MSES Research Paper 2010
Environmental Studies Masters Degree
Title: State Sponsored Terrorism Against Environmental Activists
by Chad Kister
While environmental and animal rights activists have been falsely labeled terrorists by the corporations and governments that they oppose, governments around the world have been engaging in acts of terrorism against activists, and getting away with it because of their power and ability to cover up the facts. I have personally been a victim of state-sponsored terrorism, and this paper explains how such acts as the beatings of members of the civil rights movement and the bombing and murder of environmental activists rise to the definition of terrorism, and should be labeled as such. Meanwhile, the acts of ecotage, while harmful to the environmental movement, in fact do not fit the terrorism definition that corporations have used.
While we generally consider states like Syria, Libya and North Korea to be involved in acts of state sponsored terrorism, such as the bombing of airliners, the governments of the United States, Brazil, France and other countries have engaged in the bombing of nonviolent environmental activists, along with murders, assaults and indifference to arson and other attacks. These attacks are poorly publicized because those with financial ability to do the publicizing tend to be the anti-environmentalists – the perpetrators of the crimes.
Because environmentalists often challenge the biggest economic interests of nation-states, and the governments of nation-states tend to be largely controlled by economic superpowers, attacks against environmental advocates is commonplace. While countries like China and Nigeria are notorious for locking up and killing environmentalists, such as Ken Saro-Wiwa, the governments of France, The United States, Brazil and other countries have also engaged in assaults and murders against environmental advocates.
This paper will document many of the most egregious cases of state-sponsored attacks against environmentalists, and will call for the more thorough investigation and prosecuting of the assailants using international law. All of the cases of assaults against environmentalists are in violation of the Human Rights Charter of the United Nations, and could have been prevented with better international intervention and threats of economic sanctions. While some cases may seem to be acts of police brutality or misconduct, they are part of a greater effort to scare activists from engaging in efforts to influence government, that as a whole rise to the definition of terrorism.
Environmentalists and Social Movements
Environmentalists are concerned about the broader environment and how that affects the health of wildlife, humans and future generations. They are the ultimate stewards, caring for the ecology that is critical to sustaining our health and survival. “The preservationist sees natural wonders and wants to hold them unblemished for all time. The conservationist sees natural resources and wants to ensure their viability for future generations. The ecologist sees the relationships between species and the world they inhabit and wants to maintain a healthy ecosystem. The environmentalist sees all of these as one and the same.” (Joy, 1999)
Many social movements have employed tactics of civil disobedience, in which laws are broken in order to publicize wrongs that need fixed. Using the necessity defense, in arguing that the minor infraction broken was necessary to prevent a much greater wrong, people can use the court system to publicize their cause and, with sympathetic juries, even be acquitted of any wrongdoing. But police sometimes claim that civil disobedience wastes their time, and they retaliate against those who organize such actions.
In the 1950s and 60s, police brutally beat those in the civil rights movement, because they were working to end Jim Crow laws and allow African American to vote. Because they were working to influence government, and the actions of police were intended to keep the demonstrators from engaging in political activity, such actions meet the definition of terrorism. Terrorism is considered state-sponsored when it is either government-sanctioned or when it is perpetrated by employees of the government. Now, environmental activists are going through the same attacks, only in more clandestine ways. But instead of labeling their attackers as terrorists, those doing the attacking are attempting to label environmentalists as terrorists because a few in the movement engage in property destruction.
Activists are those working to alter society to their desire. (Jordan, 2002) Activists seek to change society right away, rather than waiting until politicians get around to it. Because the changes sometimes impinge upon the interests of major economic powers, they have used tactics such as infiltration, private investigators and even labeling activists as terrorists as a means of reducing their influence.
While some have tried to label environmentalists as ecoterrorists, because of the actions of some groups that favor property destruction, such acts do not rise to the level of terrorism according to Steve Vanderheiden. Vanderheiden also concludes that it is the overly harsh actions of law enforcement in dealing with civil disobedience that pushes groups into more extreme actions such as ecotage. Compared to the murders and assaults committed by police – governments, which cause permanent injury to nonviolent activists, ecotage is certainly a much lesser offense.
If anyone were to conclude that the police repression documented in the case studies in this paper do not rise to the level of terrorism, then certainly the mere property destruction with the strict adherence to principles against harming people could not possibly be considered terrorism. I argue that because people are being physically assaulted and killed by police, including tactics such as bombing activists and then blaming them for bombing themselves, as happened with Judi Bari in Northern California, that governments are indeed committing acts of state sponsored terrorism against environmentalists.
