The Police Are Cracking Down on Bristol's Anarchists

  • Posted on: 15 January 2015
  • By: worker

From Vice

Since 2011, the Informal Anarchist Federation (IAF)—a local division of a much wider, global insurrectionary anarchist group: the Federazione Anarchia Informale—has been carrying out scores of attacks on private property across Bristol, England. Now the cops are out to get them and Bristol's wider activist community is being caught up in the search.

Signaling cables of National Rail lines have been burned down in order to "paralyze" the local economy. Vehicles at a UK Border Agency crime team building have been torched. And a minibus belonging to local cadets has been set on fire as a protest against NATO. Together with two other insurrectionary groups—the Earth Liberation Front and the Angry Foxes Cell—over 60 different attacks have been carried out since the Bristol riots.

Avon and Somerset Constabulary, meanwhile, have been on the IAF's case, desperately searching for the culprits. After no real success and mounting
pressure from one particular MP, the local CID and special investigations team are stepping up their efforts.

A team of ten detectives working full-time under the name Operation Rhone has have been set up and the police are searching particularly hard to find a man they consider to be at the center of the network: Huw Norfolk, otherwise known as the Badger.

The trouble is, nobody seems to know anything about him, the IAF, or any of the recent attacks—not the police, not the media, not even local activist groups. The IAF is, after all, an informal network (the clue is in the title). It's really little more than a banner for those that execute insurrectionary acts, or who think within a certain ideological framework to use and claim. And that makes them particularly difficult to find.

An FAI crest

The vast majority of Bristol's anarchist community aren't like this. With their status as queen-and-country-hating tabloid pariahs, few people would be aware of any difference between different anarchist groups. But their methods, goals, and targets differ radically. Groups such as the Anarchist Federation (Afed) and Solidarity Federation (Solfed), which constitute a majority of the scene in the UK are involved in open, public-facing, class-based community work—handing out leaflets, helping workers who go on strike, that kind of thing—rather than acts of fly-by night vandalism.

But these distinctions don't seem to count for much as far as the police are concerned. Over the past few months, activists from across the anarchist community say the police have been targeting them arbitrarily and indiscriminately. They say individual activists have been harassed, houses raided, workplaces visited, and arrests made without charges.

The police maintain that they are searching for suspects linked to the IAF, but activists say they are targeting anyone that publicly identifies as an anarchist. And they say it's getting worse by the day. For the last week I've been talking to different members of the anarchist scene in the West Country and the impression I've got is of a community under siege.

Two years ago, Jon—a Bristol-based activist with Solfed, who asked to be identified only by his first name—became one of the first targets of this police clampdown. One morning he arrived at his workplace to an email from his boss asking for a meeting. When he turned up, he was told the police had visited the office with a dossier of "evidence" citing him as a domestic extremist, and someone that "might not be suitable to work with children." As a person whose job involves helping young people with emotional difficulties, the suggestion was that he should be fired.

"They said I was unsuited to my job because of my politics," he told me over the phone. "The stuff they provided as evidence was articles I'd written anonymously, on whether prison was an effective form of rehabilitation and whether underachievement in working class communities was down to the education system. No connection between me and any group was alleged or mentioned. It really seemed that their main concern was that I held anarchist views."

A year later Jon was targeted again. One afternoon he received a phone call out of the blue from a police officer asking about underground anarchist groups. He told the officer he had no idea and asked how his number had been found.

"The officer told me that my partner was being stalked and had put in a number of phone calls to the police," he said. "They did nothing but saved the number because they knew who I was and thought it would be useful. I'd question a lot of the ways they've gone about finding information. I think they are using what's been happening as a pretext to attack the wider anarchist community. A lot of this feels like an opportunity to drag the movement through the mud and see if they can push a few people out of activism."

People sat around in the Hydra bookshop. Photo by the author

What Jon went through seems to have become much more widespread under Operation Rhone. At a ramshackle bookstore called Hydra in Old Market, the scene of a
famous riot in the 1930s, law enforcers have been turning up at on a fortnightly basis, asking questions and grilling staff. It's a strange situation. Volunteers at the store say they do little more than sell lefty literature. When I visited last week, a group of old locals were sat happily on old sofas in a dimly lit room sounding off about the 1970s oil crisis. It didn't seem all that extreme.

One of the bookstore's volunteers, who gave his name at Mat and identified as neither an anarchist nor an activist, told me he's been the subject of extensive police surveillance. One day last year he received a phone call from administrators of Hydra Book's server, notifying him that local police had been reading the content of his emails. The only reason given, he says, is that he had—a few years earlier—helped set up Bristol Indymedia, an open-source independent news website, which the IAF has, on occasion, used to publish communiques about its attacks.

