If Extinction Rebellion represents an “extremist” ideology, shouldn’t we be censoring Sir David Attenborough?

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This week, Counter Terrorism Policing South East (CTPSE) published, and then quickly withdrew, a guide titled “Safeguarding young people and adults from ideological extremism”.

The document featured warnings against usual suspects: neo-Nazis, pro-terrorist Islamist groups, environmental activists; radical groups which pose “significant risk of committing atrocities” aimed at the general public. From idolizing Adolf Hitler, to pledging to carry out murders on Britain’s streets to, worst of all, engaging in civil disobedience to pressure the government to act on climate change; we ought to stamp out such terrible, “extremist” ideologies, right?

Wrong. Putting neo-Nazis on the same level as Extinction Rebellion (hereafter XR) activists leads to frankly laughable conclusions. For example, if a teacher heard a pupil chatting about Blue Planet and the necessity to act radically to prevent the devastating effects of single-use plastic, and another saying that Hitler was a decent guy, should they report both? Is ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ the new ‘Triumph of the Will’? Seems so.

Like a radical street preacher, Attenborough should surely be censured.

I wish I was being far-fetched. According to the report, warning signs include people who speak in “strong or emotive terms about environmental issues like climate change, ecology, species extinction (etc.).” Others include people engaging in sit-down protests, writing “environmentally-themed graffiti” or, my personal favourite, “neglect[ing] to attend school [to engage in protests] …or participating in planned school ‘walk-outs.”

Followed through, all around the UK we’d hear of stories like: “Ronan wasn’t in school yesterday. There was a big XR protest on, so I called the police immediately. Turns out he was just in bed with the flu.”

Putting neo-Nazis on the same level as Extinction Rebellion (hereafter XR) activists leads to frankly laughable conclusions.

As I’ve said, this document was swiftly withdrawn. In a statement, CTPSE said “By including XR in this document, it gives the impression we consider them to be an extremist group which they are not”, calling it an “error of judgement”. But this isn’t the first time that environmental activists have been labelled as extremists, and it won’t be the last. Even this week, Greenpeace have been placed on a similar counter-terrorism list alongside neo-Nazis.

Prior to this, the former head of the Metropolitan police’s counter-terrorism forces, Richard Walton, co-authored a report which argued that the “underlying extremism of [XR’s] campaign [was] largely obscured from public view by what many see as the fundamental legitimacy of their stated cause”, as Kevin Blowe of the Guardian pointed out in his article.

Why does being labelled as extremist matter? Well, this gives the police a blank cheque to engage in intensive surveillance of such groups. Surrey County Council claim that anti-fracking activities were among their “main extremist areas of concern”, with Blowe noting that anti-fracking movements have been victims of “sustained surveillance.”

The idea that counter-terrorism forces are spending taxpayer’s money to strictly monitor environmental activist groups is a farce. Coming from the North of Ireland, I know what extremist ideologies, groups, and people look like. The main difference between them? Paramilitaries kill people, Extinction Rebellion seek to provoke meaningful action against the climate crisis. In a way, labelling such groups as extremist downplays how the ideologies of the IRA/UVF destroyed families and communities in the North. But I digress.

But this isn’t the first time that environmental activists have been labelled as extremists, and it won’t be the last.

Reflecting on this, it’s worth considering what could come next. Sir David Attenborough, appearing at a parliamentary select committee to discuss environmental policy last July, criticized the government’s commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

At one stage, the leading climate activist said “We cannot be radical enough” with action on the Climate Crisis. For counter-terrorism forces, this should ring alarm bells: What if young children heard this, started to believe it, which ‘radicalized’ them to protest government inaction with XR? Like a radical street preacher, Attenborough should surely be censured.

Concluding, labelling XR as representing an “extremist” ideology is a slippery slope, which if followed through, would feasibly see Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and even the Green Party itself blacklisted. While an “error of judgement”, the mistaken inclusion of XR in this anti-terror document is an apt representation of an establishment which, in challenging the place of environmental activism, is prepared to question the right to non-violent protest itself.

So, next time you catch your friend watching Nazi propaganda videos, to avoid any comeback, hide your Blue Planet boxset.

Photograph by saw2th via Flickr

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