In white or blue jumpsuits, they have multiplied environmental actions punches in recent months and are in the sights of the French intelligence services. After the violent clashes that punctuated the rally in Sainte-Soline (Deux-Sèvres) on March 25, the activists of the Earth Uprisings (SLT) have been facing since this week a procedure for the dissolution of their group, born in January 2021.
Questioned Tuesday, March 28 during questions to the government, the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, denounced "the extreme violence of certain small groups (...) and in particular to the de facto grouping of the Earth Uprisings" during the mobilization against the "megabasins".
The SLT have ten days to respond to the arguments of the Ministry of the Interior before Gérald Darmanin decides to present to the Council of Ministers a decree that would act its dissolution.
The group reacted to ministerial remarks denouncing, in a statement, "a villainous attempt to reduce attention on the deadly violence unleashed against the manifestant.es of Sainte-Soline", a reference to the more than 200 people injured, according to them, during the rally – two seriously, with a man whose prognosis was still engaged at the time of writing this article.
"Behind the word 'uprising', there is an idea of revolt and gathering of a number of activists best able to express their exasperation with the contemporary climate situation," says Sylvie Ollitrault, director of research at the CNRS and specialist in environmental movements. "This group is trying to put the very question of revolt on the agenda of environmentalists. It's clearly a movement that wants to express its anger."
The SLT group has also been under surveillance by the intelligence services for several months, as revealed by Le Parisien. The daily quotes several passages from a note from the central service of territorial intelligence about the ecologist movement, considered as a "vector of radicality of ecological struggles". It describes the modus operandi of people "not hesitating to confront the police to commit their abuses (damage, intrusions, sabotage ...)" and "equipped with gas masks, umbrellas, and armed with stones, mortars, Molotov cocktails, petanque balls ..."
"Ecoterrorism" and "stigmatization strategy"
Added to this is the notion of "disarmament" put forward by the SLT for its actions, and by which "SLT strategists have ingeniously succeeded in making the practice of ecosabotage accepted by a mass of militants", according to the intelligence services.
"The Land Uprisings sometimes talk about disarmament, sometimes sabotage, but the first term is more often used in public communication because it has a more positive connotation," says Alexis Vrignon, a doctor of history and specialist in political ecology. He added: "But behind this notion, the idea is to damage equipment."
To the point that the executive has not hesitated to speak for months of "ecoterrorism" about actions carried out by environmental activists, including the SLT. This term, imported from the United States, refers to "the use or threat to use violence in a criminal manner, against innocent victims or property, by an environmental orientation group, for political reasons related to the environment", according to the definition of the FBI.
For Alexis Vrignon, the political use of this term amounts to "a strategy of tension and stigmatization to win opinion". "There is a huge difference between forms of terrorism targeting civilian populations to inspire fear indiscriminately and 'disarmament' practices targeted at different materials that exclude as a matter of principle any harm to persons."
The partly violent actions of the SLTs seem to fall more within the category of crimes against property, as evidenced by the detailed timetable of actions on their website. Struggles against a road project and sand quarries, or for the halt of work on the future Lyon-Turin line are on the agenda for the coming weeks.
"Quite radical form of ecological renewal"
This environmental movement, moreover, does not seem to be limited within it to members of the ultra-left. It is also made up of various environmental organizations, some of which have been established for decades. "Among the signatories of the founding text of the SLT, organizations are well established: Friends of the Earth since the 1970s, the Peasant Confederation, which has a deep-rooted tradition of civil disobedience...", lists Alexis Vrignon. There is a plurality of organizations that ultimately make this group strong."
It is in this sense that some 300 personalities, including the writer Annie Ernaux (Nobel Prize for Literature 2022) or the actress Adèle Haenel, signed an article published on March 30 in Le Monde. Entitled "We are the Uprisings of the Earth", this text makes public the names of several people affiliated with the SLT group and denounces in particular the "new maneuver of the Minister of the Interior to try to make people forget that the brutal repression he orchestrated is a little too crude".
The people who make up the SLT come from various tendencies – at the crossroads of civil disobedience and more radical actions – and are also part of the history of militant ecology in France, as Sylvie Ollitrault reminds us: "Sabotage in the name of ecology is not that new. This has happened in the past, in the 2000s, with voluntary mowers being prosecuted for the same reason."
But the context is different. "Contemporary sabotage is occurring in a real and strong climate emergency," notes the specialist in environmental movements, before concluding: "The movements that have been born for two or three years in the field of ecology in France represent the most violent fringe and perhaps also the youngest currently. It's a pretty radical form of renewal, with activists who could quite become conventional in a few years.
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