'While corporations and the state have certainly targeted activists as 'eco-terrorists,' too many other populations have also been targeted for repression to sufficiently pair the Red Scares and the Green Scare.'
By Craig Hughes and Kevin Van Meter
'McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled,' said Joe McCarthy to a public audience at the height of the second Red Scare that marked the years between 1947 and 1957. While we presume the first part of the sentence to be correct, the rolling of sleeves is a bit more complex, as it can connote both gearing up for a fight as well as preparing for hard work.
The 'Green Scare' -- a period of government repression of radical earth and animal liberationists, wherein the government has utilized anti-terrorism rhetoric and legislation -- as with the Red Scare before it, has both reinvigorated direct violence of the state and attempted to produce a particular form of American society. It is the subject of Will Potter's important new volume, 'Green Is the New Red: An Insider's Account of a Social Movement under Siege.'
Potter has undoubtedly written a valuable book. While animal rights activists, animal liberationists, environmentalists and earth liberationists have increasingly been targets of repression for decades under the guise of attacks on 'eco-terrorism,' the increased repression they've faced, particularly following Sept. 11 2001, is not always included in discussions of the hysteria that followed that tragic day. As importantly, the slow linkage of 'terrorism' with animal rights and environmental direct action through legislation and shifts in political discourse is an important but little known history. In 'Green Is the New Red' Potter has provided us with a well researched, easily accessible and engaging work that tells the story of the corporate and government assaults on environmental and animal rights activists, which has led to dozens of arrests, and numerous convictions -- including some with so-called 'terrorism enhancements.' Potter explains in clear terms the development of repressive legislation, identifies the major corporations and lobbying units involved, and illuminates the emergence of a policing apparatus that has enforced the criminalization of a wide array of dissenters in the name of 'anti-terrorism.'
We hope in this review to supportively, but critically, explore Potter's book. We do this first by summarizing the volume, then by relaying a story from our own past, which is briefly mentioned in Potter's work. We think that the conclusions from our own experiences add to the story Potter tells, and may point to other ways to think about the development of the Green Scare. From here, we want to think through the meaning of the Green Scare by questioning the concept in relation the more generalized state of siege that activists and other communities are under, as well as the co-optation of the environmental and animal rights movements.
Green is the New Red
This volume is divided into eleven chapters that span the course of thirty years, but focus primarily on the last twenty. Potter begins with his own limited experience of animal rights activism in Chicago, which led to attempted intimidation by FBI agents who told him that, unless he cooperated and provided them information, he would be labeled a terrorist. Potter's story is alarming although by no means unique particularly in the post-September 11 period.
The majority of the book is focused on two major subjects: those convicted under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA) as part of the 'SHAC 7' (the handful of activists involved in the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign, who also received convictions for conspiring 'to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act' (AETA)); and those arrested in Operation Backfire for Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) actions that occurred in the West and Northwest near around the millennium turn. SHAC, the ELF, as well as the ALF, are often grouped together under the rubric of 'eco-terrorism,' though not a single individual was harmed in any of the hundreds of ELF or ALF actions.
The SHAC convictions were focused on the organization's website, which functioned as a clearinghouse for information for direct-action -- activists could use this information for interventions against individuals and corporations with ties to Huntingdon Life Sciences. The multi-pronged approach worked, as underground actions combined with relentless above ground protests succeeded in shifting business as usual -- the SHAC campaign was so successful in targeting Huntingdon that it wiped the corporation from the New York Stock Exchange and nearly caused it to go bankrupt.
The Operation Backfire arrests focused on a series of arsons committed under the name of the ELF by a group of about 20 people. The arrests sprang from the work of Jacob Ferguson, the first person to ever commit an ELF arson in the U.S., who later began to work for the FBI to round up his past comrades. Ferguson was able to escape without jail time in this case because he was so instrumental in solving the string of ELF actions, which had caused millions of dollars in damage. Some of those convicted in the Operation Backfire incidents received 'terrorism enhancements,' which could add significant years to their sentences and increase the hardship they faced throughout their prison terms and after release.
