ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

25 January 2002


see also:
CLEAR View -- Volume 9 Number 1
Post 9/11 Anti-Environmentalism Threatens Green Activism

January 23, 2002

The bulletin of CLEAR, the anti-environmentalism watchdog. We encourage you to distribute this bulletin.  Subscription instructions included below.

Permission is granted to reproduce with attribution any information in this bulletin.

In this Issue:

1.  Introduction

2.  Federal "eco-terror" legislation -- dubious outcome, potential abuse

3.  Using "eco-terrorism" to taint the environmental movement

4.  More attacks on 501c3 tax status

5.  Public Interest is "unpatriotic"

6.  Appendix: NCPPR's letter to CLEAR


1. Introduction

Wise Use leader Ron Arnold of the Center for Defense of Free Enterprise once said, "We want to destroy environmentalists by taking away their money and their members" (New York Times, December 19, 1991).  We always regarded this statement as hyperbole, but lately we aren't so sure.

Some are using the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11 to further their own agendas against environmentalism.  There have been rhetorical attacks branding public interest groups as elitist and unpatriotic, further attacks on non-profit status of a handful of groups, and a renewed intensity in fighting "eco-terrorism," a term and concept environmental backlash leaders are trying desperately to get into circulation.

While most Americans think eco-terrorism consists of arson and other widely condemned extremist activities, some anti-environmentalists define "eco-terror" to include civil disobedience actions such as tree sitting, blocking roads, targeting corporations with boycotts, and even advocating that the U.S. ratify the Kyoto global warming treaty.

Currently, there appear to be four major themes coming out of the renewed interest in "eco-terrorism."

1) A renewed effort to enact vaguely defined federal "eco-terror" legislation that could limit rights to non-violent protests and would not deter violent crime.

2) A nasty public relations ploy attempting to cast ALL environmentalism as "eco-terrorism" to varying degrees.

3) Unfriendly demands that law-abiding environmental groups provide a position on the criminal activities of the Earth Liberation Front

4) Ongoing attacks on the tax-exempt status of a handful of leading environmental organizations, such at the Rainforest Action Network and the Ruckus Society, based on complaints that direct action violates their IRS tax status.

Ron Arnold gave environmentalists his game plan over a decade ago ­ to take away our members and our money.  A central tactic for accomplishing these goals has been and remains today to redefine the terms of environmentalism in favor of "wise use" ideals and away from those of true environmental organizations.  By convincing people that environmentalism is a criminal enterprise, Arnold et al hope to erode our support, both in financial terms and in the court of public opinion.  By attacking the tax-exemptions and reputations of certain groups, this campaign also aims to erode foundation and donor support for their efforts.  It is not too far-fetched to suppose that individual donors and foundations could be the next targets in this campaign ­ for sponsoring organizations that some would call "eco-terrorist."


2. Federal Eco-Terror Legislation -- dubious outcome, potential abuse

After failing to get any significant Federal legislation passed for the past three years, anti-environmental lawmakers may be on the verge of turning the acts of peaceful, non-violent protests, such as sitting in a tree, into felony offenses under Rep. George Nethercutt's proposed "Agroterrorism Prevention Act." Capitalizing on the public's fear since the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, proponents continue to push legislation that does far more than create increased penalties for fringe individuals guilty of trespassing and property destruction.  Your right to peaceful protest may be yet another casualty of the "war on terrorism" if an economic loss of more than $10,000 can be claimed as a result of your action.

If this seems far-fetched, "wise use" guru Ron Arnold testified before a congressional committee in 1998 on the subject of "eco-terrorism."  He defined "eco-terror" explicitly to include civil disobedience.  In his testimony, Arnold argued: "For the past five years, our members have routinely contacted our headquarters to report crimes committed against them of a type we've come to call eco-terrorism, that is a crime committed to save nature.  These crimes generally take the form of equipment vandalism, but may include package bombs, blockades using physical force to obstruct workers from going where they have a right to go, and invasions of private or government offices to commit the crime of civil disobedience" (House Crime Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, June 9, 1998).

