Next weekend Britain will witness a watershed moment in the culture war dividing society that will help gauge which side is likely to emerge victorious.
The battleground will be not only the streets of London, where activists will stage an "uprising" against the "mainstream media", but also your local supermarket or newsagent, where they will try to persuade, intimidate, or simply prevent you from buying your daily newspaper.
Extinction Rebellion (XR), which was set up to raise awareness of climate change, is planning a "spicy" day of protests and is appealing for "arrestables" to come forward – in other words protesters who will set out to get arrested for breaking the law.
A spokesman for Extinction Rebellion said: "We carry out civil disobedience so, yes, we will be doing things that are breaking the law. We will be giving more details next week."
It will be a litmus test for police forces who have previously acted as spectators during similar protests, when they have allowed roads to be illegally shut, printworks to be blockaded and statues to be toppled or desecrated.
Newspapers including The Sun, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail could not be distributed after Extinction Rebellion protestors blocked printing presses in Hertfordshire
Credit: Anadolu Agency
The protests continued through the night with demonstrators using bamboo structures and vehicles to stop distribution of the newspapers. Police are under pressure to prevent a repeat of such scenes
Credit: Marcin Nowak/London News Pictures
Police sources have said senior officers – not to mention the Home Secretary – will be "disappointed" if Extinction Rebellion manages to cause the level of disruption they have managed in the past, particularly because they now know what to expect.
The "rebels", as they like to call themselves (Priti Patel prefers to call them “criminals”) are making no attempt to disguise their intentions.
In a Zoom meeting for supporters on Thursday evening, protesters were told that if they were intending to cause criminal damage there was a "benefit" to making sure the damage was worth more than £5,000, as it would mean their case would go to crown court and be heard by a jury.
For the first time, Extinction Rebellion will join forces with Black Lives Matter, together with gipsy and LGBTQ+ campaigners, for a protest in Parliament Square.
There is no suggestion the other organisations intend to break the law.
No one, of course, would want to deny any group the right to stage a peaceful protest with the permission of local authorities. It is one of the cornerstones of democracy, along with a free press.
But for the silent majority of law-abiding citizens who cherish free speech and democratic debate, any failure by the police to clamp down on illegal behaviour will be seen as a surrender to the mob rule that has characterised so much of the recent culture wars.
Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, told The Telegraph: "The right to protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy – but so too is the freedom of the press to publish without fear or favour.
"We have been clear that we will not tolerate groups such as Extinction Rebellion using guerrilla tactics to shut down printing presses and deny the public access to information.”
He added: "The police have my full support in taking swift action to tackle illegal behaviour and to ensure that the actions of one group does not cause misery and disruption for the silent, law-abiding majority."
Officers will be expected to ‘get stuck in’
Police chiefs are under huge pressure from the Home Office – and from the public – to prevent any repeat of the scenes of last year.
One source said: "The line at which the police get more robust will be reached more quickly. The bar will be lower than it was last time. There will be a direction to get in there early.
"If they start putting up their bamboo structures again it will be clear they intend to obstruct the highway and officers will be expected to stop them. There will be severe disappointment from senior officers if they are allowed to erect those things.
"The appetite for tolerance has come down."
Obstructing the highway is an offence, so police have the right to arrest anyone as soon as they start to prevent traffic or pedestrians from using roads or pavements.
Assistant Chief Constable Chris Noble, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for policing protests, said: “Most protests are peaceful and take place without incident, but we know there can be a minority of people who attend such events with the sole intention of committing crime, including assaulting police officers.
This won’t be tolerated and any person who is identified committing acts of violence at protests can expect to face the full force of the law."
While protest liaison officers will be used to persuade protestors to move off the highway, officers will be expected to "get stuck in", as Priti Patel once put it, much more quickly if they refuse.
The matter has been discussed at the National Police Chiefs Council and, as one source put it, "the Home Office has already expressed concerns to [Metropolitan Police Commissioner] Cressida Dick that they will be disappointed if there is not a more robust response.”
Following last year’s XR protests, Ms Patel said: “I refuse point blank to allow that kind of anarchy on our streets."
There will be particular focus on Dame Cressida, who is known to believe that it is the police’s role to facilitate protests, after officers stood and watched as Newsnight’s highly respected political editor Nicholas Watt, seen in the video below, was abused as a “traitor” and “scum” and chased down Whitehall by anti-lockdown protesters this week.
Scotland Yard initially claimed its officers were not "in the immediate vicinity of the incident" before accepting that they were, and acknowledging "the concerns that have been raised about the police response".
Downing Street described the incident as “deeply disturbing”.
Martin Hockridge, a 57-year-old who was later charged with a public order offence, later said “I stand by my actions”, adding: "It is unacceptable that the BBC lies and spread(s) fear among the nation. Never expect the truth from the BBC."
The "truth" will also be at the heart of next weekend’s protests.
Extinction Rebellion has said it will "free the truth" by, among other things, putting stickers on the front pages of newspapers on newsstands to "tell the truth about the broken media".
Or, to use the latest terminology, newspapers such as The Telegraph should be "cancelled" for failing to follow the agenda of the far-Left.
XR’s website tells followers to "aim for the big supermarket chains rather than small local shops", with a simultaneous "paint the streets" campaign to plaster posters around public spaces.
Activists plan ‘headline-grabbing’ stunts
Other "headline grabbing" direct action events are being planned, but not publicised.
