February 18, 2020 - 3:05pm

Extinction Rebellion has much in common with religious fundamentalists. Their apocalyptic Manichean worldview justifies breaking the law to make their point — because why wouldn’t you break the law if the future of the planet depends on it?

Yesterday, in a flagrant act of vandalism, they tore apart the iconic front lawn of my alma mater, Trinity College, Cambridge.

While you might imagine that the porters would come running, the custodians of this ancient historical site, founded by Henry VIII, didn’t lift a finger.

Despite serious criminal damage to private property taking place, the police did nothing. Nor did they make any arrests when the protestors dumped the soil onto a nearby Barclays Bank branch. This isn’t the first time either — they pulled the same stunt days earlier outside the Home Office, throwing turf all over the pavement.

Destroying nature in protest at destroying nature. Total disregard for the habitat of that lawn, however tiny.

According to Extinction Rebellion, the justification for their criminality was that the College owns a farm in Suffolk and had been “attempting” to sell the land to the Port of Felixstowe to develop a lorry park. As much of a NIMBY as I am, simply attempting to sell private property for a purpose Extinction Rebellion finds objectionable does not make criminal damage acceptable. The College invested £9.1m in oil and gas companies, and therefore it was justified because they were “complicit” in the worst crime imaginable – “the climate & ecological crisis”.

You may think it is just a lawn, but these performative stunts are much more serious, particularly given the limp response by the police and other authorities. Rather than taking a robust line against Extinction Rebellion’s criminal actions by arresting and prosecuting those involved, they have been sheepish.

Trinity later released a statement saying the College “respect the right to freedom of speech and non-violent protest but draws the line at criminal damage and is liaising with the police”. The police confirmed that they are treating it as criminal damage. But why did they not stop it while it was happening?

This laxity matters. It is a dangerous thing when a group believes their “cause” justifies breaking the law. It might start with lawns and drones, but where does it end if they think they can act with impunity? When their unachievable demands fall flat, how frenzied will they become?

Emma Webb is Director of the Forum on Integration, Democracy and Extremism at the Civitas think tank.