This is a translation from a Dutch article published on March 14. To give some context: Extinction Rebellion (XR) has been protesting for some months around the issue of the government spending billions of euros on subsidies for fossil fuels. An initial research mentioned the amount of 17,3 billion euros per year, whereas the government only reports 4,3 billion euros. But deeper research now proves that in some years, these subsidies even reached a stunning 30 billion euro.
The anger mounted in a couple of protests on highway A12 in The Hague. Actually, it is the last 300 meters of a highway that ends near the buildings of the Ministry of Economics and the temporary parliamentary building. In January, days before a A12 blockade, preemptively 6 XR activists were arrested to scare off other activists from joining. The state wants to stop these XR blockades, but the scare campaign blew up in their face. The January action actually created sympathy amongst ordinary left leaning people. For many rebels the XR blockade of March 11 was their first time ever participation in an action.
At the same time, there is a growing movement on the far right centered around the issue of nitrogen compounds. This substance has to be reduced heavily to comply with EU standards, whereas Dutch farmers who have large industrial livestock and agricultural farms don’t feel like doing so (they have been forced to scale up in the last decades by banks). Unfortunately, during the last elections on March 15 for the Provinces and the First Chamber, a new political party BBB managed to come in first across the country. This will give a stronghold for the agri industry, the BBB was recently founded by companies that defend the interests of large agri-capital in order to gain a position within – and on the basis of – the farmers’ protests. The urgent diminishing of nitrogen pollution will be off the agenda for a while. Many voters were motivated with a disgust of the present government, the parliamentary left wing parties hardly put any effort to form a proper alternative.
Jeroen van der Starre – 14 March 2023
The XR blockade of the A12 highway in The Hague on March 11 brought thousands of people on the streets – despite attempts by the right and the state to criminalise climate activism. Meanwhile, the fascist ‘farmers’ protest’ in the Zuiderpark fell by the wayside. The left scored an important victory on Saturday, but the action also showed weaknesses that we have to mend.
Despite continued intimidation by the police, Extinction Rebellion’s blockade action in The Hague once again brought more people to the event than the previous one. It was, after all, an important action. XR mercilessly punctures the lies of PM Mark Rutte’s ‘greenest cabinet ever’. There is no question of an effort to stop climate change, only to protect the profits of big capital. Not only are the biggest polluters given free reign – they get billions of euros of public money tipped to them.
The fascists of the Farmers Defence Force and Samen voor Nederland had initially chosen to organise a far-right demonstration near the left-wing action. It was the first time the extreme right chose to frame their action in direct opposition to the left. The ‘farmers’ protest’ would not be about nitrogen alone, but about ‘everything’ and would bring the entire far-right movement together in ‘the biggest protest ever’.
Thus the stakes were high for the XR blockade: if the far right had managed to overshadow the left-wing protest, it would have been a painful defeat for the left and would have further emboldened the right. The entire left should have recognised the great importance of the day, rallied behind XR and done everything possible to make the protest as big as possible.
That didn’t happen. None of the leftist political parties had a visible presence at the action. On the eve of the protest Attje Kuiken of the Social Democratic Party even stabbed the climate movement in the back by equating climate activists to fascists and condemned them in equal measure. Despite this, the protest mobilised some 5,000 people this time – significantly more than last time. The good turnout was mainly due to the sound political intuition of the activists present and mobilisation by activist groups, individual activists and, of course, Extinction Rebellion itself, which had prepared the action excellently.
The deployment from the police was also much greater than last time. Three water cannons from the German police, hundreds of riot police and even police on horseback were deployed. The tone had been set a day beforehand when the municipality erected black screens around the Utrechtsebaan to block onlookers’ view over the area to be blocked.
XR activists had gathered at various places in The Hague to get to the A12. But all the various fingers converged on the Boslaan and were easily stopped by the police. There was no attempt to get past or through the police lines. The authorities had us exactly where they wanted us.
Other activists who came to show solidarity and had initially gathered at the top of the Utrechtsebaan could therefore easily join the other protesters. This created a festival-like atmosphere in front of the police lines. Speeches were given, music was played and demonstrators sat down playing cards, chatting and reading.
Although there was no reason to use violence, the police nevertheless escalated the situation at 5pm. All three water cannons were deployed even though the protesters posed no threat and some 700 activists were arrested. The fire brigade had erected a tent to warm up people suffering from hypothermia and provide clothing, but information about this was not communicated to the protesters. Moreover, the police did not allow soaking wet protesters to leave. At the police station, some of them had to spend hours outside in the courtyard. Like last time, people from the XR arrestee support, the group that accommodates released detainees, were harassed and intimidated by officers.
