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XR is not an organised crime group, say letter’s 150 signatories

18 September 2020


Climate activists in Germany stand in front of a church that has been cleared for demolition, on 13 September. The resettlement site of Kerpen-Manheim, near Cologne, has been under discussion for some time, as space is to be created there for the Hambach open-cast mine

Climate activists in Germany stand in front of a church that has been cleared for demolition, on 13 September. The resettlement site of Kerpen-Manheim...

THE former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams is one of 150 high-profile figures to condemn government moves to classify the climate protesters group Extinction Rebellion (XR) as an “organised crime group”.

In a letter to The Observer, published on Sunday, the signatories say that it is “a group of people who are holding the powerful to account”, and should not be subjected to “vitriol and anti-democratic posturing”. The letter concludes: “It’s vital that we take this moment to acknowledge that radical change is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. It’s vital that we apply the lessons of the coronavirus pandemic to avoid paying an even more terrible price for poor preparation and a slow, inadequate response to the climate and ecological emergency.”

The message is a direct response to reports that Boris Johnson and the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, have suggested a review of the campaign group’s legal status after its activists blockaded printworks producing four national newspapers, including The Sun and the Daily Mail.

Other signatories of the letter include Stephen Fry, Sir Mark Rylance, and Chris Packham. They say that XR has helped to highlight the Government’s failure to act on the climate and ecological emergency. “Whether or not we agree with their tactics or targets, by blocking printing presses and delaying newspaper distribution, they have connected the dots of a broken system.

“For the past 30 years, there’s been a woeful lack of serious reporting on the climate and ecological emergency due to the billionaire owners’ vested interests, and a lack of understanding from reporters to editors to senior executives, about the severity and scale of the crisis. This has meant a terrifying delay on action to combat climate change.

“The government is failing us on every count. Deaths from Covid 19; a recovery plan that allocates billions of taxpayers’ money to the fossil fuel economy; climate and ecological devastation that has destabilised our planet; refugees used by politicians and media to stir up fear and hatred; Public Health England scrapped with zero consultation. This list is not exhaustive.The system is broken and the government is not protecting us.”

Another signatory, the artist Cornelia Parker, told The Observer: “They’re almost like our conscience. Calling them criminals or terrorists is absurd. Very old people and children join these protests — these are ordinary people.”

The sculptor Antony Gormley said: “I’m not convinced that all of their activities can be totally justified; however, the fundamental reasons for them wanting to raise consciousness are absolutely justified.”

Lord Williams was one of many Christians who took part in XR’s protests in London, Cardiff, and Manchester at the beginning of the month (News, 4 September).

Read more on the story in our Leader comment

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