Local climate and environmental activists hit back at ‘extremist’ label

Lochaber school pupils and local residents took part in a a number of climate crisis protest marches in Fort William in the autumn. Picture Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO-F04-Climate-change-march.jpg
Lochaber school pupils and local residents took part in a a number of climate crisis protest marches in Fort William in the autumn. Picture Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO-F04-Climate-change-march.jpg

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In an article penned especially for the Lochaber Times this week, Kate Willis and Andrew Squire, who are both founding members of the local branch of Extinction Rebellion, respond to news that counter terrorism police had branded the national organisation as an extremist ideology alongside such groups as Islamic extremists and Neo-Nazis.

Once again the British Government are trying to stifle the rising tide of people speaking up about the climate and ecological emergency ‘in the interests of public safety’.

On behalf of Extinction Rebellion (XR), we would respectfully like to suggest that the Government is grasping the wrong end of the stick.

In October 2019, using section 14 of the Public Order Act, the Metropolitan Police banned Extinction Rebellion’s autumn uprising protests in London.

For the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, it was ‘a justified response to an escalating problem’ (the problem being the protests – not runaway climate and ecological breakdown). The ban was swiftly overturned in the
courts.

Now, it has been reported that XR, which is a global non-violent environmental movement, has been branded as an extremist organisation in a guide designed to help stop terrorist violence.

The publication, produced by counter-terrorism police in the south-east, places XR and other environmental groups, Greenpeace, Peta, Sea Shepard and Stop the Badger Cull, alongside national security threats such as neo-Nazis and Islamist terrorist groups that should be reported to the authorities running the prevent anti-radicalisation programme.

Members of the Red Rebels protest group also took part in climate crisis events in Fort William last year. NO-F04-Red-Rebels-02
Members of the Red Rebels protest group also took part in climate crisis events in Fort William last year.

The document titled Safeguarding Young People and Adults from Ideological Extremism, includes instructions to look out for those who use ‘strong or emotive terms’ when discussing environmental issues such as climate change, species extinctions, fracking, airport expansion or pollution, and to look out for young people who ‘neglect to attend school’ or
‘participate in planned school walkouts’.

The guide was sent to police officers, teachers and others in government. Police said they have since recalled the document, and admit that including XR was an error.

Nevertheless Ms Patel, while conceding that XR is a nonviolent protest group, not a terrorist organisation, has continued her defence of monitoring people who use strong or emotive terms when discussing climate change or the environment and, by association, young people who participate in planned school walkouts.

This, she said, is in the interest of public safety, which is apparently better served by mild-mannered acquiescence to the status quo, rather than by members of the public demanding action from government to
minimise the risk of climate, ecological and societal collapse.

The environmental damage surrounding us, and caused by us, is an observable fact, the impacts of which are reported daily in the news in the form of heatwaves, floods, bush fires, soil erosion, deforestation, and species extinctions. It is not an extremist ideology.

Surely addressing, and taking action on the climate and ecological crisis, the most important issue of our time, is a far better way of ensuring public safety, rather than stifling the voices of a diverse group of ‘ordinary’ people who care passionately about the health of the planet on which we live, and about the future we are bequeathing the generations to come.