In order to explain the development of the Green Scare and the notion of 'eco-terrorism,' Potter has to explain a significant amount of history. Accordingly, we are treated to a succinct and well-conceived explanation of the development of post-'60s environmental radicalism in the States. There is also a lengthy and insightful analysis of the word 'terrorism,' which, as Potter points out, is rarely clear in meaning, ever-expanding, and always intended to 'demonize the other.'
The ALF first appeared in the 1980s but the use of arson was not used until later. As ALF actions increased underground during the 1990s, above ground activism intensified and their combined effectiveness led the animal-product industry to actively lobby for repressive legislation. Similarly, as environmentalism gained ground and was increasingly effective in the 1980s and 1990s, the industries under pressure from environmentalists began to work hard to target activists and prevent further victories. Accordingly, Potter points out that corporations 'needed to displace activists from their moral highground,' and '[a] key development in orchestrating this fall from grace was the decision to wield the power of language.' He points out that a lobbyist from the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise coined the absurdly defined term 'eco-terrorism' -- 'a crime committed to save nature,' in 1983. Think tanks like the Center for Consumer Freedom, Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, the National Association for Biomedical Research, and others have had influence on politicians and in political discourse, which has played a significant role in labeling direct action, or support of direct action in the case of SHAC, as 'terrorism.' As corporations and think tanks have built relationships with congress and developed PR campaigns, and as legislation has been passed and 'anti-terrorism' has become the driving force in law enforcement, animal rights and environmental activists have increasingly seen even banal behavior, like flyering, become criminalized.
Potter traces environmental and animal rights intra-movement developments along with those in legislation and discourse. The ELF's use of arson and sabotage caused a split inside Earth First!, which was undoubtedly the cutting edge of radical environmentalism in the States during the '80s and '90s. In the post-September 11 period some of the major environmental organizations have actively supported legislation that explicitly targets direct-action-oriented environmentalists; some have passively supported the repression of targeted activists through refusals to speak out in support of them during their cases. The above-ground animal rights movement has also had a tricky relationship with underground activists; although groups like PETA have refused to denounce ALF actions. As activists have found legal, above-board action insufficient to deal with issues like vivisection and factory farming, some have taken to clandestine direct action to damage the animal-abuse industries.
Environmental and animal rights activists have become targets due to the effectiveness of their campaigns that cut into profit margins. Further, Potter points out that within the policing apparatus 'anti-terrorism' is a significant career ladder for individual agents. Particularly following Sept. 11, the government has sought to sponsor and fund 'anti-terrorism' initiatives that then need to locate targets to justify themselves. Potter's research on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which brings together state lawmakers, think tanks and corporations to draft legislation is particularly salient. Potter points out that '[b]y 2010, thirty-nine states had passed laws carving out special protections for animal and environmental enterprises and special penalties for activists.' In 2006, in light of the ELF, ALF, and the SHAC campaign, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act was expanded to create the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act -- this was done, simply, to increase the penalties activists faced for using direct action. And activists have felt the pressure of this change, where simple actions of flyering can bring the wrath of being called, and punished as an 'eco-terrorist,' or simply a 'terrorist.'
The feeling of terror that activists have thus felt, and the crazy but very real ways the government has codified processes that evoke it, are at the core of Potter's notion of the Green Scare, which of course harkens back to the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s (he does not address the first Red Scare that targeted the Industrial Workers of the World and others around the 1920s). Potter's argument here is that the second Red Scare, like the Green Scare today, functioned through legislative, legal and extra-legal levels ' the latter, 'scare-mongering,' he argues 'was by far the most dangerous' because it had the 'sole intention of instilling fear.' Potter does not argue that we are today seeing something equivalent to the Red Scares of old, but rather something historically contingent, which thrives from the confluence of corporate involvement in American politics, the power of PR campaigns and the post-September 11 political environment.
