Forgiving Mark Stone

Friday, 14th January 2011 at 9:08 GMT+0000 5 comments

Much has already been written about the revelations of under cover police officers at work within the Climate Camp movement and others. I did vaguely know who Mark Stone was, though its difficult to imagine what it must be like for others who knew him much closer. An article appeared recently entitled “Why I’ll never forgive Mark Stone”, and whilst I’m not going to dispute anything given as a reason for not forgiving him, I want to suggest that the language was unhelpful.

Mark Stone does not deserve to be forgiven. That much is quite abundantly clear. Seven years was plenty of time to realise that what he was doing served no good, and if it weren’t for the work of journalists and a few brave activists in confronting him, he may well have continued to work for many more years.

He’s clearly a conflicted person, as anyone in this situation would be – every account of an undercover police officer that has been raised so far draws parallels in terms of the psychological effects the job has, and it is apparent that he may have fled the country. Perhaps some people can carry out undercover surveillance without feeling the emotional effects, but I’m yet to be convinced.

Evidence is beginning to appear that his overseas work may have been even more out of line than his domestic work, and the crises he is posing for both establishment and activists could result in misjudged acts from both sides. Right now its unclear what will happen to Mark – its likely the state will attempt to victimise him and have him “see the error of his ways”.

But forgiveness is not the same as restoring trust. Often it is, but not always. There has to be an acceptance of human frailty, if ever the “go and sin no more” aspect is to have any effect whatsoever. For Mark, no matter what he hopes, he must surely accept any further role in activism is now largely impossible. We have nothing left to offer him, and he us.

Neither is forgiveness something that can reasonably be reserved for those considered worthy. Forgiveness is often most necessary for those to whom it is most difficult to give it. Mark may be the hardest man on earth to forgive, certainly for those he got closest to, but his shadow will continue to haunt unless we resolve to move on. As activists are motivated by love and concern, failing to forgive someone can only damage us in the long term.

I don’t simply write this as some religious platitude – continued loathing of someone is a waste of energy activists can do without. If we are to maintain the open attitudes that have made the movement effective, often despite the involvement of people like Mark, we need to get past this rather unfortunate stage. Mark didn’t prevent the movement from being effective during his time of participation: we still prevented a third runway and have put future coal plants in question – and must continue to do so. In fact, it may be because we often did actions with only our friends that people like Mark could be effective – preying on the regulars and eventually setting a honey trap for them. He cannot be allowed to destroy it now.

As I have said, forgiveness can take many forms. To allow Mark to return to activism would do him no favours – he needs to move on completely from this devastating situation, and so do we. But we also need to make our peace, however difficult, and learn from any mistakes we can genuinely argue the case for. But above all, we must let him go; not to forget him but to release our anger at him. Given his whereabouts don’t seem to be known, we can’t really expect to get anything from making him a hate figure.

We simply can’t afford to let our anger eat us alive, neither as individuals nor as a movement. We may find it difficult, but if it doesn’t destroy us, it will make us stronger, not just as people, but as activists, taking steps to prevent catastrophic climate change. Now is also a time when we need to reconnect with one another – isolation from our movement-friends will harm us as much if not more so.

As I have said – we must remind ourselves of how inefficient these people have been at preventing none-violent action, or indeed creating a violent response to conventional police repression amongst activists. Above all, we must find a way to move on and get the job done: catastrophic climate change and global injustice must be resolved. 


Entry filed under: Activism, Climate Change, Environment, News, Politics.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sophia  |  Friday, 14th January 2011 at 9:53 GMT+0000

    We can resolve to move on without trying to forgive him. We can learn lessons from the experience without trying to forgive him.

    Mark Kennedy’s whole life was duplicitous and profoundly immoral on a number of levels for too many years. he has deeply hurt some beautiful, wonderful people, damaged some very necessary campaigns and, on a personal note, soured and made unpleasant some of my very happiest memories.

    This fake repentance is pissing me off too. Not only did he set up his own companies to continue corporate spying after he left the police, he also brought the law down many people he used to call friends. If he was really sorry, there is a lot of useful information he could give us but he hasn’t done so.

    Yes, he’s a human being (who has made SO MANY bad choices and done so many bad things) and I don’t doubt he’s fucked in the head from living in the fucked up situation he put himself in. I still don’t see why I should forgive him.

  • 2. Corey James Soper  |  Friday, 14th January 2011 at 11:19 GMT+0000

    I’d say the most damaging thing is that he has introduced distrust into social movements. This reminds me of your ‘forgiving Nick Griffin’ post. No matter how repentant, falsely or otherwise, we don’t need him, why take the risk?

    I think you’re just a big softie, Graham!

  • 3. Lucy  |  Friday, 14th January 2011 at 12:41 GMT+0000

    “we must remind ourselves of how inefficient these people have been at preventing none-violent [sic] action”

    I would hazard a guess that as a policeman, his objective would have been primarily to prevent the breaking of the law. Another conjecture is that within that role, he had priorities (anti-terrorism and anti-violence to the fore, I’d guess). Actions and protests are an extremely valid part of our society, so why would he try to arbitrarily prevent them? Unless you’re noting that he was inefficient at stopping non-violent illegal actions, which would either imply he was a poor policeman, or that there was a bigger strategy in place than you have implied in your post – I’m just speculating of course!

    I’m not really in a place to comment, however I do agree with your note that it’s a waste of efforts to spend time hating and vilifying him! Time is much better spent following your ideals… there will always be interest from the police, and it’s naive and unrealistic to think that he was/is the only one undercover.

  • 4. Sophia  |  Friday, 14th January 2011 at 16:37 GMT+0000

    We don’t think he was the only one undercover. In fact, we know that he wasn’t. We’re pretty confident that there are more. The fact that there’s more than one of them doesn’t make them any less reprehensible.

    Kennedy took part in a great many illegal acts over those seven years, let alone failed to prevent them from happening. His role wasn’t to prevent crime though; it was political policing, spying on campaigners and activists.

    His role had naff all to do with preventing terrorism; we just aren’t doing that sort of thing and he was deep enough in that he would have confidently known that.

    Corey, we’ve known about undercovers for ages, I don’t think he’s brought mistrust into the movement, although he may have brought home to quite a few people.

  • 5. Greg  |  Saturday, 15th January 2011 at 15:22 GMT+0000

    So Sophia, do you disagree in principle with undercover policing?


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