Keep Calm & Carry On: The British Governments Engineering of Reality
On June 5th, 2017, a large troop of religious leaders of every faith descended upon London Bridge. Two nights before, three individuals described by authorities as “radical Islamic extremists”, allegedly operating on the orders of Daesh, deliberately mowed down pedestrians at the world-famous site with a van before leaving the vehicle to attack passersby with knives. In all, eight were killed and 48 injured.
Speaking to journalists at the scene, a flock of imams, priests, and rabbis declared, “Terrorists will not divide us.” The Archbishop of Canterbury implored citizens within Britain and beyond not to blame the previous evening’s horror on Islam: “If we attack or persecute a particular group of people on the grounds of their faith alone, the terrorists will give three cheers and say, ‘Thank you, you have done our work for us.’”
The religious leaders were joined by thousands of members of the public, who laid floral tributes for slain members of the public. Press photographers snapped shots of mourners embracing one another. At the same time, posters were plastered by teams throughout the area decorated with hashtags circulating widely on Twitter, including #TurnToLove, #ForLondon, and #LoveWillWin. While the activity was technically illegal, the police officers present not only allowed them to do it, they also but also let them operate behind official cordons.
The following weekend, a group of Muslims arrived at the bridge handing out thousands of red roses. An organizer described this as “a symbolic gesture of love” for people affected by the attack. What they failed to mention was that they worked in British law enforcement.
The seemingly spontaneous outburst of solidarity and unity that unfolded on London Bridge in the days following the June 2017 attack was carefully choreographed theater, following a blueprint crafted long in advance by the British government. It was a particularly palpable example of a little-known strategy, dubbed “controlled spontaneity,” exposed by Middle East Eye in May 2019.
Such campaigns have been covertly activated following every UK terrorist incident in recent years. As the outlet reported, “politicians’ statements, vigils, and inter-faith events are also negotiated and planned” in preparation for “any terrorist attack.”
These efforts are “designed to appear to be a spontaneous public response.” Social media hashtags “ are crafted and before any attacks, Instagram images selected, and ‘impromptu’ street posters printed.” This coordinated messaging is rigorously tested via focus groups to ensure they won’t provoke unintended reactions.
“Within hours of an incident, campaigns are swiftly organized, with I ‘heart’ posters designed and distributed according to the location of the attack. Plans are also drawn up for people to hand out flowers at the scene of the crime, in apparently unprompted gestures of love and support.”
The purpose of this “controlled spontaneity” is to encourage the public to focus on empathy for victims of disaster and encourage a sense of unity with strangers, rather than reacting with violence and anger. As an inside source involved in these connivances revealed, “We would like the people to do that, how do you get them there?” is a core consideration when plans are drawn up. “Controlled spontaneity” became a dedicated matter of British government policy during the lead up to the 2012 London Olympics.
Authorities were highly sensitive to the prospect of a terror attack during the event, so set civil contingency planners to formulate potential responses, which would assuage civilian anger and assist with the public’s “recovery process” while allowing the Games to continue. These plans were explicitly concerned with “mind control” and inspired by the vast, at times hysterical, outpouring of public grief and mourning following the death of Princess Diana in September 1997.
Similar responses were forecast in the event of a mass casualty attack on British soil. However, the origins of “controlled spontaneity” were far darker and more cynical. The Olympic pre-response was built on extensive war gaming exercises conducted in 2011, following the Arab Spring uprising, and riots erupting across English towns and cities that summer.
This violent unrest “absolutely terrified” the British government, which resolved never to allow even the vague risk of revolution to rear its head in the country. In the Arab Spring, residents of West Asia and North Africa were animated by fury at misrule and corruption by the foreign-backed autocrats who ruled them. Rioters in England were striking back in the first instance at the summary execution of a young Londoner by armed police, against a backdrop of the government embarking on a mandate-less program of obliterating the welfare state via austerity, along the way demonizing the poor, the disabled, and minorities.
One can, of course, can quite reasonably condemn violence as a means of political expression while simultaneously recognizing that “controlled spontaneity” is a public pacification tool that can easily be misused and abused to insulate power from legitimate backlash while stifling vital public debate and undermining action.
In respect of terrorism, as a nameless “controlled spontaneity” practitioner angsted to Middle East Eye, the technique may suppresses serious discussion of the causes and impact of catastrophes while fomenting a sense of public impotence in the wake of world-changing, seismic calamity in which political action is exclusively restricted to virtue signaling: “You can distract people by putting up a photograph of a French flag or whatever.
We are not having these debates because we are saying, ‘I heart so-and-so,’ and ‘I’m going to change my profile picture to a New Zealand flag’… When there’s nothing people can actually do, they can change the photo on their Facebook page. Then they can feel they’ve done something about it, they can go to work, and they’re not agitating the government.”
As Lucy Easthope, for many years a leading public figure in the British government’s emergency response division, warned in May 2017 following the Manchester Arena bombing, the overriding narrative of “controlled spontaneity” blitzes is “business as usual.” Sometimes though, “[the] horror is too raw and too visceral and has too many children as targets” for that “to ever have been the right message”: “Instead we need to be given a bit more time to rage and roar like wounded animals… And if that is a day spent screaming at the sky and then cuddling our toddlers then so be it… By rushing to show this will not break us we are also allowing a cycle to emerge; we are hit; we will stand strong; we are hit; we stand together and thus we allow our leaders to never address just how much damage is being done to our nation.”
Britain’s focus on “business as usual” following terror attacks has been an inspiration to the world. Reportedly, immediately following the 2013 Boston bombings, the city’s mayor gathered his staff together. He declared, “tonight, we do a London,” referrring to the attacks that took place in the British capital on July 7th, 2005. Despite targeting transport networks, by the end of the day, buses and trains were running normally, and everyday citizens were going about their business as if nothing happened.
There are all manner of events and phenomena large and small, that would naturally and reasonably deter, if not outright prohibit, individuals from keeping calm and carrying on. Yet the relentless barrage of “controlled spontaneity” concocts a false picture of harmony, or at the very least implacable defiance in the face of adversity, and imposes it upon the public without alternative in every way. As such, it behooves us to ponder whether the goal of preserving public peace is pursued for peace’s sake or to maintain a fundamentally iniquitous, illegitimate system that would instantly crumble were too many people asked awkward questions or dared be ungovernable for even an instant.
– Kit Klarenberg