On 19 May, a Just Stop Oil (JSO) slow march was attacked by a bystander. He was apparently not a driver as he did not return to a car when the traffic moved on, just someone who felt empowered to violence.
The bystander tore up banners, smashed a mobile phone and then proceeded to assault protesters, feeling safe in the impression that he was acting at the behest of a government and their client media, those ‘voices of the people’ whose call to arms has been ramping up to a deafening level of sinister shrillness. GB News hailed Louis Grieves, who assaulted another JSO protestor, as a hero.
Elsewhere on GB News, a presenter bemoaned the unlikelihood of ‘fixed bayonets’ while suggesting that rubber bullets were not, in his opinion, an adequate response to protests.
Rod Liddle in The Sun said he’d run slow marchers over with a steamroller.
And this, an all too typical response on an activist’s twitter account:
So how have we arrived at this point, where incitement to violent retribution has been normalised? How have we become inured to the deluge of rape and death threats against any progressive voice now so casually reported upon?
From mockery to mob rule: reporting on XR
The answer is a carefully confected culture war which has given licence to vigilantism and now it is open season on those that the Mail has dubbed, “enemies of the people”.
And the path to open incitement by the billionaire press; most prominently the Mail, the Telegraph, the Sun and the Spectator, has been insidious and increasingly unhinged in its agenda to ‘other’ and instil hatred for those who question the status quo, or cynically to provide a smokescreen for government corruption.
At first, the strategy of the press when reporting on Extinction Rebellion (XR) was mockery, with carefully chosen images of climate activists as frivolous or dismissible: ‘Tarquins’ or ‘crusties’, depending on the audience. But with the gradual realisation that the movement was gaining public support – that they had science and the UN on their side and the message of climate catastrophe was cutting through – slowly but surely, the denigration was notched up.
The ramping up of the rhetoric of threat then continued apace. In 2021, the Daily Telegraph published a piece by their associate editor Gordon Rayner: ‘For the silent majority, police failure to come down hard on Extinction Rebellion will be a surrender to mob rule.’
The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘mob rule’ as typically involving “violence and intimidation”. This statement was defamatory. XR’s central tenet is non-violence and it has never engaged in intimidation: Non Violent Direct Action (NVDA) is writ large in every press release and published mission statement.
Rayner goes on to say: “The battleground will be not only the streets of London.” The language of the article is clearly intended to incite. Talk of ‘battlegrounds’ and ‘surrender’, are a literal call to arms against peaceful protest. Following the publication of Rayner’s article, XR’s press team fielded many calls with threats of violence.
Labelled as extremists and terrorists
In September 2020, following XR’s first year, the government disingenuously attempted to conflate the actions of XR with a recent knife attack in Birmingham during a debate in parliament.
Hansard records Kit Malhouse’s introduction thus: “This Government are [sic] absolutely committed to tackling violent crime in all its forms… We will do everything in our power to tackle violent crime and prevent more senseless loss of life” before going on to rail against XR’s blockade of the Murdoch distribution centres without missing a beat. Douglas Murray’s subsequent piece for the Telegraph took up the baton with the article Extinction Rebellion’s eco-fanatics are the very definition of dangerous extremism.
That same year, Policy Exchange, who boast of controlling the levers of government, put out a paper entitled Extremism Rebellion. As part of the launch, Richard Walton former head of the consultancy firm Counter Terrorism Global (who resigned in disgrace over his part in the Stephen Lawrence scandal) was interviewed on the Today programme where he said of XR: “this is an organisation that sees its agenda as being to break up the state. I think we need to be very clear on this.”
This segment was immediately followed by an interview with Sir Mark Rowley, then national lead for counter terrorism policing, ostensibly talking about the London Bridge terrorists but amplifying Walton’s slur: “some people at the centre of [XR] may cross the line into that space.”