I do not favor property destruction for several reasons. First and foremost it gives the movement a bad name, and creates a rallying issue against environmental groups by anti-environmentalists. Second, it generally does not harm those who the ecotage perpetrators intend to harm because of insurance policies. It just raises insurance rates for everyone – including the nonviolent environmentalists who are doing the real progress in protecting natural areas and shifting away from pollution. Third, it changes the political landscape to favor the anti-environmentalists who are the victim of the property destruction.
The irony is how those who were working against any method that could harm people, such as Judi Bari and her effort to keep Earth First!ers from engaging in tree spiking, are often the victims of police repression. Bari was bombed in 1991, and her heirs proved that the FBI caused the terrorist act in a subsequent lawsuit. The FBI also had hundreds of thousands of pages on Martin Luther King, the civil rights leader who espoused nonviolence.
“The disproportionate, heavy-handed government crackdown on the animal-rights and environmental movements, and the reckless use of the word 'terrorism,' is the result of a carefully coordinated political campaign by corporations and politicians who represent them.” (Potter, 2009) While environmentalists were wrongfully accused of being terrorists, police officials have gotten away with terrorism under the guise of police brutality. Brutality is something that people can tolerate from time to time, but properly defining such acts as state-sponsored terrorism would raise the necessary attention to work to prevent such violent crimes that harm people from occurring again.
The attempt to label environmentalists as terrorists is an attempt to scare people from exercising their First Amendment Rights (Potter, 2009). “Fear. It's all about fear. The point is to protect corporate profits by instilling fear I 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. It's not the illegal activists that are the targets; it's the legal, above-ground activists.” (Potter, 2009).
While their intention is to scare activists into submission, it is refreshing that many are not being intimidated. “There is also a lot of rage. And that's a very good thing. Today's repression may mimic many of the tactics of the Red Scare, but today's response cannot.... 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 everyday people and telling them that labeling activists as terrorists wastes valuable anti-terrorism resources and is an insult to everyone who died on September 11.” (Potter, 2009)
Terrorism or Police Brutality
While many consider the beating of those in the civil rights movement, and subsequently the environmental movement an act of police brutality, under the new definition of terrorism under the 2001 USA-PATRIOT Act, they in fact rise to the level of terrorism. Prior to the PATRIOT Act, terrorism was defined as an act “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.” (Vanderheiden, 2008) But the PATRIOT Act expanded the definition to include attacks against inanimate objects as well as attacks that could influence interstate commerce or foreign commerce.
Because environmentalists often work to influence government, attacks against them can be considered terrorism because it influences a key stakeholder of government agencies. If an environmentalist is intimidated from speaking out on an issue, government officials miss that side of the story, and their policies and rules will reflect that. Such acts clearly meet the definition of terrorism, rising above police brutality. Police brutality relates to random acts against people who mouth off at police, or who are the target of police repression for non-political purposes. But when police target a movement, such as the civil rights or the environmental movement, their actions rise to the definition of terrorism because they are affecting government by intimidating activists from engaging in acts that influence government. Because environmental groups work to solicit donations for their cause from other states and often other countries, when they are targeted, this also interferes with interstate and often foreign commerce, which also meets the PATRIOT Act definition of terrorism.
Activists have reported that their homes were burned down, they have been run off the road and their cars and boats have been bombed. Under the expanded definition of terrorism after September 11, 2001, such attacks clearly rise to the legal definition of terrorism. Federal crimes considered terrorism include “arson within special maritime and territorial jurisdiction,” “the destruction of communication lines, stations or systems,” and actions that “maliciously damages or destroys, or attempt to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle or real or personal property used in interstate or foreign commerce or in any activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce.” (Vanderheiden, 2008). With Judy Bari's heirs having proven in court that the FBI bombed Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney, there can be no question that the United States is engaged in state-sponsored terrorism, along with countries like France which admitted to bombing the Greenpeace boat the Rainbow Warrior, killing a photographer.
