The wildlife biologist and campaigner Raphael Coleman, known in XR as Iggy Fox, joined Extinction Rebellion as part of the Media and Messaging team in 2018. He was active in XR Youth, a beloved member of the Snowflakes affinity group, and the force behind XR’s iconic Paint The Streets campaigns. When still a zoology student, he set up the non-profit organization The Wildwork, a flourishing global network of wildlife and wilderness workers committed to conserving wild species and their habitats.
On 6th February 2020, Fox collapsed during a run and died as the result of an undetected heart condition.
His championing of wildlife and wilderness ecosystems remains an inspiration to many in and out of XR.
He was 25 years old.
At the time of his death, Fox and others from the Snowflakes affinity group were due to stand trial for vandalising the Brazilian Embassy in London. The case has been postponed until next year due to Covid. This is an edited version of the defence speech he planned to give in court.
…I did splatter red paint, stick messages, and spray stencilled slogans of dissent on the Embassy of Brazil in London on August 13th 2019. I have no intention of denying that or trying to convince you otherwise.
So I have plead Not Guilty not because I’m trying to convince you that I didn’t do it, or that there is no case to answer. There is a very important case to answer, and great crimes have been committed.
But I will state for the record that the case of Regina v. Barnard and others for Criminal Damage at the Brazilian Embassy is the WRONG case to answer.
If you’ll humour me, I want you to imagine for the rest of the case that in fact, our roles have been reversed. We, the defendants, are in fact the prosecutors. And the Prosecution, in fact, represents the defence for the Brazilian Government – who are accused of the following crimes and breaches of peace and law:
- Criminal Damage to Indigenous homes and villages
- Arson, or destruction by fire, of Indigenous lands
- Ecocide, or the mass destruction of the environment on which humans and other species depend for survival
- Criminal Neglect of their duties to protect Brazil’s people, such as in their inaction during the oil spill crisis on Brazil’s Northeastern coast
- Hate speech directed towards marginalised communities such as the Indigenous, Black and LGBTQ+
- Breaches of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- And finally, Inciting Genocide of Brazil’s Indigenous peoples, a crime against humanity under the Rome statute
In other words, instead of the case laid before you, I am asking you to consider whether the Brazilian State is in fact Guilty of the crimes I have just listed.
If you find that to be true, it follows that we are Not Guilty of Criminal Damage, having a Lawful Excuse to this charge, by virtue of acting prevent the greater crimes committed by Brazil’s Government.
You may see this as a tall order seeing as I’m no lawyer. But with the knowledge I have of the situation, I consider it my civic duty to lay the evidence of these crimes before you, and allow the jury to come to their own conclusions.
Your decisions as an impartial court of law with an independent jury, and their reporting in the media, may well influence the criminal cases of senior Brazilian government officials. This is no accident or coincidence.
Brazil’s Minister for the Environment, already a convicted fraudster, is facing impeachment on several charges. The current President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has also been previously fined for environmental misdemeanours. In a case brought by Brazilian lawyers to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Bolsonaro is now set to stand trial for ecocide and inciting genocide. Bolsonaro has refused to attend the trial – I see it as no unfair advantage to conduct one in his absence today.
Who am I to speak and act like this?
A fair question. To most people in the Rebellion I am known as Iggy Fox – a pseudonym which I’ve used to avoid media enquiring invasively into my personal or professional life. My legal name is Raphael Coleman, and I was born and raised in London.
I have mixed European origins. Although our knowledge of my family history is limited and we don’t talk about it much, we know it’s a story of many movements, often survivors fleeing from violence. My grandfather originally came to this country as an illegal immigrant from the Czechoslovakia during the Second World War. He was one of two survivors from a family of nine; the remaining seven died in Nazi concentration camps. Many other branches of my family tree were affected or cut off as a result of prejudice or fascism, although just how badly or how many we’ll never fully know.
I am a wildlife biologist and science communicator. I specialise in tropical animal conservation, and much of my work is conducted in the field or what you might call ‘Ground Zero’. I’ve lived, worked and travelled for over two and a half years in Latin America, a continent I fell in love with for its people, landscapes and wildlife. During that time, I’ve often worked in or explored the continent’s wild places alongside Indigenous people of several different ethnicities and cultures – especially in Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia, and briefly in Brazil.