Police believe they may include another attempt to blockade printworks in Hertfordshire and Merseyside, following what XR described as its "extremely successful" efforts in September, which led to 80 arrests and restricted the distribution of newspapers including The Telegraph.
In a message to activists this week, the group said of the printworks blockade: "We’ve found a good target … and we have to keep pushing."
GB News, Britain’s newest TV news channel, has also been targeted by left-wing activists in recent days (with the loss of some of its advertisers) for seeking to provide an alternative to the traditional left-wing bias of the BBC.
Some people might, understandably perhaps, struggle to understand how attacking the media will help to prevent climate change, but Extinction Rebellion has, like so many other protest groups, been infiltrated by the far-Left, whose adherents believe it is their role to turn any non-political cause into a vehicle to attack the State, the police and anyone who disagrees with their version of the "truth".
The headline speaker at next weekend’s rally will not be a climate expert or environmental campaigner, but none other than Jeremy Corbyn.
On Saturday, XR will join forces with the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, currently run by Laura Pidcock, a Corbynista former Labour MP, to march from the BBC’s headquarters to Parliament Square.
Then on Sunday, XR will be joined by supporters of Black Lives Matter and speakers from "the Gypsy Roma Traveller & LGBTQ communities" and the Media Reform Coalition, a group run mostly by academics.
They will march from Parliament Square to a national newspaper office, which the police assume to be Rupert Murdoch’s News UK after XR said it would "turn up at his doorstep".
It will include "creative direct action" which will be "spicy enough to grab the headlines" (presumably in the newspapers they want to cancel).
Even an online "Know Your Rights" training session on Thursday evening, ostensibly organised to "encourage safe protest", morphed into a platform for attacking the police.
XR’s Facebook page promised the session would "teach rebels how to engage with the police, acknowledging the disproportionate policing of marginalised groups and the role of white, able bodied privilege".
During the two-hour session, middle-aged "rebels" sipped red wine as a fresh-faced XR activist called Jack informed them that: "The role of the police is built upon a racist structure and the police are institutionally racist … there is no such thing as a friendly chat with a police officer."
An activist from Extinction Rebellion smashes a window at HSBC headquarters in London in April
Credit: John Sibley/Reuters
To prepare for being arrested, the acolytes were told to carry cash rather than cards (which can be used to identify the arrestee) and to take a “burner” phone with no personal details or contacts in it.
More alarmingly, they were told that there were advantages to making sure any damage they cause is worth more than £5,000, as criminal damage amounting to less than that is a summary offence that will be dealt with by magistrates, whereas damage above the threshold will go to crown court, where a sympathetic jury might acquit.
"Even though the risks are higher, that is a benefit of causing more than £5,000 of damage," said Jack.
Anyone who is "interested in a more creative or spicy build-up action" is urged on the XR website to email the organisation.
Policing sources said they expect the "majority" of protestors to use similar tactics to those used in the past, where glue-ins, human roadblocks and even a boat have been used to cause maximum disruption.
Police forces fully expect to make arrests, partly because getting arrested is one of the key objectives of many protestors, as it takes two or more officers off the streets for a significant amount of time while they process the offender.
The Telegraph has also been told there is likely to be more "proactive" policing – in other words intelligence-led arrests before an offence has been committed.
If the police have evidence that individuals are conspiring to commit an unlawful act they can arrest them.
The battle will be played out on a far grander scale in Glasgow in November when it hosts the COP26 climate summit.
Extinction Rebellion has already set up a base there, and is believed to have made contact with local lawyers to help advise on legal rights around COP26 protests.
By then, the Government hopes to have passed into law the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will give them greater powers to prevent unlawful protests.
Activists have already staged major "kill the Bill" protests against it, and Glasgow is likely to be the proving ground for the new powers and stiffer sentences it contains.
In March, a Kill the Bill protest in Bristol turned into a full-blown riot with a police van set on fire and 20 officers injured.
Protestors march through Bristol city centre in March during the demonstration against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Credit: Finnbarr Webster/Getty
During the same protest a police van was vandalised and set on fire outside Bridewell Police Station in the city
Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA
A hallmark of the far-Left is their pre-programmed tendency towards in-fighting, born from an inability to accept anyone else’s point of view, and splits have started to emerge in Extinction Rebellion.
Close observers of XR believe a fissure is opening up between those who want to make it more respectable and those who remain determined to stick with anarchic, law-breaking tactics.
One source said: "There are those within XR who have been stung by the backlash from a large section of the public to the disruption they have caused to the transport network.
"One wing of XR just wants to keep causing as much disruption as possible, but another wing wants to take people with them rather than being hated."
Roger Hallam, a 55-year-old former organic farmer who co-founded XR in 2018, is among those who believes it should be "super, super radical" to "bring down this genocidal Government".
He has said in the past that MPs who are "culpable" for climate change "should have a bullet through their heads".
Others are reaching out to the mainstream, with one member, who cannot be named for legal reasons, helping found a new organisation called Wild Card, which has recruited the likes of former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, TV presenters Kate Humble and Anita Rani, and author Sir Michael Morpurgo, to call for the rewilding of the Queen’s Balmoral estate.
XR’s tactics have also been a turn-off for high-profile supporters, including model turned environmentalist Bianca Jagger, and US philanthropist Trevor Neilson (a major donor to the Climate Emergency Fund, which has given XR £269,000), both of whom condemned the group for its attacks on free speech.
For while Britain has a long tradition of campaigners breaking the law to advance noble causes, such as the Suffragettes, the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst wanted to expand freedoms, not curb them.