Non-profit

Extinction Rebellion (XR)

Website:

rebellion.earth

Formation:

Mid 2019

Co-Founder:

Roger Hallam

Alliances:

Earth First! and Occupy Wall Street

Extinction Rebellion (XR) is a radical environmental activist organization created in the United Kingdom in mid-2019 from a network of individuals affiliated with Earth First! and Occupy Wall Street. [1] Since October 2018 it has engaged in acts of direct action aimed at bringing about its climate policy “demands,” the main one being the elimination of the use of conventional “fossil fuels” by 2025. [2] Its tactics have included mass occupation of major streets and landmarks,[3] property defacement and destruction,[4] and causing public disturbances outside the offices of major media organizations. [5]

In April 2019 XR occupied several streets in London for 11 days, stating its goal was to “shut down London.” [6] The disturbance caused severe traffic disruptions for commuters, led to the deployment of 10,000 police officers and 1,130 arrests of XR demonstrators. [7] A major tactical tool of XR rests upon the assumption that a critical mass of arrests during these direct action disturbances will overwhelm law enforcement resources and force governments to give in to XR’s policy demands. [8] As of June 2019 law enforcement agencies outside the United Kingdom, particularly those in New York City, [9] Paris, [10] and Washington, D.C., have been more successful in preventing XR disturbances from holding streets and other public spaces. [11]

Extinction Rebellion cancelled plans to fly toy drones near London’s Heathrow Airport during June and July 2019. Local police had warned XR that “life sentences” could be the penalty for those caught illegally flying drones near the airport, and airport officials had denounced the organization for its willingness to risk the lives of passengers and airline industry employees. In announcing it would do nothing at the airport during the summer of 2019, XR declared the accusations it was endangering lives to be a “predictable smear” and said beyond the summer the airport would remain part of XR’s “strategic planning.” [12]

Background

Extinction Rebellion (often stylized as “XR”) was created in the United Kingdom in mid-2019 as a campaign of the Rising Up activist group. Rising Up is a network of individuals that includes members of Earth First! (a radical environmentalist organization) and the “Occupy” movement, the international protest movement that sprang from the far-left Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. [13]

XR’s behavior is aimed at forcing adherence to what XR describes as its “demands.” The first demand is that governments must declare a “climate emergency” and promote that message. The second demand is net-zero carbon emissions by 2025. The final demand is for the creation of a “citizen’s assembly” for “climate and ecological justice”; a group of citizens selected in a fashion similar to what is used for a jury who would craft the plan to implement the second demand and pass it along to government representatives for approval. [14]

Extinction Rebellion is supported by more than 100 academics, including the former archbishop of Canterbury, the senior cleric of the Church of England. In October 2018, prior to XR’s first major demonstrations, this group co-signed a letter of support for XR, declaring that “government” had “irresponsibly” promoted “rampant consumerism and free-market fundamentalism,” and because of this XR had a “right” and “moral duty” to “rebel to defend life itself.” [15]

Socialist U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont),[16] climate activist James Hansen,[17] radical-left academic Noam Chomsky,[18] and left-wing author Naomi Klein have all either promoted the XR cause or expressed outright support for the organization and its tactics. [19]

As of April 2019, XR claimed to have 331 chapters active in 49 nations. [20]

Tactics

Extinction Rebellion co-founder Roger Hallam is a professor at King’s College whom the BBC reports has spent “years researching how to achieve social change through radical movements.” The strategy he created for XR was for it to become a non-violent but disruptive civil disobedience movement that would replicate the tactics of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. [21]

The major strategic goal of XR is mass arrests and the assumption that governments will surrender to its demands because law enforcement resources will be unable to keep pace with its tactics. By deploying very young and very old XR demonstrators, XR seeks to exacerbate the stress. [22]

“The police will go to government and say, ‘We’re not doing it anymore,'” said Hallam to the BBC. “They’re not there to start arresting 84-year-old grannies or 10-year-old kids, there has to be a political solution.” [23]

In addition to pushing law enforcement resources beyond their breaking point, XR organizers also believe applying stress to the private economy will cause governments to give in to XR objectives. According to XR organizer Gail Bradbrook, the use of “large-scale economic disruption” is designed to “rapidly bring the government to the table to discuss our demands.” [24]

