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  • Jack Buckby

The Smiley Face Terrorism of Extinction Rebellion

By now it should have become abundantly clear that violent extremism is not just a trait of Islamists or the far right. Black Lives Matter and Antifa riots have resulted in dozens of deaths this year, multiple police officers wounded and blinded, and entire districts of American cities burned down in the name of “racial justice.” And yet, despite this, political leaders appear unwilling to even acknowledge that it is happening.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said on September 29 that Antifa, the revolutionary communist organisation that is responsible for violence throughout Europe and North America, was merely an “idea.”

But as if it wasn’t bad enough that violence destroying the lives of innocent people is being routinely ignored by those who consider it politically inconvenient, other radical movements are using equally radical tactics to disrupt and incite terror without meeting the typical expectations of traditional extremist and terrorist organisations.

Extinction Rebellion, the climate alarmist group, has redefined activism in an extreme way while expertly manoeuvring around accusations of extremism and terrorism. Even when British counter-terrorism police included Extinction Rebellion on a list of extremist ideologies, backed by Home Secretary Priti Patel, the organization threatened legal action and received an outpouring of support. Patel’s support for the decision was branded “indefensible” by the Labour Party.

A spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion also pointed to Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, who has warned that climate change is a threat to global financial security.

Globally, Extinction Rebellion is praised, Greta Thunberg idolised and given speaking time by the United Nations, and their movement a fixture in popular culture and supported by huge numbers of young, left-leaning students.

Extinction Rebellion has established itself as a mainstream group with the support of politicians and celebrities by combining disruptive yet clever tactics, and adopting existing popular messaging. Much in the same way that far-right extremists prey on the legitimate grievances of the white working-class – a process described in detail in my latest paper, Extremist Opportunism in the COVID Economy – Extinction Rebellion has latched onto the existing narrative around climate change while upping the ante.

Climate alarmism was already common before Greta Thunberg entered the stage, giving the organisation scope to be more radical in their messaging and activism. In the same way that opposition to Antifa can be decried as “fascism,” simply because the name implies their opponents are all fascists, critics of Extinction Rebellion’s tactics are easily dismissed by the group as climate change deniers.

And, with that armour, the organisation has gone about implementing a new climate of panic, by intimidating people in the streets, bringing cities to a standstill, and co-opting every major headline or crisis for their own gain.

Dancing in the street is hard to describe as terrorism—obviously—but the unseen effects of the group’s street activism form an undercurrent of intimidation and fear. The same kind of intimidation and fear that terrorists incite in periods between violent attacks.

In Australia in October 2019, a woman broke down in tears after climate activists stopped a woman reaching her family home just days after her mother passed away.

In London that same month, Extinction Rebellion protesters blocked one of London’s bridges, forcing a cancer patient to get out of the car and walk to her treatment.

“20 mins might not sound long but when u have CANCER IT IS!” the patient, Adeline Aedji, wrote online.

In September this year, an ambulance on an emergency call was blocked by climate protesters who brought the Westminster area to a standstill.

In British Columbia in February, three protesters were arrested after sitting in the driveway of premier John Horgan’s home, banging on his door, and proclaiming that they intended to perform a citizen’s arrest.

Dancing (or lying down) while they do it, Extinction Rebellion activists cause disruption in the daily lives of people in major cities with no regard for the health, safety, or wellbeing of anybody around them. For them, cancer patients and people waiting on emergency medical care are mere collateral damage for a climate that, they say, is on the brink of disaster.

It’s smiley face terrorism.

President Donald Trump announced in September that he would designate the KKK and Antifa as terrorist groups, a long overdue move in both cases. Though, it seems to make little sense that the KKK, an insignificant group with a mere handful of members, can be designated a terrorist organization while hundreds of thousands of climate activists incite fear globally and are praised endlessly by politicians.

At some point, the impact that this kind of activism has on people’s lives must be addressed.

Just as the KKK and other, more popular far-right groups use legitimate grievances surrounding immigration and identity, Extinction Rebellion feeds on climate change fears and incites greater panic with its relentless disruption. Isn’t it about time we began addressing underlying grievances behind extremist groups, and therefore undercutting their ability to capitalise on those fears?

Jack Buckby is a Research Associate with Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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