Because environmentalists tend to influence government and craft new legislation, acts targeting them clearly raise to the level of terrorism, because they influence government. Also, threats of violence, which is commonplace among the coal industry and other extractive industries, meet the expanded definition of the term under the USA PATRIOT Act. (Vanderheiden, 2008) Because such actions are meant to terrorize environmentalists from engaging in their governmental influencing activities, they clearly meet the definition of terrorism, rising above police brutality, and prosecutors need to add “terrorism enhancement” penalties to such violent acts or threats.
Nigeria Murders Ken Saro-Wiwa
In the early 1990s, Nigeria was run by a brutal dictatorship supported by oil sold to the United States and other countries through Shell oil company. Oil which was found on the Niger Delta in 1958, and was developed with among the least environmental standards of any oil development. Oil pollution was rampant, causing massive illness and death among the Nigerian people and particularly the Ogoni peoples who lived in the Niger Delta.
Ken Saro-Wiwa led the nonviolent Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). (McLuckie, 2000) Greenpeace and several other organizations supported the movement with slogans such as “Get the (S)hell out of Nigeria” and “a Shell-shocked land.” (McLuckie, 2000) He authored numerous books, and was a television host. Wiwa said that Shell oil company, “having successfully waged an ecological war against the Ogoni People since 1958, has been giving protection money to the Nigerian security agencies to complete the genocide which it began. Of the 126 Ogoni Villages, the military regime have burned around 30.” (McLuckie, 2000)
Saro-Wiwa was arrested by the Shell-supported Nigerian military government on trumped up charges in 2005, along with eight other activists. They were put through a hasty “trial.” The Shell-supported military regime led by General Sani Abacha falsely convicted and hanged Saro-Wiwa along with eight other environmental and political activists on November 10, 1995. (McLuckie, 2000) “Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged today for speaking out against the environmental damage to the Niger Delta caused by Shell Oil through its 37 years of drilling in the region. Ken Saro Wiwa was campaigning for what Greenpeace considers the most basic human rights: the right for clean air, land and water. His only crime was his success in bringing his cause to international attention,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Thilo Bode. (Greenpeace, 1995)
At a memorial for Saro-Wiwa in front of Royal Dutch Shell's corporate offices in Washington DC a week after his death, Eddy Oparaoji said, “As we speak, our beloved Ken and others have been submerged down into the crude oil rich land of his environment by the greed of Shell and Abacha, and you must not let them get away with it. I can assure everyone listening today that Shell will not get away with it, Abacha will not get away with it.... For Shell, if you don't get out of Nigeria today, we'll also take you apart piece by piece.”
Chico Mendes Murdered in Brazil
Brazil contains the largest tropical rainforest in the world, a critical sink of biodiversity that likely holds the key to cancer and other diseases. But the World Bank gave Brazil a $500 million dollar loan for road building in the Amazon. Despite massive protests, the funding fueled the intrusion into the rainforest that led to massive logging, burning and ranching. (Revkin, 1990) This turned the lush rainforest into a desolate, barren landscape that eroded into the waterways as sediment pollution.
Chico Mendes was a rubber tapper in the rainforest of Brazil, which was being clearcut by multi-national corporations with the support of the local government. Chico Mendes organized the native rubber tappers, who depended upon the living forests for their survival, to protest the expansion of ranching and logging. After logging the most valuable trees, ranchers then set the forest on fire, destroying the livelihood of the rubber tappers who depend upon a living forest for their income. When the rubber tappers resisted, often their homes were burned and they were murdered. (Revkin, 1990) The United Nations Human Rights Charter forbids acts which take away ones means of making a living.
Mendes insisted on nonviolence. From 1964 to 1988, 982 union and land rights organizers had been murdered. (Revkin, 1990) He was successful in partially stopping a clear-cut and was a hero for his people and the cause of protecting the rainforest. In 1988, he was working to stop the arrival of Darli Alves, a rancher who had Mendes assassinated outside his home on December 22, 1988. (Rodrigues, 2007)
While Mendes became a poster-child for the war against environmentalists that had claimed the lives of powerful movement leaders around the world, the rural workers union movement in Brazil considered his death yet another example of working class organizers who were murdered by the powerful interests that they confronted. “For Brazilian unionists, Mendes's environmentalism – though clearly of great importance – was nowhere near as important as his role as a leader in the rural workers' movement of Brazil. They argue that no rural worker is killed for saving trees but for having the audacity to confront large interests on behalf of ordinary people. The unionists and their international socialist allies maintain by and large that we must remember Mendes as another victim of class warfare.”
