An Extinction Rebellion activist who sparked outrage after protesting at the Cenotaph yesterday has called Remembrance services at the memorial a ‘little ritual’.
Donald Bell, 64, who was a private in the British Army, claimed the government going to the central London landmark every year ‘was a sign of disrespect’.
The bizarre comments were quickly condemned by Good Morning Britain hosts Ben Shephard and Susanna Reid, who said his words would ‘ruffle a number of feathers’.
He was also today blasted by Lord Ridley, whose great grandfather was the architect of the Cenotaph ahead of its unveiling just over a century ago.
Mr Bell and nurse Anne White, 53, sparked fury when they trampled over wreaths and put up a banner saying: ‘Honour Their Sacrifice, Climate Change Means War’.
They held a two-minute silence before hanging their own wreath above ones laid by senior military figures, Royals and politicians.
It took the Metropolitan Police at least half an hour to take his down, despite one of their cars being parked within sight of the monument.
Donald Bell, 64, who was a private in the British Army, claimed the government going to the central London landmark every year ‘was a sign of disrespect’
Mr Bell (pictured) and nurse Anne White, 53, sparked fury when they trampled over wreaths and put up a banner saying ‘Honour Their Sacrifice, Climate Change Means War’
They held a two-minute silence before hanging their own wreath above ones laid by senior military figures, Royals and politicians
Trying to defend his actions from his home in Cambridge today, Mr Bell said: ‘It is about our futures, those soldiers gave their lives, the ultimate sacrifice for our future, so we can live in peace.
‘And when we have a government that’s ignoring this climate emergency that we’re in, their inaction is a crime.
‘When they turn up their every year for their little ritual that is a sign of disrespect as far as I’m concerned.’
Ms Reid cut the eco-warrior short and asked him: ‘What is a ”little ritual”… sorry you just used a phrase I think will ruffle a number of feathers.’
When asked if he was referring to the Remembrance service – which sees the country pay respect to servicemen who died in conflict – he said ‘yes’.
He added: ‘As far as the political side of this country is concerned, it’s just something they go through every year and I don’t feel they really respect the loss of life.’
Ex-Royal Marine Ben McBean, who fought in Afghanistan, raised his hand to his face and shook his head as Mr Bell spoke.
Ex-Royal Marine Ben McBean, who fought in Afghanistan, raised his hand to his face and shook his head as Mr Bell spoke
It took the Metropolitan Police up to half an hour to take it down despite one of their cars being parked within sight of the monument
Mr Bell, a 64-year-old former private (left, saluting the Cenotaph), said he wanted to highlight how climate change could cause more wars’
Mr Bell (right) said yesterday: ‘I took action today knowing that I would be criticised. I knew that I would be accused of being disrespectful and hated by many for speaking out in this way’
The Metropolitan Police later swooped and removed the protest from the monument in Whitehall, but it took them up to half an hour
Homes across the UK fell silent in remembrance of the nation’s war dead yesterday – as the coronavirus pandemic limited public commemorations.
Heartbroken veterans and well wishers were told not to go to the Cenotaph – to stop the virus spreading – but the brazen XR demonstrators ignored the request.
Mr Bell, who was injured in an IRA car bomb attack in Northern Ireland in 1974, was also criticised by Lord Ridley today.
The House of Lords hereditary peer savaged the ‘jolly day out for middle class people who want to show off that they care’.
The businessman, whose great grandfather was the architect of the Cenotaph, told TalkRadio: ‘Their slog that climate change causes war is simply untrue.
‘Climate change so far has caused an increase in crop yields around the world in all areas, that has led to less hunger and so on.
‘It’s possible in future there might be wars over climate change but you’ve got to make some pretty implausible conjectures to get there.’
He added: ‘Climate change is a problem, but the fact that it’s causing war is simply a falsehood.
‘And so you can’t help feeling, as I say, that this is more about how to entertain bored young people who want to show off.’
Mr Bell, who was injured in an IRA car bomb attack in Northern Ireland in 1974, was also criticised by Lord Ridley (pictured) today
The three-strong protesters bow their heads during their demonstration at the Cenotaph yesterday
Questions have been raised about the police’s response to the hijacking of the monument – which was attacked during a Black Lives Matter protest in the summer.
Former chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation Glen Smyth said it should not have taken police up to half an hour to react.
He told the Express: ‘Officers should have been much more aware, they really should. It should never have taken them so long to react.
‘Today it was a banner. The next time what might it be? There are a lot of deranged people out there motivated by all sorts of ideologies. You can’t afford to drop your guard.’
But the main fury was focused on the Mr Bell and Ms White, as veterans, MPs and the families of fallen soldiers rounded on the demonstrators.
Soldier turned letter-writing radical who glues himself to police cars and NHS nurse: The XR activists behind controversial protest at the Cenotaph
Former infantryman Donald Bell
As a young infantryman in the British Army, he was hit by shrapnel from an IRA car bomb that killed two other soldiers in Stewartstown in 1974.
