Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Who put the 'Terror' into Eco-terrorism?

At the conclusion of the excellent film If A Tree Falls the former Earth Liberation Front fire starter Daniel McGowan, having successfully plea bargained his sentence down from life plus 330 years to just seven, learns that the judge has classed his crime as 'terrorism'. This means he will be sent to a specially designed prison where contact with the outside world is severely restricted.

McGowan's group were well organised. They manufactured incendiary devices inside tents they'd erected indoor to avoid leaving traces of what they were up to. They recced their targets well and arrived in dead of night to set their fire bombs. They acted, in other words, pretty much like anyone would if they were bizarre enough to want to dress up and play at being terrorists for a day.

Properly speaking though, they were not terrorists but saboteurs.

Edward Abbey, who literally wrote the book on environment sabotage, defined it as "an act of force or violence against property". Most monkey wrenchers use controlled force; cutting fences, uprooting crops by hand, sugaring the tanks of diggers and so on, and stay well clear of arson as it is as difficult to control as an anarchist on Ketamine.

However such attacks, especially if they occur anonymously and in the night, often get labelled as terrorism. Indeed, Colorado's Summit Daily reported on June 20, 2003 that when the Police were trying to track down the Earth Liberation Front they first started by checking up on everyone who'd borrowed Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang from the local library.

As crime fighting techniques go that's pretty crude, and you wonder if the Colorado police ever had to track down some real terrorists they'd start by following everyone who'd rented a copy of 24 on DVD.

Tracking suspects via their reading matter may be a little suspect, but labelling your suspects as terrorists is a useful tactic for the morally bankrupt. If the ELF appear to go out of their way to attract the label, other groups have ended up being tarred with the same brush for no readily apparent reason.

One example is the shadowy, and now apparently defunct, Centre for Food and Agricultural Research, which described Greenpeace as under the control of 'left-wing anarchists willing to engage in campaigns of terrorism and intimidation'.

One such attack was described thus:“Greenpeace UK director Lord Peter Melchett pulled out and trampled GM crops on several British trial farm sites where Greenpeace activists commandeered the farmers tractors, crashed through fences and chased his family when they tried to stop them.”

Well I was on that action and I definitely remember that it was the farmers in the tractors and one of the people 'running like Penelope Pitstop' was me, but I guess it's easy to get these things mixed up in your mind.

But who was it who first came up with the idea of labelling environmental saboteurs as terrorists? The question turns out to be an interesting one.

Ron Arnold, veteran anti-environmental campaigner and founder of the Wise Use movement, claims it was him in a 1982 magazine article. However, as his claim comes in the form of a 2007 comment to an online article for the New York free newspaper The Indypendent this claim has to go down as unverified.

According to the article 'Hunting the "Green Menace"' by Chip Bertlet in the July/August issue of The Humanist, security companies started listing eco-warriors as terrorists in 1988. Whether this was a political act or just a bit of cynical marketing though is unclear.

The first verifiable use of the term for political reasons appears to be in a leaked memo prepared by the Ketchum Public Relations company for the Clorox Corporation, who were starting to feel the heat from Greenpeace's campaign to phase out dangerous chlorine compounds.

Meanwhile claims had been circulating awhile in right wing circles that Fernando Pereira, the photographer killed when the Rainbow Warrior was bombed in 1986, was not a victim of a terrorists but one himself, specifically a member of the German anarchist group Movement 2 June. Like other seventies terrorist groups November 17 and Black September, the name now sounds dated.

This allegation eventually emerged into the public sphere on 11th November 1991 in an article in the respectable business journal (Sahara Club newsletter, No. 8, Winter 1991).

The group behind this appears to have been Lyndon LaRouche's self named organisation. I regret I really don't have time to do justice to LaRouche, a former Marxist who flipped to the extreme right and who now believes that Prince Philip leads an international drugs cartel and that cosmic rays from the Crab Nebula are the cause of Global Warming.

In contrast to the lavishly funded Wise Use Movement, LaRouche's group is more like a sleazy cult, funding itself via personal loans taken out by his brainwashed supporters. (And that's not a pejorative term, there really is no other word for these conspiracy nutters.)

The two groups eventually teamed up in 1994 to publish the subscription journal Eco-terrorism Watch, written by Barry Clausen, a private investigator and Wise Use activist, and Roger Maduro, an editor who works for Lyndon LaRouche.

Clausen was a sort of early Mark Kennedy, hired by the logging industry to infiltrate Earth First! and was busy flogging a book about his activities. This was rather an unusual way for a spy to behave and allegedly came about because the loggers had sacked him after he failed to turn up any terrorists for them.

By this time though things were getting serious. Former Wobbly activist Judi Bari had joined Earth First! and brought with her vast experience of labour issues. No longer could the struggle to prevent the clearcutting of old growth rainforest be stereotyped as lazy hippies versus honest workers, and the 1990 Redwood Summer may been Earth First!'s finest hour.

Bari had to be dealt with, and indeed she was - blown up by a bomb planted in her car.

For good measure she was then prosecuted by the FBI for possession of the bomb and it would take twelve years for a jury to decide that the feds had been in the wrong for treating her as a criminal and not a victim. By this time though Bari had died of natural causes, and so she never saw her name cleared.

Who planted the bomb, or exactly what the plot was, has never been conclusively proved, but suspicion does seem point towards the FBI, either directly or indirectly.

As the Bari bombing pre-dates both the Ketchum memo and the emergence of LaRouche's smears against Greenpeace, the FBI can make a decent claim to have been the first to label peaceful protesters as 'terrorists'. If so, then it was the culmination of a decade of dirty tricks against Earth First! which included negative propaganda and entrapment - all tactics learnt in the battle against organised labour in the thirties.

As Bari was a former International Workers of the World activist, the attack on her can be seen as either the start of a new phase of the campaign against EF!, or a continuation of an old one against the IWW.

Not that things stopped here. The following year the Director of Greenpeace USA's science unit Pat Costner had her house burnt down, conveniently incinerating a report she was writing about incineration entitled, believe it or not, Playing With Fire.

An attack on a private house is something that McGowan's ELF never did, and whereas the elves were subject to a decade long investigation by a team of detectives, the people who attacked Costner's house were never caught, despite an eye witness spotting two suspicious looking ex-military types looking for her place. before hand.

This then was the background to events in northern California and Oregon when the first disgruntled EF! activists decided to form ELF cells.

Maybe it doesn't really matter who called who a terrorist first. However I suspect it's not just coincidence that people who were first labelled as terrorists ended up becoming victims of state terror themselves.

Further reading: Green Backlash by Andrew Rowell

Update  On 11 December, 2012, McGowan was released to a halfway house in New York City

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