A member of the Derrick Jensen mailing list pointed out a brilliantly-written letter to the editor of a small Virginia community newspaper, describing new laws to increase penalties for ‘eco-terrorism’, a vaguely defined term which appears to include acts of sabotage to corporate ‘property’, even if they do no harm to any individual. The law was apparently designed to discourage acts against the property of logging, mining, and factory farm corporations, developers and SUV retailers. Here’s the letter in its entirety.
Last week, you used the term “ecoterrorist” with regard to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). A note on semantics: The Department of Defense defines terrorism as “The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence against individuals or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives.”
Somehow, burning a bulldozer fails to meet these criteria. Unlawful and ideological, yes. But they intended to coerce corporate entities (United Land, Virginia Land, Kessler Group, Regency Centers, and Dierman Realty Group), not governments or societies.
Do you feel “terrorized” by the loss of the Land Company’s trackhoe? Even developer Wendell Wood seems non-plussed. “You can go buy another.”
What is scary is how terms like “ecoterrorist,” “cyber-terrorist,” “narco-terrorist” and “special-interest terrorist” are slipping into our vernacular.
Know this: “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” legislation was proposed in Texas and New York, to officially label many forms of advocacy as “terrorism.” Plus, President Bush’s proposed Patriot Act II hopes to broaden the definition of terrorism and make it easier to sentence such “terrorists” to death. Now, who’s scaring who?
Indeed, the ELF is the FBI’s top priority regarding domestic terrorism. But I, for one, would hope they’d instead focus more on whoever mailed U.S. military-manufactured anthrax and ricin to Congress.
Truth is, most people agree with ELF’s intentions. A recent national survey found that two out of three people think the environment is more important than property rights, corporate profits, or even creating jobs.
The ELF usually targets only the most egregious of industrial polluters and ecology-destroying profiteers. Take Nestle’s Ice Mountain bottled water, which built a plant in Michigan’s Mecosta County (despite a 2-1 resident vote to deny them zoning) and then proceeded to violate state and federal water rights by siphoning from public rivers and streams. ELF activists, after exhausting legal avenues of dissent, tried to blow up the plant.
Is the sprawling Hollymead Center as bad? No. But Richmond’s SUVs were arguably an environmental and social menace. Objectively speaking, SUVs kill more Americans than al-Qaeda does.
The last word: There was a time when we had a very different term for those who sabotage avaricious corporations. As John Adams said of the Sons of Liberty who dunked East India Company tea into Boston harbor: “There is a dignity, a majesty, a sublimity in this last effort of the patriots that I greatly admire.”
P.S. This week, Bush’s Education Secretary called the National Education Association teachers union a “Terrorist Organization” for criticizing the shortcomings of Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. Who’s next? Editorialists?
I consider myself a staunch environmentalist. The ELF would not want me on a jury. And I am SURE most people think like me. I can agree that the environment is more important than profits, that the envoronment has to be incorporated into each and every enterprise we undertake. Caring for the environment creates jobs. I categorically renounce violence and destruction of property as a means of accomplishing the work I fail to accomplish through political action and or civil disobedience. The actions of ELF are not the moral equivalent of the Boston Tea party which in itself was a freaking ecological mess a further assault on the ecosystem of Boston Harbor. Educate a generation of tree huggers and you will save more trees than any spiked forest or burned vehicle. People love the environment they almost always win in the courts and in Congress. People who resort to violence to further their cause will get no sympathy from me no matter what they claim for motivation. If they question my commitment they can join me in chaining themselves to gates on logging roads.I might not get my knickers in a twist over a bulldozer but I will see the vandal fined and wages garnished to replace it. So if you want to trade your economic welfare for a bulldozer that is a choice you can make. You can stop that bulldozer without burning it.A building fire may not produce a casualty inside the building what happens if a firefighter dies putting out the fire? Should firefighters not respond to fire in a commercial edifice? How are they to know which ones are ELF sponsored events?It’s all very romantic, destruction in the name of good and right. Isn’t that what the neocons are doing in Iraq? Yeah I think the ELF has more in common with the neocons than the Sons of Liberty when they start destroying public or private property. Sabotage and espionauge are not the tools of legitimacy. If a business is operating in controvention to law it should and can be stopped. If the ELF exhausted its legal remedies then they could not PROVE the assertions that the plant was operating outside the law. They need better legal representation and or stronger evidence. If a few individuals hope to shape or move society through an act of violence they need a real hard lesson in reality. Martyrs never appealed to me but I’ll be happy to send em to hell if that is their wish. Al Queda hasn’t made much headway I suspect ELF to make even less and they have a POPULAR cause.Nope the ELF gives enviromentalists a bad name.
