A member of Extinction Rebellion hands out flyers at the House of Parliament in London, March 2020. Photo via Getty Image.
A Twitter account claiming to be the regional arm of climate change activist group Extinction Rebellion (XR) tweeted photos of an apparent postering campaign promoting the coronavirus as a natural "cure" to the human "disease," causing a swift backlash online.The problem: The group says it does not recognize the Twitter account and tweeted "far-right groups have put out stickers with messaging" that is not in line with the group's beliefs. In an email, Extinction Rebellion spokespeople clarified that they don't actually know who is behind the account, but social media posts by a neo-Nazi group viewed by Motherboard shows them gloating about flyers and claiming that the group impersonated Extinction Rebellion in the past.
“Earth is healing. The air and water is clearing,” reads the post by an account going by @xr_east and claiming to be the East Midlands chapter of XR, which rose to prominence last year when the group organized mass climate change protests that brought London to a standstill. “Corona is the cure. Humans are the disease!”“The Twitter account in question is not recognised by Extinction Rebellion East Midlands or Extinction Rebellion UK and we do not support in any way the positions expressed on that account," spokespeople said in an email. "In terms of the Twitter account, we aren’t aware who is behind it. XR is a decentralised, autonomous movement, with hundreds of groups worldwide. At first glance it looks legitimate–it uses XR branding, and has retweeted a number of XR tweets. But, we have spoken with our regional coordinators and they [knew] nothing about it before today."Motherboard is aware of an anonymous white supremacist group called the Hundred-Handers, which was recently active in the U.K.and has already bragged online in the past of impersonating XR posters.“Be a real shame if our latest archive contained elements and fonts required to create extinction rebellion stickers,” says a January Telegram post from the group viewed over 8000 times, accompanying a photo with a series of anti-immigrant and racist stickers bearing the XR logo that resemble those tweeted by the @xr_east account.
On the same day the Hundred-Handers channel then posted: “Send us your best XR edits and we'll post them and include them in our archive."The anonymous Hundred-Handers group, which is known for its stickering campaigns around the U.K. and the U.S., takes its name from a many-headed monster in Greek mythology with a hundred hands. Members are required to download racist sticker templates promoting white supremacism and nativist ideologies prevalent among the far-right.Though Motherboard can’t confirm that the latest posters in the East Midlands were the work of the Hundred-Handers, another recent post by the group points to more impersonations of XR.On March 7, a photo posted in its Telegram channel shows a sticker posted in what appears to be the London Tube bearing the the XR symbol with the slogan: “White Brits a minority by 2066, preserve an endangered species.”Some of the propaganda Hundred-Handers espouses centers on the absurd ecofascist principle that overpopulation in countries outside of Europe and North America has caused the brunt of the climate crisis.Fascists co-opting the novel coronavirus pandemic to their advantage isn’t new. Last week, Motherboard revealed how neo-Nazi accelerationists see the global crisis as an opportunity to hasten the collapse of society, plotting to use the climate of fear surrounding the pandemic to carry out terrorist attacks.Extinction Rebellion itself is controversial among environmentalists, activists, and leftists, with critics saying that it naturally lends itself to ecofascist ideologies; in the past, ecofascists have used the organization's name to spread their racist views. The group is also overwhelmingly white, with activists of color saying that one of its core mechanisms of action—asking people to get arrested during environmental protests—is inherently unsafe for people of color, who disproportionately have violence perpetrated against them by the police.