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News + PoliticsEnvironmentWells Fargo CEO 'arrested' for climate crimes in Extinction Rebellion action

Wells Fargo CEO ‘arrested’ for climate crimes in Extinction Rebellion action

Yes, it's political theater—but people who profit from the destruction of the planet should at some point be held accountable.


On October 13, the arrest of Charles Scharf was rehearsed outside his bank’s Market Street office in San Francisco. 

Scharf, Chief Executive Officer of Wells Fargo, was not actually arrested, although he was invited to come out and hear the charges against him.

California’s penal code permits anyone to make a citizen’s arrest if they witness a misdemeanor or felony crime, or have reason to believe a felony has been committed.  That includes white collar crimes and property crimes. 

Wells Fargo CEO gets a slap on the wrist.

Climate activists in Extinction Rebellion decided Scharf’s bank loans of $316 billion to oil, gas and coal corporations since 2016 qualify him for arrest, as his financing of fossil fuel projects leads to excessive planet warming, floods, wildfires, death, and destruction.  (War profiteering by defense industry corporations also merits some arrests; but Extinction Rebellion isn’t taking that on right now.)

A warrant server outside Wells Fargo headquarters initiated Scharf’s arrest for climate crimes. Through a megaphone, the citizen from Extinction Rebellion called for the bank CEO to surrender. A megaphone was needed because security guards inside the building refused to let activists deliver a warrant in person. (I know this because I stood at the front entrance and asked a guard to let me in.) 

Anticipating Scharf’s reluctance to participate in the event, Extinction Rebellion activists had an actor ready to portray the CEO outside his building. Scharf’s stand-in surrendered, but not before he argued that “everything our bank does is for the good of the country, to secure energy independence, freedom from want, the American dream.”   Then he called for his lawyer.

Surrender, CEO!

Another actor claiming to be Scharf’s lawyer defended the CEO as “too big to fail, too big to go to prison or even go to trial.”  That did not prevent me from handcuffing the actor portraying Scharf, who after some consultation with his lawyer agreed to accept a slap on the wrist. 

Before he could exit, the Scharf stand-in was confronted by two women from Extinction Rebellion who spoke on behalf of future generations, including a toddler wearing a judge’s robe and wig. The kid smiled and said “Hi,” or maybe it was “Hee,” a friendly judgment in any case. 

A startling, ten-foot tall, ornate cloth puppet, an earth mother (or was she Mother Earth?) with the faces of six children in her folds stood with two other women as they told Scharf’s stand-in he should take a time out and stop harming the planet.

The Extinction Rebellion delegation warned Scharf that while only an actor,  not the CEO himself,  had been arrested during this performance,  the banker should take notice. The time has come to stop arresting peaceful protesters and start arresting climate criminals instead. 

Telling the CEO to take a time out.

It’s not unusual these days to hear an elected official in Washington DC dismiss an opponent’s impassioned speech by saying: “It was only political theatre.” Extinction Rebellion’s street theatre ought not to be dismissed, although it is theatre; it’s also a rehearsal for the prosecution of criminals.  Those who profit by financing climate chaos—bank CEOs and others—should be held accountable for their felonious misconduct.  Let the citizen’s arrests begin.

Joel Schechter, professor emeritus of San Francisco State University’s School of Theatre and Dance, participated in several Extinction Rebellion performances, including “The Citizen’s Arrest of a Climate Criminal” described here.  A brief film version of the arrest scene can be watched online here.

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