Drones, Heathrow and non-violence

By Zeeshan Hasan

A few days ago, XR made the headlines for planning to stop Heathrow with drones.

I am finding it difficult to express how disappointed I was by this, especially after having spent a significant amount of time and effort editing the XR blog for the last few months. Like many others, I was drawn to XR precisely because it promised to be a non-violent movement to prevent climate breakdown.

Saying that drones will be flown in a busy airport implicitly threatens violence, just like a mugger who says “hand me your wallet or I will shoot”. There may well be no explicit violence, if the mugged person hands over their wallet; but there is obviously an implicit threat of violence which brought about the action of handing over the wallet. That’s why mugging cannot be called non-violent, and is both immoral and a crime. By the same logic, if airport authorities cancel or postpone flights because of threats of flying drones, they are acting under a threat of violence which is simply immoral and unacceptable on the part of an organisation like XR.

XR should be always claiming the moral high ground of saving all life on earth; it simply cannot threaten violence and maintain this moral high ground. This Heathrow strategy to me is simply the undoing of all that XR stands for.

I hope that XR people reconsider this strategy. For my part, I have to say that I can no longer be associated with a group that would entertain such violent and immoral strategies. This will be my last blog post.

24 thoughts on “Drones, Heathrow and non-violence

  1. I view the matter as you do, Zeeshan. The threatening intention (of using drones in this case) is a desperate decision to act because the results of the ongoing stupid actions of others would be so hugely damaging, and most humans are not listening. The desperation of those who are warning of the cliff-edge just ahead is completely understandable. Comment seems banal and hopeless. Perhaps as many of us as possible, around the globe, can join our minds, realising that right ‘here’ within our own universe but impossible for our universe to communicate with it, is another universe (perhaps an infinitude of universes) OUTSIDE the LIGHT CONES of OURS (Einstein’s Relativity) and that the Beings in that universe or those universes are powerful and wise enough to intervene and nullify the arrogant stupidity of most of the terrestrial species Homo Ignavus. By joining our minds in any kind of meditation we could at least seek the intervention of a Deus ex Machina.

    Eric Franklin

    Liked by 1 person

  2. OK, if proposing to fly drones, or actually doing so, is defined as violence then howw much more violent, antisocial and unforgivable is the flying of numerous massive jet aircraft from Heathrow or any other airport. Their very existance and regular use for nothing more than pleasure trips or ‘business’ across the globe is a continued and ever increasing threat to the global ecosystem. We have to take effective measures to put a stop to this dangerous and destructive air traffic. Flying drones, a small scale people-powered protest, has been shown to be a very effextive method of stopping air traffic, even if only temporarily. But it does what needs to be done and in non-violent in that no-one is hurt in the process. It is on the same level of peaceful protest as sitting down in the road to stop vehicular traffic. Jet aircraft are many times more serious as ‘gas-guzzling’ cars. They cause massive carbon pollution – a fact that is largely ignored – unless we can stop them, ‘ground’ them and attract mass-media attention by doing so.


    1. Dear Iain Melville, and everyone reading this,

      I agree with you, and realise that it is difficult to stop a juggernaut, which the airlines are. The majority of humans do not even think about what concerns us, and the whole world is sliding towards the cliff edge. The problem is too large for us to expect to succeed unaided. We may not succeed, and then something must influence the stupid, the ill-informed, the arrogantly wilful, the money-mad. The human religions cling to false myths, and are powerless, effete, delusive. But science shows that greater beings than ourselves are at least logically possible, and part of that greatness may be greater wisdom, greater concern for other beings, and the necessary greater executive power to enforce what is good upon a stupid and arrogant humanity. Perhaps such powers will be more effective even than the disruption of the insanity of airline flight by humanly-launched drones. I think that without such intervention from a higher universe caring for ours there may be little we can do to forestall catastrophe, and if so we shall have to hang on and await the results of passing the tipping point. I hope the human race is valuable enough to be worth saving, but if it is not then the survival of Being, of Dasein if you wish, of an immortal inner invisible soul if you prefer that nomenclature, of inner beings who can aver that Tat twam asi, will be valued, and so have a future in a universe of more than 4 dimensions.

      Eric Franklin


    2. Your suggestion that flying a plane is violent, and attempt to equate it with the violence of death through aircraft accident, indicates poor logic.


      1. Adrian, I think you had better read Iain Melville again, and grasp what he IS saying and discard what you THINK he is saying. Your own comment shows a complete lack of logic because you have not even grasped what Iain Melville is saying.


