Extinction Rebellion ‘Eco-Crusaders Turned Criminals,’ UK Home Secretary Says

September 9, 2020 Updated: September 10, 2020

Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel said she supports the police as they “bring the full might of the law down upon” Extinction Rebellion, a group of climate activists she described as “so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals.”

During her virtual speech delivered to the annual conference of the Police Superintendents’ Association, on Tuesday, Patel said the recent actions of Extinction Rebellion (XR) had “exposed another emerging threat.”

About 100 people from the activist group on Friday blockaded two printing presses that produce several British newspapers, causing the newspapers’ distribution to be delayed.

The group said in a statement that the “right-wing media” are “a barrier to the truth” that pollute “national debate.” Donnachadh McCarthy, a prominent figure in XR, compared the blockaded newspapers with the Nazis.

Extinction Rebellion UK
Extinction Rebellion demonstrators hold up a banner in Trafalgar Square, in London, on Sept. 5, 2020. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

The Home Secretary told the officers at the conference that she refused “point blank to allow that kind of anarchy” on the streets of Britain, describing the blockade as an attempt to “thwart the media’s right to publish without fear nor favor, and a shameful attack on our way of life, our economy, and the livelihoods of the hardworking majority.”

“I’m right behind you [the police] as you bring the full might of the law down upon that selfish minority. The very criminals who disrupt our free society must be stopped,” she said.

Extinction Rebellion UK
Police and fire services at the scene, outside Broxbourne newsprinters as protesters continue to block the road, in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, England, on Sept. 5, 2020. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

The Home Secretary on Sunday published an opinion article in the Daily Mail condemning the group for using “guerrilla tactics” with contempt for society, and said that she’s committed to looking at “every opportunity available, including primary legislation,” to ensure that the police have the tools to tackle disruptions.

Sarah Lunnon, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, said in a statement that the group would “not allow them [politicians] to criminalize the noble tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience.”

“Our media and our government are captured by vested interests. They do not want to see change,” she said. “It’s depressing—although no surprise—that so much of the political and media elite has jumped to their [the newspapers’] defense, and jumped at the opportunity to suppress people power and grassroots protest.”

Ideology and Tactics

The British think-tank Policy Exchange in July published a report (pdf) reviewing the ideology and tactics of Extinction Rebellion.

Richard Walton, an ex-counter terrorism police chief and a co-author of the report, said the agenda of Extinction Rebellion is “rooted in the political extremism of anarchism, eco-socialism, and radical anti-capitalist environmentalism.”

But he also said that “many followers of Extinction Rebellion are completely unaware of this secondary objective,” and that the group can still change its strategy, engage in lawful protest, and “become a significant and influential global mass movement that is a positive force for change.”

Extinction Rebellion UK
A family walk past as activists take part in a demonstration outside Buckingham Palace, as part of protests by the Extinction Rebellion climate change group on the fifth day of their new series of ‘mass rebellions’, in central London on Sept. 5, 2020 (Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday told Parliament that he draws “a sharp distinction, contrast, between the civilized approach … to environmental protest and that taken by those who have tried in vain to frustrate the freedom of the press. ”

Regarding punishment for those who blockaded the newspaper printers, he said the government will look at what can be done under laws on public order and nuisance.