"I'm not involved in any of this," he told me, serving drinks to customers and sounding simultaneously baffled and irate. "I make coffee and occasionally I sell the odd book. I've got no links to international anarchist organizations and despite having no involvement with the website anymore either, the police have been reading my emails. It's terrifying and I've spent a long time being very worried about it. I now don't put personal thoughts in emails in case I get asked about it in an interview at a police station."

The Kebele co-operative, an anarchist hub in Bristol

One group that has been actively chronicling the police clampdown over the last few months is Bristol Defendant Solidarity (BDS), a defendant support group set up after the riots in 2011 to help those that had been arrested with a range of legal services. I went to meet two of their activists—Jim and Alan who both asked to be identified only by their first name—at Kebele Community Center, a well known anarchist hub in Easton.

As well as collecting information on Operation Rhone, and talking to those that have been arrested, Alan has himself been targeted by the police. Last July, at seven in the morning, his house was raided and a friend that was temporarily staying over arrested.

"I woke up and found my house full of police," he told me from a small library room in the 20-year-old center. "And when I say full I mean literally—it was hard to move around. They took away a friend that was staying at my house and went through all the communal areas for hours. As well as taking electronic stuff like a hard drive and laptop, they seemed to be bagging anything that looked political. The arrested guy came back two hours later released without charge on police bail. They had no evidence at all. The whole point was to intimidate people and build up a sense that you are being watched the whole time."

An anti-Tesco mural in Stokes Croft

BDS has chronicled a string of even stranger incidents. I was told about three different people that have been arrested and accused of being the Badger, one on two separate occasions. I heard about members of a band that Huw Norfolk was once briefly in, being visited by the police. Even the bassist—who wasn't in the band when Norfolk was—has, allegedly, been visited at his home and his work.

"The cops don't have a clue just like 99.9 percent of the anarchist movement in Bristol," Jim told me. "The people getting knocks on doors are all involved in public, open groups that do protests and campaigns. They aren't the children of the night. The police just don't understand the modus operandi of these people."

Perhaps it's understandable. Insurrectionary anarchism may have a rich history on the continent but the IAF seem oddly out of place in a relatively docile modern Britain. For a brief period of time in the early 1970s, the London-based Angry Brigade frightened Edward Heath's government with a series of bomb attacks on embassies, politicians, and military barracks. But they remain the only homegrown insurrectionary group that has ever really existed in the UK and maybe the cops just aren't prepared.

An anarchist mural in Stokes Croft

Avon and Somerset police certainly dispute the account Bristol's anarchist community have been describing. They are yet to answer my specific questions, but in an
interview with the BBC, Chief Superintendent Julian Moss described their tactics in a more positive light.

"We have been round to places of work to discuss anarchism and to understand the community better," he said. "I think that is legitimate. If anybody has a complaint to make, it's important they come and talk to us and we would be happy to listen. We have given that offer and so far nobody's taken that up."

For the anarchist movement, which has been growing in Bristol since 2005, the crackdown won't be putting them off. Two months ago, 20 local activists visited the CID and Special Investigations building in Bristol to protest. A few weeks earlier a number of the same groups clubbed together to publish a
statement outlining their experiences.

"The message is we're not going to be intimidated," Jon from Solfed told me. "We're still here for everyone to see, and we're not going to driven underground."

Follow Philip on Twitter.



Recently, in one of the cities I haunt, a guns-drawn police raid much like the one described in the article. Mostly for intimidation, took everybody's laptops and phones and shit, just the pigs swinging their dicks around.

Anyway, the dust clears and our comrades are out many hundreds of dollars worth of essential electronics (not essential but necessary for work, whatever, fuck off with your primitivism for a second) so we put the word out to EVERY media outlet and social-media platform that we can think of. Wordpress blogs, Facebook, local indie media as well the big corporate media was running stories on it anyway cause the whole thing was fucking crazy. Armed-raid over some graphitti and other alleged minor vandalism ...

Anyway, my point is we took all that liberal outrage from strangers and my friend put up a donation page and we raised enough money in 2 or 3 days to replace everyones phones and computers. The end.


(instead of constantly alienating them and mocking your friends for talking to them)

Also, it occurs to me in hindsight, anyone who donated and is now reading this -

Thank you, good tax-paying citizen, for your generous contribution to our friends and allies, targeted by the police in this gross and disproportionate miscarriage of justice. Your hard-earned dollars eased their struggles as they continue to hold the line in the fight against the corporate bastards who can choke to death on bucketloads of our shit and the sniggering, bloodsucking pigs who were so shit-scared when they raided the house that they almost shot one of our hungover friends in his underwear. What a way to go!

