Rent-A-Mob: The Hijacking of Protest

(Photo: Sky News)

By Josh Rutland – Contributor

The shameful images emerging after events in Bristol last Sunday imply an enraged city fighting back. “A mob of animals” brought carnage and destruction to the streets in response to a new piece of government legislation. But was this protest really as it seems?

The “Kill the Bill” event in Bristol attracted a sizeable crowd in opposition to Government plans which would see police given more powers to deal with non-violent protests. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has received widespread attention resulting in ensuing demonstrations across the country.

However the protest in Bristol was far from similar to those elsewhere. As the evening drew in, the remnants of those in attendance became savaged activists showing no mercy to the stretched line of police.

Fireworks were launched across the crowds, police vehicles were torched, the Bridewell Police Station was severely vandalised and twenty officers were left injured. The “peaceful” protest befell a vicious revolt.

The Home Secretary Priti Patel described events as “thuggery and disorder” on Monday morning while John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said the scenes were “horrendous”. It is clear there is no justification for such mindless brutality.

However Mr Apter went further, claiming scenes in Bristol was an act of “violent criminality from a hardcore minority who will hijack any situation for their own aims”. This was a stance supported by Andy Marsh, the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police, who implied the demonstrations had been commandeered by extremists.

Mr Marsh went on to say “I believe the events of yesterday were hijacked by extremists, people who were determined to commit criminal damage, to generate very negative sentiment about policing and to assault our brave officers”.

(Photo: The Telegraph)

This revelation has stark similarities with claims made against previous demonstrations across the country. Just a week ago, the Metropolitan Police received intense scrutiny for their response to the Sarah Everard vigil on Clapham Common. Organisers of the events, who sought to remember the 33-year old killed as she walked home, had formally cancelled the occasion.

Despite this, hundreds appeared in support of Ms Everard causing the police to forcibly break up the crowd which breached COVID-19 restrictions. This resulted in a series of subsequent protests against the Met, where activists clashed with officers who were tasked with upholding order.

Home Secretary Priti Patel later agreed with Conservative MPs that the vigil was “hijacked” by anti-police extremists, who appeared to turn an occasion of remembrance into a politically-motivated demonstration. Placards showing slurs such as “ACAB” and “Defund The Police” appeared incongruent with initial demands to protect women.

The MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, Ms Fay Jones, encompassed these concerns that “a young woman’s murder could be hijacked by those who would seek to defund the police and destabilise our society”.

Moreover, allegations of usurped protest were seemingly evident last summer during the Black Lives Matter campaign. A series of mass demonstrations across central London, advocating racial equality and justice, descended into a violent surge of abuse towards frontline officers. It is believed sixty-two police officers were injured as a result of the protests, including a female mounted officer who was thrown from her horse.

In response to the violence, Prime Minister Boris Johnson cited concerns that legitimate demands for changed had been hijacked by a minority who were “using them as a pretext to attack the police, to cause violence and to cause damage to public property”.

Mr Johnson went on to describe how the scenes witnessed last year were “deliberate and calculated violence” which reinforces the allegation of professional activists seizing legitimate causes.

(Photo: Sky News)

These three recent example of genuine protest spilling over into vicious brawls against police certainly suggest that allegations of ‘hijacking’ are true. The fact senior politicians and police leaders consistently cite claims of militant activists gives significant weight to the argument.

Cynical beliefs of a ‘rent-a-mob’ in Britain are unquestionably a cause for concern; the idea of a violent mob of activists taking over demonstrations is the very reason our right to protest is being constrained.

Yet whether the same faces are present at multiple demonstrations, across multiple regions and for varying causes remains unverified. However there is no doubt that rising violence, brutality and disorder against the police is deplorable. The question is: can an ever-stretched line of police officers hold back this growing mob?


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