Activism

Published on March 11th, 2009 | by Will Potter

20

10 Easy Ways to Be Labeled a "Terrorist" by the Government

March 11th, 2009 by

[Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Will Potter, author of Green is the New Red.]

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The FBI labels the environmental and animal rights movements the number one domestic terrorism threat. Those activists have never flown planes into buildings, taken hostages or sent anthrax through the mail. So how did they make it to the top of the government’s list?

Here are 10 ways you can be labeled an eco-terrorist:

10.) Sabotage corporate property.

Underground groups like the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front have released animals from fur farms, vandalized SUV’s and, at the most extreme, set fire to empty buildings. Those crimes have only harmed property, not people, but the government has pushed for terrorism enhancement penalties in those cases. It may come as a surprise that sabotage is the bottom of this list, but these cases are actually only a very small focus of the bigger Green Scare.

9.) Fall in love with an FBI agent.

That’s what happened to Eric McDavid. He didn’t harm anyone or break anything, but he was convicted of conspiring to sabotage federal facilities in the name of defending the environment and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The entire case against him hinged on the work of Anna, an FBI operative who provided the group with bomb-making recipes; financed their transportation, food and housing; strung along McDavid, who had the hopes of a romantic relationship; and poked and prodded the group into action.

8.) Attend vegan potlucks.

While Al-Qaeda continues to release video communiques threatening Americans, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces are using anti-terrorism resources to attempt to infiltrate vegan potlucks.

7.) Protect your privacy.

The FBI and local law enforcement have been exposed for spying on activists around the country, including peace activists in Maryland and the HoneyBaked Hams protesters in Georgia. Understandably, many activists don’t want their faces in FBI files, so they often wear bandanas at protests. And guess what? The government says THAT is terrorism. Joint Terrorism Task Forces have arrested an animal rights activist in Virginia for wearing a mask, and four California activists are facing terrorism charges for the same.

6.) Beat the good ol’ boys at their own game.

A Utah lawmaker is promising to introduce new eco-terrorism legislation. His target? Not the Earth Liberation Front, Animal Liberation Front, or some shadowy underground group. Hes openly, proudly targeting mainstream environmentalists. Specifically, he has his sights on Tim DeChristopher, the University of Utah student who disrupted an oil and gas auction by bidding on parcels of land. The state lawmaker says DeChristopher’s auction bids are no different than burning down a mans cattle operation eco-terrorism. DeChristopher took millions of dollars away from us, and hes laughing at us. Its not right. Its not fair.

5.) Stop the symbolism.

With the RNC coming to town, local organizers in the Twin Cities set up a community infrastructure including housing, transportation, child care and protest logistics. They worked with a wide range of mainstream, lawful organizations. They were very public, vocal and outspoken from the beginning about their intentions: We don’t just want a photo opportunity or a symbolic civil disobedience, were going to disrupt business as usual. The government’s response? Eight organizers were arrested before the protests began for conspiring to riot in the furtherance of terrorism.

4.) Be vocal and unapologetic.

The government hasn’t made headway on the vast majority of crimes by groups like the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front. So they’re targeting above-ground activists who vocally, unsympathetically support the underground. In the SHAC 7 case, animal rights activists were convicted of animal enterprise terrorism for running a website that posted news of both legal and illegal actions against a notorious laboratory, and vocally supporting all of it. The government also uses grand juries like the recent one in Utah to harass and intimidate activists, and force them to testify about their political beliefs and political associations.

3.) Go after their money.

I’m not just talking about the kind of property destruction mentioned in #10. Sweeping new legislation called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act wraps up a wide range activity as terrorism, including causing a loss of profits to an animal enterprise. Causing a loss of profits is not terrorism: it is effective activism.

2.) Get to their root of the problem.

The government isn’t going to label people as terrorists for recycling or volunteering at an animal shelter. That’s not because those things aren’t important, its because they aren’t radical in the true sense of the term: they don’t get to the root of the problem. When activists go deeper — when they move beyond questioning the types of light bulbs we use to questioning the entire, unsustainable economic system — that’s when they truly become terrorists.

1.) Be effective.

More than anything else, this is the sure-fire way to be labeled a terrorist. For instance, shortly after the historic victory of Proposition 2 in California, a corporate front group bought a full-page ad in the New York Times labeling the Humane Society of the United States as terrorists. Whether its activists burning SUV’s or passing landmark legislation, the common thread between every activist being labeled a terrorist is that they are successful. In this War on Terrorism, the number one domestic terrorism threat includes any environmental activist who is passionate, uncompromising and, above all else, effective.

Will Potter is an award-winning independent journalist who focuses on how lawmakers and corporations have labeled animal rights and environmental activists as “eco-terrorists.” Will has written for publications including The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News and Legal Affairs, and has testified before the U.S. Congress about his reporting. He is the creator of GreenIsTheNewRed.com.

