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'If a Tree Falls' in Context


The term "eco-terrorism," defined as a "crime committed to save nature," is widely understood to have been coined in 1983 by Ron Arnold. Five years later, the term appeared in congressional testimony in relation to radical environmental activists.

The term "eco-terrorism" is widely understood to have been coined by Ron Arnold, executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, an education and research organization affiliated with the mining and timber industries. Sometimes referred to as the "father of the wise use movement," Arnold has gained recognition as a fighter for individual liberties, property rights and limited government. In a 1983 article in Reason magazine, Arnold first used the term "eco-terrorism" and defined it as a "crime committed to save nature"; five years later, the term appeared in congressional testimony in relation to radical environmental activists. In 1997, Arnold published a book titled "Ecoterror: The Violent Agenda to Save Nature — The World of the Unabomber."

In 2002, The FBI's domestic terrorism section chief, James F. Jarboe, said in congressional testimony that the animal-rights and environmental movements had increasingly turned to vandalism and "terrorist activity" to further their causes. Such acts, said Jarboe, constituted "eco-terrorism," a form of action he traced back to 1977, when members of Greenpeace formed the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and attacked commercial fishing operations by cutting drift nets.

Around the time of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society attack, the American branch of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) formed, and it soon began to launch protests against fur companies, mink farms, restaurants and animal research laboratories in the form of illegal acts that have led to its classification as a terrorist group by the FBI. In the 1990s, the Earth Liberation Front (touting a mission similar to ALF's) was formed, in part by former Earth First! activists, and embraced radical tactics to call attention to environmental issues.

In 2008, the FBI estimated damage from previous "eco-terrorist" attacks at well over $100 million and listed 180 ongoing investigations into "eco-terrorist" crimes.

There has been some debate even within law-enforcement circles about the use of the term "terrorist" to describe the sorts of acts carried out by the ALF and the ELF, and about whether crimes that typically target property rather than people are best handled under the counterterrorism program. No one has ever been hurt in an ELF arson, and some critics believe the term "domestic terrorism" is used by law enforcement in an effort to receive more funding and press attention.

In a 2003 recommendation, the office of the inspector general suggested that such cases be relocated from the counterterrorism to the criminal investigative division in order to free up counterterrorism resources for international targets, such as Al Qaeda. The FBI responded by saying that the counterterrorism unit is best suited for such work, as organizations like the ELF and the ALF are organized along the same lines as terrorist cells.

McGowan feels that "terrorism" has become a term that people use to win public relations battles against their political opponents. His sister points out that she witnessed the violence and devastation of 9/11 first hand, and it's hard to see the same word used to characterize the actions of both Al Qaeda and her brother, who took care to make sure that no one was hurt by his actions. Still, the victims of his arsons did feel terrorized by the fires, and one prosecutor says, "You don't have to be Bonnie and Clyde to be a bank robber, and you don't have to be Al Qaeda to be a terrorist."

Photo caption: The ELF leaves its mark on the shed of Jefferson Poplar Farms after an arson Credit: Photo still from If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
» Anderson, John. "Activist or Terrorist, Rendered in Red, White and Green." The New York Times, June 8, 2011
» Arnold, Ron. "Ecoterrorism: A Darker Shade of Green – What Happens When a Commitment to Save Nature Results in Crime?" BlueRibbon Magazine, March 1998.
» Bernton, Hal. "Is Ecosabotage Terrorism?" The Seattle Times, May 16, 2006.
» Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. "Staff and Advisors."
» The Conservative Monitor. "Interview with Ron Arnold, March 1998."
» FBI. "Testimony of James F. Jarboe, Domestic Terrorism Section Chief, Counterterrorism Division, FBI Before the House Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, February 12, 2002: 'The Threat of Eco-Terrorism.'"
» "FBI: Eco-Terrorism Remains No. 1 Domestic Terror Threat."
» Government Printing Office. "Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act."
» Knickerbocker, Brad. "'Ecoterrorism' Case Stirs Debate in US." The Christian Science Monitor, May 18, 2007.
» Sale, Kirkpatrick. The Green Revolution: The American Environmental Movement, 1962-1999. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.
» Shoot, Brittany. "Why Does the Govt. Treat Peaceful Enviro Activists More Harshly Than Extremists Who Aim to Kill?" Alternet, May 13, 2011.
» Smith, Rebecca K. "'Ecoterrorism'? A Critical Analysis of the Vilification of Radical Environmental Activists as Terrorists." Lewis & Clark Law School's Environmental Law 38, no. 2.

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