On Wednesday, July 26, 2023, a portrait of King Charles III in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh was defaced by two climate activists from a group called This is Rigged. 

The protesters spray-painted the group’s flame logo in neon pink on the monarch’s body and “the people are mightier than a lord” on the painting’s background.

They then glued themselves to the gallery wall next to the portrait and demanded that the Scottish government stop issuing new oil and gas licenses and provide a fair transition for oil workers.

The incident sparked outrage and controversy, as many people condemned the vandalism as disrespectful and criminal. Some also questioned why the activists chose to target the portrait of King Charles III, who has been a vocal advocate for environmental causes for more than 50 years. 

The portrait, painted by Victoria Crowe in 2018, depicts the king at his Birkhall home on the Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire, where he has been involved in various conservation projects.

The activists, however, defended their action as a necessary and symbolic gesture to draw attention to the climate crisis and the role of the Scottish government in perpetuating it. 

They claimed that they were inspired by the slogan of the Highland Land League, a 19th-century movement that fought for the rights of crofters who were evicted from their lands by landlords.

They argued that Scotland, as the biggest oil producer and second-biggest gas producer in Europe, has a responsibility to stop exploiting fossil fuels and ensure a just transition for oil and gas workers. They also warned that they would continue to target the Scottish government until their demands are met.

The incident raises some important questions about the ethics and effectiveness of direct action as a form of protest. On one hand, some might argue that such actions are justified and necessary to create public awareness and pressure on the authorities to take action on urgent issues like climate change.

On the other hand, some might argue that such actions are counterproductive and harmful, as they alienate potential allies, damage public property, and distract from the actual message. Moreover, some might wonder whether targeting a symbol of monarchy, especially one who has been supportive of environmental causes, is an appropriate or strategic choice.

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