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Thursday, March 9th, 2006
The Green Scare
On January 20th, eleven people were indicted in Oregon by a grand jury
investigating acts of sabotage linked to the underground Earth Liberation
Front (ELF). The actions, going back nearly a decade, include a number of
arsons - with such targets as a ski resort expansion into endangered lynx
habitat and a facility for rounding up wild horses for dog food. There were
no injuries in any of the actions, but the FBI claims over $25 million in
damage to property.
Some of those indicted had been arrested in December, including one
person who died in custody in Arizona. Shock waves have been reverberating
through the environmental activist community, and the situation is still
unfolding. Two more people were arrested in Olympia, Washington, on
February 23, and the day before, outspoken Native American and animal
rights activist Rod Coronado was arrested in Tucson, Arizona, on charges
sent down by a grand jury in San Diego. In addition, there is a grand jury
investigating Animal Liberation Front (ALF) activities in San Francisco.
But those being rounded up are not only being charged with crimes
associated with the acts the FBI and grand juries allege - they are also
being labeled as terrorists. Moreover, Coronado's charges stem solely from
a public address he gave in San Diego in 2003. During this speech, in
response to a question from the audience, he explained how he went about
setting a fire at an animal testing lab in Michigan in the early 1990s - an
arson crime for which he had previously served a four-year term in federal
prison. For answering that question, Coronado has been accused under a
little-used federal statute making it a felony to "teach or demonstrate the
making or use of an explosive or destructive device."
The FBI announced last year that ELF was their #1 priority for
domestic terrorism. Now they have help from groups like the American
Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative public policy lobbying group
funded by over 300 corporations. ALEC, in collaboration with the US
Sportman's Alliance, has written model legislation stepping up the ante for
acts of property destruction committed against corporations in the business
of development, logging, mining and vivisection.
Legislation has been introduced in nine states seeking to categorize
property destruction, trespass or arson as acts of domestic terrorism IF
committed by animal rights activists. Of course, arson, trespass and
vandalism are already illegal, but ALEC wants to see additional layers
added so that those who support those activities - financially or otherwise
- could also be prosecuted. The terrorist label, and the addition of
conspiracy changes, as in the current cases, are meant to marginalize and
vilify people already facing criminal charges and to enhance sentencing
options. In the current culture of fear that exists in the US, the
vilification in effect denies the accused their right to a presumption of
innocence until a trial.
The branding of acts of property destruction as terrorism rather than
sabotage increases the sensationalism surrounding this politically charged
situation, and is designed to send potential support running in the
opposite direction. The authorities even call those arrested "the family,"
in an undisguised attempt to evoke images of the notorious Manson family.
But the Manson family were cold-blooded murderers. The indicted
environmental activists are people never known to carry weapons. There have
been no injuries or deaths in connection with the actions alleged. Yet they
are being called terrorists, even as violent attacks by the right-wing have
gone un-prosecuted - 7400 hate crimes motivated by race, ethnic, religious
or sexual orientation, according to the FBI's own 2003 statistics.
The agenda is criminalization of dissent, long within the purview of
the FBI, but the less recognized agenda is also protection of wealth and
private property. It seems ALEC would put damage to property on par with
threat or actual harm to life. Nowhere, in the FBI's pronouncements of how
heinous these acts they call terrorism are, is a body count or even a
litany of injuries. The "injury" is defined in millions of dollars to
corporations who are in the business of building multi-million dollar
developments on endangered species habitat.
If property destruction is put on par with threat to life, the
question must be asked whether the next step will be increased prosecution
for the revered tradition of non-violent civil disobedience or vilification
of the successful market campaigns carried out by the likes of Rainforest
Action Network, because after all, those activities, as well as boycotts
and strikes, put a dent in the bottom line of profit margin. In fact,
attacks disguised as IRS investigations and other back door strategies are
already on the rise against organizations that carry out civil disobedience
and market campaigns.
"Eco-terrorism," a term trumpeted in the media, was invented in the
early 1990s by public relations firm Hill and Knowlton, in the employ of
corporations in the extractive industries. It was then put into popular use
by right-wing ideologues like Ron Arnold, long known as a vehement
anti-environmentalist whose self-professed goal is to destroy the
Property destruction is sabotage, not terrorism. Call it what it is,
and then debate appropriate prosecution and penalties.
Karen Pickett is the director of the Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters
Forest. She has been an Earth First! activist since the early 1980s.
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