One of the ladsTagged as: gender mark_stone police repression undercover
Over the past few weeks the UK’s activist movement has been rocked by the revelation that an extremely active person within its ranks, who had been at the heart of many major direct action campaigns, was in fact an undercover policeman.
After being confronted by former friends, Mark ‘Stone’, whose real name is Mark Kennedy, confessed that he had been working undercover since 2000. He has since disappeared.
At a meeting at the London Anarchist Bookfair, those who’d known Mark revealed that he had been active in ecological, animal rights, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist movements. Mark was involved in setting up the direct action camp in Stirling during the G8 protests of 2005 and the first climate camp amongst other things. He was also thought to have been making links with activists across Europe and, possibly, the USA.
Because it is not often that someone so deeply embedded in activism is comprehensively outed in this way, we would do well to learn from the experience. The temptation is to become suspicious of those around us but this only weakens the strong trust that is needed to carry out effective campaigns. Whilst there will always be the possibility that agents of the state will infiltrate our networks of trust, if we can learn to be aware of the warning signs and the tactics they use, we can be more secure.
Those who had been close to Mark said that he had never spoken to them about large periods of his life. In addition, no one had ever met the family members that he claimed to have spent considerable amounts of time visiting. But perhaps more importantly than these warning signs was the realisation that very few people had ever had a political conversation with him.
He was always there to lend a helping hand, whether it was driving people and equipment or employing his climbing skills, but it seemed people took for granted the reasons for his involvement. It seems ridiculous that people would consider getting involved in serious political campaigns with people whose politics they were unclear about. It seems obvious, to me, that before embarking on anything we might regret, we should make an effort to get to know the beliefs and motivations of those around us.
I came across Mark on a few occasions, at large gatherings and events. I have to admit, I never really liked him much, despite many others going on about what a great guy he was. He was a very macho man – always showing off his hardcore activist credentials and taking an atmosphere of bravado around with him. He seemed very attuned to informal hierarchies, seeming to seek out other Big Men and looking for the in-crowds. His big mouth instantly made me suspicious and guarded around him, not because I thought he was a cop, but just because I thought he was indiscrete.
Looking back, it’s obvious to see that not only was Mark extremely good at making people trust him, his personality was perfect for getting tongues wagging. He was the kind of person who I can imagine encouraging others to brag about daring actions and someone who seemed like he’d be up for future ones. He was one of the lads; people didn’t feel the need to talk about his politics or his background because he was someone whose approval others sought.
That this machismo is extremely dangerous and destructive for activism should be obvious. Even when the Big Man isn’t a cop who is making a mental note of (and possibly recording) your every word, there are often good reasons why information about your activism should stay private. In a worst case scenario you could incriminate yourself and others but even if you don’t, there is always a risk to the security of your future plans. Serious activists shouldn’t talk loosely, spurred on by the thought of gaining the approval of people they assume to be more experienced or more daring than themselves.
Then there is the issue of why the hell anti-authoritarians should allow these informal hierarchies to exist in the first place. Quite frankly, why the hell should anyone care whether Mark or anyone else approves of what they’re doing, as long as they and their affinity groups are happy with it? Too often young and green activists with a lot of potential become disillusioned because they aren’t “in the loop” of older and/or (they imagine) more active people.
This striving to rise higher in the world of activist credentials is damaging and divisive. Most activism that goes on in the UK is not rocket science. We shouldn’t be chasing after some illusive mystique of the ‘bigger boys’. Anyone can do it themselves which is why it is, potentially, a very powerful thing. I think that being more open with new people, passing on a good security culture and empowering them to act is a good way of getting rid of the illusions of expertise that persist. It will also protect us from future infiltrators.
The case of Mark Stone/Kennedy has revealed a serious weak spot in activism – the tendency to form self-affirming cliques around hypermasculine values of daring, risk-taking and violence. It was through his role as an alpha male that Mark was able to rise through the ranks so effortlessly and gain so much trust and respect. This is very damning of the values that many within the supposedly progressive activist community hold. If there is one thing that we should learn from this sad case it is that we need to demystify masculine power within activism. We need to see this dominatory and predatory tendency for what it is and eradicate it, totally, from the movement.
This article was originally published in Ceasefire Magazine.