There is currently a bill under consideration (hearings have been postponed until February 2002) introduced by Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA) that looks suspiciously like what Arnold and others recommended at the 1998 eco-terrorism hearings. H.R.2795, "The Agroterrorism Prevention Act of 2001," expands the 1992 Animal Enterprise Protection Act to ostensibly protect biotech, timber, and other agricultural or biological products from "terrorists" who engage or conspire in activities that include "physical disruption" resulting in "loss of any property" (total loss still has to be over $10,000). The bill contains increased sentencing for all levels of violation and an expanded definition of types of businesses defined as "plant enterprises," including stores that sell "plant products" (i.e. paper or wood).  Under this extremely broad definition, blocking access to an office supply store, or "conspiring" to limit profitability of paper products, could be considered "agro-terrorism" if the loss of revenue met the law's threshold. Likewise, putting "frankenfood" stickers on GMO products in grocery stores, if the profit loss could be proven, would be considered a terrorist act.  Tree-sitting or road blocking to prevent a timber sale would almost certainly qualify as a disruption that would meet the revenue loss threshold.

Nethercutt's bill (see bill analysis in separate message) was publicly unveiled at the Frontiers of Freedom "eco-terrorism" conference in June 2001.  It is based on a failed bill introduced in 2001 by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).  Hatch told attendees at the Frontiers of Freedom conference (which also featured Ron Arnold) that his legislation was "inspired in part by the writings of Ron Arnold."  So it should come as no surprise that we are getting closer to adopting Arnold's definition of eco-terrorism that includes civil disobedience and non-violent protest as activities potentially prosecuted as terrorist acts.

The bill itself, if adopted, would probably not pose much of a risk to non-violent activists, but it is written vaguely enough that the potential exists for broad interpretation of its meaning.  It is worth mentioning that only one person has been prosecuted under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act since 1992, indicating that prosecutors do not find it a useful tool. It has also obviously not had a deterrent effect on the activities of the Animal Liberation Front.

[Ironically, The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank and policy organization with strong anti-environmental credentials, recently published an article chiding environmentalists and their supporters in Congress for renewing efforts to increase fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, in a post-September 11 effort to address our dependence on foreign oil.  Writing for Heartland, Joseph Bast argues "The tragedy of September 11 is being evoked to justify legislation that didn't deserve approval before that date, and doesn't deserve it now. One such proposal is to impose tougher fuel economy standards on cars and trucks. Increasing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, as the enclosed set of articles proves, is bad public policy."

Read the text of the "Agroterrorism Protection Act" HR 2795:

"Animal Enterprise Protection Act" USC Title 18 Section 43


3. Using "eco-terrorism" to marginalize the environmental message

In June 2001, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) implied that the environmental movement as a whole is responsible for eco-terrorism:  "It is unfortunate that the general public has not fully caught onto the radicalization of the environmental movement.  We know instead that their funding has only increased.  Over the past several years, though, we have seen an even more alarming trend.  The radicalization of the green movement has led to a surge in eco-terrorism" (Frontiers for Freedom event transcript, June 13, 2001).

Unfortunately, Hatch is not alone in his assessment. Many in the anti-environmental movement go even further and routinely call ANY environmental activist an "eco-terrorist," arguing on the basis of guilt-by-association (or worse, guilt-by-faint-condemnation).  The term has been tossed around for years in wise use circles, loosely used to describe virtually any activity (or activist)  they don't agree with.

For example, the free-market e-zine Tech Central Station ran an October 3, 2001, headline suggesting environmentalists in favor of the Kyoto treaty and other environmental policies/laws/treaties are "eco-terrorists."

Tech Central Station is a free-market mainstream publication, not a back water militia web site where conspiracy theories are frequently the topic du jour.

It has been further suggested -- both before and after 9/11 ­ that mainstream environmental groups either cause, condone, or are secretly party to "eco-terror" attacks.  This despite the fact that a cursory review of press clips on the subject in the past few years reveals that most large mainstream environmental groups and many grass roots environmental groups have strongly condemned the use of violence for supposed environmental goals.  For example, a letter in USA Today in November 1998, spearheaded by the Environmental Working Group and the National Environmental Trust and signed by more than a dozen DC-based environmental organizations, decried the use of violent tactics in the name of the environment in no uncertain terms.  Signatories included organizations such as Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, and US Public Interest Research Group.  The letter read, "We want to make clear that these arsonists have nothing to do with the environmental community...Extreme, violent acts aren't activism; they are crimes."

