What to do when protesters glue themselves to things?

Depending on how long it lasts, our time may be known as the Adhesive-Based Protest Epoch(sy).

Glue-ins began in 1997, when anti-roadway protesters in the U.K. began using tactics like locking themselves together using arm tubes or gluing themselves to walls and fences.

Following that event:

In 1999, climate activist group Earth First! pioneered "lock-ons," where protesters use bicycle locks or other devices to chain themselves together into human blockades.

Throughout the 2000s, environmental groups like Earth First! and later Extinction Rebellion began using more adhesive tactics.

In 2009, Greenpeace activists climbed Mount Rushmore and unfurled a banner after gluing their hands to the mountain.

In 2011, Occupy Wall Street protesters glued bricks to the floor in strategic places to make it harder to remove encampments.

In 2014, animal rights group PETA's supporters famously glued themselves to the floor of a grocery store in Italy to protest meat products.

The use of strong adhesive tactics escalated significantly starting around 2020, especially with groups like Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil pioneering disruptive glue-ins on roadways, famous artworks, and more.

Twenty twenty-two was a busy year:

In October 2022, two climate activists glued themselves to John Constable's "The Hay Wain" painting in the National Gallery in London.

In July 2022, a group called Just Stop Oil glued themselves to the frame of Raphael's "The Madonna of the Pinks" at the National Gallery.

In April 2022, climate activists glued themselves to the speaker's chair in the U.K. House of Commons.

In March 2022, a group glued themselves to the floor below Picasso's "Massacre in Korea" painting at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.

In February 2022, protesters glued themselves to the NFL field during the Los Angeles Rams' Super Bowl victory ceremony.

And on September 7, 2023, the U.S. Open was hit...

Coco Gauff's U.S. Open semifinal victory over Karolina Muchova was delayed by 50 minutes because of a disruption by four environmental activists in the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands Thursday night. One protester glued his bare feet to the concrete floor.


In September 2022, climate activist Laura Vherzan glued herself to the court at the US Open tennis championships during a quarterfinal match between Novak Djokovic and Matteo Berrettini. She wore a shirt that read "End Fossil Fuels Now." Play was delayed for several minutes while security unglued her and removed her from the court.

In all of the instances cited, one way or another, the protesters were removed.


Is there a duty to "rescue" them?  (Especially from themselves?)

In general, no.  There is generally no broad legal duty in the United States requiring strangers to rescue one another.  However, there are some exceptions and nuances, none of which seems applicable to these protesters:

  • Several states have "duty to rescue" laws that require people at the scene of an emergency to provide reasonable assistance to someone in danger.  This applies only if rescue can be done without endangering oneself.
  • If you start assisting someone voluntarily, you then have a duty to continue assisting in a reasonable manner.  You cannot abandon the person in a worse situation.
  • Parents, legal guardians, spouses, and ship captains have a duty to rescue certain people with whom they have a special relationship.
  • People with special training may have a duty to intervene in certain emergencies related to their expertise — for example, an off-duty doctor passing a car accident.
  • People who put others in danger through their actions may have a duty to rescue them from that peril.
  • Workplaces, schools, and similar institutions may have policies requiring rescue in their jurisdiction.

Well...how about a duty to remove?

Generally, there is no absolute legal requirement mandating that glued or attached protesters must be forcibly removed in all situations.  However, authorities do have significant discretion to remove criminal trespassers or those violating reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on speech.  Some key considerations:

  • Authorities can likely leave benign protesters temporarily attached but may act to prevent ongoing disruptions or public safety issues.
  • Removal requires weighing factors like the nature of the protest, location, duration of disruption, safety hazards, and potential harm from removal.
  • Courts have generally allowed removal of disruptive glued protesters using reasonable force, but authorities risk lawsuits if they cause serious harm.
  • Private property owners may have more leeway to remove trespassers but could also face liability for injury.
  • Authorities may have a duty to provide necessities like food, water, and bathroom access if protesters are left attached for long periods.
  • At some point, blocking of a public space or facility may necessitate removal, but there are rarely fixed time limits established in law.

In summary, while removal is not absolutely mandated in all cases, authorities do generally have discretion to unglue and arrest significantly disruptive, dangerous, or trespassing protesters after weighing many factors.

And in removing persons, the removers face some liability to the removees if not done properly.

So why bother removing them?  It is discretionary.

I say let them sit or stand or whatever where they have chosen to be stuck.

Feed them occasionally.  Let them relieve themselves in either their pants, skirts, skorts, etc. or in a bedpan.

In the case of an art gallery, heck, let 'em sit, and either close the gallery or label them a new installation of performance art.  Or just cover them up.

They chose to get stuck.  It is not the legal responsibility of others to unstick them.

Do these enough times, and it will stop Stop Oil Now and its ilk.

Image: Matt M. via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0 (cropped).

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