Sunday, May 20, 2007

"Ecoterrorism" as "Terrorism"

When law-enforcement agencies arrested 10 animal rights activists and environmental radicals 18 months ago, it was a major breakthrough in the fight against what officials call "ecoterrorism."

Among the crimes solved were a string of arsons and other attacks across five Western states totaling more than $40 million in damage. Targets of the group calling itself The Family had been timber companies, meatpacking plants, an SUV dealership, a Colorado ski resort, and the University of Washington Horticultural Center.

Now, with all defendants having pleaded guilty because of the weight of the evidence against them, including an informant who wore a recording device, prosecutors are seeking "terrorism enhancements" to their sentences.

"This is the first time in the history of the US that the federal government is seeking this enhancement for property crimes that did not result in injury or death to humans," said Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, Ore.

In their 148-page sentencing memorandum filed last week in federal court in Eugene, prosecutors argued that "although the government was not a direct victim, it was nonetheless a federal crime of terrorism because of the offenders' motivation." Intimidation, coercion, and retaliation aimed at the conduct of government, prosecutors said, deserves "enhanced" punishment under federal antiterrorism laws.

The ecosaboteurs' goal, according to prosecutors, was to retaliate for certain federal policies related to natural resources and animals, and they were attempting to coerce government agencies into changing those policies. Federal sentencing guidelines in such cases can add up to 20 years to a sentence, and this can also mean being sent to a maximum security prison.

Remember this. I don't condone the actions of these groups, but there is a difference between civil disobedience (which by its nature breaks the law in order to publicize the violation of larger moral principles) and terrorism here that seems to be collapsing. It's not a very large step to imagine a gulag for any objectors to the socio-economic status quo.

UPDATE (9pm, 5/22):

So,... in light of the post above and the comments, let's see what happens to this guy:

Mark Uhl, a student at Liberty University, was arrested today for possessing several homemade bombs which he told authorities he made to disrupt protesters at the funeral of Jerry Falwell.

The 19-year-old student, reportedly had six devices on his person or in his car when he was arrested. Some reports say the devices were gasoline-based "napalm" bombs.


Murky Thoughts said...
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Murky Thoughts said...

Vandalism. Reckless endangerment perhaps. Nelson Mandela perpetrated terrorism by these standards. I wonder if left or right are more responsible for the cynical rule of thumb that distinguishing "terrorism" comes down to no more than which side you're on. It's practically an atrocity itself to think that simplistically, but prima facie it's governments that are guilty of it when they label property damage terrorism. It's more like unfair trade practices--white collar beneath the black ski mask.

Ian said...

Well, it was intended as intimidation. It was arson as an attempt to scare other SUV dealers etc. out of business, and I have to call that terrorism. Civil disobedience is nonviolent. Chaining themselves to the front gate would not have been terrorism, though illegal.

As Murky said, Nelson Mandela perpetrated terrorism by these standards. If he was responsible for attacks on civilian targets (the internet is letting me down - did he?) then yes, he was a terrorist. Terrorizing bad people to stop them from continuing to do bad things might perhaps be defensible.

Terrorism by arson should of course be less of a priority for the FBI than terrorism by murder. I should think that the FBI's time would be better spent finding abortion clinic bombers.

troutsky said...

The indigenous Americans were the first eco-terrorists.

Murky Thoughts said...

"Ask your doctor if you should be taking X" is intimidation too. To the extent the arsonists made clear that the SUV torching was enviropolitical, reasonable people will not construe that torching as a threat of murder unless the government and the tagalong media go "on message" about it being "terrorism." It's a threat of higher insurance premiums and/or security costs and/or PR costs (to mitigate the charge of being Earth unfriendly)--a threat of a higher cost of doing business in other words. That's what Walmart and Starbucks do to existing and would-be small merchants. All kinds of unseemliness count as fair trade practice. New ones get invented and nobody goes to jail or gets fined until they do it after specific regulations come into effect. That's how corporate free expression works anyway. It's the exact opposite for political expression seemingly. Practice civil disobedience or try to garner public attention in any kind of creative way and you'll get arrested. Hang a banner or stage a concert in a public park and you're littering or disturbing the peace. If you really care about the environment, you're supposed to buy billboard space and full page ads in a glossy magazine.

helmut said...

I don't see why arson shouldn't simply be prosecuted as arson, as it would be if someone was, say, trying to collect insurance. The difference appears to be whether or not the government has a personal preference for the intent.

So, no, perhaps the actions aren't acts of civil disobedience because property was damaged, even if there was no intent to harm people. But the leap from the rather prosaic crime of arson or vandalism to terrorism requires an extra ingredient. That ingredient is put there by the government.

As we all know, the "terrorism" appellation has already been readily abused by the government for its own political purposes. I don't see this case as being any different.

Ian said...

Granted, the American government's current definition of terrorism seems to be "everything we don't like." That doesn't mean that they're applying the wrong legal principle in this case.

When people burn down an abortion clinic they should be prosecuted as terrorists, even if they made sure the building was empty first.

Burning a house down for the insurance money is two crimes: arson and insurance fraud. Likewise burning down a clinic: arson and using violence to terrorize clinic workers.

I agree that the trend is toward unnecessarily restricted citizen speech, but arson isn't speech.

"Ask your doctor about X." This might be an area where we need broadly written laws interpreted by humane judges. At least pharmaceutical companies aren't beating up noncompliant patients pour encourager les autres.

