On Friday the Guardian revealed that Counter Terrorism Policing South East (CTPSE) had shared an official document claiming that Extinction Rebellion (XR) and others represent an ‘extremist ideology’. This document, dated November 2019, was distributed as part of the wider government PREVENT strategy. Whilst it is unclear which exact organisations received the document, PREVENT operates within schools, hospitals, and other government organisations like the police. Implementing PREVENT has been a legal duty on such public bodies since 2015. It requires teachers, nurses and others to report on individuals which they perceive to be at risk of ‘radicalisation’.
The CTPSE document focuses not just on XR, but also targets climate strikers. It warns about young people who ‘neglect to attend school’ or ‘participate in planned school walkouts.’ One supposed sign of extremism is ‘speaking in strong or emotive terms about environmental issues.’ With such wide definitions, huge numbers of people are at risk of being labelled extremists and subject to state coercion.
The document has been recalled, and counter terrorism police confimed that XR is not designated an extremist organisation. But the incident points to wider concerns about the government policing of environmentalists.
The PREVENT strategy has long been accused of creating a domestic spying system. By placing a duty on public officials to report individuals, many aspects of everyday life may lead to harassment of individuals for their political beliefs. It has created a system where young people are not only contending with climate collapse, but an education and healthcare system designed to monitor and police them. Our teachers, doctors, and more are turned against those of us campaigning for climate justice right when we need their support.
For many young environmentalists this will be their first interaction with PREVENT. However, for years the strategy has been accused of being institutionally islamophobic. Muslim communities have been subject to the worst excesses of the PREVENT system, and the horrific phobias it reinforces. Being disproportionately focused on marginalised communities, PREVENT perpetuates systemic oppression.
Luckily for Extinction Rebellion, the CTPSE guidance has been removed. But our concerns about the state targeting of climate activists and young people remain. Worryingly, it was recently revealed that secret data is still held on thousands of individuals under PREVENT. Climate justice demands not only systemic change in the face of planetary crisis, but the dismantling of oppressive systems exemplified by PREVENT.
We stand in solidarity with those targeted unnecessarily under PREVENT and other forms of state sanctioned harassment.
Finally, for climate activists concerned about what this means for protest going forwards, we want to be explicit in saying that this will not stop us campaigning for a just system. However, we will continue to carefully consider the risks that such organising creates for marginalised groups and we will not take these threats lightly.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission provides a number of resources for those wishing to organise against or learn more about PREVENT.