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A Tree-Hugging Terrorist Behind Every Bush?
Bright green characters on the hand-lettered sign proclaimed, Youre not gonna scare the GREEN out of me. The sign was held high by an activist outside the imposing federal courthouse in Eugene, Oregon, as proceedings began inside to impose sentences on ten environmental and animal rights activists rounded up in the governments Operation Backfire net, dubbed the Green Scare by environmentalists and civil libertarians.
A substantial crowd gathered, and throngs of media buzzed around, as the sentencing hearings began in the last days of May, following a terrorism enhancement hearing on May 15. Unfortunately, most mainstream environmental groups have shied away from comment, much less solidarity, with Green Scare defendants, as federal prosecutors brand the defendants facing property destruction charges as terrorists.
Terrorists? Are young activists taking direct action to new levels or has the government dusted off Senator Joe McCarthys brush used during the Red Scare of the 1950s?
After 11 environmental and animal rights activists were named in grand jury indictments in January 2006, linking them with acts of property destruction and arson, activists and civil rights attorneys have pointed to what they regard as a government vendetta against radical environmental and animal rights activists and self-identified green anarchists. Indeed, the FBI announced in 2005 that the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) had become their number one domestic terrorism priority.
ELF and ALF have claimed responsibility for more than 1,200 incidents of environmentally-motivated acts of sabotage, animal release, and direct actions since coming on the scene in 1990. Significantlyand ELF and ALF say very deliberately those 1,200 actions had zero injuries.
Even as government prosecutors entered into plea negotiations to avoid lengthy, expensive, and political trials, they made clear they would seek terrorism enhancement on sentences handed down in federal court. This could increase prison time by as much as two decades on top of recommended sentences, as well as placing severe restrictions on the young activists while in prison. In the past, terrorism enhancement was applied only to international terrorism. After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the provision was expanded to include domestic terrorism, but still applied only to crimes targeting people, not property. Passage of the PATRIOT Act in 2001, however, further broadened the definition to include dangerous acts meant to coerce or influence the government.
Public support for most cases of terrorism prosecution rides on concerns for safety and protection of the populace. Environmental and civil rights advocates, however, charge the protection of corporate property, not imminent threats to the masses, is at the core of new laws proposed at the state and federal level, ostensibly to fight eco-terrorism. As an example, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), signed into law by President Bush on November 27, 2006 expands an existing federal statute to prescribe harsher penalties for physical disruption of (or conspiring to disrupt) an animal enterprise (e.g., animal testing labs that impose torturous procedures on animals for cosmetics companies, slaughterhouses, mink farms, veal factories, etc.), thereby instilling a reasonable fear in company heads. A reasonable fear in one person could be common sense precautions in another, particularly if they are in the business of pouring caustic chemicals into the open eyes of caged rabbits, and might expect opposition to those practices.
A bill passed by Maines legislature in 2006 established the crime of environmental terrorism as acts dangerous to human life or destructive to property or business practices when the purpose of the act is to protest the practices of a person or business with respect to an environmental or natural resource issue resulting in a significant interruption of business or loss of revenues. Legislation passed in Pennsylvania last year also increases the severity of charges and sentencing of civil disobedience activities if they interfere with people engaged in resource extraction, agricultural research, or animal experimentation. Most of these new laws are either written by or promoted by the conservative corporate lobby organization American Legislative Exchange Councilfunded by the likes of Chevron, the American Petroleum Institute, Corrections Corporation of America, Philip Morris, Exxon, International Paper, and hundreds of others.
Operation Backfire charged people with conspiracy and with setting fires in several western states. Targets included a corral for wild horses rounded up to slaughter for pet food, the Vail, Colorado ski resorts expansion into endangered lynx habitat, SUV yards, and other sites the saboteurs found to be icons of ecological destruction or animal cruelty. No injuries resulted, though damage was in the millions of dollars, so hefty restitution requirements accompany the prison terms, ranging from 3 to 13 years so far. By comparison, a Forest Service employee convicted in 1999 of setting 35 fires in order to collect overtime pay was sentenced to three years of probation and a period of house arrest.
