The Scarlet "T"


Byron York reports that in the mid-'90s, "future Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was involved in a bizarre controversy in which the Clinton White House was accused of siding with an eco-terrorist group locked in a standoff with federal agents." If you want to read about the Kagan allegations, you can click through to the York story. What interests me here is the inflation of what qualifies as "eco-terrorism."

I never cared for the word in the first place. Sometimes it's applied to bona fide bombers, but it's also attached to activities that don't deserve the "terrorist" label, no matter how deplorable and damaging they might be. The yo-yos who destroy genetically modified crops are criminals, but the proper word for their acts is vandalism, not terrorism.

Still, that's nothing compared to the way the word is stretched in the York piece. Here's what the greens in his article were up to:

The story began in September 1995, when loggers planned to harvest timber from Warner Creek, an old-growth area that had been hit by a 1991 arson fire. The Forest Service approved the harvesting of dead and damaged trees, but some environmentalists claimed the clearing would endanger healthy trees as well.

A group of activists took over the road leading into the forest and blocked it with large rocks and chunks of concrete. They dug trenches, some six feet deep, to prevent trucks from passing, and in one trench they embedded a car in concrete. They built a fortress and settled in for a showdown.

This is "an eco-terrorist group"? By that standard, the students who occupied college offices in the '60s were terrorists. In this case, the standoff ended when "the Forest Service took action, using a bulldozer to break up the protesters' barricades. The protesters were arrested without injury and the road was ultimately re-opened." Not exactly 9/11.

There's a school of thought that says we're in the midst of a Green Scare, with overbroad laws and dicey arrests that blur the boundaries between violent and nonviolent dissent. I don't think those trends add up to a hysteria on the scale of the Red Scares and Brown Scares that dot American history, but I do think there's cause for concern here; I'm certainly sympathetic to the civil libertarian arguments against the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and the SHAC prosecutions. And it's sheer fearmongering to describe just any lawbreaker with the t-word. Those weren't terrorists in Warner Creek, Oregon. They were hippies. Adjust your threat levels accordingly.