you are reading this, then the State is watching you. It seems prudent to assume they are watching me too, documenting every email exchange, blog post and web click, monitoring every phone call. We cannot pretend that by hiding behind decency, fair play, honesty, openness that we will be spared the indignity of oppression, that the jackboot of the State will land elsewhere. We cannot pretend that we will be alright if we ‘have nothing to hide’, as the definition of what should be kept secret is continuously changing and becoming defined by paranoid megalomaniacs in fear of losing their position and prestige in society. For the State and its machinations, we are all illegal, we are all guilty, we are all terrorists.
Critique and awareness are the only ways to combat the choking fear and doubt that grows when we begin to see that ‘liberal democracy’ is a deluded myth. The State is not there to protect us, but to exploit us, to keep the minority of the opulent sitting high and dry whilst the plebs drown in the refuse and ecocide the rich produce. Once we accept this, we can begin to see that it is the State that is illegal, the State that is guilty, and the State that is the real terrorist, and from that a hopeful, joyous defiance can be born.