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Beware of the Green Scare

GreenscareThe disproportionate, heavy-handed government crackdown on the environmental and animal rights movements, and the reckless use of the word ‘terrorism’ is known as the Green Scare, writes Will Power.

The animal rights and environmental movements, like every other social movement throughout history, have both legal and illegal elements. There are people who leaflet, write letters, and lobby. There are people who protest and engage in non-violent civil disobedience.

And there are people, like the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front, who go out at night with black masks and break windows, burn SUVs, and release animals from fur farms.

Animal rights and environmental advocates have not flown planes into buildings, taken hostages, or sent Anthrax through the mail. They have never even injured anyone. In fact, the only act of attempted murder in the history of the U.S. animal rights movement was coordinated by corporate provocateurs.

Yet the FBI ranks these activists as the top domestic terrorism threat. And the Department of Homeland Security lists them on its roster of national security threats, while ignoring right-wing extremists who have bombed the Oklahoma City federal building, murdered doctors, and admittedly created weapons of mass destruction.

Defining the Green Scare

This disproportionate, heavy-handed government crackdown on the animal rights and environmental movements, and the reckless use of the word “terrorism,” is often called the Green Scare.

Much like the Red Scare and the communist witch hunts of the 40s and 50s, the Green Scare is using one word—this time, it’s “terrorist”—to push a political agenda, instill fear, and chill dissent.

And much like the Red Scare, the Green Scare is operating on three levels: legal, legislative, and what we’ll call extra-legal, or scare-mongering.


The courts are being used to push conventional boundaries of what constitutes “terrorism” and to hit non-violent activists with disproportionate sentences.

In 2007, a federal court in the US convicted a group of animal advocates of “animal enterprise terrorism” for running a controversial website that supported both legal and illegal activity against a lab called Huntingdon Life Sciences.

The site also listed addresses for corporations and corporate executives. The group, dubbed the SHAC 7, were never charged with breaking windows or releasing animals, but they vocally supported those types of activities. For that, they were convicted of “conspiring” to promote “terrorism.” Here’s a closer look at the SHAC 7.

Operation Backfire

That’s the name the FBI gave to the historic roundup of environmental and animal rights activists for a string of Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front actions, including arson in the name of protecting the environment.

Before these defendants ever set foot in the courtroom, they were labeled in the press as “eco-terrorists.” The government successfully pushed for “terrorism enhancement” penalties in many of these cases.

As a result, many of these activists are now in prison as “terrorists,” a label that drastically changes their prison life and will follow them long after release.

Another result of the “terrorism enhancement” is that the FBI claims these cases as a victory in the “War on Terrorism.”

  • Government Informants and Infiltrators. Although some of the Operation Backfire defendants—Daniel McGowan, Jonathan Paul, Joyanna Zacher and Nathan Block—refused to become government informants, the others “snitched” in exchange for reduced sentences. In fact, the government has said these arrests wouldn’t have been possible if one of the defendants, Jacob Ferguson, hadn’t agreed to wear a wire and entrap his friends. We’ve seen the same thing take place in other “eco-terrorism” cases. And in the case of Eric McDavid, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for conspiring to destroy cell phone towers and other property, the FBI actually paid a young woman, “Anna,” to pose as an activist: she provided the group with bomb-making recipes; at times financed their transportation, food and housing; strung along McDavid, who had the hopes of a romantic relationship; and poked and prodded the group into action.
  • Grand juries. In the name of investigating illegal activity, the government has been hauling lawful activists in front of grand juries where they must testify about their political beliefs and political associations, or face prison time. Activists like Jeff Hogg and independent journalist Josh Wolf have refused to cooperate with these witch hunts, and been punished for it. Elsewhere, noncooperation has derailed grand juries.


Even with these sweeping, and successful, legal attacks on activists, corporations and the politicians who represent them want even more power.

Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act 

With just six members of Congress in the room, just hours after lawmakers and celebrities were on hand to break ground for the new memorial honoring that terrorist Martin Luther King Jr., the House of Representatives passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a law so vague and broad that the non-violent tactics of MLK and Gandhi are now “terrorism.”

The bill expanded the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, the law used to convict the SHAC 7 of “animal enterprise terrorism” just months earlier. In true Orwellian doublespeak, proponents said the law couldn’t be used to convict so-called extremists, and must be expanded. Here is a closer look at the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

  • State-level Legislation. Even after the federal law passed, corporations still want more. There’s been a push for state “eco-terrorism” legislation similar to the federal AETA, including the the California Animal Enterprise Protection Act.


Perhaps the most dangerous wing of this Green Scare is the relentless scare-mongering.

  • Anonymous scare-mongering ads. The new McCarthyists have used their deep pocketbooks and PR savvy to place a terrorist in every shadow. They’ve taken out full-page anonymous ads in both The New York Times and The Washington Post labeling animal rights activists as “terrorists” for being a little too successful, and knocking a controversial animal testing laboratory from the New York Stock Exchange.

