‘Intrusive Surveillance’ Warranted for Extinction Rebellion, Says UK Counter Terrorism Expert

By Lily Zhou
Lily Zhou
Lily Zhou
Lily Zhou is an Irish-based reporter focusing on UK news. Lily first joined the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times before turning her focus on the UK in 2020.
September 8, 2020Updated: September 8, 2020

Controversy around the blockade of British newspapers by Extinction Rebellion (XR) continues to build, with one former New Scotland Yard counter terrorism chief saying police should use “intrusive surveillance,” because the climate activist group is “as extreme as any extremist organization.”

XR on Friday blockaded overnight two printing presses that produce several British newspapers, causing their distribution to be delayed. According to the police, 51 activists were charged for a blockade in Hertfordshire blockade, and 26 at a separate blockade in Merseyside.

“This was an intentionally disruptive protest with minimal cooperation received from those protesting,” Hertfordshire Police Chief Constable Charlie Hall said in a statement.

Richard Walton, former head of Counter Terrorism Command at the Metropolitan Police called XR an “extremist organization,” and said “intrusive surveillance” is warranted to obtain intelligence on the organization.

“Extinction Rebellion is as extreme as any extremist organization I have previously dealt with apart from terrorist organizations,” Walton told The Telegragh, one of the newspapers targeted by XR.

“Their actions have exposed an intelligence gap that the police need to fill, using intrusive surveillance measures if necessary—which can be justified because their actions amount to serious criminality,” Walton said.

“Good intelligence would have enabled the police to prevent this criminality,” he added.

“The blockading of the free press demonstrates that the leaders of Extinction Rebellion seek a more subversive agenda than simply campaigning for environmentalism.”

Extinction Rebellion UK
Two protesters attached to bamboo and two sitting on the roof of a van block the road, outside Broxbourne newsprinters in Hertfordshire, England, on Sept. 5, 2020. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

Extinction Rebellion at ‘Cross Roads’

Walton coauthored a report (pdf) on XR in July for British think-tank Policy Exchange, of which he is a senior fellow.

“The leaders of Extinction Rebellion seek a more subversive agenda, one that that [sic] is rooted in the political extremism of anarchism, eco-socialism, and radical anti-capitalist environmentalism,” he wrote in the preface to the report.

“Many followers of Extinction Rebellion are completely unaware of this secondary objective, despite it being readily espoused by their leaders.”

Extinction Rebellion demonstration in London
Extinction Rebellion activists participate in a protest in London on Sept. 3, 2020. (Hannah McKay / Reuters)

Walton concluded that XR is at a cross roads.

“If it persists in its current strategy of encouraging mass law-breaking in order to bring down the government in the furtherance of its cause, then it will be treated as an extremist organisation, lose its mainstream supporter base, and all public sympathy for its environmental cause,” he said.

“Conversely, if it changes its current strategy towards engaging in lawful protest whilst acknowledging the liberal democratic order, it has the opportunity to become a significant and influential global mass movement that is a positive force for change.”

Newspapers Like ‘Nazis’

Donnachadh McCarthy, a prominent figure in XR, compared the blockaded newspapers with the Nazis.

“This is like World War Two and you guys [the newspapers] are on the other side. That is how we see it, ” McCarthy said.

“It puts you on the side of the existential threat. It is a different existential threat but it is a bigger one than the Nazis.”

“The right-wing media,” XR said in a statement, are “a barrier to the truth” that pollute “national debate.”

On Sept. 1, the first day of the 10-day disruption planned by XR UK, conservative political commentator Aman Bhogal posted a photo on Twitter, presumably taken by him, showing protesters holding a banner saying “SOCIALISM OR EXTINCTION,” with a comment from Bhogal reading, “Imagine Britain’s Shock…#ExtinctionRebellion.”

The Epoch Times asked Bhogal to verify the origin of the photo, but did not get a reply. The same photo could not be found elsewhere at the time this article was written.

Government ‘Will Not Stand By’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel both said the blockades were an “unacceptable” attack on free press and democracy.

Patel wrote in the Daily Mail that XR, while claiming to be “an environmental rights campaign group,” continuously use “guerrilla tactics” with contempt, “seeking to grind the economic well-being of our nation into the ground under the pretence of tacking climate change,” and that the government “will not stand by.”

Epoch Times Photo
Britain’s Home Secretary, Priti Patel, speaks to the media in Reading, United Kingdom, on June 22, 2020. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

The Home Secretary said she is “committed” to looking at “every opportunity available, including primary legislation,” to ensure that the police have the tools to tackle disruptions.