A PSA to XR activists: If you want to keep protesting the climate crisis, you need to smarten the fuck up

In case you missed it: on Saturday, the Met’s Territorial Support Group (aka the riot squad) raided an XR warehouse in South London, confiscating a load of ‘infrastructure’ destined for the streets of London and arresting at least 8 people for conspiracy to commit public nuisance (the same charge for which Roger Hallam is currently on remand in Wormwood Scrubs). This operation – as well as other statements issued by the Met over the last week – makes it clear that the police are out to disrupt XR’s activities and prevent them from causing any disruption to (the) capital over the next two weeks. In this light, we of the Activist Court Aid Brigade thought we’d offer some further thoughts on how members of XR can take action in as safe and effective a manner as possible. This should be taken as a supplement to our 5 key messages for people attending protests (if you aren’t familiar with our key messages please read this article first).

1. Don’t expect the police to respect your right to protest or, for that matter, the law.

The cops really got it in the neck for how they handled things back in April and emboldened by the hard-line rhetoric of the new government, it is clear they are determined to stop you causing any significant disruption this time round. For this reason, you cannot expect the police to facilitate this week’s protest: proceed on the assumption that they will try and frustrate your efforts every step of the way and will – if necessary – ignore the law to do so. If the history of protest policing in this country teaches us anything, it’s that the police are more concerned with protecting the status quo than they are with following the law of the land or respecting the dictates of morality. On Saturday, the Guardian quoted former cop and current XR member Richard Ecclestone as saying that the police’s tactics were “very questionable and are arguably infringing on our rights to peaceful protest” – yeah, no shit Sherlock that’s kind of what the cops do, and mere indignance about its ‘questionable’ or ‘immoral’ nature does little to change that. It’s time for the XR membership to (finally) jettison the dangerous, moralistic naivety pushed by leaders like Roger Hallam and recognise that they are operating in the realm of realpolitik, not moral principle.

2. Broadcasting plans to break the law is a sure-fire way to get yourself in trouble

‘Conspiracy to commit public nuisance’ is a significantly more serious charge than Wilful Obstruction of the Highway or Section 14 of the Public Order Act, the offences for which protestors were mostly charged back in April. You cannot rule out a custodial sentence for conspiracy to commit public nuisance. Successful prosecution of a conspiracy case involves the state proving beyond a reasonable doubt that two or more individuals made an agreement to commit an offence. This task is made very easy when people broadcast to all and sundry (including the police!) their plans to deliberately break the law. Indeed, it is this very kind of activity that has given the police grounds to arrest activists prior to the Heathrow Pause action and to bust down the doors of warehouses in South London.

3. Talking to the police just helps their efforts to gather intelligence

Over the coming weeks, the police will be doing a lot of intelligence gathering, not only to assist in building cases against demonstrators but also to guide their efforts at rendering XR practically ineffective. Think about it: in order to confiscate all that infrastructure, they had to find out exactly where it was being stored. This intelligence gathering will not only take the form of explicit ‘stop and accounts’ (where the police stop you in the street and ask you questions) but also by engaging protestors in apparently inconsequential ‘friendly chats’ where they pick up little snippets of information they can assemble to form a bigger picture. Thus: while you might think that discussing the climate crisis with a ‘friendly’ cop in a light blue bib is helpful to the cause, they are probably just trying to glean information from you and you are, whether you realise it or not, aiding their efforts to render the movement ineffective. You are under no general obligation to engage with the police (including when you are stop and searched); the best course of action is to choose not to.”

4. The police want you to spread information about ‘conditions’ they impose on protests:

The police may order that this week’s protests can only take place in certain locations or for a certain amount of time. It is in the police’s interest that demonstrators are made aware of this information, as knowingly breaching these conditions is what constitutes a criminal offence. Broadcasting this information is not, therefore, a neutral act.

5. Keep your personal details private!

The police will be very interested in gaining the personal details of demonstrators, particularly those they perceive to be ‘organisers’. Once again, this is not only to assist in prosecutions but also to aid the kinds of intelligence gathering operation that allow the police to swoop on homes and warehouses in the days leading up to events.

You may think that no one should be afraid of being seen to ‘stand up for the environment’ but the fact is that people are afraid and for good reason; harassment by the police and trouble at work or school are unpleasant realities for many people struggling to change the world for the better. Not revealing your personal details – be it to the police, to the media, or even to other demonstrators – is one of the few ways you can guard against this. The same is true for obscuring your face to resist video surveillance: it’s not an indication of criminal intent, it’s a sensible way of avoiding harassment by a police force whose very purpose is to protect the status quo.

Carl Spender


Photo: Guy Smallman