Roger Hallam, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion and graduate from King’s shared some thoughts on the Holocaust with German newspaper Die Zeit. In an expansive interview, he said that the Holocaust was “almost a normal event…just another fuckery in human history.”
He defended his position by arguing that “millions of people have been killed in vicious circumstances on a regular basis throughout history.” He went further, arguing that the culture of Holocaust remembrance in Germany created “a paralysis in actually learning the lessons from it.”
The comments have drawn widespread scorn. XR Germany has condemned him on Twitter, saying his statements were “belittling and relativising,” and barring him from any cooperation with them. They said: “We explicitly distant ourselves from Roger Hallam’s belittling and relativising statements about the Holocaust. In so doing he contravenes the principles of XR, which does not tolerate antisemitism, and he is no longer welcome in XR Germany.” Similarly, German leaders from across the political spectrum have condemned him, and XR UK “unreservedly denounced” his comments and claimed he was not representative of the movement’s views.
But why, you might ask, is a professional protestor with a PhD in civil disobedience contributing to the historiographical record on the Holocaust? In a statement clarifying his position, he contended: “But it [the Holocaust] is happening again, on a far greater scale and in plain sight. The global north is pumping lethal levels of CO2 into the atmosphere and simultaneously erecting ever greater barriers to immigration, turning whole regions of the world into death zones. That is the grim reality.”
Following his remarks sparking fury across the globe, Hallam apologised for his cultural insensitivity in a statement published on Facebook yesterday. He said: “I am very sorry for the words I used. And I wish to apologise for the hurt and offence they have caused. My intention was the exact opposite of ‘downplaying the Holocaust’. It’s because of the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust that in talking to the German press, I was referring to it as the way to communicate the unimaginable tragedy of what is happening now today with climate change and ecological collapse around the world.
“I understand that such a debate is obscene and offensive, in particular for all those who remain haunted by memories of what occurred and for all those who lost people they loved. I am sorry for the crass words that I used. I do not feel the need to apologise for drawing attention to the genocide that is happening now.”
Hallam’s argument deeming the Holocaust “almost normal” and comparing it to other “vicious circumstances” in history is historically fatuous. The Holocaust stands apart in its scale, intent, and systemic character. This does not mean we ought to ignore other atrocities. But to argue it was a normal event is insulting. The comments betray Hallam as a thoughtless ideologue interested in weaponising the suffering of others to suit his own arguments.
Similarly, his argument claiming that history is repeating itself “on a far greater scale” is ignorant. Climate change is a complex process that has been ongoing for decades, conducted by numerous actors across varying regulatory environments and under a range of socio-economic stresses, with mixed impacts. The Holocaust was a deliberately planned extermination of entire peoples.
Conflating the two is not only historically illiterate. It is dangerous. Dealing with climate change will require careful analysis, well tested policy, and the balancing of numerous factors over an extended period. Halting it with direct force will cause vast damage to societies and economies around the world. Rage is cathartic, but it does not make for good policy.
Through historical ignorance and blind ideology, Roger Hallam has insulted whole communities with his irresponsible remarks. He is now being called on it. This can only be a good thing.