A Guide to “Eco-Terror” Discourse, and the Money Behind It
Times are changing. If you thought hunter-harassment laws were over the top, you’re likely to be unnerved by this year’s lawmaking trends, which have recently turned such protest into “eco-terrorism” in Pennsylvania. Indeed, a spate of new state anti-terrorism laws is frightening people who are acting as responsible members of the community. One biologist wrote to us, asking if it would be possible to write a letter opposing a state plan to kill cormorants without becoming vulnerable to arrest. How is this word, “eco-terrorism,” suddenly finding its way into daily conversation, newspapers, laws, and the way we think about traditionally respected activism?
Behold Ron Arnold, who claims to have coined the term “eco-terrorist.” Arnold is currently executive vice president of a Washington-state think tank, which -- with tax-exempt status -- calls itself the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. In the 1980s, Ron Arnold picked up the term “wise use” and made it an aggressive movement to turn all parks and public wildlands over to corporations.
Once upon a time, Arnold worked for the Sierra Club in Washington. One commentator describes Arnold as a “political entrepreneur” who swiftly changed direction after meeting up with Alan Gottlieb, a “professional fundraiser who has generated millions for various right-wing causes.” By the 1990s, Arnold was telling interviewers that Wise Use adherents would destroy the green movement.
In the book Divine Destruction, Stephenie Hendricks points out that anti-environmentalism forged ties to hate-driven, violent philosophies when some far-right vigilante-style activists got into the Wise Use movement. But after the infamous 1995 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the movement’s corporate backers distanced themselves from threats and force. As anti-terrorism became a legislative priority, Arnold toned down the rhetoric, emphasizing that the comments about wanting to “destroy” and “kill” were figures of speech. Yes, the anti-greens meant to destroy -- not people, though. They just want to wreck the environmental movement.
Arnold and the anti-greens have essentially turned the tables on progressive activists. Now they insist that animal advocates and environmentalists are haters, potentially even homicidal. By 1997, Arnold had published the book Ecoterror: The Violent Agenda to Save Nature, through Free Enterprise Press. Today, the word eco-terror is used by lawmakers, big-city newspapers and ordinary people.
Arnold’s website tells the public to send “evidence, information or tips” about environmentalists who may have acted illegally to the EcoTerror Response Network, which will pass it to law enforcement agents. The site objects to the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front, and some “bullies” working at a county branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Arnold paints with a broad brush.
At the Wise Use movement’s Fly-In for Freedom 2001, Teresa Platt of Fur Commission USA, a non-profit association representing mink farmers, hobnobbed with the likes of Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who announced that “Bush’s election was a great Wise Use victory, a victory for our way of life.” The Competitive Enterprise Institute has twice sued the government to suppress a Clinton-era report showing the impact of climate change, has received over a million dollars from ExxonMobil, and is “adamantly opposed” to the Endangered Species Act.Lobbying by Wise Use groups has encouraged the government to approve resort-building in national parks, and the opening of Forest Service land to off-road drivers.
"Our limitless imaginations can break through natural limits to make earthly goods and carrying capacity virtually infinite," Arnold insists. And over the past two decades, wise use advocates have expanded their agenda to appeal to religious fundamentalists -- a group that has amassed substantial clout in the current administration -- to work against environmental protections.
The Bush administration has made vast areas of western wildlands vulnerable to development, and backed the first proposal to mine under a national wilderness area, at Montana’s majestic Cabinet Mountain range, habitat of grizzly bears introduced under the administration of the first George Bush. Confronting a federal rule that keeps roads out of forests, the Bush administration used a timber industry claim that ecological harm follows a lack of roadbuilding.
The timber industry backed the launch of the Wise Use movement in 1988. As early as 1979, Arnold was romancing the industry, writing in Logging Management Magazine:
Citizen activist groups, allied to the forest industry, are vital to our future survival. …. They are not limited by liability, contract law or ethical codes. . . . [I]ndustry must come to support citizen activist groups, providing funds, materials, transportation, and most of all, hard facts.
Arnold would later exhort Canadian logging industrialists: “Give them the money. You stop defending yourselves, let them do it, and you get the hell out of the way. Because citizens’ groups have credibility and industries don’t.” So industry, guided by public relations experts, successfully funds “citizen’ groups” whose representatives are welcomed as experts by many federal and state lawmakers. These “citizen activists” know that legislatures will protect property rights, and, if the time is right, manage dissent.
More troubling still, as if on cue, environmental and animal advocates themselves have boosted the anti-green movement’s credibility. In recent years, people speaking as animal advocates have openly recommended arson, brick-throwing and intimidating people where they live, study, or worship, thus reinforcing precisely what their detractors have told the lawmakers. So today’s anti-greens don't need desperate phrases like “Kill the bastards.” As one commentator said of Wise Use and its lawmaking allies, “If acts of property damage in the name of environmentalism and animal rights didn’t exist, they would have been wise to invent them.”