Seriously though, thank you all

This is pretty funny and great.
But honestly I think even insincere appeals to liberals only legitimizes their own position and role in their minds.
Uncompromising anarchist positions are what's needed to destroy the liberals sense of being able to reform the system, and it is their reforms which keep the system running.
You are getting money in the short term but making the long term struggle more difficult I think.

Who fucking cares what they think? I thought we all agreed on that at least?
I don't want to "destroy liberals sense of reformism", I want to ferment revolt so that liberals can get their heads knocked by the cops and learn the hard way, same as I did. You rarely persuade anyone of such a basic thing, they have to come to that conclusion naturally.

Any successful con-artist will tell you a score is a score and on to the next one. Are buskers making their longterm struggle more difficult when they spange? No, they're grabbing a few bucks for food or drink to keep their spirits up and keep going.

I just think having the type of uncompromising posture shown below is more honest, inspiring, and strategic. He was on hunger strike in a prison, yet did not appeal to the liberals sense of an injustice occurring in the otherwise just system. The fact that few anarchists will take that honest position is what's wrong with anarchists today.

“I stand here as your declared and unrepentant enemy, I do not beg for
your lenience, I do not seek to engage in dialogue with you and your
peers. My values are at war with yours, so that every phrase I come out
with against you is a razor scoring the masks of your hypocrisy and
making clear the position and the role of each of us. You redact
hundreds of pages of files and you constantly form new cases, in order
to bury us in the prisons of your democracy, for decades. You are
preparing to impose “special detention conditions” on us, which is the
only coup missing from the pantheon of “special treatment” (prison
transfers, trials, laws), which you create to fight us. The simple laws
of physics dictate, that reaction is the consequence of action. Outside
this courtroom on free lands, there are rebelious people, comrades for
me, terrorists for you, who don’t intend to tolerate our extermination,
without making you and your political supervisors bleed first. You can
take this as a threat if you like. I believe, that this is the cynical
reality. Each option has its own cost. I guess, that, as judges and
servants of the law, you would agree with me on this.”

(Nikos Romanos)"

You can think that all you like and if you were Nikos and not just somebody canonizing him as a saint, maybe you'd have a point. As for the strategic value of his perspective, I think he'd disagree with you. A lot of those people who were in the streets supporting his hunger strike would be the "moderates" you're completely dismissing before you've even lived through an insurrection like the one that galvanized Nikos.

yes, and those moderates attempts at reforming the most unjust aspects of this fundamentally unjust system are the exact reforms it needs to make to help it continue existing.

which is the opposite of the goal of anarchists. moderates are not helping us in the long run by opposing the most unjust aspects of the system while not opposing the system in its entirety, even though it is the system that creates those extreme instances of injustice they oppose. they are helping to strengthen the system that we are trying to destroy.

I think it's silly the way so many Greek anarchists communicate with the judges and the bourgeoisie in the way that they do. Yes, sure they are condemning them and being tough or whatever, but this is a form of dialogue. It is a aimed at the powerful. It is for their ears. Nikos regularly positions himself, and others do this as well, as open antagonists against the state, "sworn enemies" even. This plays directly into the hands of democratic society which is always hoping to find threats of this nature. So discrete. So quaint and controllable.

We should reject all dialogue with the state, hostile or otherwise. Do not allow ourselves to become sidelined because of the petty need for recognition that people like this have.

What makes you think this is a "dialogue" with the State?

Didja know courtrooms are also sensitive points from where to reach out not to the State, but to a wider "public"? No matter how the Castrist insurgents sucked and they were authoritarian socialists, the courtroom declaration Castro did in 1953 when charged for an attack against military barracks served as a powerful rhetorical device to mobilize a lot of people into a revolt that succeeded.

Solidarity from the US for those facing the "anti-terror" pograms sweeping Europe! Now some thoughts on making raids less effective:

Encrypted computers, no smartphones (you can't secure iPhones nor Android effectively). Use only open source encryption, and passphrases of many words not forming a sentence from any book, speech, etc.

All paper records transferred to encrypted disks- address books, phone books, schedules, and above all else marked maps. These are common targets of search warrants

Encrypted backup copies off-site of everything important. That way the punitive effect of a raid destroying all your files and records is defeated. This and encryption saved my ass in

New flash drives and camera cards right now, smash the old ones and flush the pieces down the john. Think of these as rounds of ammo that have been expended...

Cache anything you can't afford to have found in your house somewhere else, keep anything you want handy in a raid right close.