Mendes was born in 1944 in Brazil's northwestern state, Acre. His father was a rubber tapper. He worked to create forest reserves for rubber and Brazil nut trees. (Kelly, 2008)
“Those who met Chico Mendes will never forget him. He talked softly but was full of energy and won you over through the conviction with which he defended his ideas.” (Mendes, 1989)
Brazil was run by a military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985. The regime worked to eradicate campaigns to organize the rural workers. Brazil's neighboring countries of Argentina and Chile were also run by brutal dictatorships that murdered thousands of people. (Rodrigues, 2007)
Mendes' two bodyguard were also killed. After his death, his widow was attacked, and his brother threatened. Witnesses of environmentalist killings have also been threatened. “Violence against witnesses continues, as it does to rubber tappers generally....Official indifference to the murders persists and the deaths of rural leaders continue unabated. In 1990, four agrarian reform activists were murdered.” In the three years after Mendes' assassination, 185 more people were murdered in land disputes. The activists did not die in vane, however. Six thousands, five hundred and fifty three square miles of rainforest were declared extractive reserves in Brazil, named after Chico Mendes. (Rowell, 1996)
In 1988, fourteen indigenous peoples who had been working to protect the rainforest were murdered, and another twenty were injured. In 1993, 42 native peoples were killed in Brazil, and two famous environmentalists were murdered. (Rowell, 1996)
Environmentalists Killed in Honduras
Traditional fisherman in Honduras working to protect the mangrove forest have been killed by shrimp farmers that destroy the forest. Since the 1980s, five members of the fishing organization CODDEFFAGOLF have been killed by shrimp industry hit men. “In February, 1995, one of the country's leading environmental activists, Blanca Jeannette Kawas was hit in the neck with a bullet. She was killed instantly. Two days previously, she had led a successful protest against a proposed plan to develop an oil palm plantation in one of the country's national parks, Punta Sal.” (Rowell, 1996)
France Bombs Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior Boat, Killing Photographer
Greenpeace purchased the 160-foot Rainbow Warrior in 1978. The ship left London's harbor, sailing under the Tower Bridge on May 15, 1978. (McFadden, 1989) The boat was used to intercept a Brittish nuclear waste ship on its way to dump the waste in international waters. The Rainbow Warrior boat was also used to stop harp seal hunting by Norway, along with an impressive number of other missions.
The group was about to protest nuclear tests by the French government by placing the boat at the site of the planned detination, in the hope that the French would not detonate the bombs. This was the fifth Greenpeace protest of French nuclear testing in thirteen years. Instead, the French bombed the Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand.
Using scuba gear, French operatives placed two bombs on the Greenpeace boat, which was docked at Marsden Wharf at Auckland, New Zealand. At 11:45 p.m. on July 10, 1985, the first bomb exploded a six by eight foot hole in the haul of the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior. (McFadden, 1989) After the first explosion, which the French government terrorists said was meant to get everyone off the ship, Portuguese photographer Fernando Pereira went back to get his camera equipment. Thirteen others rushed to shore and made it off the boat. Then, the second bomb went off, stunning Pereira. He subsequently drowned as the ship sank. (Trooper, 2002) . The boat sank “incredibly fast.” (McFadden, 1989) Had the bomb gone off an hour earlier, fourteen people could easily have died. (Rowell, 1996)
Pereira lived in Amsterdam and had two children. Thirteen French agents were estimated to have been involved in the bombing. The New Zealand government apprehended two of them, Major Alain Marfart and Captain Dominique Prier, who had been traveling using fake Switzerland passports. They were convicted of manslaughter and willful damage. They got ten years in prison for the manslaughter charge, and seven years for the willful damage, with the sentences to be served concurrently. Dillion Pierre was also convicted for his role in the bombing.
French President Jacques Chirac pressured for them to be turned over to the French, to serve time in the French Pacific Atoll. Chirac promised that they would serve their full term. But just before the Presidential election in early May, 1988, Chirac let the convicted terrorists free. He was defeated by Michel Rocard. Rocard apologized for the bombing in a visit to New Zealand in 1991.
