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Moral law vs legal law: Smash EDO arms campaigners explain their stance
The campaign to close the EDO weapons components factory in Brighton has never been far from controversy.
The past five and a half years have seen violent confrontations between protesters and police, court battles with the company and large-scale demonstrations through the city's streets.
BEN PARSONS asked two of Smash EDO s original supporters what lies behind its attitudes towards the police, the law and the defence industry that have characterised their campaign.
The Smash EDO campaign acknowledges no leaders and its supporters cover their faces with scarves in public - yet its actions have continually grabbed and held the attention of the people of Brighton and Hove.
Protesters claim weapons components manufactured by the EDO factory in Home Farm Road, Moulsecoomb, are used in planes and missile systems to commit atrocities in Palestine and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Smash EDO events have divided opinion about how far people should go in pursuit of what they see as a moral cause.
Two longterm supporters agreed to be interviewed by The Argus about the campaign, its history and the questions that surround it.
Glenn Williams, 51, and Richard a 38-year-old businessman who preferred not to give his surname have both been involved from the beginning.
In 2004 they were both supporters of Sussex Action For Peace in the aftermath of widespread protests against the invasion of Iraq.
Then activists realised part of what they saw as the war machine was on their doorstep.
An occupation of the EDO factory in Home Farm Road followed and a campaign was born.
However, Smash EDO was actually given its name by the company it is dedicated to closing down.
Lawyers for EDO named 14 individuals and Smash EDO and Bombs Out of Brighton in a 2005 injunction imposing an exclusion zone for protests at its Moulsecoomb site.
At the time, those phrases were slogans on placards wielded by protesters rather than organised groups.
Glenn said: "It didn t exist as a name but because of the court action and the publicity, we became Smash EDO."
This set the tone for a campaign which supporters say has no leaders or rigid structure.
Glenn said: "It is not just the same people continually.
"There is a large turnover in the people getting involved.
"The campaign takes different turns."
Police have repeatedly appealed for the organisers of Smash EDO events to cooperate with them to reduce the likelihood of disturbance to the public.
But old hands say their experience of previous campaigns, such as the antiwar movement in the buildup to the Iraq War, showed negotiation made it harder, not easier, to make their point.
Glenn said one Iraq demonstration where organisers did cooperate was dogged by requests from the police.
He said: "The police insisted we had public liability insurance, litterpickers and stewards.
"The more we complied, the more they wanted.
"The police changed the route at the last minute.
"You find yourself in a position where you have to do weeks of work for a demo that lasts an hour."
There are also claims people who have stepped forward as organisers in the past were told other events they were involved with could be cancelled if the demonstrations they were holding got out of hand.
They have accused the police of being used as a political tool to make it more difficult for protesters to be heard.
Although Smash EDO s stated aim is to close the Brighton factory, its history has been peppered with battles over the right to protest.
Richard said: "There is a requirement to notify, not to cooperate. There is no way you should be going around gratuitously inconveniencing people, but you shouldn t have to seek a mandate from the authorities to express your dissent."
It is not only the organisers who remain anonymous. Smash EDO s demonstrations are characterised by large numbers of people covering their faces with scarves.
Supporters say this is necessary because of police tactics to intimidate or undermine protests.
John Catt and his daughter were pulled over by antiterrorism police in London because their number plate had been noted by Sussex Police at a Home Farm Road demo.
A phonecall from a Sussex Police officer was enough to persuade the Duke Of York s Cinema in Brighton to drop a screening of a film about the Smash EDO campaign.
Intimidating Police forward intelligence teams are an everpresent sight at actions.
Richard said: "A lot of us who didn't wear masks have found it affected our ability to make ourselves heard.
"It is intimidating to have plain clothes police come up and say hello.
"My advice to a young activist would be don t get yourself on a database, cover your face."
The argument for police surveillance usually runs that officers need to weed out troublemakers intent on turning peaceful protests violent or aiming to commit other crimes.
Smash EDO s history has been continually linked to lawbreaking.
At a demonstration last year protesters broke police lines to smash windows and spray graffiti inside the EDO site.
Large-scale events have been accompanied by violent confrontation between officers and supporters.
Eight people will stand trial next month accused of causing hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage during a breakin at the factory in January.
Other crimes linked to the campaign echo those used by animal rights activists, where investors or companies who work with their targets have come into the firing line.
DHL's depot in Hove was vandalised last year and messages on the protest website Indymedia have claimed attacks on Barclays bank branches were carried out in solidarity with a protester in custody.
Glenn and Richard acknowledge the lack of a fixed leadership and the change in faces mean it is difficult to predict the kind of methods the campaign will embrace.
They say there would be no support, though, for the kind of extremist measures which brought other groups to prominence including smear campaigns and threats to attack people's homes.
Richard said: "We have never targeted an individual.
"Other campaigns have gone down this road of going to people s homes.
"That is certainly not something I have ever heard discussed."
Glenn said: "Nobody has come along thinking that would be a good idea.
"There is no rule book saying how we should behave but nobody has ever done that."
The decision whether or not to break the law is the central issue that direct action groups like Smash EDO have to confront as they take their campaigns forward.
Supporters say their willingness to to break the law if necessary is down to the fact that their actions take place in the context of theatres of war, rather than a quiet industrial estate.
Richard said: "We are not a peace campaign. We are an antimilitarist campaign. We want to be an effective campaign. People want the factory out of Brighton."
It is first-hand experience that inspires the more confrontational, militant approach to protest.
Richard said: "Lots of us have been out to Palestine and seen the effects of what they are doing.
"A guy I know who lives in Rafah in Gaza has lost everything.
"He spent 20 years working as a kitchen porter to build a house.
"They built the border wall. In the last round of assaults they destroyed his home.
"What happened in Rafah and Gaza City was horrific."
The bitter experience of seeing millions of people demonstrate against the Iraq war, only for the Government to carry on regardless, inspired a redrawing of the rules of engagement.
Glenn said: "You have to differentiate between moral law and legal law."
Richard said: "When we live in a situation where the very authorities that enforce the law on others have no interest in it at all there was not a ghost of a chance the Government would adhere to international laws over Iraq it is rich for them to suggest this is an inviolate thing, a contract that binds us all."
The future aim for Smash EDO remains the closure of the factory.
Richard said: "EDO itself has shrunk a lot. We are making it a public embarrassment hopefully to the people who own it.
"We live in a globalised world and these things are all connected.
"Sometimes I think it is difficult for people to realise the connections are there."
This, he says, explains the willingness of people from outside Brighton and Hove to come to the city to take part in Smash EDO actions.
There is a sense, too, of pride in the battles fought and their consequences for the wider world.
He said: "We have continually taken a stand for our right to assemble and protest.
"There is now a new more militant network across the country.
"The existence of the antimilitarist peace movement could act as a deterrent should our government attempt to embark on another war of aggression."
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