  3. Effective as drones might be in the useful task of grounding aircraft – it seems to me that even just the idea of using them has proven to be damaging and divisive. I fear that they just provide the media and politicians with a stick with which to beat us and work – not as a focus on, but rather as a distraction from, the issue of the violence done to the earth by airlines.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t think the drones are going to be flown now. But just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed reading your posts and if this really is the last one that’s a real shame. Thanks for all your writing which has been a source of inspiration. As we move in difficult times in the convoluted web of our complex and competing social forces the ability to stay true to ourselves is increasingly challenging but ever more important and sensing a way through using skilful, reflective writing is so vital. This will be a loss.

    Best wishes


    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve followed your posts and found them incredibly valuable. I respect your decision and hope the clear reasons you give for doing so are received and allow us draw a line here. Being true to the principle of non-violence means no threatening behaviour ever, anywhere. XR loses everything if we begin to look like a bully: what we’re about, surely, is visionary, solution-focussed action that co-creatively imagines the seemingly impossible. Yes, disruptive, but then that’s liberation.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks Zeeshan, Well articulated and I agree wholeheartedly. But if XR listen, then hopefully as Diana says, it will not need to be your last blog post. One of the strengths of XR is the non- hierarchical structure that allows all voices to be heard. Leaks to the media of suggested actions that are not in all of XR’s names may be damaging, but if the public realise XR is a living breathing organism that can weather such leaks and suggestions and not carry out immoral actions, then it has the capacity to grow and serve its purpose.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I aren’t happy with escalating to more violent action by XR or anyone else. I certainly don’t want to see a slide towards eco terrorism as we have seen in the past. But I can foresee the need for some limited escalation as happened in the case of suffragettes when they had been ignored for years and decades over an unassailable just argument. In the case of Climate Change it’s more important and urgent than votes for women so at some point soon I suspect we will have to start smashing windows, mirroring the suffragettes escalation.


    1. Sacrifice. Real, meaningful sacrifice for others or to make an indelible impression is a necessary element to any successful rebellion. Violence is the opposite of sacrifice, as is petty vandalism or mischief; no one listens to the idiot that holds an airport hostage, but it’s a different story when someone willingly gets trampled to show how much this matters. We’re talking about the only war that’s ever been worth fighting and we’re already screwing it up before it’s even made the news. Change needs to come from the inside of the machine in response to a non-violent movement that will sacrifice anything to have it’s voice heard and acted upon. Maybe the threat of mass hunger strikes/suicide contingent on real action? I’m fairly certain that if people are willing to put their lives on the line for this, most developed nations wont be able to ignore it, But being jackasses gets us nowhere. We’re fighting against the starvation of the planet – we need to be willing to go all in on this WITHOUT willfully endangering lives of those outside the movement. I’m ready to put my life on the line for climate action because without it, what life will I live? I’ll live in the comforts afforded me by our over-consumption until that life is taken away anyway.

      I think what we all have a hard time understanding is that the earth will go quiet regardless of our actions but does that mean we sit and wait for our destiny to take our conveniences or do we stand up and choose not to be cowards and give our comforts away.

      We cant look at this as a war that can be won through tricks or conventional activism because what we’re asking for requires we be taken seriously. Until the people chanting are ready to make these sacrifices – ones that will necessarily garner empathetic reactions – we can’t expect anything to come from this movement.


  8. It would have been good for central XR to release/ announce the plan after full consultation feedback from affinity groups. It is imperative that anyone involved with action on the ground involving drones knows they are open to terrorism charges. I think many of them/us accept this and are willing to potentially sacrifice decades of liberty, but Roger Hallam, Gail Bradbrook and others must be amongst them if XR is to resist escalating the characterisation as a group by which a London and Bristolian academic elite which expects their footsoldiers to take significantly bigger risks than they are willing to. Speaking for myself, my involvement with XR since November has been due to it seeming refreshingly bottom-up and – again eprsonally speaking – it is starting to look and feel less and less so.


  9. Ok wow so much to say..

    This is the first post I’ve read on your blog and to be honest it sounds like you are having a tantrum. If you are threatening not to continue writing, you know maybe that’s a form of violence… I think it’s worth considering that we have already been a violent organisation. To superglue oneself to an object is an act of violence, albeit directed towards the self. Nonetheless it is violence I would argue. With respect to the suffragettes I would like to point out that it was in fact the suffragists who were the non-violent organisation the suffragettes were very much a violent organisation. What if XR were to attack the ecological Rokeby whatever its equivalent would be now… What would be the public outcry? If we are to exact the radical change in the world that is needed we need to be putting the brakes on NOW not building airports for the next 12 years, we need to act as if we’ve got 5 years, we haven’t even got that. To be conscious not only means to be aware, it also means to respond. XR is a non-violent organisation. Yes I know what I mean by that, I doubt we all have the same definition however. Am I for or against? Meh I’m ambivalent, I’m using up all my thoughts on whether or not to become vegan. And although I know the violence there is clear, I am yet to make that change myself.


