What is “Eco-terrorism” ?



Eco-terrorism usually refers to acts of violence committed in support of ecological or environmental causes, against persons or their property.

Eco-terrorism is defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as “the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against people or property by an environmentally oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.” The FBI has credited to eco-terrorism 300 million dollars in property damage from 2003 and 2008, and a majority of states within the USA have introduced laws aimed at these activities.

Critics of this use of the term argue that it has been defined in order to vilify activists, and that the term would be more properly employed to describe the environmentally damaging activities of corporations.

Eco-terrorism, is a form of radical environmentalism that arose out of the same school of thought that brought about deep ecology, ecofeminism, social ecology, and bioregionalism. Eco-terrorism is a controversial term.

Eco-terrorism is closely related to civil disobedience and sabotage in the name of the environment causes, and there is a debate on where to draw the lines between the three. Some of those who are labeled as eco-terrorists don’t perpetrate violence against humans, but only against property. This has led to a debate that touches on whether or not to classify these actions as “terrorist”. In the United States, the FBI’s definition includes acts of violence against property, which makes most acts of sabotage fall in the realm of domestic terrorism.

Sabotage involves destroying, or threatening to destroy, property, and in this case is also known as monkeywrenching or ecotage. Many acts of sabotage involve the damage of equipment and unmanned facilities using arson.

Another type of ecoterrorism also exists in which people use violence against people or property for environmental reasons. With this type of ecoterrorism people fight to preserve their environment, not just for the sake of keeping it pristine, but also to preserve their livelihood, hereby allowing them to continue living their day-to-day life. Examples of such “ecoterrorists” include some ethnic minorities as the Waorani,…

The thought behind eco-terrorism rises from the radical environmentalism movement, which gained popularity during the 1960s. Ideas that arose from radical environmentalism are “based on the belief that capitalism, patriarchal society, and the Judeo-Christian tradition were responsible for the despoliation of nature”. Radical environmentalism is also characterized by the belief that human society is responsible for the depletion of the environment and, if current society is left unchecked, will lead to the ultimate complete degradation of the environment.

Like deep ecologists, eco-terrorists subscribe to the idea of biocentrism, which is described as “a belief that human beings are just an ordinary member of the biological community” and that all living things should have rights and deserve protection under the law. Some eco-terrorists are motivated by other aspects of deep ecology, like the goal to return the environment to its “natural”, i.e., pre-industrial, state.

Despite these generalizations, it should be noted that eco-terrorism encompasses a broad array of organizations, goals, and philosophies.

Organizations accused of eco-terrorism are generally grassroots organizations, don’t have a hierarchal structure, and typically favor direct action approaches to their goals.

Organizations that have been accused of eco-terrorism in the United States include the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), Greenpeace, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Earth First!. The Coalition to Save the Preserves. and the Hardesty Avengers. In 2010 The FBI were criticized in US Justice Department reports for unjustified surveillance (and placement on the Terrorism Watchlist) between 2001 and 2006 of members of Animal Rights groups such as Greenpeace and PETA.

In a 2002 testimony to the US Congress, an FBI official mentioned the actions of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in the context of eco-terrorism. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society intervenes against whaling, seal hunting, and fishing operations with direct action tactics. In 1986, the group caused nearly 1.8 million dollars worth of damage to equipment used by whalers in Iceland. In 1992, they sabotaged two Japanese ships that were drift-net fishing for squid by cutting their nets and throwing stink bombs on board the boats.

Inspired by Edward Abbey, Earth First! began in 1980. Although the group has been credited with becoming more mainstream, its use of tree spiking during campaigns has been associated with the origins of eco-terrorism. In 2002, a jury found that FBI agents and Oakland police officers violated constitutional rights to free speech and protection from unlawful searches of two Earth First! organizers accused of a 1990 car bombing. Authorities alleged that the bomb was in the car of one of the accused when it accidentally detonated. The pair sued investigators, alleging false arrest, illegal search, slanderous statements and conspiracy.

The Earth Liberation Front, founded in 1992, joined with the Animal Liberation Front, which had its beginnings in England in 1979. They have been connected primarily with arson but claim that they work to harm neither human nor animal. A recent example of arson that was attributed to the ELF was in March 2008 concerning the “torching of luxury homes in the swank Seattle suburb of Woodiness”. A banner was left at the scene that claimed the housing development wasn’t green as advertised, and was signed ELF. In September 2009 ELF claimed responsibility for the destruction of two radio towers in Seattle. The FBI in 2001 named the ELF as “one of the most active extremist elements in the United States”, and a “terrorist threat.” The Coalition to Save the Preserves was mentioned in FBI testimony as a group that was responsible for a series of arsons in Arizona. Using similar tactics to the ELF, they have caused more than $5 million in damages.

Media reports have tied Theodore Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, to environmental activists, and tell that the 23 injuries and three deaths through letter-bombs were the acts of an independent Eco-terrorist. Among those making such accusations were ABC, The New York Times, Time magazine, and USA Today.

A number of “local” organizations have also been indicted under US Federal laws related to Eco-terrorism. These include, among others, the group “Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty.”

Another example is the Hardesty Avengers who spiked trees in the Hardesty Mountains in Willamette National Forest in 1984.

In 2008 the Federal Bureau of Investigation said eco-terrorists represented “one of the most serious domestic terrorism threats in the U.S. today” citing the sheer volume of their crimes ; the huge economic impact (losses of more than $110 million since 1979); the wide range of victims (from international corporations to lumber companies to animal testing facilities to genetic research firms); and their increasingly violent rhetoric and tactics (one recent communiqux sent to a California product testing company said: “You might be able to protect your buildings, but can you protect the homes of every employee?”).

Spiking trees became a federal offense in the United States when it was added to the Drug Act in 1988.

Under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992 it became a federal crime to “cause more than $10,000 in damage while engaged in “physical disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise by intentionally stealing, damaging, or causing the loss of any property…used by the animal enterprise.” In 2006, this was updated and renamed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act by the 109th congress. The updated act included causing personal harm and the losses incurred on “secondary targets” as well as adding to the penalties for these crimes.

In 2003, a conservative Texas legislative reform group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, proposed the “Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” which defined an “animal rights or ecological terrorist organization” as “two or more persons organized for the purpose of supporting any politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals or an activity involving natural resources.” The legislation wasn’t enacted.

However, the Bush Justice Department, including the FBI, was recently criticized for improper investigations and prosecutions of left-leaning U.S. protest groups such as Greenpeace. The Washington Post reports that the “FBI improperly opened and extended investigations of some U.S. activist groups and put members of an environmental advocacy organization on a terrorist watch list, even though they were planning nonviolent civil disobedience, the Justice Department said Monday.”

But the report cited what it called other “troubling” FBI practices in its monitoring of domestic groups in the years between the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and 2006. In some cases, Fine said, agents began investigations of people affiliated with activist groups for “factually weak” reasons and “without adequate basis” and improperly kept information about activist groups in its files. Among the groups monitored were the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh peace group; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; and Greenpeace USA. Activists affiliated with Greenpeace were improperly put on a terrorist watch list, the report said.

Related Sites for Eco-terrorism