Many see the new spate of so-called eco-terrorism laws as an expansion of the FBIs long-standing agenda to criminalize dissent and part of an intensely political agenda that ignores the adequacy of existing laws to prosecute people for property destruction. Current laws spell out median sentences in the five to eight year range, absent other factors, like serious injury. Provisions for restitution meted out through the courts are common. Saddling the Oregon defendants with the terrorism label could send them to maximum-security prisons, land them in 23-hour-a-day lockdown and otherwise severely restrict visitation and phone calls from family.
Does an ever-expanding definition of terrorism that puts property destruction on a par with violent killing better ensure safety of the populace? Or does it make light of the pain and suffering of victims of attacks like the Oklahoma City bombing and the World Trade Center? Attorney and director of Oregons Civil Liberties Defense Center Lauren Regan remarked, When everyone is called terrorist, then no one is. If a mon- keywrencher is the same as Osama bin Laden, where is the distinction drawn?
It seems unlikely that anyone or anything, except for the bottom line of a few corporations, will be safer with the ELF/ALF defendants behind bars. Besides, those indicted had left their more extreme tactics behind them with their youth as they pursued other forms of activism. Ranging in age from 26 to 41, as compared to the youthful span of 16 to 32 when the crimes were committed, their activist career pursuits now run the gamut from EMT/volunteer fire- fighter in rural Oregon to support staff at a womens center for domestic violence to medical student to journalist.
The Eugene case is far from being the only grand jury indictment related to crimes of sabotage in the name of environmental defense and what people call the Green Scare is far from over. The ten people in court in Eugene May 26 through June 5 are now being assigned to federal prisons around the country and most had the terrorism enhancement imposed on their charges. The case of Jonathan Paul, the last to be sentenced, was held over until August 1 due to mistakes in the judges sentencing guideline calculations. In addition:
- Two women connected to the Eugene indictments will be sentenced this fall after their performance testifying in a colleagues trial is taken into account.
- The principal informant, indeed the former activist (and serial arsonist and heroin addict) who broke the case for the FBI, Jake Ferguson, has yet to be brought to court, despite the fact that he holds the longest rap sheet for the arsons.
- A young mother and violin teacher in California will go to trial in September for Operation Backfire charges, likely with terrorist enhancement requested by the government, based solely on testimony from an informant.
- Rod Coronado, a well-known Native American environmental and animal rights activist in Arizona, is facing charges handed down by a San Diego grand jury related to a public speech he gave. In answer to a question from the audience at the end of the speech, he described an act of property destruction carried out years earlier for which he served prison time. The government calls that teaching terrorism.
- Activists in Sacramento face conspiracy charges after being entrapped by an undercover agent posing as an activist, although no action actually took place. In that case, the defendants lawyers have filed motions to divulge illegal wiretapping in the case.
All these Green Scare defendants are being threatened with draconian sentences and the terrorist label.
The real life drama of the governments Operation Backfire has dealt a blow to the radical environmental movement. Trusted communities and alliances were blown apart when the dominoes of government informants started toppling and, once it started, most fell flat quickly. Former colleagues, affinity group members, housemates, and lovers have been driven worlds apart after the wedge of government coercion came crashing into their lives. Threats of life sentences plus hundreds of years were delivered over jail house tables, and defendants sought deals with the devil in hopes of regaining their lives. When the dust settled, the most cooperating defendants gained was an 18-month reduction in their sentence and praise from the judge for being heroes for turning their friends in. Part of the deal is a life- long commitment to the federal government to assist in investigations.
A question still unanswered is how far the FBI, not particularly known for its embrace of political dissent, will go with fewer bounds on conducting surveillance. Will other environmental campaign strategies that target corporations, with civil disobedience and market campaigns, become targets of aggressive prosecution because of their effect on the corporate bottom line? Journalist Gar Smith in his piece published on the environmental website the Edge admonishes us to remember who the real eco-terrorists are, illustrated by fines levied against them for vandalizing natures property: Exxon ($125 million), Louisiana-Pacific ($43 million), Rockwell International ($20 million), Chevron ($6.5 million), Chemical Waste Management ($3 million)the list goes on. It is a question of priorities, principles, and fair prosecution. And perhaps the future of environmental protest.
Karen Pickett is a long-time political activist based in California, affiliated with Earth First!, the Civil Rights Outreach Committee, and other organizations.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.