“The most effective tactic… has been to turn the activists against each other”

by Will Potter on April 3, 2012

in Activism & Activists' Response

One of the most rewarding aspects of my work has been the opportunity to learn about activist projects around the world, and in some cases contribute in whatever small way I can. A while back I was contacted by a collective of anarchist translators in Spain (you read that correctly — how great is that?) and asked to interview. Here is the result. The translation is available at La Cizalla Ácrata, “Entrevista con Will Potter, autor del libro ‘Green is the New Red.’”

Please, introduce yourself and your book “Green is the New Red”

Hello, everyone. I am an independent journalist based in Washington, DC. My work has been featured in publications including the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, and National Public Radio. The focus of my writing and lecturing is how political activists are being labeled as “terrorists” by corporations and the U.S. government. Green Is the New Red exposes how animal rights and environmental activists have become the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) “number one domestic terrorism threat.” My book is written as narrative, telling the story of some members of the Earth Liberation Front, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and other groups while also investigating how corporations manufactured the idea of “eco-terrorism.”

When we talk about the AETA, the Green Scare… Can we say it has achieved their goal? I mean, have you noticed, there in the USA, that animal rights and eco activists work have deceased since these repressive strategies begun?

This is a very difficult question to answer, because social movements, by their nature, or always changing. However, it is undeniable that these tactics have had a chilling effect, which means that they have made many activists think twice about what they say and do because they are concerned about being labeled a terrorist. That being said, the animal rights and environmental movements in the United States are vibrant and growing. There has been a resurgence of non-violent civil disobedience in protest of climate change, and animal rights activists are using undercover investigations very effectively.

I guess the mass media have supported this kind of repression. How many importance did they have (or are having at the moment) in criminalizing activists? Did some paper, TV channel… show some form of criticism about it?

For the most part, journalists in the United States have failed to critically examine these tactics. I would argue that one of the reasons that “eco-terrorism” became such a threat is that mainstream journalists used this term without questioning the source. In recent months we have seen more and more criticism of laws like the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, but for the most part these have not received much attention at all.

As you know, here in Spain some activists have been charged with animal liberation related stuff. They are (or were) all involved with legal campaigning. The comparison with the SHAC 7 or the Austrian activists case is inevitable. Do you think laws like the AETA can have some “copycat” laws in other countries?

Absolutely. Spain, Austria, Finland, and elsewhere are experience similar copycat prosecutions. The corporate-led campaigns to demonize animal rights and environmental activists as “eco-terrorists” have indeed become international in scope. I would argue that this is an example of how these tactics are not “state repression,” as leftists generally describe it, but “corporate repression.” The state may be carrying out these tactics, but only because corporations are seeking to protect their profits around the world.

Which are, in your opinion, the “low points” of the movement which make it vulnerable to repressive attacks like the green scare, the AETA…?

The strategy behind the government’s tactics is fragmentation. In discussing this, I think it’s helpful to visualize social movements as having a “horizontal” and “vertical” component. The intention is to separate these movements horizontally, and create rifts between them and the broader left. Animal rights activists and environmentalists are therefore depicted as ideological extremists who, if they have their way, will stop you from eating meat and driving cars and having pets. There are of course already tensions between these movements and the more traditional left, but campaigns by corporations and politicians intend to exacerbate them. If these movements are not seen as part of a broader social justice struggle, it is easier for other leftist and progressive groups to turn their backs on their repression.

Similarly, there is a campaign to fragment these movements vertically. Aboveground lawful groups are told that they must condemn underground groups, and if they do not they will also be treated as terrorists. This two-prong strategy — breaking these movements away from other social movements, and breaking the aboveground away from the underground — isolates those who are being targeted and intensifies the repression.

So, to answer your question more directly, the most effective tactic for repressing these movements has been to turn the activists against each other, either by pressuring them to become informants or by pressuring them to publicly condemn each other.

In the case of the prisoners who decided to cooperate, did they receive minimum sentences or are they serving similar sentences to the people who decided not to cooperate? Are they receiving any support from the movement?

Their sentences vary, but those who cooperated with the government received comparable prison sentences to those who refused. Some of the cooperating prisoners have received support from a handful of people within the movement, but the majority of the grassroots and “radical” components of these movements strongly oppose supporting them in any way.

Please, let us know which are for you the most notable information sources about repression against activists, green scare… (I mean web pages, zines, books… whatever)

A good overview of the many tactics used against activists throughout U.S. history is Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States by Jules Boykoff. For prisoner information, the Earth Liberation Prisoners Support Network runs a great email list with the latest updates.

And of course, www.GreenIsTheNewRed.com has become a clearinghouse of news on these issues. I hope people reading this will also consider checking out my book, Green Is The New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege.

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