Revolt of the Ravers – The Movement against the Criminal Justice Act in Britain 1993-95

It is now twenty years since the British government first announced that it was bringing in new laws to prevent free parties and festivals. The legislation that ended up as the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 prompted a mass movement of defiance with long lasting and sometimes unexpected consequences.

Many people would see the origins of the story in the Castlemorton free festival in May 1992. Thousands of people had headed into the English West Country in search of the planned Avon Free Festival. After a massive police initiative – Operation Nomad – they ended up at Castlemorton Common in the Malvern hills. The festival that kicked off there featured sound systems including Bedlam, Circus Warp, Spiral Tribe and DiY. It soon became too big for the police to stop as up to 40,000 people from all over the country gathered for a week long party – many of them attracted by sensationalist TV and newspaper coverage.

It was the biggest unlicensed gathering of this kind since the state had smashed the Stonehenge festival in the mid-1980s. What made Castlemorton different was not just the soundtrack but the crowd. The free festivals of the 1970s and early 1980s grew out of a post-hippy ‘freak’ counter culture, later reinvigorated with an infusion of anarcho-punks and ‘new age travelers’. The growing free party scene in the early 1990s included plenty of veterans from such scenes, but also attracted a much wider spectrum of ravers, clubbers and casuals. The traditional divide between marginal sub-cultures and mainstream youth scenes was breaking down as people from all kinds of social, cultural and style backgrounds converged to dance together in warehouses and fields. What’s more, the movement seemed to be expanding rapidly beyond anybody’s control.

Soon there were calls for new police powers. In a parliamentary debate in June 1992, the local Conservative MP, Michael Spicer, spoke of the festival as if it had been a military operation, describing it as ‘the invasion that took place at Castlemorton common in my constituency, on Friday 22 May… On that day, new age travellers, ravers and drugs racketeers arrived at a strength of two motorised army divisions, complete with several massed bands and, above all, a highly sophisticated command and signals system’. He went on, ‘The problem of mass gatherings must be dealt with before they take place… chief constables should be given discretionary powers to ban such gatherings altogether if they decide that they are a threat to public order’.

[Read more →]

Confessions of an Accidental Activist

As an erstwhile PERTBUM (Privately Educated Riot Thug Backing Underground Movements), I had, in my youth, occasionally enjoyed the company of real activists. My preferred Underground Movement, Hekate sound system, was only collaterally activist, and the politics were correspondingly sloppy and oblique – we were only ever loosely (some would say ‘louchely’) involved with politics, and that is the way I liked it. Imagine my horror, then, when last year I found myself the subject of an international media shitstorm, and my innocent name tarnished with the label: “gay activist”. This would have caused no little derision in the dormitories of Westminster School, had the unfortunate incident occurred 20 years earlier.

2007 found me at a loose end in Uganda. The London underground had lost its lustre and my life had degenerated into meaningless anaesthetic abuse (to be distinguished from progressive psychonautical exploration). Africa held promise, particularly Uganda, with its absence of haughty white settlers, seemingly anarchic society and pulsating night-life. For a PERTBUM who simply wanted to open a Bohemian cultural centre in the tropics, the soil there looked exceedingly fertile and uncomplicated.

However, when I set forth from England with this missionary intent, Uganda, unlike some other parts of East Africa, had no historic tradition of western-style ‘arts’, except in music and dance. Painting, sculpture, cinema, literature and stage theatre were all barely nascent in the 1970s when Idi Amin came to power. Despite his nasty reputation, Amin was the last Ugandan leader to pump serious money into the artistic crucible of Makerere University. However, this patronage was curtailed by the slow eruption of a vicious civil war, which effectively continued from the mid-70s to the early-90s. This was accompanied by the epidemic of AIDS, of which Uganda was one of the worst cases in the entire world. “In such condition”, as Hobbes noted, “there is no place for… arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death.” However, such condition was perfect for a Leviathan-type state, externally-imposed economic structural adjustment, a recourse to fundamentalist religion, and the invasion of an army of NGOs. In this daunting, post-conflict condition, where were ‘the arts’? [Read more →]

Life During Wartime

Book review by Nemeton

Kristian Williams, Will Munger and Lara Messersmith-Glaving, eds. Life During Wartime: Resisting Counterinsurgency. Oakland: AK Press, 2013.