XR mislabelled as an extreme or violent ideology
The Policy Exchange paper subsequently led to XR being included in a guide, bearing the counter-terrorism policing logo, of extremist ideologies at risk of committing atrocities. XR, who got a whole page to themselves, featured alongside neo-Nazi groups such as National Action and the pro-terrorist Islamist group, Al-Muhajiroun.
Making clear its intent, the guide says: “This document is designed to help you recognise when young people or adults may be vulnerable to extreme or violent ideologies.”
Former police detective sergeant of the Metropolitan Police Paul Stephens commented: “As a former police officer of 34 years experience, I seriously doubt the political independence of those who published this nonsense.”
Indeed, as Open Democracy observes: “The real concerns of the Policy Exchange report authors are demonstrated through their call for the state to step in and protect ‘our free-market economy’… Policy Exchange’s lack of transparency regarding its funders, the notable absence of support for any form of robust or effective action on climate breakdown and its approving quote of an unelected climate denying coal baron, provide us with some hints as to which specific market interests and industries they may be protecting.”
With some embarrassment, the police were forced to recant, though the affair gave licence to the press to up the ante. A headline in the Sun, (Green Fanatsy [sic]) either slipped past the sub-editor or was a deliberate implanting amongst readers of the idea that banning diesel was a short step to the jackboot on the stair.
Labelled as extremists and terrorists
And Policy Exchange is not alone, amongst the rabble rousing Tufton Street fifth columnists, in action as subversive agents of clandestine US fossil fuel interests in their attempt to undermine the interests of the nation through a campaign of disinformation and fomented discord.
Ian Plimer, a member of the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s advisory council and director for a number of mining companies, has called for his readers to “maintain the rage” and to treat climate scientists “with the disdain they deserve”. Such incitement has led to many occasions where academics researching climate change have been abused and threatened.
In a three-way symbiotic relationship, think tanks such as Policy Exchange, the Institute of Economic Affairs, Taxpayers Alliance and Centre for Policy Studies, are embedded in government while having a revolving door as op-ed writers in the right-wing press where they are given free rein to groom the impressionable. They sprinkle articles with violent trigger words such as ‘threat’, ‘chaos’, ‘hijacked’ and ‘surrender’. The ubiquity of the word ‘fury’ as in Fury as climate activists block M25 also implies public consensus through hyperbole: a culture war staple.
In addition, misleading layout is a subtle but effective psychological ploy if readers merely glance at a page. The juxtaposition of images of violent conflict or burning police cars next to unrelated articles on XR, cynically implants a Pavlovian conflation of activism and threat.
The rhetoric of treachery
And so we come to the tipping point where, ironically, far-right nationalism plays to its favoured suit: treachery.
Serial propagandist David Rose wrote in the Spectator: “XR’s leaders have said many times that they want to abolish parliament”, thus putting activists on a par with the gunpowder plotters.
And what better setting for treason than a royal funeral and a coronation? The Daily Mail obligingly – and erroneously – suggested that XR had called on people to disrupt the Queen’s funeral (they later retracted that fabrication) – a slur predictably likely to incite violence in the febrile atmosphere of the mourning period.
When activist Patrick Thelwell threw eggs in protest at the coronation, he later said he feared being lynched, recalling, “They lost their minds. They were saying things like, ‘Kill him, kick him to death’”. He has subsequently received further death threats: “I’ve had emails saying, ‘We’re outside, we’re going to put your head on a spike’”, a classic of the treason finales.
As far back as 2017, Sean O’Grady wrote in the Independent: “Just take a stroll around the MailOnline or Guido Fawkes… It is, frankly, sickening…, the 21st Century equivalent of the Nazis’ Der Sturmer.”
Inflammatory language and fascism
Indeed, it is sobering to recall that during the first weeks of 1933, the Nazi regime deployed the radio, press, and newsreels to stoke fears of a pending ‘Communist uprising’, then channelled popular anxieties into political measures that eradicated civil liberties and democracy.
