Climate action groups to expand violence and sabotage?
ADMIN NOTE: This post is from today’s InFocus over at Forward Observer. We track political, social, and economic risk, providing early warning of instability and disruption. You can find us and our work at https://forwardobserver.com
InFocus: Climate action groups to expand violence and sabotage?
Last week, media outlets raised the question of whether violence and sabotage are necessary to achieving climate action. “Should the climate movement embrace sabotage?” recently asked the New Yorker.
Andreas Malm is a Swedish professor who argues in a New Yorker Radio Hour segment that climate activists should “diversify its tactics and move away from its exclusive focus on polite, gentle, and perfectly peaceful civil disobedience.”
Malm previously led a campaign to deflate the tires of SUVs in Sweden. “It created an inconvenience” for SUV owners, he said, but was nonviolent and was not terrorism. Police eventually made one arrest but only after “thousands of SUVs” were targeted. “[SUV] sales went down quite sharply, and we took credit for that,” Malm said.
In his latest book, How to Blow Up a Pipeline, he argues for “targeted sabotage.” While he does encourage the environmentalist movement to continue civil disobedience, he also encourages a new line of effort towards property destruction.
“I am in favor of destroying machines, property—not harming people. That’s a very important distinction,” he says.
He further suggests that property can be destroyed in a more “spectacular” way, such as bombing a pipeline under construction. Malm sharply criticizes eco-activist groups who are committed to nonviolent activism. Malm believes that violent groups are necessary because they effectively encourage governments to work with nonviolent groups for social reform.
Malm supports “intelligent sabotage” in the fight for climate change action. He admits that pipeline destruction would result in “economic pain” and “price spikes,” and says that activists must pursue a strategy that doesn’t increase energy costs, such as targeting new construction projects.
Asked how to avoid activism being labeled eco-terrorism, Malm states, “I don’t think that we should adapt our tactics after the enemy’s script” and compares the continued protests and riots by BLM in 2020 despite being labeled by some a Marxist terrorist organization.
Malm admits that climate activists will be “demonized” for their action, but believes they should continue “[striking] against the sources” of the climate emergency in order to build popular support. That could include things like “climate camps” where peaceful protestors break through police lines to shut down gas pipelines or coal mines “if only for a couple of days.”
Here in the United States, there have been numerous mostly peaceful protests in support of climate action and against pipeline construction. There have also been numerous instances of sabotage and what should have otherwise been noted as terrorism.
In 2017, we documented three train derailments that can likely be attributed to Far Left activity. Trains traveling on that line were carrying construction supplies to the Dakota Access pipeline. That year, two anarchist websites posted blog articles on how to sabotage rail lines, and took them down after a 2019 train derailment in Washington state.
In another case, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (IASART) union confirmed that a 2020 derailment of a 108-car train carrying crude oil in Custer, Washington was an act of sabotage. The derailment resulted in a large fire and the evacuation of all residents within half of a mile. According to reports, the train cars became un-coupled, the emergency brakes failed to engage, and the cars collided with each other. Earlier this year, two Far Left activists from Bellingham, Washington were arrested and charged for placing “shunts” on BNSF railways in November 2020.
We’ve documented numerous instances of Leftist groups discussing and sharing guides related to disrupting railways. One guide detailed common railway construction, railway car markings, observation techniques, and blockade tactics. The tactics discussed included various types of blockades, obstructions, sabotage, and physical destruction of railways. Just two months ago, an anarchist Reddit post included a meme about sabotaging railways (below).
More recently, a train derailment in Montana killed three and injured over 50. While it’s unclear what caused the derailment, Far Left groups continue to discuss sabotage of critical infrastructure -- everything from railways to ports and FedEx terminals.
In January 2020, pro-worker strike organizations circulated a pamphlet with information on ports in America, showing how important they are to world trade. One image entitled “Chokepoints in a Fragile Network” (below) shows the volume of trade traffic that transits the ports, including some information on historic strikes at those facilities. The back page of the pamphlet reads, in part, “This pamphlet shows the transportation network that corporations use to move goods into the United States from around the world… The veins of this network reveal where workers have power; the shipping lanes, ports, highways, and rail lines that connect U.S. cities and towns…”
With Democrats’ $3.5 trillion human infrastructure bill being watered down in the House and climate legislation sidelined, climate activist groups like the Sunrise Movement are renewing daily protests at the Capitol. One recent missive called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) a “Green New Dealbreaker” over her backtracking on the Green New Deal bill. My concern is that continued mainstream attention to Malm’s “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” could move members of these groups to more extreme action, such as sabotage. This is Malm’s entire argument, by the way: peaceful climate protests have led to diminishing returns while striking directly at those allegedly responsible for the “climate crisis” is more likely to result in action, either concessions by energy companies or Congressional legislation.
One final note: during Floyd’s Rebellion last year, Far Left groups attempted to organize a national strike to urge Congress to pass universal healthcare, the Green New Deal, and other Far Left legislation. Their belief was that if they could “shut down the country” by striking at ports, distribution facilities, and other economic chokepoints then they could effectively hold the country hostage until Congress passed Far Left legislation. If the House fails to deliver on the $3.5 Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, the Build Back Better Act, and/or the Continuing Resolution, then we could see another attempt to agitate towards a national strike. A successful national strike under current conditions is unlikely in the near-term, so failing that, acts of sabotage could become the next course of action for activists. - M.S.