They were taking drastic action, they gravely insisted, because their doomsday message on climate change was not being printed on newspaper front pages every day.
That’s right, every day. That such a heavy-handed demand was so wildly incompatible with freedom of expression, something they profess to cherish, seemed lost on the Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists yesterday.
Blockading access to national presses, thereby preventing newspaper distribution, was not exactly the most democratic of actions either. It was an irony that the ragtag army of mostly middle-class protesters who laid siege to presses at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, Knowsley in Merseyside, and Motherwell in North Lanarkshire failed to grasp.
When they weren’t chained to bamboo frames blocking the road, the protesters were delivering eye-crossingly monotonous diatribes to reporters. Typical of the activists was Gully Bujak, frogmarched from the Broxbourne blockade just off the M25 by police after sprawling on a blow-up mattress atop a van.
One protester is led away by police outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire following demonstrations (pictured: September 5, 2020)
When they weren’t chained to bamboo frames blocking the road, the protesters were delivering eye-crossingly monotonous diatribes to reporters
The 27-year-old’s previous battle honours include being arrested at a protest last April after sitting in a pink boat blocking the middle of Oxford Circus. On that occasion she said the police were ‘polite and considerate’ but that, she mused, was only because of her ‘position of privilege as a white middle-class woman’.
Tired and grumpy, the police seemed markedly less accommodating in the small hours of yesterday. A senior officer instructed his staff that two officers were required per arrest. ‘This is a public nuisance offence and these protesters are preventing the distribution of four major national newspapers tomorrow,’ he said.
As she was led away, Ms Bujak, an ‘actress, model and extra’ gushed about her ‘extraordinary’ fellow protesters as if they were the cast members in a hit West End show.
Then she got serious and intoned: ‘The climate emergency is an existential threat to humanity. Instead of publishing this on the front page every day as it deserves, much of our media ignores the issue and some actively sow seeds of climate denial.’
By midnight in Broxbourne, around 30 Hertfordshire police officers had formed a cordon around 300 yards from where the 60 or so protesters had blocked the road.
A steady stream of confused workers turned up at the printworks, many having parked on the motorway verge because they couldn’t access the car park. A frazzled manager stood at the cordon in heated conversation with officers. But as the night wore on, hundreds more officers arrived on the scene. By 1am, the quiet corner of Hertfordshire was a sea of blue lights and police officers from five different forces and more than 50 vehicles.
A handful of Extinction Rebellion loyalists stood outside the cordon filming the scene and co-ordinating with protesters blocking the road (pictured: one protester is led away by police outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire following demonstrations, September 5, 2020)
Typical of the activists was Gully Bujak, frogmarched from the Broxbourne blockade just off the M25 by police after sprawling on a blow-up mattress atop a van (pictured: one protester is led away by police outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire following demonstrations, September 5, 2020)
A handful of Extinction Rebellion loyalists stood outside the cordon filming the scene and co-ordinating with protesters blocking the road. At 2.30am, around 30 black-clad officers gathered in the nondescript business park, seemingly discussing tactics.
One XR member filming the scene gestured towards the police and muttered: ‘Here we go then’ before they stopped filming and scarpered. Guests at the neighbouring Travelodge, clearly awoken by the ceaseless sirens, poked their heads out the windows.
Four black vans were let through the cordon and parked up as protesters began singing the Stars Wars film tune that is used to mark Darth Vader’s entrance.
They brandished dozens of black boxes containing drills and chainsaws which they then used to cut through the locks and chains the protesters had used. Enormous floodlights were used.
For several hours, sparks flew and the sound of chainsaws could be heard against the backdrop of XR’s music and chants of ‘Extinction Rebellion’. By 5.30am, officers had arrested eight protesters – each arrest greeted with a cheer from other protesters.
The group had sent out instructions for ‘rebels’ at home, which included going to local newsagents and ‘explaining to potential newspaper buyers why their newspaper is not on the shelves’. XR’s ambition to target printing plants was revealed by the Mail on Sunday in December. A plan called The Great March for Truth & Blockade, was pitched to XR’s ‘Action Circle’ that month. The proposal identified the Broxbourne site as ‘very vulnerable to a mass blockade’.
The pink boat which climate change activists used as a central point of their encampment as they occupied the road junction at Oxford Circus in central London on April 19, 2019
One of the co-authors of the report, Donnachadh McCarthy, a career activist, was at yesterday’s blockade. He said he was taking part because the Government was ‘taking sides with the enemies of Britain’, adding: ‘We feel that there’s silence from the media and Government on climate change. We’ve faced the Coronavirus crisis, but rather than use it to create a new, green, economy, the Government has given quantitative easing money and Covid loans to people like the aviation industry,’ he said.
Mr McCarthy, a green energy consultant, has been repeatedly arrested during protests in recent years. In 2014 he was part of the Occupy Democracy protest in Parliament Square and was arrested for allegedly refusing to provide his name and having a tarpaulin which could be used for sleeping, which he denied. Last year he was one of the more than 3,000 XR protesters arrested by the Met.