Photo credit: hermmermferm on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

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  • Davidej

    TOKYO – Nearly a half million people in Japan were ordered to higher ground on Sunday, as coastal areas across the vast Pacific region braced for lethal tsunami waves. But only small waves appeared, and there were no reports of damage.

    Areas ranging from Sydney, Australia, to the Russian Far East to the Hawaiian islands conducted evacuations and warned residents to be on the lookout for large waves following the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated parts of Chile on Saturday. The Asia-Pacific region waited in suspense for almost 24 hours, the time that scientists predicted it would take shock waves from the powerful earthquake to race across the ocean in the form of massive waves.

    But the predicted time of impact came and went, with only waves of up to 10 centimeters reported near Tokyo and of up to 90 centimeters further north along the Japanese coast. The same was true across the region, where officials breathed an almost audible sigh of relief.

    “Luckily, these waves are far smaller than the agency’s forecast,” said Kazuaki Ito, director of the Information Institute of Disaster Prevention, a Tokyo-based non-profit group that advises on natural disasters.

    The tsunami warning was lifted in Hawaii on late Saturday after waves of about 1.5 meters were sighted, without any apparent damage. Beaches were briefly cleared of swimmers, and tourists were sent to upper floors of hotels. But nations further west left their alerts in place for much of Sunday, even after waves proved small, in case of additional tsunamis triggered by the huge Chilean temblor.

    Nations took the warning seriously in a region where raw memories remain of the deadly December 2004 tsunami in the neighboring Indian Ocean that killed nearly 230,000 people in 14 countries.

    Some of the biggest preparations were taken by Japan, where meteorological agency officials issued the nation’s first major tsunami warning in 17 years. They initially said they expected walls of water up to 3 meters, or 9 feet, high.

    In Tokyo, train lines and highways in densely populated areas along the edge of Tokyo Bay were stopped for hours. Further north, officials said they ordered the evacuation of some 570,000 households from coastal areas mostly on the main Japanese island of Honshu, a areas that has seen killer tsunamis in the past.

    Television news programs showed elderly residents in Iwate prefecture sitting on blankets in school gyms that had been turned into makeshift shelters. In the hilly port city of Hakodate, on the northernmost island of Hokkaido, residents sat on hilltops for hours on Sunday watching the sea.

    I was watching on & off the MSNBC coverage and frankly not impressed with their ‘scare’ tactic coverage – based on scientific fact and investigation the after-effects would be obvious but hey what’s with checking things first these days…. granted the potential for loss of life was there but could news channels act again like news channels – reporting the facts not paranoia & spreading fear…..plus I don’t want to hear at the end of it all “Thank God he saved us”….if you believe that surely God caused it in the first place too…

    What do you think about all these tsunamis thing?

    _____________________________________
    The best things in life are not things.
    Those who criticize our generation forget who raised it.
    Those who criticize our generation forget who raised it.

  • sydwys

    I do think it is important to take note of two things: a comment above stated that vegan potlucks should not be grouped in this article with arson; but the point is the tangential link between the two made by the FBI etc… Vegan potlucks and wearing a mask are clearly not terrorism they are not designed to change a political climate a priori, rather they are pieces of a greater movement for change. The problem is however that actions that were not considered terrorism in the past (which have been acceptable tools for activism and social change)have been labled as such to destroy their effectivness (ie. property destruction ala The Boston Tea Party, or Community organizing ala MLK or the Black Panther Party). Thus hegmonic powers in society are able then to squander discussion and not allow minority voices to question the satus quo and potentially make changes to the current zeitgeist.

    Second is the question of relevance when it comes to the role of the term terrorism. Yes, as a term used in everyday writing it has very little meaning (terrorism scholars are still at odds over a definition). However, legally it is very important. The FBI and State Department have definitions that they opperate on every day. These operational definitions to the activist arrested and standing before a jury are very real and packed with meaning. The crime of arson for instance could mean very little as far as years in jail however attach the term terrorism to the charges and the three years you get for arson may suddenly be 25. I personally would consider that very important.

    As activists we should remember that it does not matter what we are called now but rather what the world will look like in the future. If we care about the terms that we are called and spend our time defending our associations and image the real work will not get done. Let us just contintue the fight and let history decide what we will be called. Are we agitators, are we revolutionaries, are we terrorists, are we martyrs? We are humans fighting for what we see as an ethical and in the case of the environment possibly the only future available. As Marx once wrote of the political actor “I am nothing and should be everything” which should perhaps be amended to say: I am nothing and I should be everything so I can be nothing once again!

  • Only

    Will,

    Is Eric McDavid actually telling people that he “fell in love” with Anna? Because if not, that’s a pretty embarrassing thing for those of in the movement to be saying about him. Describing it that way basically paints him as a really big sucker, who was supremely manipulated and taken advantage of… all over a girl”.

    And although some of that’s true, I think to describe it a certain way – is at Eric’ expense. When really, I think he has suffered enough already. Maybe we can find a more sensitive way to describe Eric’s situation. Starting with asking him how he wants his relationship with Anna to be portrayed.