Mr Bell completed four tours of duty with the Royal Anglican Regiment.
These days, he is fighting climate change.
In February, he was seen digging up the lawn at Cambridge’s Trinity College and was later arrested after gluing himself to a police van, telling reporters he had been writing letters to the Government for nearly 50 years but was always ignored.
He said: ‘We had to be more disruptive. I just felt compelled to do something for my children and grandchildren.’
NHS nurse Anne White, 53, has 30 years experience as a health professional
NHS nurse Anne White, 53, has 30 years experience as a health professional and a member of Extinction Rebellion.
Today she compared the climate change emergency to being called to save a patient’s life while on duty.
‘This is important to me as a nurse because it’s my job to promote health and save lives and climate change is already causing deaths all around the world,’ she said.
‘Many of these are a result of conflict over land, food and resources.’
Boris Johnson said the incident ‘on today of all days’ was ‘profoundly disrespectful’ while Sir Keir Starmer branded the protest as ‘wrong’ and ‘in bad taste’.
Tobias Ellwood, who served with the Royal Green Jackets before becoming an MP, said the group was going to ‘alienate’ people.
Meanwhile the Royal British Legion added that Armistice Day was ‘not for political protest’.
Speaking after the stunt at 8am yesterday, Mr Bell said he wanted to highlight how climate change could cause more wars.
He said: ‘I took action today knowing that I would be criticised. I knew that I would be accused of being disrespectful and hated by many for speaking out in this way.
‘Remembrance Day is never an easy time for veterans and this was not an easy decision for me to make.
‘But I served this country, I served the people of this country and the action I took today is about just that.
‘Unchecked climate change means a return to a world at war. I cannot stand by and let that happen. It is my duty to act.
‘This government’s own climate advisors, the committee on climate change, said last year that they have a ‘Dad’s Army’ approach to protecting British people from the impacts of climate change.
‘Their report in June this year showed that the government has failed to meet all but two of the 31 milestones it set itself for reducing emissions.
‘This government is criminally negligent and young people today will pay the price for their failure.
‘I did four tours in Northern Ireland. I have been in conflict. I saw good friends – my comrades, who I served with – die.
‘Many of the people who attend the Remembrance Day Service have never seen the horrors of war. I hope they never have to.
‘However you feel about the action today, I want people to take this message – if we don’t deal with this climate emergency, now, it will lead to war.’
Ms White, who has 30 years experience as a health professional in the NHS, also said she had no regrets.
She said: ‘Our action today was respectful to those who have lost their lives in past conflicts and aiming to prevent further loss of life in the future.’
She compared the climate change emergency as similar to being called to save a patient’s life while on duty.
She added: ‘This is important to me as a nurse because it’s my job to promote health and save lives and climate change is already causing deaths all around the world.
‘Many of these are a result of conflict over land, food and resources.
‘Climate change is causing wars. By neglecting to recognise that climate change is already causing conflict, we are dishonouring the lives of the soldiers and civilians who lost their lives for the future of humanity in previous wars.
‘It’s my professional responsibility to raise the alarm in a life threatening emergency and this is happening now.
‘I hope to draw the public’s attention to the fact that our own ministry of defence is preparing for conflict as a result of climate change.’
A troop of the Household Cavalry pay their respects in the early morning at the Cenotaph yesterday
The protest came as homes across the UK fell silent in remembrance of the nation’s war dead on Armistice Day.
People were encouraged to pause on their doorsteps or by windows for the traditional two minutes silence at 11am on Wednesday.
Covid-19 related-restrictions on gatherings and travel disrupted events this year, forcing last weekend’s Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph to be scaled back.
XR was met with fury among veterans and online as social media users branded the group ‘truly shameful’.
A spokesman for The Royal British Legion told MailOnline: ‘War memorials and graves honour the memory of every member of the Armed Forces who has made the ultimate sacrifice and deserve to be treated with the utmost respect.
‘The Armed Forces community, past and present, have made sacrifices in defence of the freedoms we have today, including the freedom of speech.
‘Whilst we respect the right of others to express their opinions within the law, we believe the Poppy Appeal is a time for Remembrance, and not for political protest.
‘Armistice Day is a poignant time when millions of people choose to reflect on the human cost of conflict and recognise the service and sacrifice of every member of the Armed Forces, and today in particular we mark 100 years since the return of The Unknown Warrior and all that this act of Remembrance symbolises.’
A large police presence around Parliament Square, Westminster on Armistice Day as the centenary of the Unknown Warrior was commemorated yesterday
Veterans pay their respects at the Cenotaph on Whitehall in remembrance to Britain’s war dead in central London yesterday
A large police presence was in Parliament Square yesterday during the service, with two officers pictured guarding the statue to Britain’s greatest Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill
The Prime Minister and Prince Charles were among those pictured arriving at Westminster Abbey yesterday morning to observe a two-minute silence as Britain marked Armistice Day
The PM’s spokesman said: ‘The Cenotaph is a memorial to those who fought and died to preserve all our freedoms.
