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News :: Organizing
'Terrorism' label being used by feds, media and industry to discredit ALF/ELF foes
09 Feb 2006
Modified: 06:11:41 AM
In the runup to a conference this Saturday, February 11 at Roxbury Community College on the increasing severe tactics being used by the government in its campaign against political opponents such as the Black Panther Party, here's a look at how damaging well-organized media operations can be in scoring points in the crucial court of public opinion.
Eco-Activists Fight the 'Terrorist' Label
By Catherine Komp, The NewStandard

In an attempt to shield private property and development from saboteurs, business lobbyists are pushing new laws that would further criminalize the actions of radical ecological activists. Government officials and corporations are applying the rubric of anti-terrorism to penalize those who destroy company or government property when protesting mistreatment of animals and the ecosystem.

Last month, federal grand juries in Oregon and California indicted 11 people on various conspiracy charges for their alleged involvement in the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) or the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) -- underground groups responsible for dozens of acts of property destruction as a strategy for protecting vulnerable species.

While some federal officials and media reports liken the defendants to domestic terrorists, others, including some legal experts and free-speech groups, say the label is an intentional misnomer without legal basis.

The actions

In Oregon, a 65-count indictment charges the defendants with involvement in 17 arson and property-destruction attacks between 1996 and 2001. The incidents involve meat processing plants, lumber companies and other public and private targets.

Defendants in California are accused of conspiring to use fire and an explosive to damage property of the U.S. Forest Service Institute of Forest Genetics, a fish hatchery, cellular telephone towers and electric power stations. Though their alleged plot was reportedly foiled by a federal informant, two of the defendants face up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Over the past quarter century, the ELF and ALF have taken responsibility for numerous crimes of arson, vandalism and property destruction against institutions the groups say harm people, animals or the environment.

The FBI says that these and related groups have committed more than 1,100 "criminal acts" since 1976, causing more than $110 million in damage.

In an October 2001 press release, the ALF claimed responsibility for one of the activities listed in the Oregon indictment: releasing 200 horses and setting four timed incendiary devices in Litchfield, Calif. The group accused the BLM of rounding up wild horses for slaughter to clear public land for cattle grazing.

Similarly, ALF spokesperson Dr. Jerry Vlasak said the motive behind the arsons of a ski resort expansion in Vail, Colo., in 1998 was to prevent the destruction of land inhabited by lynxes, which were added to the threatened species list after the attacks.

After the recent arrests, FBI Director Robert Mueller called animal rights and environmental "extremism" one of the bureau's highest domestic terrorism priorities.

But the activists say they are on a mission to defend, not terrorize. Vlasak said property destruction is used after other avenues of environmental and animal-rights activism are exhausted.

"There are people working on legislation, there are people working on public education, there are people holding protest signs, but those things alone will not achieve the end result of animal liberation," Vlasak told The NewStandard. "So people who are willing to break the law to stop animals being exploited are just one part of a liberation movement."

As a policy, the decentralized, anonymous groups do not harm humans during their activities. Rather than directly instilling a sense of fear in individual humans, the ALF and ELF engage in acts of property destruction as a means of raising the costs of doing business until they are a deterrent to conducting practices the activists oppose.

From buzzword to legislation

The groups railing against so-called "eco-terrorism" cite the public interest in their campaigns, yet private interests influence their policy initiatives.

One of the originators of the term "eco-terrorism," Ron Arnold, is the founder of the "wise-use movement," a loose network of groups opposing environmental regulation and pushing for more industrial development on public lands. Arnold, who once told the Toronto Star that he wished to "eradicate the environmental movement," currently serves as vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, a pro-business research organization. He has pushed the concept of the eco-terrorist threat in his published writings, media appearances and congressional testimony.

Another industry-backed advocacy group, the Center for Consumer Freedom, heads the movement for ecological terrorism laws. Heavily funded by restaurant, alcohol and tobacco interests, the organization has pressed the FBI to investigate radical groups, like the ELF and ALF, as well as mainstream organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). David Martosko, the center's research director, testified at a Senate hearing in May 2005, saying, "The threat from domestic terrorism motivated by environmental and animal rights ideologies is undocumented, unambiguous and growing." Among the center's other priorities is fighting against healthy-eating and anti-smoking campaigns.

Business lobbies have also drafted model legislation to addresses radical environmentalist crimes. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative public-policy organization funded by more than 300 corporations, collaborated with the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, an advocacy group for hunters, fishers and trappers, to write the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act. If passed into law, the Act which would consider arson, property destruction or trespassing to be acts of domestic terrorism -- if committed by animal-rights activists.

The groups also wish to criminalize acts providing "financial support or other resources," including lodging, training or transportation to aid eco-terrorist activities. An online registry of convicted offenders that would include personal information and photographs is another recommendation in the draft bill.

So far, the lobbying effort against eco-terrorism on the federal level has failed. In 2003, Representative Chris Chocola (R-Ohio) introduced the Stop Terrorism of Property Act, which would have codified "eco-terrorism" as a federal crime, but with 54 co-sponsors, the bill died in committee. On the state level, however, lawmakers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, South Carolina, Arizona, Washington and Hawaii are pushing various versions of the ecological terrorism legislation.