We see such measures being rolled out today with articles like Ross Clark’s piece in the Spectator and the concomitant totalitarian Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts and Public Order Acts. And the violence seen since, at events like the Just Stop Oil march, has echoes of what Goebbels dismissed, while deflecting responsibility, as “spontaneous outrage” seen during Kristallnacht when an similarly engineered tolerance of violence was propagated.
When Suella Braverman said she was “engaged in a battle against cultural Marxism” the same far-right antisemitic conspiracy theory that led Anders Breivik to slaughter teenagers at a Norwegian summer camp, she knew which atavistic buttons she was pushing.
A recent Hope Not Hate investigation, Stoking the Flames, warns that, “Politicians and the media need to take real responsibility and drop their line of inflammatory language that incubates the far right.” This is not a responsibility embraced by Rod Liddle. He wrote in the Sun in June “If it were up to me I would advance towards them in a steamroller. ‘Glued your arse to the road have you? Well you won’t be needing it much longer’.”
‘Lügenpresse’ – the lying press
We are not only witnessing a proactive denigration of activists for climate justice by the client press, but a collateral attempt to silence the voices of what Hitler dubbed the ‘Lügenpresse’ – the ‘lying press’. Indeed, this is a tactic familiar in Donald Trump’s ‘fake news’ incantation, and one taken up by the likes of GB News and Talk TV.
The emergence of the National Conservatives and their pledge to be ‘better’ nationalists than the Nazis has now made these comparisons to 1930s Germany both valid and vital. We have only to list the press-card-holding journalists from the liberal media arrested and held since the passing of the Public Order Act to validate the comparison:
- photographer Peter Macdiarmid – arrested by Surrey Police at a JSO protest 24 August
- documentary maker Richard Felgate – arrested twice covering JSO protests
- photographer Jamie Lashmar stop and searched at JSO protest 19 October
- photographer Tom Bowles – arrested and house searched by Herts Police at JSO protest 7 November
- LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch – arrested by Herts Police at JSO protest 8 November.
Consider the roll call of hate that comprises supporters of Braverman’s inflammatory anti-migrant rhetoric, including: the British Democratic Party, an offshoot of the British National Party (BNP); neo-Nazis, the Pie n Mash Squad; white supremacist James Allchurch; and the Hearts of Oak, Tommy Robinson’s far-right group whose posts prompted death threats against migrants from some of his followers. The day after Braverman made her infamous ‘invasion’ comment, Robinson admirer Andrew Leak attacked and petrol bombed an immigration centre.
Government, media and far-right rhetoric
Patrik Hermansson, senior researcher at Hope Not Hate, said, “This research is stark proof that the government is not taking the far right threat seriously, but actively feeding it through their rhetoric”.
The report analysed 3,468 articles by the Daily Mail, Daily Express and the Sun, finding a compelling link between press coverage and far-right engagement on social media and concluded that “The overlap between government, media and far-right rhetoric has allowed the latter to become normalised”.
Indeed, according to a report by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Brussels, funded by the German foreign office, the Conservative Party has undergone an increasing shift to the right that now means it “qualifies as a far-right party”. The report also confirms that the rise of the far-right in the European Parliament was facilitated by an extreme right faction of the British Conservative Party.
So back to our JSO attacker.
It is ironic that, given that the shared target of both government and attacker is climate activists, the government’s Police Crime Sentencing and Courts act deems: “A person who incites another to commit an offence under subsection (10) is guilty of an offence.”
Braverman needs to look to the beam in her own eye before she cries ‘conspiracy.’
No more the lone gunman: supposed isolated incidents of “spontaneous outrage”. Thousands of climate activists have been murdered world-wide by petrostates or fossil fuel interests in the last decade. With the golden dawn of the ‘Nat Cons’, how long before an activist in this country, climate refugee, or anyone else in the sights of the government and their baying henchmen in the media, is killed by a golem of their making?
The drip drip drip of hatred makes Manchurian candidates of us all.