New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange called the sinking “a major criminal act with terrorist overtones.” The act was the first case of international terrorism in New Zealand. (Rowell, 1996) Greenpeace International Chairman David McTaggart said “We campaign against violence. We will not be stopped by it.” (McFadden, 1989)
“When the first Rainbow Warrior sank in Auckland Harbor, it took with it any illusions that the global healing process would be an easy task. As the smoke cleared from the explosions, it became starkly apparent that the struggle would be, in essence, a war for the fate of the Earth. Could that war be fought and won with peaceful means – with confrontational but nonviolent means? Many thousands of Rainbow Warriors aver that it is possible.” (McFadden, 1989)
The original Rainbow Warrior was sunk in 80-foot-deep waters to form an artificial reef for marine life. France paid Greenpeace $8.2 million to compensate for their terrorist attack against the Rainbow Warrior. At a cost of $4 million, Greenpeace purchased a 181-foot-long Scottish trawler that had been built in 1957. Greenpeace added three masts with custom-made sails to reduce fuel consumption as much as 80 percent. The boat left Germany's Hamburg Harbor with a launching ceremony. Rebecca Johnson, head of Greenpeace's campaign against nuclear testing said, “The name Rainbow Warrior symbolizes that you cannot sink an idea, or remove it by force.” (McFadden, 1989)
“The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior had been intended to weaken the anti-testing movement. But, once French responsibility for this act of state terrorism had been established, the bombing had precisely opposite results. France's relations with Australia and New Zealand and the South Pacific island countries deteriorated.” (Henningham, 1992)
New Zealand convicted three French operatives of placing bombs on the Rainbow Warrior using scuba diving gear. The French government, however, threatened economic sanctions to get the French terrorists back, promising they would serve their full term. Once back, however, the were freed within months. One of them, Dillion Pierre is an arms dealer in Virginia. Greenpeace has requested that the United States deport Pierre. I would like to see Pierre imprisoned under international law.
The United States
State sponsored terrorism against environmentalists does not just occur in repressive military regimes like the cases that I mentioned in Nigeria and Brazil (though Brazil is now a democracy). They also occur in the United States, and have been well documented in court, including by myself, when I was beaten nearly to death protesting the environmental atrocities of the World Bank and International Monetary fund on April 16, 2000.
Judy Bari was born in 1947, and was active in the protests against the Vietnam war. She worked at a grocery store, and was active in Earth First!'s efforts to protect the ancient redwoods of Northern California. She was particularly effective because she was a labor organizer, and she worked with loggers to show how they were really on the same side. The clearcut and run logging by Louisiana Pacific would also leave the loggers without a job within a few years. Carefully select-cutting areas that had already been cut would create more logging jobs and sustainable jobs that could last a lifetime.
In 1990, someone, most likely the Federal Bureau of Investigations, led by Frank Doyle, placed a bomb under the seat of Judi Bari, with Daryl Cherney sitting in the passenger seat. (Joy, 2000) The bomb nearly killed Bari, and injured Cherney. I met Daryl Cherney in Northern Ohio, when he joined a portion of our 850-mile Walk For a Green Ohio, and participated in a demonstration against the re-opening of the Fermi II nuclear reactor in Monroe Michigan after they dumped a million and a half gallons of radioactive waste into Lake Erie.
In 1990, Bari and Cherney were working to organize Redwood Summer, an effort to bring thousands of students and activists from around the country to blockaid the logging of ancient redwoods. “The FBI accused the pair of transporting the explosive device knowingly as part of a violent campaign of 'ecotage.' From her hospital bed, Bari charged that the timber interests of Northern California and the FBI had tried to kill her.” (Coleman, 2005) Bari had denounced tree spiking, and was successful in getting commitments from Redwood Summer participants that they would not engage in tree spiking, or any activity that could harm loggers.
Bari had received numerous death threats prior to the May 24, 1990 bombing. Ten months prior, she had nearly been run off the road by a logging truck that she had just been blockaiding. Four other activists were in the car. “This is the second assassination attempt on me in ten months, and that's pretty scary. The last one was really the most violent thing that had ever happened to me in my life. I got run off the road by a logging truck. Karen Silkwood style. The guy just sped up and kept going. My car was moving at the time, and he overtook me and rammed me without hitting his brakes. It was a horrible, violent impact and my car sailed through the air and crashed.
