It’s Not Over: An Update to the “Green Scare”

by Will Potter on April 30, 2008

in Terrorism Court Cases

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It’s Not Over: An Update to the “Green Scare”

April 29, 2008

By Will Potter

As the trial of Briana Waters wound down in March, as jurors deliberated her innocence or guilt, and as the press largely ignored her “eco-terrorism” case in lieu of Obama-Clinton-Anybody-But-Bush mania, it seemed, just for a moment, like one chapter of the “War on Terrorism” might near a close.

Waters, a mother and violin teacher from Oakland, Calif., stood accused of aiding a 2001 arson at the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture. She faced up to 20 years in prison. Waters and 10 others had been rounded up and labeled “eco-terrorists” as part of the government’s massive, multi-agency “Operation Backfire.” Most defendants agreed to cooperate with the government soon after their arrest in exchange for reduced sentences. A few held out for non-cooperating plea agreements. Only Waters chose to take her case to trial.

Waters, activists hoped, might be the end of the line in this “Green Scare,” this string of legal, legislative and public relations attacks labeling environmentalists “eco-terrorists.”(For more information, see sidebar below).

Perhaps the political climate would cool. After all, a grand jury had convened in Minneapolis months earlier — and it fizzled after two activists refused to cooperate. Rod Coronado, a former Earth Liberation Front (ELF) activist, had faced 20 years in prison for answering a question at a public lecture about how he committed his crimes — and jurors deadlocked. Just weeks earlier, Jeff Luers, who had been sentenced to 22 years for burning three SUVs in 2000, stepped back into court — and the judge reduced his sentence to 10 years.

On top of that, Darius Fulmer, one of the SHAC 7 who participated in a website urging Huntingdon Life Sciences to stop animal testing, had been released from prison. And the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a sweeping law that wraps up non-violent civil disobedience as terrorism, had been sitting on the shelf since its passage.

Not quite victories. But things certainly could be worse.

Then, on March 3, multi-million dollar suburban mansions near Seattle — each about 4,200 to 4,750-square-feet, going for about $2 million a pop, touted as “green” — were burned, resulting in approximately $7 million in damage on the “Street of Dreams.” Nobody injured, nobody home. But before the smoke had even settled, before the ashes had even cooled, before the Feds had even sorted through the debris, a chant of “Terrorists! Terrorists! Terrorists!” had started rising from politicians, corporations and the press.

The evidence of “eco-terrorism”: a bed sheet left at the scene, hanging on a fence. In spray-painted block letters: “Built green? Nope Black!” The rush to label the crime “eco-terrorism” without so much as a communiqué smacked of a nearly identical incident in 2004; luxury homes in Maryland burned down, everyone shouted “eco-terrorism,” and then oops it turns out to be a group of guys with personal vendettas. Because in a sinking housing market, in a slumping economy, as these top-dollar homes sat unsold, do environmentalists have a monopoly on motive?

A lack of evidence didn’t stop the FBI from not only attributing the fires to “eco-terrorists,” but determining what understanding what anonymous, underground activists were thinking. One agent told The Washington Post that an incendiary device would have carried a mandatory 30-year sentence. The lack of such a device, he said, reflected that “whoever committed this crime may have been cognizant of that.”

Three days after the arson, a jury found Waters guilty on two counts of arson. Jurors deadlocked on the remaining charges. Defense attorneys argued for a mistrial, and the judge refused.

“One thing that is certain to those close to the case is that the arson … has only damaged Briana’s chances of getting a fair verdict,” said a statement from Olympia Civil Liberties. “The corporate media have consistently pointed out how curious the timing of the arson is, with the ‘UW Ecoterror Trial’ still going on, further linking Briana with a shadowy ELF underground in the minds of the public.”

Then five days later, on March 11, the FBI announced that four people had been charged in a 1999 arson at Michigan State University that had targeted genetic engineering projects. The government held a press conference labeling them “domestic terrorists,” much like former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez labeled the Operation Backfire defendants “eco-terrorists” before the fingerprint ink had even dried. And, just like the Operation Backfire arrests, one of the defendants, Frank Ambrose, soon pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as they build their case against Marie Mason, Aren Burthwick, Stephanie Fultz and a fifth, unnamed person.

The war on “eco-terrorism” is far from finished, the FBI promises. But the radical environmental movement hasn’t quit, either. “Every time a fire breaks out and somebody takes a spray can and writes ‘ELF’ or ‘ALF’ on there, then everybody gets all excited that ‘Oh this movement has started back up,’” said Bob Holland, a retired arson investigator, in an interview with FOX News.

“The movement,” he said, “never really left.”

Will Potter is an award-winning independent journalist who focuses on how lawmakers and corporations have labeled animal rights and environmental activists as “eco-terrorists.” He is the creator of, where he blogs about the Green Scare and history repeating itself.


“The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat,” says John Lewis, a top FBI official, “is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement.”

Those movements have not flown planes into buildings. Or sent Anthrax through the mail. Or taken hostages. Yet the U.S. Department of Homeland Security lists them on its roster of national security threats, while ignoring right-wing extremists who have bombed the Oklahoma City federal building, murdered doctors, and admittedly created weapons of mass destruction.

The disproportionate, heavy-handed government crackdown on the environmental and animal rights movements, and the reckless use of the word “terrorism,” has been dubbed the Green Scare. Much like the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s, the relentless use of the T-word is meant to sway public opinion, instill fear, and chill dissent.

Corporations and the politicians that represent them have used these scare-mongering tactics since the early 1990s, but post-9/11 terrorism hysteria offered a new opportunity. The Green Scare has included anonymous, full-page ads in The New York Times; “terrorism enhancement” penalties for property crimes; and legislation branding the tactics of Martin Luther King, Jr. “terrorism.” Even a children’s movie, Hoot, has been labeled “soft-core eco-terrorism for kids.”

Much like the Red Scare, the true motivation this time around is not to catch Communist spies, or “eco-terrorists.” The goal is to chill dissent by making normal, everyday people — who might leaflet, protest or speak out in support of these issues or in defense of these activists — afraid that they, too, could be branded a “terrorist.”

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