What makes you so sure the full disk encryption in Android isn't reliable? I wouldn't trust Apple for a second, but Android is open source and seems to have been made quite sturdy, especially since the time the kernel is full GNU/Linux.

Not sure at all, in fact cops are throwing hissy fits about encrypted phones spreading. Keep in mind I've never owned a smartphone, I missed the "iPhone revolution" on purpose. What I have not studied closely I cannot advise others to trust, but I do advise using the strongest encryption possible on each device, on every device on which it is possible. There are some serious issues with Android phones, I don't know how good the pigs are at exploiting them:

Android comes from Google, and if the phone is linked to a Google account everything accessable from Google can be accessed with a US search warrant and/or international "assistance" agreements. Google could even keylog your passphrase, Apple has done that in the past. If the phone is on a Google account, do not trust it-but encrypt it anyway, most cops know shit about computers.

Android includes a lot of closed software-and if the CARRIER installed the OS the phone can't be trusted because carriers almost always install spyware under names you will never find. I would never trust a tradtional computer with Linux installed by a computer store or especially an ISP either, for exactly the same reason. I would expect it to try to "phone home." Install your own Android image on a rooted phone if you can. Goodbye Carrier IQ, etc.

I have heard of phones in the past that offered encryption, but only using the numbers used to dial phone calls, not the whole keyboard character set. Not being a smartphone owner, I have no idea if this is still the case, but if it is, there are way too few possible keys, so national level spy agencies could try all of them in seconds. Use the encryption anyway, your local PD may not have the software to do this. Just don't trust it anymore than a phone without encryption.

If possible keep addresses, maps, schedules in laptops or desktops with high-grade encryption, even old Pentium III's are enough for this job and they can be gotten free. Keep your phone directory disorganized and full of phone numbers of NGO types and nonactivists to hide the ones that count. In your head is best of all if you are up for it, better than any kind of encryption in the world. Never write down or photograph something that could send someone to jail.

If you expect to be raided the safest phone is a brand new phone with nothing in it, and your old one cached off-site somewhere the pigs would never think to look for it or could not go.

If an operating encrypted phone or computer is captured in a raid, the key can be recovered fropm RAM by a "cold boot" reboot with special forensic software in all cases, or in some cases simply extracted from the running device. If a raid captures a device which is turned off this attack becomes useless.

If this is still true, you need to use encryption OTHER than Android's default encryption.

From down low in the thread:

"Last year, leaked training materials prepared by the Sacramento
sheriff's office included a form that would require Apple to "assist
law enforcement agents" with "bypassing the cell phone user's passcode
so that the agents may search the iPhone." Google takes a more
privacy-protective approach: it "resets the password and further
provides the reset password to law enforcement," the materials say,
which has the side effect of notifying the user that his or her cell
phone has been compromised. "

Oh that FDE/lock screen single password issue... There's a script found in Fdroid that allows to change the encryption password from within the Android session. Works perfect.

I think the only potentiality of a security flaw would be rather in a backdoor at the base of the processor or the RAM. There are proven backdoors in Apple and Huawei devices, but even if that makes me sound like a fool, I did not find any info on that for the Android tablets and phones.

Yeah, I gotta say that smart phones have way more potential for secure communications than regular cell phones. If you use the method the above commenter posted in order to be able to use a separate passphrase for full disk encryption (FDE) and screen lock, then the android fde is good- it's open source encryption. If you add to that apps like TextSecure/RedPhone/Signal, which allow for end to end encrypted texts and phone calls using open source protocols, then the level of secure communications possible with smartphones makes them much safer in my opinion. (Signal with text and call support for iPhone should be getting rolled out in the next month or two if all goes well, too, which will dramatically increase the level of secure communications possible with smartphones.) FDE and TextSecure alone go a long way towards protecting info for folks who are just getting harassed/surveiled/searched by local cops or opportunistically at border checkpoints, etc. Also, here's a handy open source app to turn off your phone remotely by sending it a particular text message if it gets seized while it's still on- because full disk encryption is only useful if the device is fully powered off when it's in the hands of the people trying to read it- though this app requires root to work:

For further security measures, on Android phones you can also install a custom operating system like CyanogenMod to get rid of any spyware installed by Google/phone carrier/phone manufacturer. (Note that if you want to install CyanogenMod and still use TextSecure then you'll still have to manually install at least the Play Store apk ( I believe), GoogleLoginService.apk,
GoogleServicesFramework.apk, and
Phonesky.apk from the gapps (Google Apps) package. At least for the moment- though I think the folks at Whisper Systems are working on a secure alternative to the Google Play Store.) Then there are other open source apps like BitMask which let you set up a private internet proxy/VPN through the riseup servers incredibly easily with no headache or real technical knowledge necessary, to give one layer of cloaking/encryption to your internet traffic. Then there's OrBot, also open source, if you want to use Tor on your phone for multiple layers of cloaking/encryption of your internet traffic (and even better to use both in conjunction so your local internet service provider can't see that you're connecting to the Tor network-all they'll see if that you're connecting to riseup, and only riseup will see that you're connecting to Tor)

