Two weeks ago I wrote about the conviction of two far-left activists who were caught tampering with train control systems in Bellingham, Washington. Samantha Frances Brooks, 24, and Ellen Brennan Reiche, 28, were caught red handed placing shunts on the tracks, basically a wire that short-circuits the tracks in a way that makes the control system think there is a train on the track at that point. The result of this tampering could have been catastrophic. An earlier incident caused a train carrying hazardous materials to brake automatically to avoid a collision (with a train that wasn’t there). That braking caused the train to decouple and potentially could have caused a derailment in a suburban neighborhood.
We have a pretty good idea why the shunts were being placed (more than 40 incidents took place around Bellingham) because someone wrote to the anarchist website It’s Going Down to describe the purpose of the direct action and to encourage other people to do likewise. All of it was intended to be in solidarity with indigenous groups in Canada who were, at that time, protesting the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. It was domestic sabotage to fight global climate change.
Last Friday the New Yorker published a podcast which included an interview with a Swedish professor named Andreas Malm who has recently written a book titled “How to blow up a pipeline.” Malm’s argument is that climate change activists should consider taking more direct action to fight climate change. Here’s the description of his book from Amazon.
The science on climate change has been clear for a very long time now. Yet despite decades of appeals, mass street protests, petition campaigns, and peaceful demonstrations, we are still facing a booming fossil fuel industry, rising seas, rising emission levels, and a rising temperature. With the stakes so high, why haven’t we moved beyond peaceful protest?
In this lyrical manifesto, noted climate scholar (and saboteur of SUV tires and coal mines) Andreas Malm makes an impassioned call for the climate movement to escalate its tactics in the face of ecological collapse. We need, he argues, to force fossil fuel extraction to stop–with our actions, with our bodies, and by defusing and destroying its tools. We need, in short, to start blowing up some oil pipelines.
Podcast host David Remnick admits up front that Malm “really does want environmental activists to rethink their commitment to non-violence and embrace tactics of sabotage.”
For his part, Malm repeated the usual Antifa talking point about embracing a “diversity of tactics” and moving away from a strict reliance on “polite, gentle and perfectly peaceful civil disobedience.” He said he recommended and embrace of property destruction in addition to the usual protests and strikes. “I am in favor of destroying machines, property; not harming people,” he said.
“So you are recommending blowing up a pipeline?” Remnick asked. Remnick replied by describing a specific pipeline being built now in Africa by a French oil company. “If people in that region were to attack the construction equipment, blow up the pipeline before it’s completed, I would be all in favor of that,” he said.
But of course it’s not just unfinished pipelines in Africa he’d like to see destroyed. Malm cited the recent ransomware attack that shut down the Colonial pipeline in the United States and wondered why someone hadn’t taken similar steps for the climate rather than for money. He also cited the destruction of property during last summer’s BLM protests as “an integral part of an uprising.” Remnick pushed back on that a bit suggesting the property destruction may have been counter-productive but Malm maintained that it was the destruction a few days after Floyd’s death that really brought BLM to new heights.
Obviously we’ve heard this sort of thing before from Antifa activists but it’s something else to have it being taken seriously by the New Yorker as an option to consider for future protests. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the result will be more incidents like the ones in Bellingham, Washington. In addition to being wrong in the first place, some of those acts of sabotage will eventually turn out to be deadly.
Here’s the full interview.