In his discussion of SHAC, the ELF, ALF, and the Operation Backfire convictions, Potter successfully humanizes those who have been targets of anti-'eco-terrorism' efforts. The SHAC defendants had long histories in organizations like Food Not Bombs and a variety of charitable groups. Operation Backfire defendant Daniel McGowan, the subject of the recent documentary 'If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front', is the son of a New York City police officer, who felt an urgency to save the environment after painfully experiencing the ineffectiveness of above ground activism. Though efforts were taken to avoid injuring any human being in any action -- and these efforts have always been successful -- people like Daniel have been labeled 'terrorists' and imprisoned in the Communications Management Unit, which some have labeled 'little Guantanamo.'
In contrast, Potter powerfully points out that right-wing activists, particularly those who have waged brutal campaigns against abortion providers and in the course harmed human beings, have rarely been a target of anti-terror legislation. He points out that for the FBI, 'in the three years following September 11, every act of domestic terrorism, except for one, was the work of animal rights and environmental activists.' In contrast, he points out that '[f]rom 1977 to 2008, anti-abortion activists committed eight murders' -- in addition to the hundreds of other acts that include assaults, arsons, vandalisms, bomb threats, death threats, and anthrax threats ' and '[n]one of these crimes are recorded by the FBI as acts of domestic terrorism.' In 2005 the FBI publicly announced that 'The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement'-- That's the absurdity of the current circumstance.
With this brief summary in mind, we now turn toward our own experience with anti-'eco-terrorism' efforts in order to expand on Potter's story and raise some questions. We want to stress that our points and questions are comradely in intent. Potter's work adds to our understanding of the current situation, and deepens the sophistication of activist attempts to understand repressive state and corporate activities today. There's just more to say.
Days We Struggle to Remember
In April of 1998 a handful of radicals on Long Island formed the Modern Times Collective. In our approximately four years of existence we attracted significant local attention, especially for a small group spread across many miles that compose suburban Suffolk and Nassau Counties. Various press outlets ran stories on what they called a 'rag tag' group of radicals organizing small protests and cultural events such as DIY flea markets. Significant players in the establishment-Left on Long Island categorized us as 'bomb throwing anarchists,' for little more reason than that we challenged the overwhelmingly boring and ineffective approach to social justice politics so dominant in the area at the time. Then, in early 2001, the FBI arrested Conor Cash, one of our main organizers, and charged him with conspiracy to commit arson as part of the ELF, which had committed a series of actions in the region during the last days of 2000. On Sept. 19, 2001 his charges were upped to include a 'terrorism enhancement' that could have added decades to a potential sentence if convicted -- he became the first person to be charged as a 'domestic terrorist' after Sept. 11. He was swiftly acquitted after a two-week trial nearly three years later, in 2004. This is a story that while included in Potter's narrative, only appears briefly. His basic summary of the case is as follows:
Modern Times had thought, from early on, that we were being surveilled, if only because anarchist groups on Long Island are few and far between and we were also increasingly aware that we were part of a larger movement that was rapidly gaining momentum and visibility. As the turn of the millennium social justice protest cycle intensified in the U.S. 'from the Millions for Mumia march in Philadelphia, where we participated in one of the first significant black blocs on U.S. soil, through the Battle of Seattle, International Monetary Fund and World Bank protests in DC, the 2000 Republican and Democratic Conventions, the Free Trade Area of the Americas resistance in Quebec, and so on ' we became more and more aware of policing, surveillance and, to some extent, infiltration. Simultaneously, we became swept up in what we perceived as a new cycle of struggle.
In 2000, Modern Times members inspired by Reclaim the Streets (RTS) actions in New York City and Britain, organized a local May Day protest, where a few dozen people held a main intersection in Huntington Village with a street party for about an hour during a busy shopping weekend day. Our desire to disrupt privatized-public space and create a 'carnival against capital,' was complemented by the attention we sought to bring to rising living expenses and falling wages. It was an important coup for us in the end, as we successfully disrupted traffic and business in a place that isn't well known for its use of direct action or proliferating radicalisms. For a short period of time, as the crowds gathered around, it was irresistible. For the FBI and local police, who videotaped the event from start to finish, it was alarming; taken in the context of our increasing involvement in national street mobilizations, it was particularly concerning for them.