    And if he is saying straight up – I fell in love with an FBI informant… well all right then. I just haven’t heard him say it that way.

    Thanks Will for all you do.

  • Alex Felsinger

    Anony Mouse,

    Please provide links for those examples — I’ve never heard of most of them.

    As for the ALF in Italy, they did not kill 40 birds. http://planetsave.com/blog/2009/02/28/contrary-to-reports-the-alf-did-not-kill-40-birds-in-italy/

    Regardless, the point is that the word terrorist is being tossed around and applied to all sorts of people — even those who have done no harm to anyone whatsoever. It’s a buzzword being used to stifle non-violent political movements.

    -Alex

  • Kate

    I agree with Rob – my brother recently got put on the terrorist watch list because he was taking pictures of government buildings (buildings he had no idea were government affiliated)…

  • @b: Thanks for posting the “#1 domestic terrorist threat” link, I was just about to post one as well.

  • The FBI labels the environmental and animal rights movements the number one domestic terrorism threat. Those activists have never flown planes into buildings,

    “…flown planes into buildings .. ”
    When did this happen?

  • Anony Mouse

    The author fails to mention that ecoterrorists have also spiked trees with large metal objects, which cause destruction and injury when the trees get into the sawmills – or that ecoterrorists derailed a train along the Nevada-Arizona border a while back, or that sometimes ecoterrorists string up wire or fishing line at neck-height along motorcycle and horse trails, causing serious life-threatening injuries to riders – or the many cases of toppled power transmission towers that cause power outages endangering the lives of people on life support equipment. The animal rights terrorists are no better – a recent attack in Europe on a zoo by people who supposedly care for animals resulted in the deaths of 40 birds – and in multiple cases in the USA these same people have released thousands of minks into the wild, resulting in many of them freezing to death or otherwise unable to survive.

  • Rob

    Just be a photographer…that usually puts you right on top of the list.

  • This top ten list clearly demonstrates that the government doesn’t care so much about the “rule of law” but rather protecting corporate profits.

    Repression is a response to effective activism. Let us all resist such repression and continue to forge ahead in our work for a brighter future for all.

  • b

    aaron, the point isn’t whether you agree with a tactic, it’s that they’re using that tactic as an excuse to go after you.
    as for your link, i found it in a matter of seconds-5th paragraph:

    http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/08/24/schuster.column/index.html

  • Kelley Price

    Thank you for all that you do, Will…keep up the good work!

  • jay

    matt—-do you profit off the destruction of the environment or exploitation of animals? no? then what are you worried about?

    most of the united states believes that money is more important than life.

  • John

    I see the government using the label “terrorist” in these instances as just how focused on protecting corporations our government is.
    If laws are broken by activists.. you just prosecute as would be appropriate .. no need to pull out a fear mongering “terrorist” label just to protect a corporate bottom line.

  • matt

    It is easy to see why leftist groups, seemingly benevolent in nature, are feared. The problem is you represent an ethos which is not defined spiritually. Why is this a problem? I assure you, not because I give a crap about your spirituality, but because the government protects me from odd balls associated with a statedly spiritual righteousness. However, I am unprotected from zealous left wingers intent on bullying various social mandates derived from an ethos I may not share. There is no check on you, because you all think you are doing good. Leftists are as dangerous as the religious right, only there is nothing to protect me from them.

  • “Terrorism” is a fairly meaningless term anyway — it just refers to normal government violence being carried out by non-government actors. So, of course anything activists do will fall under the “terrorism” umbrella. That’s what the umbrella is for.

    Politics is weaponized langauge, don’t think we can keep appealing to Oxford dictionaries, or calling on common sense. That’s not the battlefield we’re on anymore.

  • Aaron

    I can’t find anywhere on the FBI site that says that they’re the number one threat, only that they’re currently the most active domestic terrorists. This is a meaningful difference between threat capability and thus-actualized action. I’d like to see a link to something more incendiary.

    Mostly, while I agree that anti-terrorism is looking super scary big brother style, this post is pretty damn deceptive. Mostly, you can’t lump together legit govt action against arson and other such stuff with things like being labeled a potential threat for going to vegan pot-lucks. The latter is of much more concern to me in terms of our rights. It smacks of McCarthyism.

    Blowing up buildings, on the other hand, with our without people in them is simply just not something I can buy. I’m deeply concerned about sustainability, but I don’t think I’ll ever be convinced that destructive actions are appropriate for this cause. When you’re so firmly in the right about something, the last thing you want to do is give people a reason to put you in the wrong. People can be pretty stupid, but eventually they’ll come around. It just takes time for new generations to get into power that grew up with different views about the world. Activism should be about accelerating this change. You have to realize how fundamental of a change it is to understand what it will take for it to come about.

    You have to appeal to reason because, when it comes down to it, people want what seems reasonably best for themselves and their children.

    Civil disobedience like the Utah kid’s is sweet, but blowing stuff up is just asinine.

  • Fl

    But you are terrorists.

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