The aggressive effort to prosecute is likely part of a major early disruption effort against new waves of climate change protest, police monitoring group Netpol has warned.
More than 1,000 people were arrested during a series of escalating actions by Extinction Rebellion (XR) in London this April, most famously the occupation of Waterloo Bridge. The non-violent protests aimed to pressure Parliament into action on climate through disruption and provoking mass arrests.
Campaign coordinator Kevin Blowe said in a statement yesterday:
On Tuesday the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed in court that they intend to charge as many people as possible from the Extinction Rebellion protests. This could potentially mean 1,000 people going for trial with two courtrooms set aside at City of London Magistrates Court, every Friday for the number of weeks it takes to deal with all the cases.
Where is the public interest in this? It’s very unclear, but one possible reason for prosecuting so many people is so they end up with criminal records. This, in turn, will enable easier retention of data on campaigners and provide a justification by the police for the use of profiling, surveillance and categorisation as “domestic extremism”.
This is another reason why campaigners need to recognise the implications of police intelligence-gathering. If you are coming to Reclaim the Power’s “Power Beyond Borders” camp, we are leading a discussion on this very issue on July 27th.
XR protests have attracted considerable support and attention over the last year but have also been criticised for underplaying the possibility of State aggression and modern tactics in the face of disruption. XR founder Roger Hallam’s primary strategy of “overloading the prisons” for example, a tactic lifted from similar thinking in the 1960s by the Committee of 100, has suffered in the face of modern judicial tactics of stringing out cases for months or years and handing out heavy fines rather than jail terms.
Most recently, concerns have been raised about a strategy to disrupt Heathrow by flying drones nearby, which could potentially see much longer prison terms being handed down of up to five years. The idea for the campaign was postponed last month and is still under consideration.