Did “Eco-Terrorists” Cause the Gulf Oil Spill?

by Will Potter on May 3, 2010

in Terrorism Scare Mongering

The oil spill in the Gulf is on track to surpass the Exxon Valdez as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. That doesn’t bode well financially for BP, and it doesn’t bode well politically for the drill-baby-drill crowd. So how has the far right responded?

By trying to blame it on “eco-terrorists.”

Rush Limbaugh, after reminding listeners that “Al Gore urged young people…to engage in civil disobedience to stop the construction of coal plants,” speculated that the explosion was the work of “environmentalist wackos”:

Now, lest we forget, ladies and gentlemen, the carbon tax bill, cap and trade that was scheduled to be announced on Earth Day. I remember that. And then it was postponed for a couple of days later after Earth Day, and then of course immigration has now moved in front of it. But this bill, the cap-and-trade bill, was strongly criticized by hardcore environmentalist wackos because it supposedly allowed more offshore drilling and nuclear plants, nuclear plant investment. So, since they’re sending SWAT teams down there, folks, since they’re sending SWAT teams to inspect the other rigs, what better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plants, than by blowing up a rig? I’m just noting the timing here.

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown has also said that environmental activists could be the culprits:

“I think it’s a possibility clearly… This plays right into the real policy of this administration, which is ‘we hate big oil, we hate off-shore drilling and now we have an excuse not to do it.’”

This is, of course, complete garbage. BP officials have said the explosion was caused by a failed piece of equipment. And the “SWAT teams”? Right-wing bloggers noted that the Interior Department was speaking metaphorically about a team of inspectors.

Nevertheless, the eco-terrorism conspiracy theories are running wild. Tea Party bloggers have caught on to it, as have Sean Hannity fans.

In making these comments, Limbaugh was not giving voice to what his average listener was thinking. Regardless of where they are on the political spectrum, no reasonable person could see this unprecedented environmental destruction and think, “You know who must be behind that? ENVIRONMENTALISTS!”

So what’s really going on? The comments by Limbaugh and others are an attempt, however absurd, to do two things:

  1. Deflect corporate responsibility. According to the New York Times, the spill is costing BP $6-7 million a day, and total costs could exceed $8 billion. Those are only a portion of the costs. After the Exxon Valdez spill, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act. It changed the legal landscape around oil spills, and said that lawsuits against the company are not limited to those directly touched by the oil: those who have suffered economic damages can sue. Already, 26 lawsuits have been filed.

    Speculating about “eco-terrorists” is an attempt to cast doubt on the cause of the spill, in order to shift blame away from corporate polluters.

    As Sarah Palin recently said, amidst the increasingly macabre predictions about the Gulf: “I want our country to be able to trust the oil industry.”

  2. Deflect attention from the bigger questions. If eco-terrorists were responsible for the spill, then we don’t need to question an industry that, at its core, is unsustainable and destructive. If eco-terrorists were responsible for the spill, then we don’t need to question our reliance on a substance that, no matter how much we drill, is about to run out.

    We can just go on with business as usual. Everything is fine, but these extremists want you to think otherwise, so they can push their “green socialist agenda.”

    Questioning whether “eco-terrorists” were responsible avoids taking a hard look at who, and what, is really responsible: an American way of life that is inherently unsustainable, and can only be maintained in the short term through increasingly reckless energy policies.

None of this is anything new, for those of you who have been following this “Green Scare.” Animal rights and environmental activists have been labeled the “number one domestic terrorism threat,” according to the FBI. Because of this, they have been frequent corporate and political scapegoats.

For instance, in 2004, when luxury homes in Maryland burned down, everyone shouted “eco-terrorism,” and then OOPS it turned out to be a group of guys with personal vendettas or out for kicks. Or there was the Boston pet store owner who burned down his store, with the animals inside, and tried to blame “animal rights extremists” as part of an insurance scheme.

In many ways, Limbaugh’s comments are not extreme, they are the norm. Forty years after Earth Day, going green has gone mainstream, but corporations and the politicians who represent them are labeling environmentalists as “eco-terrorists.” The problem is not Rush Limbaugh; the problem is misplaced government “terrorism” priorities and scare-mongering that are natural fodder for political opportunists, no matter how untenable their claims.

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