The police crackdown seemed to be motivated by the elections. The conservative-liberal VVD tried to take the wind out of the extreme right’s sails by professing authoritarianism, undermining the judiciary and spitting on human rights. For instance, the party agreed to a proposal by the extreme right to lock up asylum seekers in camps in Rwanda – which is diametrically opposed to human rights treaties and the Refugee Convention. The Hague VVD councillor Lotte van Basten Batenburg demanded the dismissal of a municipal civil servant who had participated in a climate action.
Prior to the XR action, the VVD published a disgusting video portraying climate activists as a danger to society. On the day of the action, VVD mayor of The Hague Jan van Zanen wanted to crack down on protesters at all costs to give a message: the far right cries out for violence against activists, but the VVD puts it into practice.
Apart from an overwhelming police presence, a small group of 50-100 fascists had also descended on the XR protest. These included some neo-Nazis from the NVU and Voorpost, as well as scum from the covid denialist movement, such as Tinus Koops. They came to test how far they could go and were given every opportunity to do so. They intimidated activists at the edges of the protest, occasionally shouted slogans and were even able to walk through the demonstration in groups. One of them threw eggs and stones at protesters. A small group of Baudet youth walked into the action carrying an FVD flag and chanted ‘Thierry Baudet’ and ‘FvD’.
The police, who stood nearby, naturally gave the fascists plenty of space. XR’s stewards addressed fascists and sometimes piloted them out of the demonstration. But that response was far from adequate. The rest of the activists were not updated on the situation, no anti-fascist slogans were heard and no collective action was taken to keep the fascists out of the action. This fortunately did not lead to any major mishaps now, but if the fascists had actually attacked us, XR activists would not have been prepared for it. The far right has registered that as well. It is imperative that we learn and that organised self-defence against the fascists is considered much more seriously and widely within the climate movement.
‘Farmers protest’ without farmers
Fortunately, March 11 was mostly a humiliation for the far-right movement. The fascist rally in the Zuiderpark completely fell apart. Beforehand, there was a lot of boasting about the ‘biggest protest ever’ and figures like 25,000 participants and 5,000 tractors. Those numbers were nowhere near reached. Farmers Defence Force and Samen voor Nederland wanted to unite the entire right-wing extremist movement, but in the background there was also a conflict about the leadership within the far right movement.
FvD seized the protest to portray itself as the leader of the movement and further stepped up attacks on other far-right parties – in particular JA21 and BBB – in the run-up to the protest. BBB-leader Caroline van der Plaswas subsequently threatened by FvD supporters and she withdrew from the action. Later, JA21 and SGP also withdrew their support.
FvD leader Baudet thus followed the NSDAP’s playbook. In 1931, a joint mass meeting of the far-right parties took place in Bad Harzburg. Hitler used it mainly to insult the other far-right parties and make absolutely clear that far-right cooperation could only take place under his exclusive leadership. Baudet and Van Meijeren tried something similar. At the action in Zuiderpark, they hammered on the fact that FvD was the most uncompromising party on the extreme right. FvD had arranged maximum visibility at the protest, which according to the usually nazi-loving De Telegraaf ‘looked more like a campaign-event’ for FvD. According to a report by newspaper NRC, attendees complained that the ‘farmers’ protest’ attracted very few farmers.
The turnout at the action was very low. According to the fascists themselves, there would have been 60,000 (according to FDF) or even 70,000 (according to Gideon van Meijeren in the FvD newsletter) people. But an aerial photo taken from a drone at 1.30pm tells a very different story: the far right managed to muster only 3,000 people, 4,000 at most. As usual, the fascists are trying to disguise their defeat with the wildest claims.
It looks like XR’s blockade ended up attracting more people than the fascist protest. That did not seem a realistic outcome beforehand and makes the March 11 victory extra sweet. We can look back on a very successful action that the climate movement can build on.
At the same time, it is clear that we as the left will increasingly have to deal with police violence and organised intimidation by the far right. This XR action also showed that we do not currently have a good answer to this. The absence of many left-wing groups at this important protest – and the fact that most left-wing politicians did not dare to stand up for the activists, or even distanced themselves from the action – is an additional problem.