If you think you have NSA/FBI/CIA level hackers trying to get access to your phone, then you can get really paranoid with your smartphone security and take this route:

This shit happens. The victimization kinda makes me nauseus, because this shit happens with such regularity that I can't believe people pretend it isn't normal. Around Occupy time in Chicago, two undercover pigs showed up with two thirty cases of beer and got a friend of mine so fucked up he made molotov cocktails with them. Then they came back and arrested eight people that knew nothing about it, and punched a neighbor in the face. I was talking to some Occupy the Hood people about it, and got a fucking endless source of stories that simply replace "gangbanger" with "anarchist." Don't complain about it. Deal with it.

Deal with it effectively.

Stupid argument dude. There's lessons to be learned here, just cause you're used to dealing with it doesn't mean everyone else is too. You just trying to sound hard or what?

The author of that comment was not used to dealing with it. The argument is this: Vice magazine may attempt to make a tabloid version of events to sell to their audience, but in the experience of anarchists, when we act on our beliefs, even just publicly acknowledge our beliefs, we will be attacked by the police. The general hint of the article seems to be that anarchists aren't ALWAYS being cracked down on by the Bristol cops. That is nonsense, and it is important to know that it is the usual state of affairs. It is important to know that people can handle this pressure, which will certainly get heavier if Bristol anarchists are capable of holding to their own ideals. Also, I'm not a dude, sir.

Ok, so you're not a dude. I guess I just figured that such a pointlessly hostile post came off as macho bullshit. You're saying that because police repression is consistent, we can't pull out individual examples of cycles of repression and learn from them? I identified with this article because the same shit happened to me and my friends too madam or preferred pronoun.

That would b nauseated, not nauseous.

Seems that the article doesn't favor insurrectionary anarchism... is it lightly suggesting that insurretionists should stop their actions because its causing hardship on other anarchists?

The leftism in the UK is especially obnoxious though … and at the time of the riots and even in this article, everyone was lamenting how the "scene" had so little in common with the rioters. Well I don't want that either, which is why I'd try to be a bridge between.

heh! I especially like this part

"There’s a direct feedback loop through academia, activists and the social bureaucracy about the bizarre language codes and identity politics of political correctness."

but anyway, here's the crux and I really doubt anyone on this site is disputing it so WHY ARE WE ARGUING?

"Civil anarchism is not so much a political current, but an open term to be used to outline the refuge of cowardly, reformist and collaborative individuals that use anarchism as a crutch to escape the repression in society and the necessity to act.
I don’t take issue with these people or their civility based on the form of organisation they adopt or the methods of “direct action” they choose, it is for them to persist in whichever way they like. It is not my concern, other than when they attempt to impose their will on me.

I have nothing against mass organisation per se and see it as an observably fundamental principle of almost all revolutionary activity, but from being close to this ‘civil anarchism’ for a considerable time, and having had space to consider its present development and direction, I believe this flock to have serious problems with allowing diversity of opinion and perspectives to be expressed that counters the group-think “party line”."

Workerist anarchist and superior.

Because dem euro @'s always be workin hella hard to get down in dem euro towns XD

You guys are lucky they are myopic and don't assist anarchists in Bristol. If they did, they would bolster ritual forms of opposition by funding the British anarchist movement and insure no-one could ever actually realistically oppose capitalism.

Destroying the anarchyist Dungeons and Dragons movement in Bristol will create space for effective alternatives. The state doesn't know what it does due to taking at literal face value anarchist phrases and claims, instead of actually analyzing the position of anarchism within society...

I still fail to care about your comment, nikolas, can you repeat please?


"Destroying the anarchyist Dungeons and Dragons movement in Bristol will create space for effective alternatives"

Yes! Like the Maoists finally developing a solid branch in the UK, converting the libertarian commies and slandering/snitching the real anarchist insurgents, so 3 years later they got a nice, gentrified pacified community full of hipster idiots, so the State force win again.

Now the only solution left is self-policing. Apply police surveillance in our spaces, denounce the insurgent-looking elements as sex offenders, as per now widely-sanctioned safe space policy and get prior informed consent from the police department before setting up a march.

If we wanna keep enjoying our anarchy in private, legally, and have yearly ABFs where the mayor can participate then this is the new way to go. OBEY.

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