Dark Money Investigations

Think tank won’t reveal who paid for report calling Extinction Rebellion ‘extremists’

Police officer previously linked to Stephen Lawrence spying controversy accuses non-violent environmental group of wanting to “break up democracy”.

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
18 July 2019
Extinction Rebellion blockade a road in London

A right wing think tank that commissioned a report labelling environmental activists as “extremists” who want to “break up democracy” has failed to reveal who funded the research.

The think tank Policy Exchange, which has long refused to reveal its financial backers, commissioned retired terrorism police officer Richard Walton to write the headline-grabbing report. Walton was previously best known for his controversial role in police spying on the family of murdered schoolboy Stephen Lawrence. Speaking about the report on the 'Today' programme yesterday morning, Walton described Extinction Rebellion as a “hardcore anarchist group which want to break up our democracy”.

The report also speculated about the environmental group using violent tactics to further their aims in the future. Extinction Rebellion has used entirely non-violent protests to shut down city centres to draw attention to climate change and species loss.

When openDemocracy asked Policy Exchange how the report was funded, it didn’t respond to our questions. openDemocracy has also asked Shell, BP and ExxonMobile if they fund Policy Exchange. None have yet commented.

The report is co-authored by Walton and Tom Wilson, who works in the Security and Extremism Unit at Policy Exchange. In it, they argue that, had Extinction Rebellion flown drones over Heathrow – something the group chose not to do – it “may have crossed the threshold into a terrorism offence,” and add that: “Given the extreme objectives of Extinction Rebellion, therefore, it is not inconceivable that some on the fringes of the movement might at some point break with organisational discipline and engage in violence.”

Extinction Rebellion’s three demands are “Tell the truth” about the scale of the environmental crisis, “Act Now” to avert it and move “beyond politics” by founding a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice.

openDemocracy also asked Richard Walton if he can comment on who paid for his report. He is yet to respond.

Walton, the report’s author, has previously come under scrutiny for his controversial role in police spying on the family of murdered schoolboy Stephen Lawrence. Speaking to openDemocracy about the case in 2017, Walton emphasised that: “I have quite simply done nothing wrong, either in 1998 or recently.” While the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that Walton had a case to answer, the Metropolitan Police Professional Standards Unit and then Commissioner rejected the conclusion that there was a case to answer prior to his retirement – leaving Stephen Lawrence’s father “heartbroken”.

Walton also played a minor role in the Leveson inquiry into phone hacking. In 2009, he was staff officer to the then Metropolitan Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson – a role reported at the time as being his right-hand man. Stephenson was forced to resign as a result of the phone hacking scandal. Walton attended the meeting at which the Met decided not to investigate the Guardian’s initial phone hacking allegations, though he says he did not contribute to the meet. His name appears twice in the official documents released by the Leveson Inquiry. There is no suggestion that Walton himself did anything wrong.

Walton also made headlines in 2017 when he wrote a report for the pro-Brexit group Veterans for Britain, which Walton told us he wasn’t paid for.

Can there be a green populist project on the Left?

Many on the Left want to return to a politics based on class, not populism. They point to Left populist parties not reaching their goals. But Chantal Mouffe argues that as the COVID-19 pandemic has put the need for protection from harm at the top of the agenda, a Left populist strategy is now more relevant than ever.

Is this an opportunity for a realignment around a green democratic transformation?

Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData