Pennsylvania’s Department of Homeland Security has distributed intelligence bulletins about non-violent environmental groups, such as Climate Ground Zero, and labeled activists as “environmental extremists.” In response to public outrage, the state’s contract with a private firm called the Institute of Terrorism Research & Response has been terminated; Governor Ed Rendell said he’s “appalled.” But this was no fluke, no error, no isolated instance. The same policies that have come to light in Pennsylvania have been exposed across the country, and up to top levels of the federal government.
After Abrahm Lustgarten at Pro Publica broke the story, the mainstream press and many bloggers have been treating this story as a “news of the weird,” a strange case of a bizarre intelligence bulletin that, if you buy the governor’s rhetoric, was simply a mistake. In reality, this intelligence bulletin is nearly identical to countless others that have been exposed around the country, and it is representative of federal terrorism priorities.
- In Georgia, local homeland security officials were exposed spying on animal rights activists distributing leaflets at a HoneyBaked Ham store. The vegans prevailed in a lawsuit.
- In Maryland, police labeled environmental activists as “eco-terrorists” and “environmental extremists,” monitored group meetings, maintained databases, and shared those files with the FBI and NSA.
- In Minnesota, FBI agents approached a local activist with hopes of infiltrating vegan potlucks.
The list goes on. And on. And on.
These are not the goofy exploits of Keystone Kops. These misplaced priorities come from the top levels of government. The animal rights and environmental movements have repeatedly been labeled the “number one domestic terrorism threat.”
If you read the Pennsylvania intelligence bulletin closely, you can see that the reference to activists as “environmental extremists” actually cites an FBI memo as its source for that claim (on page 8).
This is not the work of a few rogue homeland security officials, it is the work of multiple local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Until we demand a fundamental restructuring of domestic terrorism operations in this country, and demand true checks and balances on local homeland security cops and, more importantly, the FBI, there will be many more Pennsylvanias.
UPDATE: There has been some great coverage of this issue elsewhere. Please check out John Robbins’ piece on Huffington Post, Jen Phillips’ column in Mother Jones, and the post on Empty Wheel, to name a few.