Extinction Rebellion (XR) should be treated as an extremist anarchist group and police must stop their “soft touch” approach, a former Scotland Yard head of counter-terrorism has warned. Richard Walton, who headed the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command until 2016, said his investigation into XR revealed it had a “subversive” agenda rooted in the “political extremism of anarchism” rather than just campaigning on climate change.
He said he had uncovered evidence that XR leaders advocated “revolution” to overturn capitalism, mass protest and law-breaking aimed at achieving a breakdown of democracy and the state – an intent many of its middle class and celebrity backers appeared unaware of.
His 73-page report, to be published on Wednesday by think tank Policy Exchange, criticised Scotland Yard for its “passive” and “tolerant” response to XR’s London protests in April which caused gridlock at a cost of at least £28 million in lost shop takings and extra policing. He recommended police adopt a “proactive” approach to prevent XR and other political activists embarking on illegal tactics.
He said the Government should reform laws to enable police to place more restrictions on planned protests and prosecute protestors for road blocking and trespass. And politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell and public figures like the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and actress Emma Thompson should “avoid endorsing, legitimising or meeting” with XR while its leadership continued to incite law breaking.
“As a result of the evidence we have uncovered, no one can now plead ignorance of the ominous and threatening intentions of this campaigning organisation,” said Mr Walton, co-author of the report, the first by the New Politics Monitor launched today by Policy Exchange to investigate extremism across the political spectrum.
XR was founded by Compassionate Revolution Ltd and Rising Up!, which was originally formed by activists involved in direct action groups including Occupy, Plane Stupid and Reclaim the Power. It extolled “revolution,” redistribution of wealth and branded police “fascists.”
A tweet at the outset of XR’s London action, subsequently deleted, declared: “This movement is the best chance we have of bringing down capitalism.” Gail Bradbrook, co-founder of XR, told a conference: “Civil disobedience is essential right now.” Caiming that the social contract is now broken, she stressed: “I’m not organising protests, I’m organising a rebellion against my government.”
XR co-founder Roger Hallam even spoke of people dying for the cause, according to the report. “We are not just sending out emails 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,” he told one audience.
Mr Hallam laid out a six-point blueprint for non-violent “civil resistance.” Detailed in XR’s handbook, This is Not a Drill, it requires the capital to be targeted so Government and elites cannot ignore the protest and it causes the “necessary material disruption and economic cost.”
This disruption also should be maintained over many consecutive days to exact “real economic cost for bosses.” “The costs go up exponentially – increasing each day,” says the handbook. Mr Walton said police suffered from a lack of intelligence on XR, which is advised by campaigning lawyer Tim Crosland, a former head of law at the National Crime Agency.
“Police were too tolerant and a bit naive which came from a lack of understanding. XR was much more cute about the law of protest than the people policing it,” said Mr Walton.
He warned of a divide in XR between moderates and extremists which surfaced when XR rejected calls to use drones to disrupt Heathrow, which Mr Walton said could have crossed the threshold into terrorism. “Given the extreme objectives of XR, it is not inconceivable some on the fringes of the movement might at some point break with organisational discipline and engage in violence,” said Mr Walton.
An XR spokesperson said the research’s conclusions were inaccurate and did not reflect the movement: “Analysis of anyone’s speech and texts could draw all sorts of conclusions, the mass protest we have been successful in encouraging is to put us on a path to climate stability.
“The subversive and extreme agenda is that espoused by the government: ignore the crisis, occasionally say something that sounds as if they get it, then proceed with business as usual at full pace. Climate breakdown and ecological collapse threatens us all, regardless of political persuasion, so it’s time to set aside differences and work together to find a way through this.”