Since "USA Today" is hardly a marginal publication, we at CLEAR wonder how backlash activists who have recently called upon environmental groups to take a stand against "eco-terror" could have missed this one?

As a result either of shoddy research or an intentional (and manipulative) oversight, a round of letters was sent late last year to large DC-based environmental organizations demanding statements condemning "eco-terrorism."  One letter came from HR 2795 sponsor Rep. Scott McInnis (R-CO), and was signed by colleagues Jim Hansen (R-UT), John Peterson  (R-PA), Bob Schaffer (R-CO), Greg Walden (R-OR), J.D. Hayworth  (R-OR) and George Nethercutt Jr. (R-WA).  A few years behind the curve, the letter demanded organizations disavow ELF/ALF in a written response to his subcommittee by December 1, 2001 (a Sunday, incidentally).  The letter specifically mentioned September 11 as a reason to pursue eco-terrorism: "In probing the threat of terrorism, it only stands to reason that Congress should probe the threat of eco-terrorism as well."

Environmentalists have called the tactic "McCarthyesque" and a "witch hunt."  So why is Congress probing peaceful, law abiding environmental organizations?  John Passacantando of Greenpeace answered this very question in a Denver Post interview: "Because these are the groups that are trying to convince the public that drilling in ANWR [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] is a bad idea.  These are the groups that are saying, "There has never been a better time to conserve and to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil.  These congressmen are afraid of our message" (Denver Post, November 26, 2001).

In a similar (and perhaps unrelated) effort, a number of environmental organizations (including CLEAR) received a letter late last year from Tom Randall of the National Center for Public Policy Research demanding to know our position on the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front (Tom: the short answer is we cherish American citizens' right to peaceful protest and oppose acts of violence and property destruction.  Oh, and sorry we missed your deadline).  Among other things, Randall claimed, "Nowhere, however, have I seen any denunciation of their acts by 'mainstream' environmental groups" (notice that "mainstream" is in quotations, suggesting Mr. Randall doesn't believe in such a thing).  CLEAR and other groups were given the deadline of November 15 to respond.

We fear that the results of NCPPR's "research" will be twisted to malign the environmental movement, regardless of our individual or collective response.  Or, in a worse case but not out-of-the-realm-of-the-possible scenario, the responses (or lack there of) could be used to suggest "conspiracy" to commit terrorism under the beefed-up anti-terrorism laws that can de-fund and dismantle groups.  We have nothing to hide and absolutely do not support terrorists, but there have been other dark times in our nation's history when the truth didn't count for much when conspiracy charges were the order of the day.

[Ironically, the environmental backlash has remained silent on the series of protests in the Klamath Basin in Oregon conducted by ranchers and anti-environmental activists opposed to irrigation water impoundment resulting from a recent drought, blaming this on environmentalists and the ESA. Protesters have forcibly broken into the headgate on several occasions to release water, trespassing and destroying public property in the process of stealing natural resources.  Security at the site has been costly as a result of these criminal acts.  The site was recently enclosed with barbed wire-topped security fencing and surveillance cameras in an effort to protect the facility and reduce costs associated with round-the-clock guards posted there since last year.  These violent criminal acts were perpetrated in protest to make a political point, seemingly perfectly adhering to the parameters set out by the proponents of "ecoterror" legislation.]


4. Attacks on 501c3 Status

Reports on the recent attacks on the tax-exempt status of Rainforest Action Network (RAN) have made news in the past several months. This campaign argues that RAN's protest actions are in violation of the IRS's regulations regarding the educational purpose conveyed through a 501 c3 status.

This is just the latest effort in a long-running campaign to defund RAN.  The web site, a project of Ron Arnold's Center for Defense of Free Enterprise, has branded RAN as extremists and liars.  Among other things, the site features a link to send email to the Turner Foundation asking them to stop funding RAN.  Boise Cascade is suspected of supporting the RANamuck .org web site, and admits writing letters to RAN's funders asking them to end support.  Boise Cascade, a primary RAN target, funded Arnold's Center for Defense of Free Enterprise early in its history (CLEAR database).  CDFE's current funders are unknown.

Apparently neither of these de-funding tactics has had the desired effect, because Frontiers of Freedom, a group run by former Senator Malcolm Wallop, has asked the IRS to revoke RAN's 501c3 status. The complaint argues that because RAN members have been arrested in the course of non-violent protests, the organization is in violation of its 501c3 status.  Boise Cascade denies being behind the attacks or paying Frontiers of Freedom to lodge the complaint.

