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Take the ecoterror litmus test

When I heard that Colorado Representative Scott McInnis, who heads the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, was turning his attention to "ecoterrorists" in the wake of 9/11, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was about time, I thought. Terrorists have been targeting environmentalists for years, and the Feds have largely turned a blind eye. Finally, I thought, after the tragic loss of life at the World Trade Center, the government would assign a higher priority to tracking down the thugs who've been threatening environmental activists, land managers, and wildlife biologists for the last thirty years.

OK, not really. It would be unbelievably optimistic to think that McInnis was talking about anyone except so-called monkeywrenchers, the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF). When people like Don Young try to link the horrendous loss of life in New York to anti-globalization protesters and the like, no opportunity to tar enviros with the Al Qaeda brush seems too farfetched.

So McInnis sends a letter to mainstream environmental groups - Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Earthjustice, National Resources Defense Council, World Wildlife Fund, National Wildlife Federation and the League of Conservation Voters - asking them to disavow the actions of "ecoterrorists." Yes, the decidedly non-extremist League of Conservation Voters made the list, perhaps because they keep giving McInnis ratings lower than 25 out of a possible 100 for his abysmal environmental voting record.

Some of these groups have indeed disavowed "ecoterrorists" - The Sierra Club indignantly pointed out that it had done so before being asked to - and some of these groups have made valid points about the squelching of legitimate dissent in a time of national panic.

I'm no supporter of the ALF and their cohort. Still, the sum total of people killed or injured by ALF and ELF is, not to put too fine a point on it, zero. Hardly an effective band of terrorists if you ask me. Ted Kaczynski - the Unabomber, a non-environmentalist often lumped in with ELF and ALF by right-wingers - does in fact have a body count, but he's in custody, and will likely remain so for the rest of his life. In any event, his name wasn't on the letter McInnis sent to the green groups.

Contrast this with the record of terror visited upon environmental activists, and federal environmental officials. Literally hundreds of incidents of violence - or threats of violence - against environmentalists fill police blotters nationwide.

Want examples?

  • The March 1999 attempted pipe-bombing of the Santa Fe, New Mexico office of Forest Guardians.
  • The 1998 destruction of Julia Butterfly Hill's car by a gang of local vigilantes.
  • The attempted murder in 1990 of Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney.
  • The 1998 murder of forest activist David Chain, by a California logger who had threatened to kill activists.
  • The two 1995 bombings directed at US Forest Service District Ranger Guy Pence, one at his Carson City, Nevada office, and another that destroyed his home.
  • The suspicious death of Navajo forest activist Leroy Jackson in 1993.
  • The rape, torture and beating of activist Stephanie McGuire, who was working to clean up water pollution in Florida's Fenholloway River, in April 1992.
  • The arson of Arkansas toxics campaigner Pat Costner's home in March 1991.
  • The brutal 1991 murder of Lynn "Bear" Hill, a Liquid Waste Disposal Company employee in Kentucky who blew the whistle on his employer's illegal dumping.
  • The series of death threats and assaults - including high-speed ramming of her car and gun fire through windows - against Kansas chemical company watchdog Lauri Maddy in the early 1990s.
  • The still-unsolved murder of anti-nuclear whistle-blower Karen Silkwood in 1974.

There are hundreds more one could list. Many of these incidents remain unsolved. Some involve highly plausible suspects who haven't been pursued by law enforcement. And there are no lack of people for law enforcement to interview about these incidents. Wise Use activist Ron Arnold, for instance, who in 1992 declared of environmentalists: "We're out to kill the fuckers. We're simply trying to eliminate them. Our goal is to eliminate environmentalism once and for all." Or the officials at Vulcan Chemical who showed their soon to be laid off employees videos of Lauri Maddy, saying she was the person responsible for their job loss. Or the Proctor and Gamble officials who likewise blamed Stephanie McGuire. They might just have something useful to share, but they've gone uninterviewed.

The threats and violence continue. And yet to my knowledge, not one representative or senator professing a concern about "ecoterrorism" has risen to denounce these terroristic acts committed against citizens of the United States engaged in the peaceable exercise of their First Amendment rights. Not one peep of disavowal from Scott McInnis, from Don Young, from Richard Pombo or Ben Nighthorse Campbell or former Representative Helen Chenoweth or by the co-signers of McInnis' letter, James Hansen, John Peterson, Bob Schaffer, Greg Walden, J.D. Hayworth, and George Nethercutt Jr.

We share a sentiment that found admirable expression in McInnis' letter: "As our Nation begins the recovery and healing process following the tragedy of Sept. 11, we believe it is critical for Americans of every background and political stripe to disavow terrorism in all its forms and manifestations... Americans simply cannot tolerate, either overtly or through silence, the use of violence and terror as an instrument of promoting social and political change."

How about it, Representative McInnis? Distinguished members of the Forestry and Forest Health Subcommittee? Do you disavow these hundreds of acts of terrorism directed at peaceful American environmentalists? We assume you will not grant them tolerance by your silence.

We await your reply.


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