Sunday, 23 December 2018

To define 'eco-terrorism'

Back in 2011, this award-winning documentary looked at a particular group: 

The Film - If a Tree Falls

It attracted a lot of interest at the time:
Film Chronicles Rise and Fall of Eco-Terrorist Cell - YouTube
"If a Tree Falls": Understanding the era of "eco-terrorism" | Salon.com
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front - Wikipedia
Earth Liberation Front documentary gets Oscar nomination | Grist

And continues to do so:
ERIC - Activist or Terrorist? Negotiating Discourses of Eco-Terror in "If a Tree Falls", Applied Environmental Education and Communication, 2018

'Eco-terrorism' is a tricky thing to define:
Eco-terrorism - Wikipedia

Is it simply 'extremism'?
The Next Wave of Extremists Will Be Green – Foreign Policy

Or is there more sinister word-play going on?

From Source Watch from last year: 


Eco-terrorism is a term believed to have been coined by Ron Arnold, the Executive Director of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. [1]

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the word 'terrorism' has become a potent political weapon. Since the 1980s, Arnold has blurred the boundaries between nonviolent civil disobedience and more contentious tactics such as vandalism and sabotage - which have on the whole been rejected by mainstream environmentalists - and elevated property damage to equal terrorism as a societal threat. More recently, he has been joined by other prominent anti-environmentalists including self-styled "eco-terrorism expert" Barry Clausen and Nick Nichols, the now retired chair of PR firm Nichols-Dezenhall.

The deliberate conflation of civil disobedience with terrorism by Arnold, Clausen and Nichols has paved the way for the introduction of draconian legislation, such as the so-called Ecoterrorism Prevention Act of 2004 [1], to ban or increase penalties for civil disobedience protests.

Arnold, considered by many as the 'father' of the Wise Use movement, first used the term in a 1983 article in Reason Magazine. However, the tactic of linking environmental protest to violence in the public's mind dates back to 1977... [2],[3]

During the 1980s, the equation of environmentalism with violence was assisted by what researcher Bron Taylor has described as the "martial rhetoric" of some radical environmentalists, in particular the willingness of early Earth First! activists to advocate sabotage as a legitimate tactic. However, in a 1998 paper published in the journal Terrorism and Political Violence, Taylor concluded that "[t]here is, nevertheless, even after 18 years of radical environmental action, little evidence that radical environmentalists intend to maim and kill their adversaries or to foster 'terror' among the general populace." [4]

Since 1990, there have been numerous attempts by industry front groups, PR firms and conservative think-tanks has to associate environmental activism with terrorism. For instance:

In 2002, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Nichols-Dezenhall co-sponsored a conference titled "Stopping Eco-Extremism: A Conference On Legislative, Legal And Communications Strategies To Protect Free Enterprise". The speakers included Nichols and former Louisiana Pacific media relations official Kelly Stoner, who was billed as the executive director of an organisation called Stop Eco-Violence. The domain name used by the Stop Eco-Violence website was registered by Nichols-Dezenhall employee Ryan Knoll in November 2001.[14],[15]

Eco-terrorism - SourceWatch

And from the Guardian from 2008:

Eco-terrorism is a misnomer

Fri 28 Mar 2008

Radical environmentalists in the US are causing mischief, but lumping them in with groups that threaten people's lives distracts from real dangers

Comments 40

The month of March has seen the resurrection of those green pyromaniacs and saboteurs, the Earth Liberation Front.

On March 3, five luxury homes in an exurb of Seattle, Washington were torched. The arsons reflect the ELF's determination to fight "rural cluster developments" and suburban sprawl. The group left a calling card at the scene that read: "McMansions + RCDs r not green." After a 2001 attack, the group inverted the classic line from the movie Field of Dreams, turning it from "If you build it, they will come," to "If you build it, we will burn it" to show their affinity for arson. It has since become their slogan. Radical environmentalists are not without their humour.

Three days later, a jury found Briana Waters, a 32-year-old mother, guilty of her role in the 2001 ELF firebombing of the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture. The group targeted the centre to destroy genetically engineered poplar trees, a fast-growing source of pulp and lumber. Waters, the lookout, faces five to 20 years in prison on two counts of arson.

