Home Secretary Priti Patel has referred to Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists as “so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals”.
She said she refuses to allow the “guerrilla tactics” and “anarchy” of the climate protesters on the streets of the UK.
Her comments, made at the Police Superintendents’ Association annual conference, come after XR’s printing press blockade which left some newsagents’ shelves empty on Saturday morning.
Addressing the conference on Tuesday, which was held digitally due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Patel said: “Now it is said that where there is no law there is no freedom, and that law and order is the cornerstone of our free society.
“And without it we have nothing. But events of the last week have exposed another emerging threat – the so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals.
“Attempting to thwart the media’s right to publish without fear nor favour. And a shameful attack on our way of life, our economy, and the livelihoods of the hardworking majority.
“I refuse point plank to allow that kind of anarchy on our streets.
“And I’m right behind you as you bring the full might of the law down upon that selfish minority.
“The very criminals who disrupt our free society must be stopped.
“And together we must all stand firm against the guerrilla tactics of Extinction Rebellion.
“And that means adapting to the threat that they pose and ensuring that justice is served.”
Ms Patel said “attacking people’s jobs and livelihoods” is not “peaceful protest”.
She added: “These are not peaceful tactics. These are tactics that are deployed to cause maximum damage to society, blocking of roads for example.
“Last week we saw ambulances and blue lights not even being able to get through to hospitals basically, you know threatening people’s lives in addition to the economic wellbeing of our society at a time when actually we’re trying to get society up and running all over again.”
Ms Patel’s comments come after the Government said powers to help police deal with disruptive protests are “under constant review”.
Home Office minister Kit Malthouse accused some XR activists of seeking to “impose an extremist world view” on others, claiming the “worthy cause” of environmental campaigning is “undermined by their tactics”.
On Monday, he said he and Ms Patel are committed to ensuring the police have the “powers required to deal with the disruption” caused by groups, such as XR, telling the Commons: “I will keep the tools available to tackle this behaviour under constant review.”
He also said the tactics used by XR protesters will be examined to ensure police have the tools needed to “deal with” problems swiftly.
Responding to the comment made by Ms Patel, a spokeswoman for XR said: “Our action was a call for greater democracy, not an affront on it.
“The action affected one edition of a selection of newspapers, all with powerful voices who are having no trouble at all getting their chosen angle on this across.
“The suggestion that one edition of some newspapers being delayed as a symbolic action has adversely impacted the ability, or inclination of the news industry to report effectively on the climate and ecological emergency seems to give a rather damning assessment of the media’s commitment to reporting the truth of the situation.”
The spokeswoman accused the Government of attempting to push through “anti-democratic and authoritarian policies to inhibit peaceful protest”, adding: “In response to the comment about ambulances not being able to get through our roadblocks, this comment is fundamentally untrue.”
She said there are “countless videos of people moving out of the way for ambulances to pass during our actions”, adding that it is a priority to ensure they are able to pass.