The 439-page book Life During Wartime: Resisting Counterinsurgency is a collection of articles organized thematically that elucidate the central argument that the doctrine of counterinsurgency (COIN) deployed by the US government and military in international arenas such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has been concurrently executed in the US mainland by a myriad of local, state and federal policing organizations and security apparatuses against political dissidents and activists. Various articles focus on the theories and deployment of COIN strategies, as well as methods of resistance, from diverse perspectives of individuals, groups and networks in Occupy, ecological, anarchist and anti-globalization struggles, as well as activists against border control, gang injunctions and the prison industrial complex. This book is an important contribution to the wider discourses about the domestic security state and political organizing, and has clear, continuing relevance given the ongoing deployment of COIN, current and pending trials, and ongoing diverse political actions. The book was published prior to the exposure by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and others, based on leaked documents provided by Edward Snowden, of the NSA’s international and domestic spying regime on all electronic, internet and phone communications, as well as a plethora of other personal information. It would be very useful to have updates by the authors of these articles and activists about how they view COIN in relation to those revelations. There appears to be no mechanism, as of yet, for how activists or targets of COIN could discover if they were subject to NSA spying, and learn how that information could have been used against them, but certain articles in this book elucidate methods of FBI, police and COIN methods in spying, surveillance and infiltration. This book is the culmination of work started at the “Counter Counter-Insurgency Convergence” at Reed College in Portland, Oregon during 2011. The book articles are reworks of the conference presentations given by activists, researchers, academics, organizers and others. Two of the editors have gone on a networked book publicity tour around the US, including in Los Angeles, where I saw them give talks based on their articles. [Read more →]

One Night in Stammheim

Book review by Christoph Fringeli

Helge Lehmann: Die Todesnacht in Stammheim – Eine Untersuchung. Indizienprozess gegen die staatsoffizielle Darstellung und das Todesermittlungsverfahren. 2nd printing 2012, Pahl-Rugenstein, Cologne.

On October 18, 1977 at 8:53 am, the German news agency dpa sent out a news bulletin announcing “Baader and Ensslin have committed suicide.”

What had happened? [Read more →]

Neo-Nazi Terror and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Germany

Despite the fact that at least 140 people (AIB 89) were killed by Neo-Nazis in Germany since re-unification in 1990, officially there was no such thing as Nazi terrorism in the Federal Republic. Indeed, if one looks at the book “Extremismus in Deutschland” (Extremism in Germany), published by the Ministry of the Interior in 2004, one could conclude that there is no such thing as violence from the extreme right, let alone murder and terrorism.
The yearly report of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz) for 2010 categorically states that “in Germany no right wing terrorist structures can be detected” (Verfassungsschutzbericht 2010, p.57). The report describes far right violence as “predominantly spontaneous”, and claims it occurs mainly between right and left wing “extremists”.

This view in mainstream politics and media forcibly changed on November 4, 2011, when the dead bodies of Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos were found in a burning trailer in Eisenach, Thuringia. After a initially successful bank robbery by the suspects, police found their trailer and approached it, and then to avoid arrest, Böhnhardt apparently shot Mundlos, set the trailer on fire and then shot himself in the head. Meanwhile in Zwickau, the third of the terror trio, Beate Zschäpe (who had earlier taken part of the bank heist), was busy burning down their safehouse to destroy evidence. A few days later she gave herself up, and has since refused to make any statements.
The murder weapons used in a series of killings between 2000 and 2007 were found in the burned house along with other weapons.

The three right wing militants formed a cell called National Socialist Underground (NSU), and murdered nine men, who were small business owners (eight of Turkish and one of Greek origin), and one police woman in the course of those years. They were also responsible for a bombing in 2001 that severly wounded one woman, a nailbomb attack that wounded 22 people in Cologne in 2004, and for 14 bank robberies between 1999 and 2011.

The “Döner-killings” as they were called derogatorily in the press were heavily investigated by the police, but they did not follow any leads that suggested that the motives could have been racist and from a far right background. Instead the police assumed that the killers were from the migrant community, which often went along with the racist insinuation that the murdered men were somehow involved with criminal networks. This of course added insult to injury to the families and friends. Similarly in the case of the murdered policewoman, the suspicion was directed onto a “clan” of Roma that had parked near-by. The Bavarian police even opened a döner kebab shop in Nuremberg in the course of their “investigation”, while other police units went to consult two different fortune tellers who “contacted” victims and told the investigators completely bogus stories. So not only were the killings racist, the police operations to solve them were as well! [Read more →]

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