At the same June 2001 Frontiers of Freedom conference on eco-terrorism where Ron Arnold talked about RAN and George Nethercutt (R-WA) publicly unveiled his new "Agroterrorism Prevention Act of 2001," it was repeatedly suggested by participants that "somebody" should try to get RAN's (and other groups that engage in direct action) 501c3 tax status revoked.  Scarcely a week later, Frontiers of Freedom announced it was asking the IRS to investigate RAN's tax exempt status.  It was also falsely stated at the conference that mainstream environmentalists have failed to condemn acts of arson and similar committed by ELF, and that "somebody" ought to get them to take a position (the full text of the proceedings of this conference is well worth reading, and can be downloaded in PDF format from  Scarcely six months later, efforts to demonize environmental groups and revoke their tax-exemption were moving forward.

The tactic of attacking non-profit status is catching on. Leaders of the Inupiat Eskimo tribe, one of whom works for the tribe's Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, recently filed a similar complaint against the Alaska Wilderness League, arguing that their activities to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling are not "educational" and constitute lobbying in violation of their non-profit status (Sacramento Bee, November 11, 2001).

Frontiers of Freedom is now making a similar complaint about the Ruckus Society (read Frontier's view at Frontiers of Freedom does not appear to have taken any action, but claim "the crazy thing is not that their tax-exempt status is being challenged, but that sometime during the environmental love-in that was 90s, the IRS actually granted this group tax-exempt status in the first place!"  [That wacky, impulsive, Internal Revenue Service! -Ed]

Even if attacks on non-profit status are unsuccessful, they will take time, money, and personal energy to deal with.  Expect to see more of this in the future, even on groups that are well within their legal limit on lobbying and conform to all legal definitions of "education." Again, we at CLEAR suspect that such attacks will extend beyond environmental groups to their funders in short order. Foundations could very well be taken to task for providing support to organizations and campaigns that the backlash has deemed "ecoterrorist."


5. Public Interest is "unpatriotic"

(Adapted with permission from P.R. Watch's "Spin of the Day")

The Washington Legal Foundation, a corporate-funded right wing non-profit legal foundation, has jumped on the bandwagon calling public interest activism "unpatriotic."  In a biweekly "In All Fairness" ad in the New York Times, WLF's Daniel Popeo condemns  "self-anointed consumer protection groups, working closely with profiteering plaintiff lawyers," "Naderite food police," and "no-growth activists," saying that "in the post-September 11 world we can no longer afford to put the narrow agendas of a 'public interest' elite ahead of our own national interests."  Look for this rhetorical attack to heighten in the months ahead as corporate front groups exploit tragedy and war for political gain.  Read the ad:


6. NCPPR's letter to CLEAR

Tom Randall and the National Center for Public Policy Research have posted letters to many leading environmental organizations demanding their position on "ecoterror."  Below is the text of the letter we received from NCPPR.

"At a time of unprecedented terrorist attacks in America and concern regarding future attacks, one type of terrorist continues to operate unfettered, even uncriticized: ecoterrorists.

"The Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front continue to take credit for numerous acts of terrorism, including arson, in the name of environmentalism.  They even incite others to terrorism.  All of this can be seen on their web site, Since they have been operating in the name of the environmental movement since 1996, I assume you are familiar with them.

"Nowhere, however, have I seen any denunciation of their acts by "mainstream" environmental groups.  At this time of unprecedented concern,  we would appreciate it if you would advise us of your position relative to the activities of the Earth Liberation Front, the Animal Liberation Front and other ecoterrorist organizations.  In the interests of completing our research in a timely manner, we ask that you reply to us by November 15, 2001.

"Thank you for your prompt consideration of this matter.

"Yours truly,

"Tom Randall, Director

John P. McGovern Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs

National Center for Public Policy Research"

A cursory check of indicates that the results of Randall's research have not yet been made public.



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CLEAR provides grassroots and national environmental advocates and organizations with information about the vital importance of fair and effective environmental policies in protecting human health, natural resources, communities and private property. Through publications, research, and facts, CLEAR helps concerned citizens understand and counter misinformation about environmental policy and science and the impacts of environmental law on the economy and private property.

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