  10. > Saying that drones will be flown in a busy airport implicitly threatens violence,
    > just like a mugger who says “hand me your wallet or I will shoot

    My own perspective is that there is a major difference: A mugger will come unexpectedly and can therefore harm you much more. According to the newspaper article there will be a warning in advance so that people can properly react and minimize damages beforehand:

    > The activists said they would avoid any risk to aircraft by informing the
    > airport of their plans in advance.

    Therefore I wonder: Who will actually be harmed? And how much?


  11. Really is a moral quandary. On the one hand, ANY efforts at damned near anything that would adversely impact profits and Business As Usual _are_ going to be decried — most especially by the Corporate Media; on either side of The Atlantic. If a bunch of drones fly, and airplanes don’t, and nobody is injured, at all, then is the flying of drones violent? In that case it is not violent against PEOPLE. Inconvenienced is one thing, harmed as in injured is quite another. What is hard there is to guarantee, in advance, that no PERSON is hurt — including XR protestors, picnicers, etc. It is “violence” against profit and BaU and the ongoing destruction of the Earth’s environment and ecosystem — but, corporations are NOT people, and neither is profit or finance or money or governments.
    At some point, we have to be honest about what is real — like biological populations (human and everything else) and ocean PH and CO2 and CH4 concentrations in the atmosphere — and what is not “real” — all the human-made-up things like capitalism and endless, boundless greed.
    At some point, XR is going to have to “go to battle” (verbally, if nothing more) with the non-real! If XR does not oppose capitalism, which is literally eating the planet alive, how the devil are we going to avoid absolute, utter catastrophe for all that ives in Earth!!??!!
    If flying drones is controversial, what will efforts to bring down capitalism be like? Just look at what anti-fracking campaigners have faced, are facing, and no doubt will continue to face going forward. Greed and profit will not “surrender” voluntarily …


  12. There is no controversy; using drones to disrupt a major airport is violence. Even if advance notice allows airport controllers to ground aircraft so there is no danger of injury, loss of life or property damage, the proposed action would create enormous amounts of stress and anxiety in would-be travelers and airport employees, as well as generate vast amounts of animosity toward XR. Block a road, and people can find another route or get out and walk. What’s the person expecting to be in Hong Kong in a few hours supposed to do? Back people into a corner and they will come out fighting.
    Zeeshan, I respect and understand your feelings about walking away if the movement is morphing into something you didn’t sign up for, but consider not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, and consider staying on to help steer the movement in the right direction. This will not be the last time small autonomous groups within XR will suggest doing something violent, because a lot of people don’t have a strong handle on what non-violence means and not everybody who has joined XR has as strong a commitment to non-violence as you and I. I will stay the course; I will effect change within and without because it’s never going to be a perfect world or a perfect movement, but things damn well will be better if more of us keep trying. Thank you for your efforts.


  13. But who can guarantee that it was really XR plan?
    It was just a leak from their meeting..maybe it was just one idea?
    You cannot blame someone for something they did not do yet!


    1. Anna Termine, If the thinking is demonstrably faulty you can blame for the lack of prior consideration which, if it had taken place and were itself rational, would have precluded the poor thought of planning an action not in fact carried out. We are responsible for our thoughts, for our premeditations concerning future action. We CAN blame for careless thoughts which do not result in action.


  14. You can call an Orange a Lemon but it wont taste or look like a lemon, Its truth is being an Orange. It tastes like an Orange it looks like an Orange, It is an Orange. Not a lemon. It seems to me that if in trying to force change to protect the future of the entire Human race from being violently harmed by the consequences of unchecked ecological disaster becomes viewed as violence itself, even though that act never happened and would have had adequate warning to avoid harm etc then I fear we are truly screwed! Disagree with the action, be the change you want but please please dont give up, or worse still undermine the rebellion with a disagreement of terminology or methodology. Being a bystander and doing nothing even though someone is being raped in front of you isn’t violence but it IS NOT RIGHT. So do something about it if you disagree with the drone idea erc but please dont threaten to do nothing! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence


  15. What bothers me most about this is how similar it is to the mischievous nonsense used to silence the XR movement to begin with. It’s petty and required no sacrifice on the part of the individuals that executed this “action”, it only infuriated the people that still need to be convinced. The way to get the kind of attention we need is by practicing what we preach; we need to be willing to make personal sacrifices and take the hit for it. This can be as little as actively writing your elected representatives and encouraging everyone you know to do the same. It’s WORK and it should be HARD WORK, as in COSTLY WORK, as in “huh, that person put their life on the line for this, maybe it’s not a joke after all”.