Laws recently unveiled on both sides of the Atlantic are tailored to protect laboratories that use animals. These laws have enabled multiple, high-profile arrests in Britain, involving combined police forces and even the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
To some extent, the harsh legal climate reflects a broader phenomenon: the discomfort of people, including progressives, over tactics used by some activists. One of Britain’s most respected progressives, George Monbiot, explains the way in which this has played out:
The demonstrators who have halted the construction of the new animal testing labs in Oxford command little public sympathy. Their arguments are often woolly and poorly presented. Among them is a small number of dangerous and deeply unpleasant characters, who appear to respect the rights of every mammal except Homo sapiens. This unpopularity is a gift to the state. For fear of being seen to sympathize with dangerous nutters, hardly anyone dares to speak out against the repressive laws with which the government intends to restrain them.
As Monbiot points out, government seizes opportunities provided to them by apparently dangerous activists to begin treating all kinds of dissenters as terrorists. A similar clampdown, as Monbiot observes, is taking place all over the world.
There’s no shortage of parties, of course, for whom animal use is profitable, and who welcome this trend. Industries that use animals normally quell dissent by endorsing animal-welfare concepts. Increasingly, those who want more than minor reforms can be equated with violent tendencies. This, of course, is untrue: activists who simply refuse to buy into animal use need not use violence to opt out. But industries have proven remarkably successful at getting activists to play by their rules. By praising corporate concessions to animal welfare and by promoting violence, activists enable government and industry to control them.
Last year, Senator James Inhofe invited John Lewis of the FBI to speak to speak on animal welfare and eco-militancy. “There is nothing else going on in this country,” Lewis declared, “that is racking up the high number of violent crimes and terrorist actions.” Lewis’s ominous warning was echoed by a surprising source: Jerry Vlasak, a doctor who was introduced as a spokesperson for certain animal-advocacy groups, told a Congressional committee that deadly force “would be a morally justifiable solution” against scientists who use nonhuman animals. A vocal few, insisting that ethical conduct flies out the window “for the animals,” will multiply the ridicule and misunderstandings that encumber the animal-rights movement.
In May, Britain’s prime minister signed the “People’s Petition” in support of vivisection. Tony Blair called this “a sign of just how important I believe it is that as many people as possible stand up against the tiny group of extremists threatening medical research and advances in this country.” This comes in the wake of a blanket threat from Oxford lab opponents against anyone connected with the university, and over the removal of human remains from an English country gravesite. Few questioned Blair’s assertion, which completely ignores the issue of whether using animals in experiments is ethical or not.
Americans for Medical Progress, an organization that advocates on behalf animal testing in research and commercial product development, is now campaigning to have its members sign the British petition.
Supporters of animal testing have even gained celebrity status. Early this year, 16-year-old Laurie Pycroft finished shopping in Oxford and ran into a protest against the lab. Pycroft and two friends quickly made up their own sign, protesting the protestors: “Support Progress, Support the Oxford Lab." Pycroft, who hopes to become a neurosurgeon, is a member of England’s National Academy of Gifted and Talented Youth. Glad to leave normal school, Pycroft explains, “To be honest I'm not a people person.” But many, of course, found the appearance of the articulate teen timely and useful. Pycroft gained widespread media attention for founding a group called Pro-Test.
Iain Murray, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, points to Pro-Test as a model of “grass roots” organizing for the U.S. to follow, while James Panton, who teaches politics at Oxford and is a member of Pro-Test’s steering committee, decries the “climate of misanthropy” that animal advocates create. Discussing the grave desecration which led to the arrests of four activists, Panton remarked that “[t]he act of digging up a corpse demonstrates these individuals' low view of human beings,” and added that “this misanthropic worldview…is expressed by the entire spectrum of animal rights campaigners and anti-vivisectionists, who value animal life over attempts to improve the human condition.”
This description would be seen as totally incorrect by most anyone familiar with the views of Vegan Society founder Donald Watson, who understood the boundless potential of vegetarianism to improve human life. A culture without killing, said Watson, would be the first in our history to “truly deserve the title of being a civilization.” In contrast to those who see other animals and the planet as mere resources and who have ended up endangering their own species, Watson, a gardener and peace activist, cared visibly for the well-being of humanity.
The Rise of Corporate Front Groups
According to the Center for Media and Democracy, a front group is an organization that publicly claims to represent one interest but actually serves backstage sponsors. Some stake their claims with breathtaking doublespeak. Consider the Sea Lion Defense Fund: a legal project created by the Alaska fish industry to fight for unrestricted catches of pollock, one of the endangered sea lion's most important foods. The Abundant Wildlife Society is actually a group of cattle industry backers who oppose the Endangered Species Act and want to do away with wolves.
Then there’s the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), a brainchild of Rick Berman of Berman & Co., a public relations firm that pooh-poohs critical studies of pesticides, genetic modification and animal agribusiness. No wonder the group attempts to discredit Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and real consumer information groups such as Public Citizen. Formerly called the Guest Choice Network, CCF vocally denounces the “nanny culture” -- environmentalists, that is, and health care and organic activists.