London, UK Disruptions

Mishap Spraying Fake Blood

On October 3, 2019, activists from Extinction Rebellion attempted to spray fake blood using a firetruck at the London Treasury as part of a protest, only for the activists to lose control of the hose and coat the street, truck, and themselves in large quantities of the red liquid. It isn’t clear how the group obtained the use of a firetruck; it’s worth noting in light of the group’s views on oil that firetrucks require significant amounts of gasoline and diesel fuel to run them. Video of the event is available here: [25]

November 2018

Extinction Rebellion’s first mass disruption occurred in London over two weekends in November 2018 and was described by a report in The Guardian as “one of the biggest acts of peaceful civil disobedience in the UK in decades.” Thousands participated (XR claims 6,000 on the first day alone) and 96 were arrested. On the first day (November 17) XR crowds staged a sit-in at five of the main bridges providing access to London and briefly kept them closed. The following Saturday (November 24), another XR disruption blocked road access to Parliament Hill, one woman superglued her hands to the railing outside Buckingham Palace, and a war memorial was defaced with graffiti. [26] [27]

On November 14, prior to the weekend disturbances, smaller XR disruptions were staged outside government buildings. At the Downing Street residence of the U.K. Prime Minister, one person superglued himself to the gate. A wall outside the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs office was vandalized with graffiti. There were 27 arrests. [28]

April 2019

An 11-day Extinction Rebellion disruption from April 15 through April 25 led to the deployment of 10,000 police officers and 1,130 arrests of XR participants. [29] XR stated its goal for this disruption was to “shut down London.” [30]

On the first day thousands of XR participants took over five major London thoroughfares and landmarks, including Waterloo Bridge, Marble Arch, Parliament Square, Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus. A revolving door was smashed at the headquarters of Shell Oil Company and graffiti was scrawled on the building. Plotting to block the chokepoints and obstruct business in the city for several days to come, XR founder Roger Hallam observed “the state is so weak through austerity that they can’t stop us.” [31]

Two days later, with the XR disruptions continuing, the BBC reported “gridlocked traffic” for those driving private vehicles and another 500,000 Londoners who had been impacted because of the diversion of 55 bus routes. A police official stated it was all causing “serious disruption to public transport, local businesses and Londoners who wish to go about their daily business.” A rumored XR effort to close the London subway system led the mayor to declare that attacking “public transport in this way would only damage the cause of all of us who want to tackle climate change, as well as risking Londoners’ safety, and I’d implore anyone considering doing so to think again.” [32]

On April 19 police surrounded and attempted to clear a pink boat XR had been using for five days as the rallying point to block traffic at Oxford Circus. “Five hours later, however, the tables had turned as hundreds of activist reinforcements swarmed into side roads and blocked the end of Regent Street,” reported The Guardian. “The police were surrounded.” The boat was eventually cleared, but the street remained blocked. [33]

Most of the city areas taken and obstructed by XR were held as long as XR desired. [34] XR ended the disruptions and voluntarily vacated the sites it had been holding on April 25, but pledged future disruptions “very soon.” [35]

Disturbances Outside the United Kingdom

Extinction Rebellion has caused smaller disturbance in many cities and nations outside of the United Kingdom that have not been as successful at seriously shutting down economic activity.

Paris: June 2019

An estimated 90 to 200 XR demonstrators tried to block a major street in Paris, France, on June 28, 2019, but were forcibly removed by police using riot shields and pepper spray. In an apparent failure of XR’s tactical goal of overburdening local law enforcement and jails, police made no arrests. France’s environment minister declared the XR crowd to be “radicals,” denounced them for providing no real environmental solutions, and stated the police had no choice but to forcibly remove them. The French interior minister stated the law enforcement response was “necessary to restore traffic circulation.” [36]

New York City: April 2019

Simultaneous with the then-ongoing XR disruption in London, an NBC-TV affiliate in New York City reported that 300 XR protesters “swarmed” New York City’s city hall on April 17. However, according to the report, the New York Police Department “moved in quickly after protestors blocked the streets” and arrested one-third of them (60 people) with two of them facing “reckless endangerment” charges after unfurling a banner over the Brooklyn Bridge. [37]

Washington, D.C.: July 2019

A group of XR demonstrators marched through Washington, D.C., on July 9, 2019. U.S. Capitol Police on motorcycles prevented them from blocking traffic by the herding the demonstrators onto the sidewalk. [38]

A video of the event shows one officer repeatedly broadcasting “sidewalk please” over the speakers on his cycle, and an XR demonstrator defiantly shouting back “stay in the streets!” [39]

The police officer then calmly advises the others “don’t listen to him,” and rides the bike up directly behind the obstinate protester. The protester turns and shouts to the officer: “It’s a climate emergency!!!”[40]