    Long road ahead of us but now’s as good a time as any to make clear that any actions taken on behalf of this organization should be simple enough that they can’t be reframed in any other way than “individual makes immense personal sacrifice to be heard”. If we go the route of the Whale Wars assholes we’ve long lost the moral high ground.

    This shouldn’t be a movement about imposing sacrifice on others, it should be one where those of us that understand what’s at stake make those sacrifices in their own lives to be heard. We need to lead by example which includes exhausting all proper means of democratic expression before embarking on the more extreme.

    Please, let’s not screw this up any further. If your “action” is only inconveniencing people outside of the movement, you’re doing it wrong. Our sacrifice is our message because only through global sacrifice can we gain any ground.


  16. I’ve been very supportive of XR so far, but I have some reservations about it just now which I did not have prior to Roger Hallam’s arrest for conspiracy to fly “toy drones” at Heathrow airport.

    There are many details about all of this which I don’t know, but it appears that Roger Hallam has been on record with the media as saying that he may at some point be involved in flying drones at the airport. And it appears that recent attempts to do just this were carried out by Heathrow Pause, which the media is now describing as a “splinter group” of XR. The problem I’m having, I guess, is with Roger Hallam, whom I love and respect, but whom I think has done significant damage to the sub-movement (it’s a sub-movement of the larger ecological / climate / environmental movement) which is XR. While it is the “splinter group” called Heathrow Pause which is perhaps ultimately responsible for this hairbrained drone episode, it appears Roger was himself at least supportive of the airport drone action.

    The obvious problem is that Roger, as a co-founder of XR, has many times insisted that XR have non-violent civil disobedience of a Gandhian / Martin Luther King Jr. kind right at the heart and core of XR. It is this commitment to non-violence which has garnered so much support from XR’s supporters. But there is no way to understand the airport drone action as rigorously non-violent. Should a toy drone find its way into the engine of a jet plane it would likely cause major havoc, and that havoc could potentially cause a jet plane to crash, killing hundreds of people. Therefore, at its heart, the drone action is a direct threat of violence to innocent people. And this threat of violence appears to have been sanctioned and supported by Roger Hallam, XRs co-founder.

    I cannot say how much this hurts my heart for the damage it has already done to XR’s reputation in our world. I am grieving now for the harm done. In great sadness and pain.

    XR should either disband and regroup as another more rigorously non-violent movement or take other, equally serious steps to regain the world’s faith in its word about non-violence. Non-violent civil disobedience never even subtly threatens what can reasonably regarded as a threat of violence. Non-violent civil disobedience is never a half-measure, a partway there, a paltry aside or quaint gesture. It is not a laughing matter. It is not silly. It is a powerful, soulful commitment. And now XR is stained by one of its founders.


    1. I think there is a difference between “violent” and “drastic” action. It is violent to cause an airliner to crash. It is drastic to shut down the airport. If there were no planes in the air, there would be no possibility of a violent outcome. Obtaining a reduction in carbon emissions is going to require drastic action.

      “And now XR is stained by one of its founders”. Don’t forget to mention that it is also stained by one of it’s other founders – when she she gave a talk at a psychedelic conference.


      1. Actually, Michael G, to threaten violence as a political tactic is not only itself an act of violence (as anyone who knows about nonviolent direct action would agree), it’s also considered to be terrorism. So that should never happen at the hands of XR or its supporters. You will note, however, that my view of XR has shifted since I learned more details about the Heathrow Pause toy drone action, as I wrote below. Heathrow Pause explained on their website that they took every possible precaution not to engage in violence or even the threat of violence — though the latter can be a bit of a fine line. Much of the public will regard any version of flying toy drones at airports as a threat of violence, even if the drones never fly more than head height (about 6 ft). And this is the main reason the use of drones for such actions should be abandoned as a tactic. It would be much more effective to show up at the airport en masse, repeatedly, to make a statement.

        As for your comment about psychedelics, I don’t think it was a stain. A great many people are known to have had great psychological healing benefits from the use of psychedelics, and the public view of psychedelics has softened considerably because of this fact. See, for example, https://maps.org/


  17. Since I wrote the above I learned that Heathrow Pause took every possible precaution to ensure no risk to life in their drone action, so my views have softened considerably on the matter. For one, the toy drones were never to fly above head level. Nor were they to be flown when a jet plane (or any plane) was in the vicinity. So there really was no threat of actual violence, and I was unaware of this when I wrote what I did.

    That said, I believe XR — and its “splinter groups” — should take great measures to ensure that they are not even perceived as potentially violent, or making threats of violence. The success of XR and its allied movement arms depends on this.


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