Finally, on March 11, the federal government indicted four ELF members for the 1999 arson of Michigan State University's Agriculture Hall. Within the building, lay the group's target: the Agriculture Biotechnology Support Project, which did genetic engineering work on crops for developing nations. The fire cost over $1 million in damages.

As the above reports show, the ELF isn't an organisation to be trifled with. Its members are hardcore zealots committed to a cause and think nothing of burning down residential homes and scientific facilities. They are criminals, and they deserve lengthy jail terms.

But terrorists? That goes too far.

The US government's decision to call the ELF a domestic terrorist organisation owes largely to its definition of terrorism, which includes destruction of property, a characteristic out of step with more academic and international definitions of the concept.

The FBI defines terrorism as: "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."

The British government similarly fetishises property, as attacks on property fulfil the concept of terrorism within the Terrorism Act of 2000. The EU also agrees that attacks on property constitute terrorism.

The UN, though, has been attempting in vain to produce a definition of terrorism. None of its working definitions cite attacks on property as terrorism. The best UN definition comes from its former counterterrorism official Alex Schmid, now at the University of St Andrews: a terrorist act is "the peacetime equivalent of a war crime."

Short and sweet, Schmid's definition boils down the essence of terrorism: assaulting or murdering innocents to send a political message to a particular audience.

As its operational guidelines make clear, harming any sentient creature is counter to the ELF's morality. During their destructive acts, ELF members must "take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human."

Let's place this injunction against violence against Osama bin Laden's 1997 declaration of al-Qaida's intent: "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies - civilians and military - is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim."

When the ELF's operational ethos is placed against that of al-Qaida's, it's hard not to agree with what liberal-left columnist Ted Rall recently wrote: "ELF members are vandals. They're arsonists. But they aren't terrorists .... The word 'eco-terrorism' is an insult to the human victims of real terrorism, including those of 9/11."

The US designation of the ELF as a terrorist organisation also shows a prejudice toward domestic left-wing militant organisations at the expense of domestic right-wing militant organisations, which are truer representatives of the terrorist concept. A 2005 internal Department of Homeland Security document obtained by Congressional Quarterly lists the ELF, and its cousin the Animal Liberation Front, as the major domestic terrorism threats to the country, yet fails to include violent right-wing groups such as skinheads, neo-Nazis, fanatical militia members and anti-abortionists. Somehow, some way, the federal government forgot about the mindset that produced Oklahoma City. Apparently, bricks and mortar appraise better than flesh and blood.

After the DHS document leaked, Bennie Thompson, chair of House homeland security committee, called on DHS [PDF] to do more to combat right-wing terrorism and noted how more attention given to "eco-terrorists", who destroy property, hinders the fight against right-wing terrorists, who attack people:

"If DHS' long-term planning documents do not consider these and other risks posed by right-wing domestic terrorists, then lower-level agents working to fight these groups may not be receiving enough budgetary, policy or administrative support from their superiors. This means possible threats to our homeland could go undetected."

It would be a shame if groups that firebomb property with no one inside get more scrutiny than those inclined to park a truck bomb outside a building teeming with people and then proceed to detonate it.

Aside from shady definitions and the political nature of the domestic terrorism list, there's also a more pragmatic reason not to designate the ELF a terrorist organisation: it romanticizes lunacy. Terrorism, as a concept, always produces the binary cliche that "one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter". Calling ELF members terrorists may increase the group's allure to those considering militancy and to the media, whose attention radical environmentalists so desperately seek. Worse, the terrorist designation could also lead to escalation. When the federal government says it's in a war against terrorism, it isn't too far-fetched for ELF members to infer that the government may take the gloves off in response to their activities and provoke a more violent fringe within the movement.

Therefore, until the ELF starts murdering scientists or business owners for their supposed crimes against the Earth, lets leave the terrorist designation for the likes of al-Qaida and other Timothy McVeigh-like fanatics. Destroying innocent life for political purposes is terrorism. Destroying million-dollar properties for whatever reason is felonious vandalism.

The US government would be wise to recognise the distinction before a repeat of Oklahoma City occurs.

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