When Berman launched the Guest Choice Network in 1995, the budget allowed for “grassroots network development,” but its main undertaking since its founding has been to disparage actual grassroots activists. In 2001, the Guest Choice Network, shortly before changing its name to Center for Consumer Freedom, launched ActivistCash.com, an Internet site which purports to expose hidden funding behind various supporters of animal advocacy, food safety and smoking prevention. Ironically, rebuffing repeated interview invitations from ABC News, Berman declined to identify CCF’s own corporate backers.
Purportedly in the name of consumer choice, CCF claims to represent more than 30,000 U.S. restaurants and taverns. But Guest Choice Network’s federal tax return for the year 2000 showed a total income of $514,321, mainly from just seven unnamed donors. Although it did not report paying salaries, it noted $256,077 for services of the for-profit Berman and Co., located in its shared headquarters in northwest Washington, D.C. Tax records show that Berman and Co. took in a million and a half CCF dollars in 2004. John Stauber, founder of the Center for Media and Democracy, has likened CCF’s service to “a tax advantage for paying your lobbyist.”
Consider CCF’s campaign to wave off concerns about mercury in fish, while accepting contributions from Coldwater Seafood and several convenience food chains. Or consider last year’s expenditure of $600,000 to advertise in papers, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post and USA Today, that the government’s concern with obesity studies is "hype." The CCF’s advisory panel has included people connected with National Steak & Poultry, Outback Steakhouse, Ruth Chris Steakhouse, Cargill Processed Meat Products, and Armour Swift-Eckrich. Financial support has been traced to Coca-Cola, Tyson Foods, Applebee's, White Castle and Wendy's restaurant chains, the rest stop caterer HMS Host Corporation, Perdue Farms, the Michigan Turkey Producers Cooperative, and the makers of several brands of dairy desserts.
Also promoting unfettered business are influential think tanks. President Reagan declared in 1988: “Today the most important American scholarship comes out of our think tanks -- and none has been more influential than the American Enterprise Institute." AEI, founded in 1943 to promote free enterprise, leases office space to the Project for the New American Century, a propeller of the Bush administration's fight for regime change in Iraq. In 2003, AEI and the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies launched NGOwatch, a project critical of non-governmental organizations, many of which attempt to provide public services contrary to the desires of multinational corporations.
AEI alumni have included James Buchanan, Dick Cheney, former President Gerald R. Ford, Alan Keyes and Justice Antonin Scalia. AEI is connected with the Heritage Foundation, and has received financial support from the Scaife Family Foundations, the Kraft Foundation, the Procter & Gamble Fund, Philip Morris, Amoco and ExxonMobil.
A recent sample of the group’s priorities comes from AEI visiting fellow Kenneth P. Green, whose June opinion piece, which ran in the Arizona Star and the Charleston Gazette, dismissed the environmental benefits of vegetarianism. Green waved off “vegetarian researchers” Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, the pair whose high-profile article, published through the University of Chicago, estimates that the typical U.S. resident puts out 1.5 tons more carbon dioxide each year than do complete vegetarians.
Green points out that the savings adds up to only 1.6% of worldwide emissions. Actually, given that U.S. residents make up just about 5% of the world’s people, that figure is significant, and it suggests that the spread of vegetarianism would make a substantial impact. Green also argues that organic foods are no more nutritious than conventional offerings -- without mentioning worker health or the ecological impact of pesticides. Green concludes glibly: “Waiter? I'll have the steak, please.”
In a similar piece, published in May in the National Review and titled “Clouds of Global-Warming Hysteria: Finally Starting to Lift?” Kenneth Green dismissed “the high-end horror-story estimates coming out from politicized groups like the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
Informed by thousands of experts brought together under the auspices of the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the foremost body in its field. Its 2001 report showed a strong consensus: human activity could, if unchecked, warm the earth by as much as 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. In 2002, the Los Angeles Times reported that Tanzania's Mt. Kilimanjaro has lost about 75% of its glacier.
Those who dispute these findings can seek funding from a kindred spirit -- ExxonMobil. Soon after Bush took office, ExxonMobil’s lobbyist contacted the White House Council on Environmental Quality to denounce the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel as “handpicked by Al Gore.” The Bush administration blocked this scientist’s re-election to the post. In 2003, the New York Times reported that the White House Council had watered down an Environmental Protection Agency climate report to the point where EPA scientists said it “no longer accurately represents scientific consensus.”
The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment combined, over four years, the work of hundreds of the world’s scientists. The study warned that early impacts of climate change are already apparent in the Arctic, threatening drastic losses of marine habitat for polar bears, seals, and seabirds. Alarmed, Senator John McCain of Arizona called for a hearing.
The Assessment was pooh-poohed in the Washington Times and Fox News by the Cato Institute’s Steven Milloy -- who happens to run two organizations that receive money from ExxonMobil, and who, through the Free Enterprise Education Institute, regularly attacks the corporate social responsibility movement. Senator Inhofe, whose 2002 election campaign was boosted by oil money, said people who are concerned about climate change “love hysteria.”
For the safety of animals, the planet, and ourselves, it’s time we questioned the influence of profit-seekers over environmental policy. This will mean clearly rejecting the rhetoric of intimidation, and fostering a movement that’s confident of its role in the key social movements of our time.