Other protesters at Broxbourne included Matthew Hammond, 51, a maths tutor, who once declared on an XR march in his home city: ‘We pace the walls as if they were the walls of Jericho, to be broken asunder, to let the change and new world in.’ He posted a long poem about his experience yesterday.
Another activist, Tim Speers, was arrested last year while filming himself spray-painting the slogan ‘animal emergency = crime against humanity’ on London’s Old Bailey.
Critical tweets on the action included one from Jeremy Clarkson, who said: ‘Dear XR people. You’ve been hacked by a bunch of sixth form proto-communists. Lose them or lose ALL your support.’
Meanwhile Boris Johnson said a free press was ‘vital’ in holding the Government to account and ‘it is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way’. Last night, police confirmed they had arrested 80 people across all three sites.
HOLLY BANCROFT: Extinction Rebellion extremists can’t deal with anyone who isn’t as hysterical as them
By Holly Bancroft for the Mail on Sunday
When I went undercover as a new Extinction Rebellion recruit in April last year, I was confronted by a mass of wide-eyed, overwhelmingly middle-class idealists intent on forging a better world.
Now, with their tactic of ‘locking-on’ or glueing themselves to the ground irritatingly familiar to many weary city dwellers, their ranks have attracted a rag-tag group of seasoned activists eager to attach themselves to the XR cause.
As their latest stunt to silence Friday night’s newspaper presses – a vital engine of democracy – shows, their tactics have become even more sinister and risk ruining a previously peaceful campaign.
Underlining the new threat, Rupert Read, an Extinction Rebellion leader, warned last week that ‘parasitic’ hard-Left groups were trying to piggyback on climate protests to further political causes.
The academic said political groups, including the Socialist Workers Party and Young Communist League were seeking to further their own aims through XR. The organisation’s new form of non-violent civil disobedience is one that has become so effective that even the Metropolitan Police have admitted it is beyond ‘anything we have seen before’.
For several hours, sparks flew and the sound of chainsaws could be heard against the backdrop of XR’s music and chants of ‘Extinction Rebellion’
A lot of my time with XR was bizarre. I was encouraged to call alcohol ‘suppression juice’ while, during an exercise on getting arrested, one rebel was concerned about whether there would be vegan food in jail.
Over lockdown, while millions of school children were left without lessons, XR activists managed to set up an online academy to train members. It is clear that in the last 18 months, they have gone on an ideological journey and are beginning to splinter.
One branch, XR Catalysers, is seeking to ‘identify UK society’s dominant power centres, obtain introductions to key ‘influencers’ within them, and nurture dialogue with them’.
The group has always made much of its de-centralised structure, meaning anyone who wants to set up a local XR action group can do so – but this loose structure creates a problem when members go ‘off message’. Co-founder Roger Hallam, 54, ran into trouble for comparing climate change to the Holocaust and recently suggested that MPs who he declares ‘culpable’ for climate change ‘should have a bullet through their heads.’
He founded a fringe group called Beyond Politics in June, believing ‘immediate high-level direct action’ is needed ‘to bring down this genocidal Government.’
He is currently on hunger strike in jail following his arrest last month for conspiring to cause criminal damage ahead of the current demonstrations.
Despite this, he is still a key member of XR’s team who recently complained it had ‘gone to the middle ground’.
To rectify this, Hallam, a former organic farmer, proposed: ‘We have to be super super radical in order to maximise the probability of maintaining a semi-organised society in the next 30 to 50 years.’
As new recruits, we were asked early on how far we were willing to go for the movement and to identify ourselves as ‘arrestable’ or ‘non-arrestable’ – a key signifier of our dedication.
For XR’s co-founder Roger Hallam, those with ‘skin in the game’ – careers, families or other attachments – will never be free to offer the level of unwavering dedication to the cause that he desires.
And therein lies the problem. There are aspects of Extinction Rebellion’s objectives that are laudable, but the troubling issue is the unswerving adherence of its hardcore activists. It is a case of full-blooded hysteria or nothing.
Not only will they not brook any discussion, they won’t even listen to any diverging opinions.
‘Get stuck in’: Priti Patel orders police to protect print plants after Extinction Rebellion extremists sabotaged newspaper distribution
ByGlen Owenand Jake Ryan For The Mail On Sunday
Ms Patel said: ‘This attack on all of the free press impacted many workers’
Home Secretary Priti Patel ordered the police to guard newspaper printing plants last night to try to prevent a repeat of the disruption environmental activists caused on Friday night – and told officers to ‘get stuck in’.
Ms Patel, who described the climate change protests by the Extinction Rebellion (XR) group as an ‘attack on democracy’, told forces to provide a police presence at all of the printing sites.
It came after XR delayed the distribution of hundreds of thousands of copies of national newspapers, including the Daily Mail, to shops yesterday by blocking access to printing presses at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire and Knowsley in Merseyside.
