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Green-Baiting Goes National

From Alternet, an article detailing efforts at the state and national level to make “eco-terrorism” a unique crime. Of course, in many cases, it looks like an attempt to create special brands of punishment for those who dare to speak out on environmental issues.

In the courts, prosecutors work to convict activists charged with property crimes under vague and harshly punitive domestic terrorism laws. One activist, Tre Arrow, is facing life in prison for allegedly burning three logging and cement trucks in an Oregon forest. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer, in an interview in June, said Arrow’s alleged actions are considered domestic terrorism because “it is a systematic attempt to use the threat of violence to instill fear for political or social purposes.”

“Animal liberation movements are being demonized not just as whacko or extremist, but also as terrorist,” says Steven Best, an animal rights activist and philosophy professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. “A collective insanity is sweeping the nation [and is] no less absurd, outrageous, frightening and irrational than the Red Scare of the 1950s. The USA Patriot Act expands government’s law enforcement powers nationwide as it minimizes meaningful review and oversight by an independent judicial body.”

Even though existing laws covering crimes such as arson, theft and trespassing are used to charge eco-terrorists, conservative lawmakers in several states are proposing laws that define eco-terrorism as a distinct offense — something federal law does not do — and deepen penalties for environmentally motivated crimes.

At all levels, these laws tend to be rather vague on their definition of “terrorism,” and generally allow law enforcement activities that would, in other cases, be heavy-handed:

Since 2001, 14 states have introduced laws directly addressing eco-terrorism, according to an association that tracks state legislation. California was the first state to pass such a law in 2003, and a New York law outlaws, for example, clandestine taping of animal facilities, a key tool for animal rights groups. One Ohio lawmaker wants to prosecute eco-terrorists under racketeering laws to let the state seize assets of convicted activists and sue those who are acquitted….

Labeling legitimate acts of protest as “eco-terror” is made possible through fuzzy definitions in the USA Patriot Act, said UTEP professor Best.

“The Patriot Act creates the new legal category of ‘domestic terrorist’ and defines it in a chillingly broad manner,” he wrote in an email. “According to the law, the crime of domestic terrorism is committed when a person engages in activity ‘that involves acts dangerous to human life that violate the laws of the U.S. and appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence the policy of government by intimidation or coercion.’ Clearly ‘intimidation’ and ‘coercion’ could mean anything, and the government does not adequately distinguish between violent and nonviolent methods of persuasion.”

I’ve discussed this issue before, and find it baffling that the right would choose environmental activists as it’s target of choice. No doubt they have no love for environmentalists, but why us versus other progressive interest groups (not that such targeting would ever be right)? Of course, I don’t agree with the methods used by “groups” like ALF and ELF, and think they should be prosecuted. I also think they set all of us up for the kind of crap described above. But terrorism…? Please.

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