Up to 20 SUVs parked in one of Melbourne's wealthiest suburbs were attacked in the night last week, with owners waking to find the cars' tyres let down.
Climate activist group Tyre Extinguishers claimed responsibility for the sabotage in Toorak, signalling a local offshoot has emerged in Australia following the group's liftoff in the US and various European countries.
A spate of attacks internationally suggests the group is not going away anytime soon – and one expert claims their actions could be a "gateway to violence".
And with SUVs making up more than 50 per cent of new vehicles sold in Australia last year, now is probably a good time to look at who the Tyre Extinguishers are, what are their goals and how attacks could escalate here.
Who are Tyre Extinguishers?
Tyre Extinguishers, or TX, have one aim, according to the group's website: "To make it impossible to own a huge polluting 4×4 in the world's urban areas."
Although TX now has affiliates in more than 20 countries – including the US, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK – it claims to be a "leaderless, autonomous movement" of groups, who act independently.
When did TX start?
While the nighttime ambush on SUVs in Toorak was new for Australia, TX has been active in international cities for some time.
The group registered a website and started a Twitter account in July 2021, and TX has claimed responsibility for many attacks around the world since.
Do you know more? Email email@example.com
What do they want?
The group claims SUVs are "a climate disaster" and needlessly dangerous on the roads.
TX urges recruits "everywhere" to target "posh and middle-class areas" in their cities and towns, find SUVs and deflate the tyres.
On its social platforms, the group consistently hammers SUVs as "tractors" and "gas guzzlers" that must be stopped at all costs.
"We need people everywhere deflating 4×4 tyres, week-in, week-out," the website declares, while issuing instructions on how to start operations and attack vehicles.
What do they do?
Most often under cover of darkness, TXers deflate tyres.
A how-to guide on the website instructs members to unscrew valves on tyres and then use a lentil or small bean to let the air escape.
"Repeat, repeat, repeat," it urges.
Single missions frequently end with dozens and dozens of SUVs taken out.
In July, 100 SUVs were "disarmed" in a neighbourhood of Lisbon, the Portugal capital.
What type of person joins TX?
Security and terror expert Dr Allan Orr told 9news.com.au a typical Australian member will likely be a university-educated Sydney or Melbourne urbanite in their 20s or 30s.
They are probably very active on social media and quite possibly use public transport or a bike to move around, Orr said.
Are they eco-terrorists?
That's how they should be viewed, Orr told 9news.com.au.
"Non-violence is a gateway to violence in these borderline acts where they are pacifistically aggressive," he said.
"If you go off the government's narrative and definition, this is eco-terrorism, using violence for political purposes."
Deflating tyres is "gateway violence", Orr said.
"To do this in the first place demonstrates a level of fanaticism (and) for many that is not going to be satiated until it reaches its goal.
"In essence, this is a declaration of war. It doesn't get any less muddy from here."
Are SUVs bad for the environment?
According to a report from the International Energy Agency, last year the world's SUVs collectively released almost a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The report noted that the average SUV consumes about 20 per cent more oil than the average medium-sized car to drive the same distance.
Oil use is directly linked to carbon dioxide.
Electric and hybrid SUVs have a smaller, friendlier footprint but the TXers don't care.
"Hybrids and electric cars are fair game," the website trumpets, adding that "we cannot electrify our way out of the climate crisis".
Should we be worried about TX?
Yes, Orr said, explaining that groups like TX can easily become a "perpetual irritant" capable of far more extreme acts.
"What these cells are doing with these micro acts of terror, they're trying to release their political steam, and they're trying to release that steam without going too far along the spectrum of violence."
A natural escalation, Orr said, could involve spray paint attacks on SUVs, torching of vehicles or worse.
Highly motivated eco-terrorists could consider taking out infrastructure, like an oil refinery or key roads and bridges in the future, he said, particularly as eco-politics grows more and more divisive and urgent.
"This is the uncompromising act of almost like a little Terra Nova," Orr said.
"The next (attack) is probably going to be bigger and brighter."
Showing how attacks can ramp up, a recent TX mission in the UK involved power drills to pierce the tyres of more than 60 4×4 vehicles at a car dealership.
What happens next with TX in Australia?
SUV owners in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne are bound to suffer more attacks over the next 6-12 months, Orr said, as more TX groups spring up.
"This movement will probably grow as they get notoriety through these acts, and they will achieve some level of success."
Over time, leadership can splinter and more radicalised offshoots can form.
"That's when you can start to see acts of violence that threaten people physically."