Defining a terrorist threat

Though Justice Department officials publicly refer to the ALF and ELF defendants as "terrorists," none is formally charged under terrorist criminal statutes, nor are the terms "eco-terrorism" or "domestic terrorism" in either indictment. Legally, "domestic terrorist" refers to a specific category established in the federal criminal code, USC 2331, as enhanced by the Patriot Act.

The federal government's elastic public use of the term "eco-terrorism" has drawn some criticism from the public and officials.

According to William Banks, director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, the legal framework for terrorist-related crimes as well as public perceptions of domestic terrorism have been redefined since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He noted that prior to the passage of the Patriot Act, what might now be considered "domestic terrorism" cases could be tried under conventional criminal laws like conspiracy to harm others and conspiracy to commit murder.

But Banks commented that while ELF and ALF activists might be considered protesters and in some cases, criminals, they do not meet his threshold for domestic terrorism because they do not perpetrate violence against civilians in order to instill fear.

There is, however, some legal precedent for categorizing animal-defense groups as "terrorists" in the 1992 federal Animal Enterprise Protection Act, which defines "animal enterprise terrorism" as the "physical disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise," including research labs, testing facilities, zoos, aquariums, and circuses.

This week, six activists with a group called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty will be tried under this Act in New Jersey, charged with using their website to incite violence against the animal research company Huntingdon Life Sciences, which reportedly kills about 75,000 animals every year for research.

The magic word

Some lawmakers, seeking to put eco-terrorism in perspective, have criticized the targeting of environmental activists as unwarranted.

At a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works last May, Sen. Barak Obama, D-Ill., cited the FBI's own assertions that crimes by the ELF and ALF had been decreasing. Obama suggested that the FBI's 2003 statistics showing more than 7,400 hate crimes motivated by race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation, and 450 environmental crimes by industries violating clean air and water laws, and improperly transporting and disposing of hazardous waste, demonstrated that there were much bigger threats.

"While I want these [ELF and ALF] crimes stopped," the senator said, "I do not want people to think that the threat from these organizations is equivalent to other crimes faced by Americans every day."

Free-speech advocates say that aside from misguided crime-fighting priorities, there are serious repercussions of the "eco-terrorism" dragnet, especially in light of the recent evidence of FBI and law enforcement surveillance of protest groups.

Larry Frankel, legislative director of the Pennsylvania branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the language of the bill introduced in his state stigmatizes only certain political viewpoints. For example, he said, under the proposed statue, people who blockade a road to stop old growth logging could potentially be eco-terrorists, "but if an environmental law firm was preparing a brief to go to court, to file an injunction to stop [the logging], and someone came in and trashed their offices so they couldn't get the brief done, they wouldn't be guilty of eco-terrorism."

Frankel believes this is a pattern to stifle political activism. "People will not want to come out to engage in protest activity because they're afraid of being arrested as a terrorist, and that the government will use these terrorist-fighting tools to impose harsher sentences on people who are merely engaged in protest activity and not terrorist activity."

Betty Ball with the Boulder, Colo.-based Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center agreed, saying her organization has seen membership and donations drop since the FBI called one of their civil disobedience actions at a military base an "act of terrorism."

Stu Sugarman, an attorney in Portland, Ore., who has represented numerous Earth Liberation Front defendants in the past, said the prevalence of the word "eco-terrorist" is an example of successful government propaganda. And he fears that use of the term by federal officials and the press could affect the judges and juries considering the fates of the current defendants.

He noted that another popular term for groups like the ALF and ELF, "saboteurs," suggests "somebody who's really not going to cause that much damage; certainly somebody who's not going to harm people. But a terrorist is somebody who goes out and tries to kill people."

"Terrorism is a magic word," said Sugarman. "It's like child abuse or drunk driver. It immediately conjures up the image of a really bad person who we want out of society."

Catherine Komp is a staff writer for The NewStandard. She works as an independent radio news producer and reporter in Richmond, Va., and is the media section editor for Clamor Magazine.

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Re: 'Terrorism' label being used by feds, media and industry to discredit ALF/ELF foes
09 Feb 2006
Wouldn't destroying property, threatening lives, and using extortion qualify someone as being a terrorist ?
Re: 'Terrorism' label being used by feds, media and industry to discredit ALF/ELF foes
09 Feb 2006
Nobody among the ELF or ALF has threatened lives. The intent among ELF/ALF advocates is to not do harm to people. Therefore, ELF/ALF members are not terrorists. That's the reasoning.

Property, thats another thing... Another look at the justifications for the Boston Tea Party (for example) would help shed light on the matter.
Re: 'Terrorism' label being used by feds, media and industry to discredit ALF/ELF foes
09 Feb 2006
No, actually ALf issued a comunique recently saying that the time has come to go beyond destroying property and move to the next step, going after the people run the slaughter. It's already happened at Oxford U. in the UK. Did you 60 Minutes a few months ago with the physcian from LA who's into animal liberation ?
Re: 'Terrorism' label being used by feds, media and industry to discredit ALF/ELF foes
09 Feb 2006
I didn't see the 60 minutes episode.