Why I joined the Rebellion
As scientists we are taught to be impartial. Our job is to observe reality, collect the data, analyse the results, and report the facts – to tell the cold, hard, mathematical truth.
But what do you do when that truth is so horrific it keeps you awake at night? What do you do when the results of observed reality are so inhumane that your inaction becomes a moral wrong?
Increasingly, there’s an expression used to describe scientists who continue to passively monitor and observe as our civilisation falls apart around us.
We call them Scribes of the Apocalypse – the people who watch and take notes as the world burns.
In October 2018 I was still applying for field research and media jobs, fighting up to 120 other applicants for a paid position in an underfunded field, when the words Extinction Rebellion caught my ear. They were published in the blog of a journalist and ex-ecologist whose work I greatly respect, George Monbiot. The word Extinction is somewhat like a trigger for conservation biologists – it’s what we spend our entire lives fighting.
I was attracted to a demonstration called the Declaration of Rebellion, where Monbiot spoke passionately about a brighter future for our planet. Alongside him, a small 15-year old Swedish girl I had never seen before spoke with startling simplicity and clarity about the science of climate breakdown. I later found out her name: Greta Thunberg. I listened as hundreds of people repeated the words of a strange document in front of Parliament – the Declaration – which spoke of a grassroots Rebellion against governments, founded on the science I study, to prevent an apocalyptic future in the face of our dire predicament. In it were the following words:
When government and the law fail to provide any assurance of adequate protection, as well as security for its people’s well-being and the nation’s future, it becomes the right of its citizens to seek redress…. It becomes not only our right, it becomes our sacred duty to Rebel.
Little did I know that later on, I would be the one speaking those words out to thousands of people, and asking them to repeat them with me. Someone took my email, and the following week I met the man who wrote those words, who now stands trial in this same court for criminal damage at the Shell headquarters.
He and others, who I later came to trust as friends and colleagues, trained me in a strange thing called non-violent direct action. I found out it involved peacefully breaking the law where all other traditional methods of achieving change had failed – petitions, marches, lobbying, and all the work I’d participated in before. There, I met Barbara, alongside several others, who were willing to do whatever possible, including risking their liberty, to stand up for our futures. Together we formed an affinity group, which someone jokingly called the Snowflakes.
As we talked I was nervous about breaking the law, worried, and not yet ready to make that commitment myself. I agreed I could support them, but only as a non-arrestable: bringing food or blankets, providing first aid, or taking photos. At the time I gave every excuse I could think of not to be arrested.
I said because I often work with under-18s in environmental education, a criminal record could end that part of my career. But neither could I look those young people in the face and teach them about sustainability knowing plainly that with no power to vote or influence the world, we had no way of making our leaders listen.
I said couldn’t pay court costs on my non-existent fieldwork salary, which usually consists of room and board at best. But in the Indigenous communities and frontline reserves I worked with, I knew my colleagues standing up against ecocide often paid with their lives.
I argued that to uphold my reputation as a scientist, I certainly didn’t want my name and face all over the papers as some kind of criminal political activist. But the truth was that scientists were increasingly taking to the streets, and even risking arrest to make their point where talking to the media and the government had failed.
For many months I said no; it wasn’t worth it – the law-breaking should be left to someone else.
But I did start volunteering with the Rebellion more often. As part of the media team, I found that suddenly I could help communicate the science to thousands of people – whereas before the press and the public never heard what we fieldworkers had to say. I realised my voice was quickly becoming more influential as an activist than it ever had been as a scientist. Soon I stopped working on my research, or even applying for field jobs.
Why I felt forced to take action
What really changed my mind was hearing from Indigenous communities and independent reporters on social media what was happening in the Brazilian Amazon when Bolsonaro came to power in January 2018. He wasted no time.
Immediately he began dismantling the State ministries and bodies charged with the human rights protections of Indigenous people, all the while continuing to spew a rhetoric of hate and belittlement towards marginalised groups. He continued to encourage deforestation and clearing of land in wildernesses, argued the Indigenous had too much land and should be culturally assimilated. He solidified the culture of impunity for racial violence and environmental crimes, denying evidence of Indigenous murders and advocating for the legalisation of destructive practices such as wildcat mining.
Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake: this is what fascism looks like.
In Indigenous communities, there was rage. Fear. Desperation.
And in the face of it all, defiance.
With just a little research, videos kept surfacing on social media of Indigenous activists and leaders putting out passionate cries for help where their government and corrupt press had failed them. They called out for international support – media coverage, protests, boycotts, actions, any kind of support they could muster.
Yet in the mainstream media, in Brazil and Europe, the silence was deafening.
People question: “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Perhaps we should ask instead: “if a gunshot rings out in the Amazon, but no witness or camera is there to tell the tale, will anyone but the murderer hear the tribesman scream?”
These people are neither stupid nor are they savages. They know exactly what happens when men with guns enter their lands in search of money. It’s been happening to them for over 500 years, since South America was first colonised.
Genocide. Isolated tribes contacted without their consent, and then wiped out. Hundreds, thousands, millions dead from diseases which they have no immunity to. And whomever the illness didn’t kill, the white man would invade, dominate, evangelise, and decimate for their homelands and the riches they could extract from them.
In this country, remembering the Second World War and it’s horrors, we respond with two simple words: “never again.” Those words come from our very bones, and we mean it. People who have suffered under authoritarian, racist and fascist ideologies recognise them emerging, because they can never forget. Forgetting risks history repeating itself.
And history has shown us what comes next when leaders like Bolsonaro begin assaults on human rights and advocate for “sovereignty” over the lands of others – a prettily spun word for what is undeniably an invasion leading to genocide. Sure enough, racial violence increased, deforestation skyrocketed, and in an unexpected turn of events, Bolsonaro’s supporters set out in their thousands to torch the Amazon on a scale unlike any seen in previous years.
With this in mind, I knew the consequences, cost, and impact of the damage caused any action we took would be dwarfed by the already-existing and still-to-come consequences of the damage and violence occurring in Brazil. During the Fire of London, citizens were recorded to have been forced to destroy the houses of neighbours on their street to prevent the spread of fire, limiting the damage. The concept is centuries old, and is often referred to as acting to prevent a greater harm. We acted to prevent the spread of a fire, both real and ideological, in the public interest of the entire planet’s inhabitants, human and otherwise.
The Brazilian State is indeed not the house between the fire and the population – it is in itself match, lighter, fluid, fuel and igniter. The State is stoking the flames of hate, destruction, violence and genocide – flames we sought to extinguish with our paint. Some may argue Government officials are not to blame. But you would not say that Hitler or his generals were not war criminals just because you could not prove they turned the gas valves themselves in the concentration camps in which my family suffered during the 2nd world war.
We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s anti-religious laws.
Martin Luther King – Writing from Birmingham jail in 1963
Back then, in Nazi-occupied territories, war crimes were considered legal. Resistance to Nazism, fascism, racism, violence and genocide was criminalised, and punishable by death. But good people broke those laws and risked everything anyway. It would be absurd to argue that those who resisted or escaped these moral crimes were themselves immoral criminals, simply because their actions were often illegal. Their morality and conscience propelled them to use any means at their disposal even if it was against the law – theft and sabotage of military equipment, hiding Jewish fugitives, assisting their escapes and border crossings. They acted out of conscience and broke laws to protect themselves, their countries, communities, friends, and fellow human beings from a greater evil – Nazism.
As the grandchild of a holocaust survivor, I exist because of said resistance to fascism. The majority of my grandfather’s family died in concentration camps as he escaped Czechoslovakia and fled to London. He, and by extension I, won the privilege of survival where others were not so lucky. To stand now by while people are violently exterminated by the same ideologies that murdered my family would not only be an insult to my ancestors, but a moral abdication of my responsibility as a human being. In other words, I could not live with myself knowing I am alive because people stood up for my kind, while they die because no one stood up for theirs.
In this moment I invoke Article 9, our Right to Freedom of Conscience, won by the Conscientious Objectors who refused to go to war in order to kill other human beings. I felt compelled by special circumstances, as an individual, to do all in my power to oppose and prevent the greater crimes of genocide and ecocide. I made a conscious, informed, careful, reasonable act of conscience, but it was also a crime of passion motivated by love, rage, compassion, and grief for the destruction being wrought in Brazil.
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