Secretive Political Prisons — Communications Management Units

The label of “terrorist” is applied to activists before they even enter a courtroom and, for those convicted, it follows them into the prison system. The government has acknowledged using secretive prison facilities on U.S. soil, called Communications Management Units, to house inmates labeled “domestic terrorists.”

The CMUs radically restrict prisoner communications with the outside world to levels that rival, or exceed, the most restrictive facilities in the country, including the “Supermax,” ADX-Florence. [For more information on CMUs and who is housed there: "Secretive U.S. Prison Units Used to House Muslim, Animal Rights and Environmental Activists."]

Inmates and guards at the CMUs call them “Little Guantanamo.” They have also been described as prisons for “second-tier” terrorists.

According the Bureau of Prisons, these inmates “do not rise to the same degree of potential risk to national security” as other terrorism inmates. So who is imprisoned there?

The CMUs overwhelmingly include Muslim inmates, and have housed at least two animal rights and environmental activists: Andy Stepanian, who has been released, and Daniel McGowan, who is currently imprisoned at the CMU in Marion, Illinois.

Little information is available about the secretive facilities and the prisoners housed there. However, through interviews with attorneys, family members, and a current prisoner, it is clear that these units have been created not for violent and dangerous “terrorists,” but for political cases that the government would like to keep out of the public spotlight and out of the press.

So Why is This Happening?

The government and corporations haven’t tried to hide the fact that this is all meant to protect corporate profits. The Department of Homeland Security, in a bulletin to law enforcement agencies, warned: “Attacks against corporations by animal rights extremists and eco-terrorists are costly to the targeted company and, over time, can undermine confidence in the economy.”

And in a leaked PowerPoint presentation given by the State Department to corporations, we learn: “Although incidents related to terrorism are most likely to make the front-page news, animal rights extremism is what’s most likely to affect your day-to-day business operations.”

Underground activists like the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front directly threaten corporate profits by doing things like burning bulldozers or sabotaging animal research equipment. But they’re not the only ones.

The entire animal rights and environmental movements, perhaps more than any other social movements, directly threaten corporate profits.

They do it every day. Every time activists encourage people to go vegan, every time they encourage people to stop driving, every time they encourage people to consume fewer resources and live simply.

Those boycotts are permanent, and these industries know it. In many ways, the Green Scare, like the Red Scare, can be seen as a culture war, a war of values.

What Effect Has This Had?

The point of all this, according to the government, is to crack down on underground activists. But underground activists already know what they’re doing is illegal, and it hasn’t stopped them. In fact, it may have added fuel to the fire.

For instance, the same day the SHAC 7 were convicted of “animal enterprise terrorism” for running a website that posted news of both legal and illegal actions, underground activists rescued animals from a vivisection lab and named them Jake, Lauren, Kevin, Andy, Josh, and Darius, after the defendants.

This is from the communiqué:

“And while the SHAC-7 will soon go to jail for simply speaking out on behalf of animals, those of us who have done all the nasty stuff talked about in the courts and in the media will still be free. So to those who still work with HLS and to all who abuse animals: we’re coming for you, motherfuckers.”

What Now?

So if outlandish prison sentences and “eco-terrorism” rhetoric aren’t deterring crimes or solving crimes, what’s the point?

Fear. It’s all about fear. The point is to protect corporate profits by instilling fear in the mainstream animal rights and environmental movements—and every other social movement paying attention—and make people think twice about using their First Amendment rights.

Industry groups say “this is just the starting gun” for the Green Scare. But this could be the starting gun for activists as well. I’ve talked with hundreds of activists around the country over the years. There’s a lot of fear. But there’s also a lot of rage. And that’s a very good thing.

Because today’s repression may mimic many of the tactics of the Red Scare, but today’s response cannot. It’s not enough to cowardly distance ourselves from anyone branded a communist, I mean, terrorist. Naming names and making loyalty oaths didn’t protect activists then, and it won’t protect activists now.

The only way activists, and the First Amendment, are going to get through this is by coming out and confronting it head-on. That means reaching out to mainstream Americans and telling them that labeling activists as terrorists wastes valuable anti-terrorism resources and is an insult to everyone who died in the twin towers.

That means reaching out to other activists and saying loud and clear that these activists are just the canaries in the mine.

Together, we can stop they cycle of history repeating itself.

Will Potter is an award-winning independent journalist based in Washington, D.C., who has become a leading authority on “eco-terrorism,” the environmental and animal rights movements, and civil liberties post 9/11.

He has written for publications including: The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, The Vermont Law Review, Legal Affairs, The Chronicle of Higher Education, In These Times, The Texas Observer, The Washington City Paper, Z and Counterpunch. His work has been circulated widely on political websites, and has appeared in Opposing Viewpoints (Greenhaven Press, 2006), Punishing Protest (National Lawyer’s Guild, 2007), Censored ’08 (Seven Stories Press, 2007), and course materials for universities.

He created the news service, where he reports on the Green Scare and history repeating itself.


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