As street mobilizations like RTS were gaining momentum, and local manifestations of the global justice movement developed in numerous areas across the U.S., repressive rhetoric on the part of the government intensified. Thus, on May 10, 2001, in light of the increasing presence of radical protests and organizing, the federal government declared RTS a terrorist organization. An FBI reported explained,
Our local Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) -- the locally based coalitions of FBI agents and police departments that focus on disrupting and stopping 'terrorism' -- began following Modern Times members by May of 2000; this was confirmed during court testimony. The JTTF/FBI agent charged with pursuing the case against our friend had been flown to Seattle and later to Philadelphia to learn about protestors and anarchists, and to use this information in his work on Long Island.
Starting in November 2000 and continuing through to early January 2001, the ELF claimed responsibility for a string of actions at construction sites and a duck farm. The FBI started door knocking, targeting some of those arrested during the May Day RTS protest the MTC organized. They offered monetary compensation to at least one member of Modern Times, who was also an organizer of the RTS action, to infiltrate the ELF culture that the government presumed he had access to; he turned their offer down and later testified about it in court as a defense witness. The FBI had determined Conor to be a leader in the MTC, and hence, the ELF. During the RTS action he sat on top of the 21 foot tripod that allowed us to hold the street and unfurled a banner that read 'this is what democracy looks like,' with a circle around the 'A' in democracy. In August of that year he would be arrested along with three dozen other Modern Times members at the 2000 Republican National Convention protests in Philadelphia. A few months later, Conor was arrested ' supposedly for playing a leading role in the ELF actions.
What became clear to many of us before 2004, but certainly during our friend's trial, was that the government's case was much less about specific incidents of arson or vandalism than it was about breaking apart our communities and slowing down the 'movement of movements' -- even in the suburbs, even on Long Island. We watched as the FBI showed a clearly doctored video during the trial -- and we laughed at such an impressive example of tragic comedy, but that concocted video was used as evidence against someone we loved. One of those convicted for the ELF actions, a cooperating witness and high school student at the time of his arrest, stated bluntly on the stand that the FBI had 'coerced' him. The FBI had the gall to visit a prominent New York University professor the eve before he testified for the defense to question him about his testimony. Perhaps most ridiculous, was that at the center of the government's case was this argument: because Conor had a 'circle-A' tattoo on his shoulder, and the 'A' in democracy was circled on the banner during our May Day protest, and because someone had spray-painted a circle-A symbol at one of the arson sites, clearly our friend was guilty. That was the plain of absurdity the U.S. government played on. Absurd. Tragic, but real; and terrifying, which, of course was their point.
In 'Green is the New Red' Potter points to this case, stating that the government's 'first victory against the number one domestic terrorism threat was the conviction of three seventeen-year-old high school students' (this requires a slight clarification -- three people were convicted, two of these functioned as cooperating witnesses against Cash, and a mysterious fourth who confessed to involvement to the FBI, according to court testimony, was never formally charged).
In our view, this case deepens and complicates Potter's account in a couple of important ways. First, it points to the fact that pre-September 11 the government had sought to vilify radical activists, like those who host unpermitted street parties, as 'terrorists,' and to target them accordingly. Secondly, in our view, it points to the importance of placing the Green Scare within context of the counter-globalization struggles at the turn of the millennium.
The Seattle resistance against the World Trade Organization in 1999, and the organizing surrounding it, was a watershed moment in U.S. social movement history. The 'Battle of Seattle' is referenced various times in the book -- indeed, some of those convicted as part of Operation Backfire were involved in protesting at the WTO and in the infamous black bloc actions -- but Potter does not adequately draw out how the state conceived of 'Seattle,' nor its consequences, and does not adequately draw out the organizing surrounding it, which upped the ante for both the movements and the state. For example, as mentioned above, RTS had been designated a 'terrorist' threat at least months before Sept. 11, but Potter does not mention this in the book. This designation occurred largely in the context of the Seattle actions. That perception, and the government concern about the global justice movement, certainly played an important, indeed decisive role in our experience with repression on Long Island.
