From Earth Day to “Eco-Terrorism”

by Will Potter on April 22, 2010

in Government Priorities

Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and everyone, it seems, is “going green.” With widespread oil shortages due to peak oil looming within five years, and the startling effects of climate change becoming shockingly clear, environmentalism is more accepted and urgently needed than ever.

So why is the “number one domestic terrorism threat,” according to the FBI, the “eco-terrorism, animal rights movement”?

The environmental movement, like all social movements, has a wide-range of elements. There are people who leaflet and write letters. And there are underground groups, like the Earth Liberation Front, which have vandalized SUVs, burned ski resorts, and destroyed genetically-engineered crops. Even at their most extreme, none of these tactics have injured a single human being.

Nevertheless, they have been called “terrorism,” a label which has had extreme repercussions for those targeted. An environmental activist named Daniel McGowan was sentenced as a terrorist for his role in two ELF crimes, and for that he is now in a secretive prison facility called a Communications Management Unit, for “domestic terrorists.” The inmates and guards call it “Little Guantanamo.”

The “eco-terrorist” label has not been confined to the ELF and acts of sabotage. Corporations and the politicians who represent them have campaigned to stretch the label as far as they can. For example:

So how do government agencies and industry groups rationalize this? How do they justify labeling activists who have never harmed anyone with the same term as people who have flown planes into buildings?

A report by the Department of Homeland Security called “Eco-terrorism: Environmental and Animal Rights Militants in the United States” reveals part of the answer:

“All of these beliefs stand in direct contrast to the notion of individualism as promoted by Western culture..”

Put another way, the beliefs of a growing segment of the environmental movement go beyond urging people to switch lightbulbs or drive hybrids. Their critique challenges widespread cultural values, and questions deeply-held beliefs about whether humans have the right to exploit the natural world. Fundamentally, these activists question the unspoken dogma that human beings, and their interests, trump those of all other species.

That is only part of the explanation, though. It is not just that activists hold these beliefs. That, alone, is not a threat. The threat is when they act on them. Effectively.

That last word is critical. When activists take direct action to put their beliefs into practice, and in doing so threaten corporate profits, they become worthy of government reports and national security warnings.

For instance, the State Department warned corporations in a PowerPoint presentation:

“Although incidents related to terrorism are most likely to make the front page news, Animal Rights Extremism is what’s most likely to affect your day-to-day business operations…”

Forty years after Earth Day, the message from corporations, politicians and government agencies is clear. Shop and consume and shop some more, perhaps signing a petition or two along the way, and that is “going green.”

But if you go further, if you start demanding substantive, systemic change and shaking the economic and political power structures behind the green-washing, that is “eco-terrorism.”

NOTE: I apologize that comments are closed, I think it is a glitch in WordPress or Disqus (the comment system). I have not been able to resolve it yet, unfortunately.

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