“No it’s not,” deadpans the amplified voice from the police motorcycle. “Get on the sidewalk.” [41]

Disruptions of Media and Greenpeace

Greenpeace

In October 2018 Extinction Rebellion conducted what XR referred to as an “occupation” inside the London headquarters of Greenpeace, stating that the much older and established radical activist organization needed to “up their game.” The “demands” XR made of Greenpeace included that it “move away from ‘positivity,’ which limits action” and send out an email blast to the Greenpeace membership providing “information” regarding the London disruptions XR would be engaging in the following month. [42]

Greenpeace’s “game” has for many years resembled the radical direct-action tactics of XR, including property destruction. A strident opponent of modern farming, in 2011 Greenpeace activists broke into an agricultural experiment station in Australia and destroyed a crop of wheat. The wheat had been genetically modified to add fiber content so as to make it more nutritious and better for human bowel health. [43]

The BBC

A December 2018 Extinction Rebellion disruption at the London offices of the BBC caused the news broadcasting service to put the facility on lockdown, preventing staff and guests from leaving or entering the building during the afternoon demonstration. XR protesters also demonstrated outside BBC offices in seven other United Kingdom locations, plus the bureau in Berlin, Germany. According to a report from The Guardian, XR’s “demands” included that the BBC use “its status as national broadcaster to declare a ‘climate and ecological emergency’” and make environmental concerns the “top editorial issue”. [44]

A spokesperson for the XR disruption told the Evening Standard: “We are sure that many of those working within the BBC agree with us on this and that many more are willing to listen – so we’re coming with music and noise not as antagonists, but as friends looking to implore this organization to shift its policy and play a vital role in facing up to the ecological crisis.” [45]

The New York Times

The New York Police Department arrested and charged 66 Extinction Rebellion participants with disorderly conduct because of an XR disruption outside the Manhattan offices of the New York Times (NYT) in June 2019. The behavior leading to the arrests included XR participants climbing atop the awning in front of the newspaper’s building entrance and hanging a protest banner. [46]

A spokeswoman for XR said the group wanted the NYT to “take the lead reporting on the climate emergency” with coverage to rival what took place during “World War II” with “headlines every day.” She said the paper was providing “good reporting” but still “not treating [the so-called “climate emergency”] in the manner they should be.” [47]

A New York Times spokesperson responded: “There is no national news organization that devotes more time, staff or resources to producing deeply reported coverage to help readers understand climate change than The New York Times.” [48]

Future Disruptions

Summer Uprising 2019

In an apparent effort to replicate or exceed the disruptive effect of multi-day demonstrations that blocked several major London streets for 11 days during April 2019, Extinction Rebellion called for a “Summer Uprising” to take place in London and other U.K. cities, starting Monday, July 15 and running through Friday, July 19. XR’s website described the intent as to create “a series of beautiful and disruptive protests” and “block cities all week if local councils refuse to meet our demands.” [49]

October 2019

In July 2019 Extinction Rebellion announced plans for a “worldwide” demonstration tentatively slated to begin October 7, 2019. [50] XR stated the planned disturbances would be “significantly larger” than its prior efforts. [51]

According to Cressida Dick, the Commissioner for the London police force, Extinction Rebellion’s so-called “Autumn Uprising” series of protests costed the city 21 million pounds. [52]

To promote a London Bridge disruption, extinction rebellion activists Sarah Lunnon and Savannah Lovelock appeared on Sky News’ ‘Sophy Ridge on Sunday’. They made a number of extreme claims, including that “life on Earth is dying” and that she (Savannah Lovelock) knew kids who wept as their future was ripped out from under them. [53]

On October 17, 2019, two protesters were dragged and beaten for disrupting an electric train during rush hour in East London. [54]

Heathrow Airport Drone Disruption

Extinction Rebellion had planned to disrupt passenger air travel at London’s Heathrow Airport during June and July 2019 by flying toy drones near the facility. XR opposes a planned expansion of the airport. In mid-June 2019 XR announced it had called off the drone plans, at least through the rest of the summer, but said the airport remained part of the organization’s “strategic planning.” [55]

Heathrow officials had denounced the XR drone plans as a “reckless” risk to the lives of passengers and employees. According to the BBC, police had warned XR that “life sentences” could be the penalty for those caught illegally flying drones near the airport. [56]

XR rejected the accusation that its planned drone action near passenger airliners would endanger lives, calling it a “predictable smear.” [57]

References

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