Some thoughts I wrote last year, after the hearing in Parliament on the undercover officers who had longterm relationships with women as part of operations to undermine activist groups.
Does it make things worse, a weird question that comes to mind, that sex was involved? The only sensible thing to say about this, is that the aspect of intimate involvement provides an opportunity – or at least makes it less difficult – to take legal steps at all. It remains next to impossible to estimate the damage, should it become clear which rules have been violated.
The betrayal is not just on the personal level, although it is the intimate and sexual part that seems to be the most shocking to satisfy the sensation-sensitive parts of the public. The double-life let by some of the police men involved, married with children while having moved in with their activist partners as well.
For the women here, or for most of them, I would think from my own experience, it’s not just about the sexual involvement. Devoting your life to protest, the relationship with a fellow activist fits the larger context of being part of a movement, wherein overall, there is less of a boundary between the working and the private life. Being part of a movement means the sharing of ideas, ideals, the risks of activism, the scary things at night, the confrontations with the authorities, the arrests maybe, the interrogations, prison for some, the pub afterwards, the long nights. Emily Apple wrote about this impressively beautiful.
The sharing of all this, means people are sharing their entire life, working hard to make this world a better place – to use a common phrase. Hence, the betrayal is not just in the relationship, not just in the private – as if that would not be enough – it’s also in the political, in the beliefs, and the practical every-day life.
With the betrayal on so many levels, one can only begin to understand the trauma caused. Trauma not restricted to those who have had the intimate relationships. Their cases, in a way, represent the damage done to a larger part of the movements involved, all those people who thought they had friends and mates – only to find out they were betrayed by the state.
Still that’s not all, though this is where it links to the need for further research.
From the chronology of the stories that have come out to date and the police men involved, we know that it continued for years – several decades in fact. We know of undercover officers that moved on to become supervisors of a next generation that did exactly the same. It makes you wonder whether the intimate relationships and sexual involvement was not just accepted practice, but in fact part of the strategy to get ‘deeply penetrated’ (No pun intended, Gary T. Marx pointed at the loaded language surrounding infiltration, as I discussed here).
The research needs to get beyond the rules or the lack thereof. We are only beginning to understand how big this is, and what was behind it. Continue reading