The counter-globalization protests against the WTO in Seattle shows up in various Green Scare indictments and in the narratives of various activists mentioned in the book. And certainly some of those involved in the ELF actions in the Northwest, those targeted in Operation Backfire, would point to this moment as anomalous, inspirational and motivational. Notably, for example, current ELF political prisoner Daniel McGowan, whose case is a major focus of Potter's work, stated to one of us in a personal conversation that the oft quoted slogan spray painted on buildings during the Seattle protests -- 'We are winning' -- was taken by him and others as a sign of radicals actually winning. We felt similarly, although we turned down different roads.
Indeed, the years surrounding the turn of the century were a time when a culmination of decades of radicalism came to a crescendo. Activisms exploded nationally -- not just in the environmental and animal rights movements, but in the anti-corporate movements, the myriad of immigrant rights struggles, the prison justice movements, and various others; these struggles challenged the bottom line and impacted popular discourse, to the detriment of corporate profits, in critical ways. As corporations and politicians sought to stifle the environmental and animal rights movements, the rhetoric of 'terrorism' and pre- and post-September 11 government repression intensified because the policing apparatus also sought to dismantle the counter-globalization movements -- both their local manifestations and their militant street demonstrations. In our view this context is very important for understanding both movement history and the development of government repression over the past couple of decades.
Is Green the New Red?
Potter's research is particularly impressive in tracing the roots of the two major pieces of legislation against the animal rights movement -- the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (1992) and its expanded and amended version, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (2006). The former was created in the context, at least rhetorically, of numerous ALF actions in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The latter development is contextualized through the SHAC campaign and is largely about intensifying penalties faced by activists and increasing the risk associated with animal rights activism. What Potter shows throughout his work is that a well-funded group of industry lobbyists and think tanks, their politician friends and allies, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), have created a web of legislation and policing powers intended to dismantle earth and animal rights campaigns, and to punish activists, like those convicted for politically motivated arsons.
Potter's ultimate point is that the Green Scare is not just about money, not about profits alone. Rather, he argues, the repression is about spreading fear and about winning a 'culture war' -- '[t]he only way to explain the conflation of mainstream and radical groups as terrorists is to assume that all of it -- from ballot initiatives to sabotage -- poses a threat.' He summarizes:
Potter's case is strong, but calling this all 'the Green Scare,' while compelling, isn't sufficient or precise enough given the context. While corporations and the state have certainly targeted activists as 'eco-terrorists,' too many other populations have been targeted simultaneously for repression to sufficiently pair the Red Scares and the Green Scare. This would require almost endless caveats about the substantive differences between the two. That doesn't make this volume less valuable, but rather speaks to the need more nuanced analyses and broader conceptualizations of the current situation.
This bigger picture extends far beyond the counter-globalization movement, and far beyond the animal rights and environmental movements. It extends to Middle Eastern and Islamic communities that are only marginally mentioned here, even though these communities have faced the brunt of the government's daily assault in the name of 'anti-terrorism.' It also extends to the massive round up and deportation of immigrant peoples after the successful S', Se Puede movements defeated a major piece of federal anti-immigrant legislation -- the Sensenbrenner Bill -- in 2006. It extends to the arrests of Black Panthers for decades-old charges. It extends to the rhetoric used against anti-nuke, South African divestment, and Central American Solidarity activists roughly twenty years ago.
While it's understandable to focus on animal rights and environmental activists, who have been one significant focus of government and corporate attacks, one is left to wonder how something like the Green Scare relates to a much larger situation where all of society has been mobilized to be on consistent alert for 'threats,' and to be constantly ready to become police in the day-to-day. How do we read the many scares in the name of 'anti-terrorism,' 'one inclusive of the assault on environmentalists and animal rights activists and the many, many others who've suffered similar repression in recent decades? How do we read the many 'scares' and develop a coherent concept that reflects the intensified repression in the name of 'anti-terrorism?' Is it better to think about 'Green' as a 'new red,' rather than the new red?