A Home Office source said: ‘Priti was furious. She told the police to ‘get stuck in’ to stop a second night of disruption.’
On Friday night, more than 100 protesters used vehicles and bamboo structures to block roads outside the works to highlight what they claimed was the media’s failure to ‘report on the climate and ecological emergency’. The presses print the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, the London Evening Standard, the Sun, Times, Sun on Sunday and Sunday Times, as well as the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph.
Yesterday, Hertfordshire Police said 50 were arrested at the demonstration in Broxbourne while another 30 were arrested in Merseyside.
Home Secretary Priti Patel ordered the police to guard newspaper printing plants last night to try to prevent a repeat of the disruption environmental activists caused on Friday night – and told officers to ‘get stuck in’ (pictured: Extinction Rebellion activists block the entrance to Newsprinters facility in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, September 4, 2020)
Ms Patel, who described the climate change protests by the Extinction Rebellion (XR) group as an ‘attack on democracy’, told forces to provide a police presence at all of the printing sites
It came after XR delayed the distribution of hundreds of thousands of copies of national newspapers, including the Daily Mail, to shops yesterday by blocking access to printing presses at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire and Knowsley in Merseyside
The Metropolitan Police last night said it had handed out a total of £200,000 of fixed penalty fines to 20 Extinction Rebellion protesters for organising illegal gatherings of more than 30 people in breach of social distancing rules. Officers dished out the £10,000 fines at a number of protests to organisers wearing pink tabards, including those arranging the procession of a 20ft model boat named after activist Greta Thunberg which was halted on the edge of London.
Ms Patel said: ‘This attack on all of the free press impacted many workers going about their jobs. Overnight print workers, delivery drivers, wholesale workers and retail newsagents have faced delays and financial penalty. This is a matter for the police and the Home Office.’
The Federation of Independent Retailers said the protest left small businesses with ‘angry customers’ to deal with as well as affecting home delivery services.
Stuart Reddish, the body’s national president, said: ‘It means we are unable to get newspapers to our elderly and vulnerable customers.
‘Newsagents have played a critical role during Covid-19 in getting newspapers into the hands of readers and this is not helpful at a time when every sale counts.’
Industry sources told the Guardian that other newspaper publishers swiftly helped pick up capacity on their presses to limit the disruption to distribution. Local newspapers printed at the Broxbourne site were also affected, including East Anglian titles produced by the publisher Archant.
Under a banner reading ‘Free the truth’, XR tweeted that it was using the disruption to expose newspapers’ ‘failure to report on the climate and ecological emergency’ adding: ‘We’re going to filter out the lies and take the power back for a night.’
Alanna Byrne, from XR, said: ‘We will only tackle the climate and ecological emergency by breaking the traditional impasse of oppositional politics and coming together, despite our differences.’
The Society of Editors executive director, Ian Murray, called the protest ‘foolish and anti-democratic’, adding: ‘The irony of protesters who wish to have their voices heard and their message listened to attempting to silence others by preventing the distribution of newspapers would be laughable if it was not so serious.
‘You have to wonder whether those planning and taking part in these foolish actions understand anything from history; that controlling or shutting down free speech and an independent media is the first action of totalitarian regimes and dictators.’
A source at Sun and Times publisher News UK defended the company’s stance on climate, saying that Saturday’s Sun carried an article by David Attenborough on how to tackle the climate crisis.
The company was also moving to scrap all single-use plastic used to wrap its titles.
Although Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer failed to make a comment yesterday, Shadow International Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry said the protest was ‘very worrying’ amid concerns elderly people may miss out on newspaper deliveries.
Outside Buckingham Palace, other members of XR staged a two-hour ‘danceathon’ to encourage the Royal Family to intervene on climate issues.
Labour MP prompts outrage after praising ‘excellent work’ of Extinction Rebellion extremists who delayed distribution of national newspapers
By James Heale for the Mail on Sunday
Labour MP Dawn Butler prompted outrage yesterday after praising the eco-rebels who blockaded newspaper printworks.
The former frontbencher backed Extinction Rebellion on social media for its ‘excellent work’ after protesters blocked roads near the plants, halting deliveries of national newspapers.
She added: ‘Bravo #Extinction Rebellion’ and accompanied the message with several clapping-hands emojis. The post was deleted just hours later. Ms Butler, who was sacked as Shadow Equalities Minister after Sir Keir Starmer’s election as Labour leader in April, faced a furious backlash online for her comments.
Labour MP Dawn Butler prompted outrage yesterday after praising the eco-rebels who blockaded newspaper printworks
Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan branded Ms Butler’s message ‘shameful’ and criticised ‘a senior British politician [for] celebrating the stifling of free speech’. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel said the attack on a free press was ‘completely unacceptable’.
Yesterday, Labour frontbenchers were quick to distance themselves from Ms Butler.
Shadow Secretary of State for Digital Culture, Media and Sport, Jo Stephens, said: ‘People have the right to read the newspapers they want. Stopping them from being distributed and printers from doing their jobs is wrong.’