Political violence is the wrong way to solve political problems when any alternative is available, civil disobedience for example. In any case, you shouldn't resort to violence unless the violence is likely to succeed in achieving your political goal. If they want to stop people from driving SUVs by violence, anything less than burning down dealerships across the country and sabotaging automakers is pointless destruction.

Murky Thoughts said...

"Violence" is slippery like "terrorism." If I destroy an abortion clinic with termites, have I resorted to violence? Abortion clinic arson is like the assault of a police officer--a regular crime with particulars that deserve an extra disincentive on top of what the regular crime brings. Abortion clinics are medical practices, so in that aspect and to a degree they are basic and vital infrastructure--and I wouldn't be surprised if regulations specifically require they open for general medical services and use by civic-servant paramedics in a public emergency. If the dealer SUV were instead the ambulance of a hospital or working ambulance company, burning it would be a special case like a clinic arson. I doubt even arson of a synagogue would be charged as "terrorism"--despite the ease of imagining contexts in which the burning of a synagogue prima facie would seem to deserve classifying as terrorism. The state might charge it as a "hate crime," but hating the sale of SUVs as cars is nowhere near that kind of hate. If the Pentacostals began calling for a return to Prohibition, I doubt the first political liquor store burning would get charged either as terrorism or as a hate crime.

helmut said...

Note the update.

The difference, when it comes to "ecoterrorists," seems to be that the distinction between destruction of property and harm to human beings is collapsed. I don't agree with violence in either case. It's the "terrorist" appellation that's interesting here.

I really don't think the US knows very well what "terrorism" means. It has become selectively defined in the domestic sphere, as it usually is in the international sphere. The key is hardly ever who uses violence and who doesn't. The key is usually what underlying values are assaulted. In the SUV case, it's property. I don't think that rises to the level of "terrorism." If it does, we're probably all in deep shit because that means "terrorism" is being defined very loosely.

As usual, various decisions about what society ought to view as right and wrong are not discussed explicitly and openly, but are sneaked in under the public door.

Murky Thoughts said...

Would you call burning a flag during a march violent, helmut? What makes burning an SUV (at night with nobody around, say) violent? I say a tree that falls in the forest with nobody there to see it doesn't fall violently, and if you want to say that the lizard or even the widdle chipmunk crushed by it died a violent death, I say "c'est la vie." I condemn causing harm to others, except for certain small harms for sake of certain larger and more important benefits; and I strongly disapprove of boxing and fraternity hazing, but I can't wholly and with all my heart condemn violence while I remain so unsure what I'd be condemning.

helmut said...

Fair enough. Violence is physical harm of another person. That seems pretty clear and straightforward, no?

The thing, then, is just as US law treats corporations as individuals, with similar packages of rights, it treats inert objects as human individuals when it comes to "violence" (of the scare-quote type). Pretty wacky.

I'm not a non-violence all the way sort. I generally believe in punching people when they punch you except if it didn't really hurt. In cases like SUV burning, abortion clinic arson, etc., however, those committing the acts are treating the objects as at least symbolic of harm. So, they punch back. Then we have to figure out whether it's "self-defense" of the scare quote type or "terrorism" of the scare quote type (is there any other?).

Murky Thoughts said...

Then we have to figure out whether it's "self-defense" of the scare quote type or "terrorism" of the scare quote type (is there any other?).

How about "football" type?

There's also that wonderfully insidious expression "playing with the big boys."

(Thanks for the concession BTW)

Murky Thoughts said...

I guess the point is to have bright line rules and boundaries to prevent escalation--especial when one of the players could crush the other in an instant if he or she or it got angry. But when does "rough housing" become "fighting"? The line between "protest" and "rebellion" must be blurry too. And do we want simple rules--e.g. to prevent the mistake of a gesture or garb as "sexual," for example? I suppose we want to be somewhere between "Paris" and "Tehran," but we might regret having no other kind of place to wander.

sushil yadav said...

this is in response to your post - Ecoterrorism as Terrorism.

Who is the real terrorist? - Environmentalists or Industrial Society?

The human race has been destroying/ killing animals, trees, air, water, land and people from the very beginning of civilization. Science and Technology has increased this destructive capacity millions of times.

Every man is a serial-killer. The per-capita destruction of Environment - per-capita destruction of Animals, Trees, Air, Water and Land in Industrial Society is thousands of times greater than what it was 1000 years ago - 500 years ago - 200 years ago.

The Military Industrial Complex has killed millions of people in War/ Violence. It has decimated all plant and animal species. It has destroyed all ecosystems. It has polluted and poisioned the Sky, Land and Oceans. It has raped and plundered "Mother Earth" in the name of Progress and Development.

The crimes of "Military Industrial Complex" are millions of times greater than the crimes of Environmentalists.
Comparing the crimes of Environmentalists with the crimes of "Military Industrial Complex" is like comparing the Lamp with the Sun.

In this context I want to post a part from my article which examines the impact of Speed, Overstimulation, Consumerism and Industrialization on our Minds and environment. Please read.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.

Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

Emotion ends.

Man becomes machine.

A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.

Fast visuals/ words make slow emotions extinct.

Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys emotional circuits.

A fast (large) society cannot feel pain / remorse / empathy.

A fast (large) society will always be cruel to Animals/ Trees/ Air/ Water/ Land and to Itself.

To read the complete article please follow any of these links :