Additionally, it also seems worthwhile to explore the differences between the ELF and SHAC in terms of effectiveness and repression when describing and thinking through the Green Scare. Potter doesn't effectively differentiate environmental and animal rights groups. While the powers that be may see them as interchangeable, and composed of many of the same activists, it's highly doubtful that they always are, and it's not necessarily clear that in terms of repression that the government sees them as the same. In terms of effectiveness, each used a different approach -- including entirely different models, approaches to research, approaches to media, and tactics -- and weighing these out seems worthwhile for understanding how activists have impacted social change. In terms of repression, we were also left with some curiosity in thinking through the Green Scare. The framing of Green Scare came into being prior to the SHAC 7 trial, prior to the cooperation of many of the Operation Backfire defendants, though four of the latter individual pled guilty while maintaining a non-cooperating stance with the government. There was no clear reformulation of the concept with these developments since that point.
If under the second Red Scare most people did not commit the 'crime' of involvement with the Communist movement, but under Operation Backfire those accused turned out to actually be involved in the ELF, how do we perceive the meaning of the Green Scare in thinking through government repression? Does this conceptualization need to be more nuanced? It also seems worthwhile to explore fundamental differences between how the repression against the SHAC 7 and the Operation Backfire functioned; since, for those considering a defense against future and current repression it is important to understand these particulars and the aspects of the situation they are encountering.
Perhaps most controversially within our own communities, we were also left with questions related to issues of political economy. Potter discusses FBI targeting of mainstream groups like PETA, and the impression one gets is that environmentalism and animal rights as a whole face repression, and are threats to the established order of some sort. Potter makes a point similar to this explicitly when describing the theoretical strands that underlie contemporary animal rights and environmental organizing: 'Their confluence is the redefinition of what it means to be a human being.' Going on, he summarizes a DHS report that argued 'Animal rights and environmental movements directly challenge civilization, modernity and capitalism,' and directly quotes the report as saying that if victorious these movements 'not only would fundamentally alter the nature of social norms regarding the planet's living habitat and its living organisms, but ultimately would lead to a new system of governance and social relationships that is anarchist and antisystemic in nature.'
This is debatable. Capital is tricky, and what was liberatory one moment is a profitable investment the next, and sometimes there is never a separation between the two. Green capitalism is a major industry and it only looks to be growing. Co-opting the language of environmentalism has been profitable for sectors of capital in the current crisis as -- buzzwords such as 'sustainable,' 'green,' 'local,' and even 'vegan' become opportunities for new markets. Indeed, the animal rights movement is gaining significant cultural ground. But even as vegans ourselves, we are under no illusion that a shift toward healthier, somewhat less brutal diets, in anyway leads to some sort of gradual process toward a more liberatory, post-capitalist world. How the growth of more compassionate capitalism as a direct response to the supposed threat of the animal rights and environmental movements is very much unclear. These aren't questions that Potter's volume sought to tackle, but it is worthwhile to point out the issues here.
In conclusion, in 'Green is the New Red,' Potter did an impressive job tracing the various threads that played a role in developing the contemporary animal rights and environmental movements. In doing so, we are offered the opportunity to follow the leads and learn more. Potter has created an easily accessible volume that helps document some of the dangers radicals currently face. And while one can only hope the book reaches far and wide, it is important to consider the various scares -- green, red, and otherwise -- that are both acts of violence against our movements and part of the State's attempt at creating a society without said movements. We must roll our sleeves as well -- there are many waves of repression to fight against and a new world to work for.
Craig Hughes and Kevin Van Meter co-edited, with Team Colors Collective, 'Uses of a Whirlwind: Movement, Movements and Contemporary Radical Currents in the United States' (AK Press, 2010) and co-authored the short book 'Wind(s) From Below: Radical Community Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible' (Team Colors & Eberhardt Press, 2010). Both have been involved in various organizing efforts together over the past 14 years. Hughes and Van Meter, along with Conor Cash, are currently writing a chapter titled 'The Curious Case of Conor Cash' for a forthcoming volume on counter counter-insurgency.