[Ppnews] The Eco-Terror Hoax

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Sat Apr 9 12:43:37 EDT 2005


Domestic Security and the Culture of Fear:The Eco-Terror Hoax
Revolutionary Diary <revolutionary_diary at yahoogroups.com>


Domestic Security and the Culture of Fear
The Eco-Terror Hoax

By KEVIN WEHR

Sacramento, California

It has become popular in recent years to designate any
non-mainstream political activity as "terrorism." Activity
as widely disparate as marching in the streets, holding
placards and chanting, sitting in trees to prevent
logging, and vandalism have all been put on par with the
actions of al Qaeda on September 11th, 2001. Since that
fatal day, such normal political actions (vandalism
notwithstanding) undertaken by normal Americans-that
protected political speech that we supposedly hold so dear
and must defend from extremists-has been legally
restricted, criminalized, and actively suppressed.

Political actions on behalf of the environment that have
involved property destruction or trespassing have been
widespread-from California to Colorado to Indiana to New
York-by people acting on their own and those associated
with groups such as the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), the
Animal Liberation Front (ALF), Earth First!, and People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), among others.
Some have targeted new housing developments, others have
opposed commercial projects. The activists have ranged
from the 23 year old Julia Butterfly Hill who sat in an
old-growth redwood tree for two years to keep it from
being harvested for timber to the 42 year old John Quigley
who quietly sat in 200 year old oak tree in Los Angeles
County for 70 days to protect it from being cut down for a
housing development.

The response by authorities has largely been to engage in
grandstanding and suppression, and is most clear in the
state of Oregon, which has become a hotbed of activity by
the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), which has claimed
responsibility for property damage in many locations
across the state. There have also been several arrests.
One activist, who is 5 years in to a 23 year
mandatory-minimum sentence for the arson of an SUV sales
lot resulting in damages of less than $50,000, said "I am
not a terrorist. I am a man guided by my conscience." But
being guided by your conscience towards property
destruction is terrorism, at least according to the FBI,
whose definition of terrorism is so broad it, well,
strikes terror into the hearts of ACLU members. Terrorism,
the FBI says, is the "unlawful use of force or violence,
committed by a group of two or more individuals, against
persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government,
the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in
furtherance of political or social objectives." But
individuals have been targeted, as have been loose
affiliations and organized groups. So does that make the
Watergate break-in terrorism? How about police brutality
in the war on drugs? What about jaywalking while wearing a
campaign button?

Further elision is shown by Oregon's Douglas County
Sheriff in a speech to the Roseburg Chamber of Commerce,
where he equated members of ELF, ALF, and all "anarchists"
as terrorists: "There is definitely a place for peaceful
and productive demonstrationsbut this is no Boston Tea
Party, this is not a Martin Luther King activity, this is
terrorism." Of course, today the activists who dumped tea
in the Boston harbor in 1773 would be branded terrorists
for such blatant actions of property destruction. Martin
Luther King, Jr. would have been a terrorist under the
FBI's definition.

But what is property destruction? Is it violence? Most
people probably think so, but they should rethink this
stance. Violence against people is different than violence
against things, and groups such as ELF specifically avoid
any and all violence against people. I may feel violated
when someone scratches my car with their keys or writes
graffiti on the fence in the alley. But this is a far cry
from assaulting my body. One is violent, the other is
merely rude. Treating them as the same thing actually
devalues human life and any violence directed at it.

But many in power do not seem to understand the difference
between truly terrorizing a population by threatening
their lives as compared to making a political statement
through property destruction. Such an argument apparently
is lost on the ears of officials like US Representative
Scott McInnis (R-Colo) who in March of 2002 equated ELF to
al Qaeda.

This tempest of labeling is not the exclusive province of
Sheriffs, Congressmen, or ambitious District Attorneys;
even public citizens have joined the bandwagon. Rodolphe
Streichenberger wants to line the ocean floor off of the
California coast with old tires in an effort to "plant the
sea" and grow a "marine forest" which he hopes can help
"feed the world." The California Coastal Commission took
exception to what they view as not much more than dumping
trash in the ocean, and the case has gone to court. What
is it that the Coast Commission is up to, according to
Streichenberger? Why it's "eco-terrorism" of course.

So called "eco-terrorism" is the flavor of the month in
northern California, where three arson incidents have
provoked authorities to declare the activists
"eco-terrorists." US Magistrate Judge Peter Nowinski, at
one defendant's bail hearing declared that the 21-year old
had "betrayed" his parents and "will betray them again."
So much for the suspension of bias: if a judge can make
such a sweeping declaration without hearing a whit of
trial evidence, a fair trial seems unlikely. Ryan Lewis,
the defendant, has of course been categorized as an
eco-terrorist-that is, a threat to domestic security.

Be afraid, everyone. Be very, very afraid. Or that is what
the media and the politicians want of you.

But we should not be afraid of young people who feel
strongly that the destruction of the earth in the name of
"development" or "progress" is wrong, and attempt take
action to draw attention to perceived abuses of the
environment in the only way they know how. No, we should
see this as an appeal, as a cry for attention. When people
feel strongly enough about a political issue to destroy
property, they clearly are not being heard-they feel that
they have no voice through normal, approved political
channels.

What we should really be afraid of are those purveyors of
fear that propagate irresponsible, politically motivated
labels. Calling Ryan Lewis-and so many
others-"eco-terrorists" contributes to our understanding
that the enemy is everywhere, that we are unsafe at every
turn. Such fear is functional for those who hold political
power. If the citizenry is afraid, if they think that they
might be subject to attack at any moment, then they will
be compliant in the face of shrinking civil liberties and
expanding defense budgets. If we do not resist such
attempts to curtail fundamental rights, then we truly do
not deserve what the founders of the nation saw as the
goal of the American Revolution: freedom from tyranny. As
Benjamin Franklin so aptly put it: "They who would give up
an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve
neither liberty or security."

When we label individual political speech and action using
a category as broad as "terrorism" we do a disservice to
ourselves and honest political communication. Terrorism
needs to be taken seriously, to be sure. The threats to
national security cannot be underestimated. But certainly
we must recognize that Americans themselves hold some
responsibility in this realm. A set of 1991 Defense
Department documents disclosed by Thomas Nagy in the
September 2001 issue of The Progressive magazine showed
that US forces undertook a program of violence in Iraq
that specifically targeted civilian water and sanitation
facilities. The Pentagon identified water treatment plants
and delivery systems for bombing with the full knowledge
that this would cause illness and death to normal Iraqi
civilians. Is this not terrorism? Can Americans abide such
action in our names? Certainly not. Terrorism is a term
that cannot be used loosely, and must be confined to
specific and well-defined actions, whether they are by
governments (yes, even the US and Israel),
government-sponsored groups (such as those financed by
Syria or Libya), or non-governmental organizations such as
al Qaeda. Calling kids from Oregon and California
"eco-terrorists" simply serves to distract us from the
real terrorists. What Lewis allegedly did was certainly
criminal, and we have given our justice system the
legitimate authority to punish such acts. But the
political identification of such behavior as being the
same as the intentional harm of innocent citizens is
irresponsible and abhorrent. Those who pander to the
public and whip up a culture of fear are to be resisted
with all our might.

Kevin Wehr is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the
California State University at Sacramento, and can be
reached at kwehr at csus.edu.

The Freedom Archives
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