“There are Eco-Arsonist Terrorists Out There.”

And if you don’t believe it, just listen to nutjobs like right-wing radio host John Stokes. Stokes, according to this Grist article by Michael J. Kavanagh, symbolizes a growing right-wing trend towards equating environmentalism and terrorism. Among some of the “facts” Mr. Stokes has cited: “…it all came out of the Third Reich. You know, the Third Reich was born out of the environmental community. I don’t make it up. It’s there.”

It’s fairly easy to label Stokes and his rhetoric as so painfully over the top that it’s hardly worth mentioning, but these kinds of claims are made regularly, day in and day out, throughout the right’s media network, and they’re attracting listeners, viewers and readers. As I mentioned here, the federal government, under the direction of such enlighted souls as Sen. James Inhofe, has picked up the ball, and the FBI has claimed “that 1,200 acts of eco-terrorism have taken place since 1990, causing over $110 million in property damage.” Of course, when asked to substantiate these numbers,

FBI spokesperson Bill Carter… was unable to detail the nature of the 1,200 “acts,” how many had occurred in each of the past few years, or how many people have been involved in committing them…. Even the top brass at the FBI seems confused about the extent of the threat. In February, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III testified before the Senate Committee on Intelligence that major incidents of eco-terror had actually declined in 2004. (Kavanagh’s emphasis)

It seems a shame that the real environmental community has to spend so much time distinguishing itself from groups like the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front. Ironically, as the article points out, these right-wing zealots devalue the concept of terrorism itself when they apply it to the crimes of property destruction that ELF and ALF have engaged in. I’m guessing that no one in London today, for instance, would think that Thursday’s attacks and the burning down of a ski lodge (while empty) are in the same class of violent activities. Are ELF and ALF criminal organizations? No doubt. But to use the same term for these kinds of groups as we use for Al Queda is patently absurd.

Of course, the worst part of this whole debasement of language is the fact that the rest of us in the environmental/sustainability movements get tarred with the same brush. Kavanagh brings up the widely-reported case from 2003 in which

…Greenpeace activists boarded a ship carrying illegal mahogany from the Brazilian Amazon bound for the U.S., [and] the Department of Justice seemed so bent on prosecuting the environmental group that it dug up an obscure 1872 law prohibiting “sail-mongering.” Greenpeace’s [John] Passacantando says that during the trial, federal prosecutors regularly referred — directly and indirectly — to 9/11. (At one point, he says, federal prosecutors stood a scale model of the ship on its aft next to two other scale models: a skyscraper that looked like one of the twin towers, and a 747.) “Even with Greenpeace, a group that’s been doing nonviolent action for 30 years, they tried to make us look like terrorists,” he says. The case was thrown out of court.

Kavanagh’s article does a very nice job of explicating the right’s rhetoric on “eco-terrorism.” I’d take it one step farther: this is pure and simple McCarthyism. One doesn’t have to look at a whole lot of examples of environmentalists at work to see that the “terrorist” label is ridiculous; at the same time, it’s frightening that so many people are satisfied to buy into the right-wing media’s mischaracterizations rather than do the most minimal investigation of these claims.

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