The thing is, the ALF is not a group, its a philosophy and tactic. So if one ALF cell or "member" advocates harm to people doesn't that automatically distance them from the ALF? One comunique doesn't redefine the whole movement.
Re: 'Terrorism' label being used by feds, media and industry to discredit ALF/ELF foes
09 Feb 2006
Unfortunately, we are just going to see more of this stuff. The legal definition of a "terrorist organization-" is quite vague. Furthermore, it is now a crime to associate with one, even if you didn;t know you were doing it. So if you give money to your favorite charity and they send that money to a "terrorist organization," you can get busted, or at least have your life ruined, name dragged through the mud etc. We can expect the radical right wing to use the demonization of their opponents just as they have always done.
Any nation that let's its government wage war on an idea or inanimate object is a ship of fools. For instance, you can't really fight a war on drugs or a war on terrorism, you can only fight drug users or dealers, terrorists or sympathizers. By allowing politicians to blur the distincition regarding who the enemy is, we have set ourselves up to be abused.
Re: 'Terrorism' label being used by feds, media and industry to discredit ALF/ELF foes
09 Feb 2006
Wait, to discredit their foes?
Dear Dorks,
09 Feb 2006
A group that masquerades as a philosophy and tactic is defined by the stupidest and most violent communique. Take the lesson.
Re: 'Terrorism' label being used by feds, media and industry to discredit ALF/ELF foes
09 Feb 2006
the way i understand it, alf and elf are globally dispersed, random cells of activists with no formal connections with each other, and only the core philosophy of the movements in common between them. so they cannot be called groups, or even networks really, since despite 'spokespeople' for the movement and collective prisoner-support efforts, they act independently from each other.

flipper does raise an interesting point for a change, that this makes it much easier to discredit the aims of the movement, with anyone being capable of distorting it by issuing false declarations of ideology or even 'false-flag operations' (taking credit for a reprehensible action under the name of an opponent in order to increase public opposition to them, or support for unpopular policies- like the uss maine, gulf of tonkin 'attack', several gladio-related incidents in europe, etc) as we have seen in the past.

however, the major benefit of the autonomous-cell and horizontal (non-hierarchical) structure is that it makes it much more difficult for law enforcement to disrupt the actions. a big lesson from the fbi's COINTELPRO war against popular movements in the 70's was the way they exploited inherent weaknesses in these movements, such as their hierarchical structure. take out a few key leaders and pretty soon the whole thing collapses. if, on the other hand, everyone is encouraged to develop (responsible and informed) leadership roles themselves, then the movement is much stronger and resilient in the face of repression.

(one essential corollary however, is that there needs to be an effective and independent medium of exchange of ideas and communication about movement activities, so people can hold each other accountable and there is an effective check on concentration of power. without this mechanism for free exchange of ideas, the movement soon grows topheavy, and weakens as people lose faith in it. so thanks imc!)
Re: 'Terrorism' label being used by feds, media and industry to discredit ALF/ELF foes
10 Feb 2006
If they ever capture me and take me to Guantanamo, this is why I'll be laughing as they jam a force-feeding tube down my nose:
Having considered this at length in 1995,
10 Feb 2006
"the major benefit of the autonomous-cell and horizontal (non-hierarchical) structure is that it makes it much more difficult for law enforcement to disrupt the actions. a big lesson from the fbi's COINTELPRO war"

I disagree with this statement. If the FBI killed off the heads od various organizations, it does not follow that headless organizations have more versatility.

It only follows that headless organizations operate in the state they were left in by COINTELPRO.

A good comparison is: In a bear market, small companies appear to be doing very well, but it is simply that the larger ones are not drowning them out in the din of moneymaking.

The "success" of leaderless movements is an illusion of the bear market of activism in which formidable and well organized leadered-organizations are absent and no real "protest capital" is being earned. The chump change earned by Operation Over or BAAM does not compare with the BPP or the OAAU, or the Black Muslims, or SNCC in the heyday of the New Left.

A primary reason for this is that the Hebrew contingent of the New Left went nationalist, leaving only the JuBu's and socialist acid head burnouts in the civil rights faction, the others having gone over to the Neocon side.
Re: 'Terrorism' label being used by feds, media and industry to discredit ALF/ELF foes
10 Feb 2006
"feds, media and industry to discredit ALF"

I used to love that show. If it wasn't for theilligitimate illegal NeoCon Bush Regime, it would still be on TV.
ANd, I know for a fact that ALF wasn't a terrorist. How could he be? HE CAME FROM ANOTHER PLANET! If anything, he was just an illegal Alien and should have been given amnesty.
Re: 'Terrorism' label being used by feds, media and industry to discredit ALF/ELF foes
14 Feb 2006
How can you dehead a non hierarchical organization? I think the difference between the heyday of new left activism and today is the emergence of the anarchist crowd. Who I think are COINTELPRO produced.