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Ecoterrorism Exists

This article from Grist does a passable job of explaining how the rhetoric of terrorism has been used against environmentalists (though interestingly, in its quotes from right-wing firebrands, you see just as many references to socialism, showing that despite Ronald Regan's singlehanded overthrow of the Soviet Union, the red scare is alive and well in the red states). It's correct to point out the dangers of slippage between criminal environmental organizations like the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and law-abiding organizations like the Sierra Club, and to question our government's prioritizing of ecoterrorism. But it goes a bit too far in suggesting that the actions of ELF are not ecoterrorism:

For some, broadening the term "terrorist" to include organizations like ELF is bad for both environmentalists and for our sense of what real terror is. "These people are not environmentalists, they're arsonists," says Eric Antebi, a Sierra Club spokesperson. Antebi also rejects the idea that ELF's actions constitute real terrorism. "Eco-terrorism is not a legitimate phrase -- it cheapens what real terrorism is. We have seen in this country the real forms that terrorism takes," he says.

Clearly ELF is not as bad as al-Qaida -- the former has killed nobody, the latter has launched attacks so spectacular that they altered the course of history. But ELF still fits the definition of "terrorism" better than it fits that of "arson." The key element of terrorism is that it's meant to generate fear all out of proportion to the actual damage done. This is exactly ELF's goal. We impoverish our language if we take "terrorism" to mean only acts basically similar to September 11 -- the result of which is either to fail to see some terror-inducing violence as terrorism, or to treat other forms of terrorism as if they were similar to September 11. In criticizing right-wingers for making the second mistake, Antebi falls into the first.


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