On Friday, 17 January, the non-violent environmental group Greenpeace was controversially added to a U.K. anti-extremism policy document. A few days later, Extinction Rebellion—a similar environmental group—was labelled as a ‘key threat’ by a different counter-terrorism assessment. The document classifying both groups in anti-terror rhetoric was distributed across the U.K. government to wide-ranging audiences in accordance with the country’s counter-terrorism strategy.
The inclusion of the environmental groups on a U.K. counter-terrorism watch list has been criticized by charities and NGOs. A representative from extinction Rebellion itself described the decision to classify the group as a threat as “crude, divisive, dangerous”. The wider repercussions of the group’s labelling, Extinction Rebellion stated, create a repressive society, “to leave people feeling under scrutiny, watched and pressurized… or afraid to be open about the things they care about such as the environment and the world around us”. Greenpeace director, John Sauven, claimed that the group’s placement on anti-extremism documents has a negative impact on educating the public, especially the youth, on the climate emergency. In a statement, Sauven stated, “How can we possibly teach children about the devastation caused by the climate emergency while at the same implying that those trying to stop it are extremists?”. The vague document, which contains the logos from groups holding aggressive ideology, such as the swastika, has also been critiqued by Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy as “absolute nonsense”.
Terrorism rhetoric, especially in the U.K., has been criticized as being overly broad in terms of definition. The country’s leading counter-terrorism strategy, PREVENT, issues guidance and training to teachers, NHS staff, and other members of the public sector. With a blurring of definitions and concepts, the inclusion and classification of the environmental groups as threats under anti-terrorism legislation risks misleading the public and victimizes the innocent. A statement from U.K. police argued that “not all of the signs and symbols noted within this document are of counter-terrorism interest”. Yet, this and other statements from U.K. police only serves to reinforce this confusion and dangerously risks misleading the public on threats of terrorism.
Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion are both environmental groups that often invoke public protests to raise awareness for their respective causes. The latter, for example, intentionally caused disruption in central London by protesting near busy commuting points, leading to over 200 protesters being arrested. However, despite the nature of the groups’ activities, both have pledged to achieve their goals through non-violent means. The groups are now threatening legal action unless withdrawn from the U.K. counter-terrorism document.
In May 2019, the U.K. Parliament declared a climate change emergency and, therein, a reinforced effort to protect the planet. This declaration was largely motivated by continuous action by the environmental groups mentioned, particularly Extinction Rebellion. However, the recent decision to label these groups in such negative rhetoric is a step in the wrong direction. In the broader picture, the U.K.’s terrorism legislation is becoming broader and more repressive. To preserve stability in U.K. society and to enforce a greater effort to save the planet, clarity is needed more than ever. As such, peaceful groups advocating for peace and sustainability must be preserved and encouraged, not punished. Working with these groups, networks and people, the U.K. as a whole will be better equipped to preserve peace and uphold its commitments to prevent climate change.
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