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In depth: Extinction Rebellion's extremists

Sincere climate change activists or proponents of ideals far more sinister?

It gives me not the slightest bit of surprise to discover that Extinction Rebellion has been listed by the police as an ‘extremist organisation’ in a recently published guide aimed at stopping young people from being radicalised. However, to many, this labelling has come as something of a shock. After all, Extinction Rebellion have come to be known for their deliberately non-violent strategies, and their success in using them; shown by the UK Parliament (following the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly) declaring a ‘climate emergency’ – this being one of Extinction Rebellion’s primary objectives.

I would argue however that there is compelling evidence to suggest that Extinction Rebellion aren’t as benevolent as might be initially thought, and that there exists a really rather unsavoury attitude behind Extinction Rebellion that warrants this listing by the police. To best understand it, we ought to go back to October 2018, to the time when Extinction Rebellion was officially founded. Their ‘Declaration of Rebellion’, made on Parliament Square, noted that;

“We, in alignment with our consciences and our reasoning, declare ourselves in rebellion against our government and the corrupted, inept institutions that threaten our future… the wilful complicity displayed by our Government has shattered meaningful democracy and cast aside the common interest in favour of short-term gain and private profits”.

Thus, from the outset the founders of Extinction Rebellion have made clear that they are utterly opposed to our present representative democracy and the liberal free market economy. What’s more is that they make it clear in their ‘Declaration’ that they intend to rid us of both, with these ultimate objectives inseparable from their ultimate environmental objectives. One may be surprised that contrary to their public image as a messianic and omnibenevolent grassroots organisation, Extinction Rebellion is not best understood as a single organisation.

Rather, it is the result of the gathering of a group of activists who constituted a movement which named itself ‘Rising UP!’, which is itself the campaigning arm of a company called Compassionate Revolution Ltd. Both Compassionate Revolution and Rising UP! can be seen to have come to life as part of a broader anti-globalisation sentiment, featuring the same founders, leading figures and often identical rhetoric.

Anti-Globalisation in and of itself isn’t’ a nasty thing (though I do think it misidentifies solutions to the world’s ailments), but looking at the social media accounts of Compassionate Revolution Ltd and Rising UP!, one can see quite explicit examples of what to any layman would be considered extremist content. This includes, though is not limited to:

  • A link to a blogpost quoting from an infamous fake 19th Century Russian anti-Semitic tract ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’.

  • A meme of Guy Fawkes carrying a barrel of gunpowder outside Parliament, captioned ‘Plan B’, adding: ‘Waving banners and asking nicely for them to stop is not working.’

  • A post expressing solidarity for Chris Williamson just a day after the Labour MP was first suspended by his party for alleged anti-Semitism.

  • A vile meme comparing Iain Duncan Smith to Adolf Hitler over the former Work and Pensions Secretary's treatment of the disabled.

All this from the movements whose founders and underlying ideology gave birth to Extinction Rebellion. Thus, to scratch beneath the surface of Extinction Rebellion will not reveal a pretty picture.

But the concerning behaviour does not end on social media. Roger Hallam, one of the seminal figures and founders of Rising UP!, and one of the founders (and perhaps the seminal figure of Extinction Rebellion alongside Rising UP! founder Gail Bradbrook) has openly spoken of people dying for its cause. Speaking to one group of people, Hallam declared:

“We are not just sending out e-mails and asking for donations. We are going to force the governments to act. And if they don’t, we will bring them down and create a democracy fit for purpose… and yes, some may die in the process”.

Even though they preach the virtues of their non-violent activism, Extinction Rebellion has even been intimately linked with what comes dangerously close to a terrorism offence.

A splinter group named ‘Heathrow Pause’ which counts among its members one of Extinction Rebellion’s founders, has been caught attempting to disrupt commercial passenger flights by flying drones within the 5km exclusion zone around the airport, potentially endangering the lives of hundreds, and causing delays for thousands. Thankfully, due to what activists suspect were signal jammers, they were unsuccessful. Had they been successful in their actions here, the former Head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command claims that they may have “crossed the threshold into a terrorism offence”. As a result of their attempts to disrupt the operations of Heathrow using drones, nineteen people aged between 19 and 69 were arrested. Again, not a good look for a supposedly pacifistic organisation.

The necessary intervention of the police here speaks to a wider point. Our already spread thin police service has experienced a huge strain on its resources due to Extinction Rebellion, diverting scarce manpower away from already pressing criminal activity such as knife crime and burglary.

Their protest in April last year has been estimated to have cost the Metropolitan Police £16 million in resources and involved the deployment of 10,000 police officers. This is as a result of a protest which lasted just ten days. And they aren’t just wasting money set aside for policing, they’re also wasting our money, set aside to put food on the table and pay rent. In the first week of protests alone, shops are estimated to have lost £12 million in potential earnings. This is not just a delayed car journey. This is livings and livelihoods severely disrupted.

Speaking of delayed journeys, the actions of Extinction Rebellion have delayed ambulance journeys, and even in a particularly poignant and notable case have prevented individuals from being able to say goodbye to terminally ill relatives.

I don’t speak as one unsympathetic with environmentalism – I am deeply concerned about such issues, and as a result am making significant lifestyle changes to ameliorate my negative impact on the planet. This year I have gone vegan, and for a long time have been an advocate of composting, recycling and reducing landfill. I am an avid advocate of cycling everywhere too. Those who know me will know that whenever in London, I will insist on cycling as a means of transportation at every opportunity. Yet, if you haven’t already gleaned by now, the impression I get from Extinction Rebellion is a rather unpleasant one.

As an organisation, it features extreme objectives which explicitly seek to move away from economic growth and conversely embrace ‘de-growth’, publicly recognising the drastic reduction in living standards implicit in this aim. It advocates law breaking on a mass scale, with over 1,100 people being arrested in the ten-day April 2019 protests in London alone. Amongst its ranks can be found doomsday talk so compelling and disturbing and indiscriminate that it reduces extremely young and highly impressionable – perhaps even vulnerable – people to sobbing wrecks. Due to its extreme desires, and win at all costs attitude to achieving them, it is quite sensible to think that some ‘on the fringes’ of Extinction Rebellion might engage in violence, as suggested by rhetoric and on social media.

As one who defines an ‘extremist’ organisation as one which advocates or justifies illegal and violent behaviour which is far from the centre of political discourse, I do not think it takes a big leap of the imagination to categorise Extinction Rebellion as just this. After all, if you possess the extremely bizarre view that the present status quo means complete social collapse within ten years (as they preach), then what extreme action could not be justified?

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