So How Long Have You Been an “Eco-terrorist”?

by Will Potter on August 19, 2006

in Activism & Activists' Response

“Eco-terrorist” rhetoric has become a fact of life for animal rights and environmental activists. Through my reporting I’ve seen the chilling effect the rhetoric, legislation and other harassment have on dissent: many activists say the Green Scare has shaken them, and made them wonder if (or when) they’ll be the victims of the scare-mongering.

But sometimes you just have to laugh at the absurdity of it all: the absurdity of labeling a children’s movie “soft-core eco-terrorism,” convicting activists for First Amendment activity, and wasting valuable law enforcement resources on non-violent activists.

At the national animal rights conference this weekend, I overhead one activist ask another, “So what’s your T-level?” My ears perked up, because I thought I had been out of the loop about some new terrorist classification system. Did I miss some breaking news from the Department of Homeland Security?

“I think I’m about a 7,” he responded.

“Damn, I got you beat! I had an industry group call me a terrorist way back in ’99!”

Everyone laughed, and the conversation spread to other tables. Others figured out their “T-level,” and the first time they had been victim of red baiting, err, green baiting.

It struck me then how ingrained the “eco-terrorism” rhetoric has become in activist circles. The Green Scare has been going on so long that activists take it as par for the course. Many activists have come to expect airport harassment, FBI visits and lawsuits for legal, non-violent activities.

But even though nearly every activist I’ve talked to is terrified of these witch hunts, there’s a general feeling that they must keep plugging away, that they can’t let the “eco-terrorist” smear campaigns deter them from using their First Amendment rights, that no matter how bad things get—and it will all get worse—that they have to push through it.

As one activist said to me after figuring out her “T-level” (three), “Sometimes you have to laugh to keep yourself from screaming.”

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