‘On today, of all days, when we join together to pay tribute to our war dead, this action was profoundly disrespectful.’
Asked whether officers should have prevented the stunt, the spokesman said: ‘These are operational matters for the police.’
What is Extinction Rebellion and what do they want?
‘Extinction Rebellion is an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and the risk of social collapse,’ according to its website’s ‘about’ page.
The environmentalist protest group held its first demonstration in Parliament Square on October 31, 2018.
The worldwide group want to change the structure of power to take authority away from central governments.
Its website reads: ‘We understand that we must self-organise to meet our own needs, which in the context of Extinction Rebellion means that we are working to equalise power by disrupting the usual pillars of power that govern our lives.’
The environmentalist protest group held its first demonstration in Parliament Square on October 31, 2018
Since 2018 members of the group have gathered at London Fashion Week, the House of Commons and various other locations around central London.
On the morning of Wednesday, April 17, 2019, two activists climbed onto the roof of a Docklands Light Railway train at Canary Wharf station whilst another glued himself to the side, spreading disruption to railway services.
The following day the three activists were charged with obstructing trains. After pleading not guilty they were sent to jail for four weeks, with no bail, whilst awaiting their next hearing.
On February 17 2020, Extinction Rebellion members of the University of Cambridge dug up a patch of lawn outside Trinity College, as a protest against its investment in oil and gas companies. The mud dug up was later taken to a local branch of Halifax.
Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer tweeted: ‘Climate change matters, but the Cenotaph on Armistice day should be about one thing only – showing our respect for the sacrifice of the fallen who died to protect our freedoms today.’
A spokesman for Sir Keir said: ‘Today is Armistice Day when the whole country is remembering the sacrifices of those men and women who have fought for our freedoms.
‘No one can doubt how serious the climate emergency is. But the protests at the cenotaph are wrong, they’re in bad taste and we do not support them.’
Victoria Cross holder Johnson Beharry told the Sun: ‘Today of all days? It is the 11th of the 11th. It is Remembrance Day. They are really disrespecting our fallen.
‘If we hadn’t sacrificed our lives they would not be able to go and protest today. They should remember that.’
Trevor Coult was awarded a Military Cross for his actions during a complex ambush involving a suicide bomber and a machine gun position in Baghdad.
The veteran, who was a section Commander during the Iraq invasion 2003 and was deployed four times to Afghanistan, told MailOnline: ‘The police are under pressure but I think part of the problem is they are not treating everyone the same.
‘I speak to quite a few people about this… but the Met Police have lost their way. The Met do not have the support of the veterans anymore. It is quite sad it’s happened because they are usually behind the police.’
The former squaddie, who was involved in 178 engagements with enemy forces during his time on the front line and survived three IED explosions, added: ‘The vets get treated as second class citizens compared to BLM and Extinction Rebellion.’
MP Tobias Ellwood, who served with Royal Green Jackets told the Telegraph: ‘They will alienate the very people they want to persuade by choosing to target the Cenotaph on today of all days.
‘While many will support their cause, their tactics deployed here could easily backfire, which is a shame, given it is something that all nations including Britain will turn their attention to with us hosting COP26 [the climate forum].
‘The importance of what the Cenotaph stands for is that pivotal and iconic representation of the sacrifice that has been given for the freedoms we enjoy today.’
The Metropolitan Police said: ‘The MPS are aware of a protest at the Cenotaph on Whitehall which occurred at approximately 8am on 11 November. During this, a banner was put up by demonstrators.
‘This banner was removed by officers as soon as they became aware of it, within approximately half an hour of it being erected.
‘Officers are investigating any breaches of the regulations designed to prevent further spread of Coronavirus. A policing plan is in place throughout London for events to mark Armistice Day.’
Last month XR were blasted for going to Sir David Attenborough’s home before being turned away by his daughter who said they were shielding from Covid-19.
Eco-warriors delivered a letter and ‘gifts’ including an olive tree to the naturalist’s home in Richmond last month after he warned protesters not to break the law
Extinction Rebellion protestors block access of a printing house in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, leaving some newsagents’ shelves empty in September
They delivered a ‘starter pack on how to engage in civil disobedience’ to his house in Richmond, west London, after he warned them not to break the law.
They said the 94-year-old’s influence and comments ‘are contributing to the erasure of the voices and sacrifices of front-line earth protectors around the world’.
The four women and two men said they hoped to drop off the delivery in person so it came across ‘like a friend to a friend wanting to reach him where he lives’.
But they were told by Sir David’s daughter Susan he would not open the door amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In September protesters blockaded printworks for national newspapers, with one of the demonstrators claiming the British media was worse than the Nazis.
More than 100 protesters targeted Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, and Knowsley, near Liverpool, blocking newspapers from leaving.
Donnachadh McCarthy, 61, emerged as one of the leading figures in the group, and justified the attack by saying: ‘This is like World War Two and you guys [the newspapers] are on the other side. That is how we see it.
‘It puts you on the side of the existential threat. It is a different existential threat but it is a bigger one than the Nazis.’