The British prime minister's pick, Woodcock, told The Telegraph that some left-wing groups had previously "overstepp[ed] the mark into antisocial behaviour", citing XR as one example. In September 2020, hundreds of XR activists were arrested during climate crisis protests in central London on suspicion of public order offences and violation of coronavirus rules. Earlier, in summer, a series of Black Lives Matter protests took place across the country, with some of them being accompanied by violence and vandalism. These incidents prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to suggest that the anti-racist movement had been hijacked by a minority "using them as a pretext to attack the police, to cause violence and to cause damage to public property".
Racial & Environmental Issues Have Become Vehicles for Rioters
"Bone fide members of these movements, who want to carry out peaceful protests, should be made aware that left-wing extremists desire to carry out or promote violence to further their cause", says Dr David Lowe, terrorism and security expert and former police officer. "As such, it is important that genuine members take measures to ensure that no left-wing extremists hijack these organisations and to consistently reject them and reject any violent actions they take in the name of both for these groups".
Although the goals declared by the Extinction Rebellion and BLM appear to be laudable, No 10 believes that some organisations and activists have jumped on the movements' bandwagon to promote ideas unrelated to the original agenda.
In October 2019, the Extinction Rebellion movement's shutdown of central London created havoc in the streets, prompting criticism from the government. Boris Johnson denounced the protesters as "uncooperative crusties", adding that the gathering had brought together "protesters of all kinds littering the road", including those having nothing to do with green economy aspirations.
In mid-June 2020, as the Black Lives Matter protests turned violent in the UK, Johnson called on Britons to "stay away" from the demonstrations, chastising those vandalising statues and trying to "bully" UK police officers into kneeling before the protesters.
British weekly The Spectator echoed the prime minister's concerns, drawing attention to the fact that "the Black Lives Matter campaign in the UK was not just interested in anti-racism", but also backed a "controversial pledge to ‘defund the police’", "said that its aims include the dismantling of capitalism", and "posted diatribes against Zionism".
'Left-Wing Extremists Do Pose a Problem'
Left-wing extremists pose a threat to the country's security by mobilising non-violent people to protest for just causes and carrying out violent acts behind the shield of these people, according to David Lowe.
Previously, the UK government largely focused on two main extremist causes that had led to acts of terrorism, the Islamist cause espoused by groups like Daesh and al-Qaeda and the extreme far-right (neo-Nazis), Lowe says. He notes that the UK designated five extreme far-right groups as terrorist organisations such as National Action, System Resistance Network, and Sonnenkrieg Division.
Given that the UK's legal definition in section 1 Terrorism Act is wide enough to include left-wing extremist-inspired terrorism, the government can use this law to probe the radical left "with the same priority as they do [with] Islamist, extreme far-right and in Northern Ireland dissident republican and loyalist causes", he elaborates.
"Under the UK’s Prevent strategy, a pre-criminal strategy to safeguard those who are vulnerable to extremism that can lead to acts of terrorism, there have been a number of referrals to Prevent of individuals who have been imbued with the left-wing extremist ideology", Lowe says.
At the same time, the security expert warns against an excessively tough approach towards BLM and climate crisis groups, explaining that "both the environment and racism are issues that have to be seriously dealt with in our society and a heavy hand on both of these groups will not be as readily accepted by the majority of people".
"Sensitivity and working together with the leaders of these groups to both expel left-wing extremists and, especially where there have been acts of violence be it property or persons, condemnation from both the government and the groups is needed", the former police officer emphasised.