Over the past few months, radical environmentalists from New York to Oregon have been arrested and accused of “eco-terrorism” — a term invented by pro-industry think-tanks that falsely links non-violent activists with atrocities like those committed on September 11. All those arrested are facing outrageously harsh prison sentences, sometimes for vague crimes in which no action actually occurred, and in other cases for instances of property destruction in which no one was injured. The harshness of the sentences are based on the politics of the defendants more than the seriousness of any crime — even assuming there was any crime. Some defendants face life terms for arsons which — if committed for non-political motives — would only earn them a few months behind bars. All of this has been termed the “green scare” to compare it with the “red scares” of the 1920 and 1950s — witch hunts against radicals based on what people thought, not what they did. The point of these government actions is to scare us, but we won’t be scared.
The recent cases include the eco-activists indicted in Oregon, the comrades arrested in Auburn, the SHAC 7 and Rod Coronado, among other cases. (See specific articles, pg. 12, 13 and 22.) The government’s attempt to label these activists as terrorists is a dangerous and baseless extension of the “war on terrorism” to domestic environmental activists. Whereas the State Department defines “terrorism” as involving violence against human beings, the FBI definition of domestic terrorism includes any politically motivated crime. Even actions such as graffiti, gluing a lock or clogging a toilet are included in the FBI’s lists of domestic terrorist incidents. Although the FBI describes property damage as “violence” for purposes of prosecuting activists, the FBI’s national Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system defines “violent crime” as murder, rape, robbery and assault. The FBI has used the media to accuse activists of being eco-terrorists even though none of them have been charged under the terrorist criminal statutes (US Code Sec. 2331) and “eco-terrorist” is not defined in federal law.
These arrests come as a result of extensive surveillance and the use of paid informants. They coincide with other draconian measures that are being taken by the government, such as the push for immigration legislation which would increase the persecution of people who are indigenous to this land mass, but are deemed ‘illegal aliens’, and those who support them, and increased surveillance of groups participating in direct actions that run damage control for capitalism outside of ‘legal’ frameworks like Food Not Bombs and Critical Mass.
The FBI has identified “ecoterrorism” as the Number One domestic terrorism threat, although in 2003, FBI statistics showed 7,400 hate crimes and only 450 environmental crimes — none involving human injury. By contrast, since 1977, anti-abortion activists have perpetrated more than 59,000 acts of violence and destruction in the U.S. including seven murders, 17 attempted murders, 41 bombings, 165 arsons, three kidnappings, 122 assaults, 343 death threats and, most recently, 480 anthrax threats, according to the National Abortion Rights Action League.
In an excellent recent article, Catherine Komp credits industry groups — such as Ron Arnold’s Center for the Defense of Free enterprise — with inventing and promoting the concept of eco-terrorism. She explains that industry groups are now working to pass eco-terrorist laws: “The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative public-policy organization funded by more than 300 corporations, collaborated with the US Sportsmen’s Alliance, an advocacy group for hunters, fishers, and trappers, to write the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act. If passed into law, the Act would consider arson, property destruction or trespassing acts of domestic terrorism – if committed by animal-rights activists. The groups also wish to criminalize acts [such as] providing ‘financial support or other resources,’ including lodging, training or transportation to aid eco-terrorist activities.” While these laws have not yet passed, she notes “On the state level . . . lawmakers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, South Carolina, Arizona, Washington and Hawaii are pushing various versions of the ecological terrorism legislation.”
It is important to ask why the state is putting so much energy and imposing literal and rhetorical force against people who have not harmed or threatened to harm any living thing. The reason this is happening is because those in power want to draw attention away from the failing ‘war on terror’ abroad and scare people from supporting groups and activities which call attention to the way that neo-liberal economic policies lead to poverty, death, and ecological destruction. This is especially true for movements that have gained broad public support.
Large segments of the public are beginning to question the sustainability of the ‘American way of life.’ Real environmental dilemmas are every day becoming more urgent and less easy to disregard. The idea that our world and the life in it, in all its diversity, is more important than property or monetary gain is one that resonates with most people. The result of this is that policy makers can no longer ignore environmental issues. Even George Bush has had to admit that our society is addicted to oil.
The people with money and power are trying to pacify and commercialize the environmental movement like they have every other social movement or sub-culture that has set itself against the status quo, purging it of its most radical elements and buying out what is left. The green scare is an attempt to separate militant environmental activists who have a radical analysis from mainstream environmentalism by falsely equating militancy and attacks on property with terrorism — the mass destruction of life.
Meanwhile what is left of the movement is herded into state sanctioned channels of dissent, such as voting, letter writing, product purchasing and boycotts, which often render all but the most short-term solutions unachievable. The results range from promoting unsustainable and lucrative alternatives to oil like ethanol to commodifying the aesthetics of environmentally conscious living so completely that once alternative lifestyles become just another set of niche-markets within the system of global capital. All of this despite the fact that the neo-liberal order itself is daily responsible for more real terror and destruction of life in all its forms than any other force — and that the only way to address the root causes of environmental catastrophes is to disassemble the system.
The green scare is also part of a larger process whereby the government slowly pushes forward the boundary of its power, gradually desensitizing people to increased top-down repression and control. Visible markers of this advance can be seen on a myriad of fronts, from the high profile arrests of people for ‘eco-terrorism’ to increasing intimidation of radical projects on a more widespread scale. Projects like Food Not Bombs and Critical Mass are a threat to those in power because they go against the principles of neo-liberal capitalism by demonstrating that people can come together and get things done without being motivated by the market; that mutual aid and direct action can be more persuasive and effective than isolation and greed.
The objective of these intimidation tactics, in the end, is to scare us because we have scared them and because we are being effective. We have scared the rulers by failing to respect the greed ethic of capitalism and by valuing life and the environment over corporate profits and property. They want us to watch what we say and who we associate with or to focus on reacting to their oppression instead of engaging with our world and creating new and beautiful visions for it. If environmental consciousness is to become ubiquitous, they want to make sure that it is also harmless and ineffective.
The only way they can win is if we give in to fear and spend all our energy reacting to their repression. They win if we cease to live in defiance of their brutal machine. Efforts like prisoner support are important, but can’t take the place of staying militantly on the offensive with vibrant and creative actions that are motivated by mutual love and respect for ourselves and our world.