Bravo, Philip. This is an excellent rebuttal. As I said in my Feb.23 post, I’m ambivalent about ELF, and for precisely the reasons you cite. This article isn’t a defense of their tactics, but a challenge to labelling it as ‘terrorism’, at a time when Bush is attempting to make anything that falls under that increasingly broad umbrella a capital crime, and when several states are attempting to enact laws that define merely advocating anything that falls under this wide umbrella as also a ‘terrorist’ act. Put these together and my Feb.23 post becomes itself an act of terrorism, for which I could, at the very least, be barred from entering the US, or imprisoned, or as the US is increasingly doing to non-citizens it doesn’t like, ‘disappeared’ to some foreign country for disposal.This is what happens to opponents of the government in many third world countries, including many so-called democracies, and the purpose of the letter was to warn that it could soon happen in the US as well. If you think that’s alarmism, that’s fine — I don’t. I have no problem with prosecuting the ELF for vandalism or destruction of property. I don’t think they would have a problem with this either. But to imprison them for life, or execute them as terrorists, as these laws propose, is corporatist extremism and paranoia run amok.
Could someone please define the difference – for me – between Wal-Mart and Terrorism. Thanks.
Provocative, yes. But not sure I follow the reasoning and logic.
I am seeing more and more stories about the stuff the administration is doing now to label people and orgs “terrorist.” Respect for the rule of law is well and good, but I don’t really think we (opponents of corporatism and the Bush admin) have that on our side any more. They have co-opted and corrupted it and I agree with Dave that this is not necessarily an alarmist view. In fact I’m becoming very worried about what these guys are planning to do.
I have no problem labeling the ELF as a terrorist organization. They would like you to believe they are not trying to change “society” that they are at war with corporate evil doers. We are either a society of laws or not. There is no defense to be made for an organization that would support violence as a means to achieve an end. No big deal just some construction equipment. If it is no big deal then what is the point? Lose in the courts blow up a building how is that NOT terrorism?I am not happy with the Bush administation for a variety of reasons. But I am not giving the ELF a free pass because Bush is a political disaster. I’m not ready to man the barricades yet. Vote. Get active politically. There is still a political process that can be used.
“…Boston Tea party which in itself was a freaking ecological mess a further assault on the ecosystem of Boston Harbor.”Throwing (tea) leaves into Boston harbor is an “assault on the ecosystem..”?
Philip: As I said, I’m not prepared to give them a free pass, or to man the barricades — yet. As I said in my earlier post, I think their action was kind of pointless, and probably backfired. But if we call sabotaging a bulldozer ‘terrorism’ we’re heading down a very slippery slope very fast. As the letter says, there are now 2 draft laws that would define merely advocating sabotaging bulldozers as ‘terrorist’ acts. In my view, threatening those that exercise the right to free speech and dissent — that’s terrorism, and the fact that it’s government sponsored, under pressure from environmentally irresponsible corporations, makes it doubly heinous.
Vandalism is not the mark of a civilized society. We do not have to tolerate it under the guise of free speech.All I can say is advocating violence is incitement which is illegal in most states. You call it free speech the court doesn’t. I am not going to let the camels nose in the tent. At what level do you feel there is an acceptable level of violence?Violence against property is not violence? I don’t think it is civil disobedience. What happens when it affects public safety?Free speech is not free it has responsibilities. Dissent as far as I can tell is alive and well. There are no laws restricting legitimate political activity. We find that hate speech or incitement to be objectionable. Advocating violence is actionable we sued a Skinhead “Church” out of existence here in Portland a few years back when it’s members beat a man to death. ELF are extremists there are better ways to acomplish a more responsible attitude to our eco-system.
By all means, let’s leave violence the monopoly of governments. Only by an exchange of solemn nods between rich white men can violence be legitimatized.