“But the bombing was twenty times worse. I mean, there's just no describing how awful it felt, and just the horrificness of being blown up by a bomb is not something I can describe in words. And not only having to go through the physical pain and the psychological terror of having this done, but then on top of this, to have somebody trying to frame me and blame me for it and making no effort whatsoever to find out who these assassins are really makes it a lot worse....I have a twenty-year history as a nonviolent organizer, and I didn't suddenly turn into a bomb thrower. And I'm certainly not stupid enough to put a bomb under my own car seat and blow myself up. I think it's pretty preposterous that I'm being charged with this, that they're saying I'm the only suspect.” (Joy, 2000) Charges were later dropped for lack of evidence.
Bari was on her way to a meeting at the University of California at Santa Cruz. “My injuries are painful and severe, and will leave me permanently crippled,” Bari said. “Earth First! is not a terrorist organization, although the FBI has done its best to present us as one. If it can succeed in framing and discrediting us, then domestic dissent is not safe from government sabotage. The right to advocate social change without fear of harassment is the cornerstone of a free society. We cannot allow ourselves to be manipulated by police agencies that have no respect for our democratic principles.” (Joy, 2000)
Redwood Summer continued with more than a thousands people from around the country participating in rallies, blockaids and tree sits to protest and physically stop the logging of the ancient redwoods. Bari said it was remarkable that they were able to continue with Redwood Summer “because this bomb blast had a lot of effects on us. It knocked out virtually all of our experience leadership. It didn't just knock me out. Some of the people who have been working on the issue for years who have also been targeted by death threats as well as I have, have been intimidated from being right up there on the front lines.... a whole group of people have risen to the occasion....This bombing has galvanized people and increased support for Redwood Summer.” (Joy, 2000)
“The reaction of the FBI to the bombing was so improper that a coalition of fifty environmental and women's groups, including the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, and the National Organization for Women, joined Representative Ron Dellums (D-CA) in calling for a congressional investigation. The House Judiciary subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights, headed by Representative Don Edwards of California (D-CA), has agreed to question the FBI about its handling of the case.” (Joy, 2000)
The FBI worked to portray the nonviolent Earth First! organization as a terrorist group. Instead, the FBI themselves became the terrorists, with the brutal bombing of Bari. (Joy, 2000) Bari sued the FBI, and her heirs won $4.4 million in a jury award against the FBI, proving with irrefutable evidence that the FBI had caused the bombing. FBI agent Frank Doyle had conducted bomb trainings with the logging industry, Louisiana Pacific, in which they had detonated bombs in cars similar to the one that tore through Bari. They placed nails on the bomb to further their damage to the activist who had convinced Earth First! to denounce tree spiking. The FBI spent $2 million to infiltrate Earth First!, and even employed agent Michael Fain to set up Earth First! activists in a blatant violation of their Constitutional Rights through entrapment. (Joy, 2000)
Efforts by the United States to Assault Me
On April 16, 2000 I woke up at 4 a.m., having had virtually no sleep. About a hundred people from Athens, Ohio had traveled to Washington DC in a caravan and stayed at several places around the city. I was with a group of Dysart Defenders (a group working to protect the last of the .004 percent of the old growth forest in Ohio), who stayed in a suburban house in Maryland. We joined tens of thousands of activists from around the country that had traveled to DC to protest the environmental atrocities of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Those institutions were responsible for funding the worst assaults on our planet around the world, from rainforest destruction to destructive dams to massive coal power plants.
I and another activist were dropped off near the perimeter of the conference center where the meeting was to take place. I carried an enormous load of water, food and banners. I walked around the demonstration all day, photographing the lively puppets and street theater. A few days prior, I had witnessed police raid a warehouse where people were making large puppets for the demonstration. They arrested more than a hundred people for no reason, and sent the works of art, many of which had been used for years and took months to create, into a trash compacter.
I witnessed first hand that there are two Americas. One for those who work regular jobs and do not demonstrate against injustice. Then there are the true patriots of our countries, the activists and agitators for that which is right and just. Those like Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi who were arrested in their time, are today being mistreated and beaten, often to death. But because the masses are kept from seeing it, as police push photographers and journalists away from their misconduct and abuse, it continues to go on, only in even more severe and horrific ways using the latest technology.
I came upon a place where a large group had gathered, and sat with a line of people across Pennsylvania Avenue, one block from the White House. Behind us was a police barricade, so we were not really blocking the street. Hundreds of people were nearby in the demonstration that stretched about a mile around the conference center with tens of thousands of participants. I sat peacefully, while an army of police motored up, revving their motorcycle engines.
About 50 motorcycle police were joined with dozens of other police, most of whom were in riot gear, with visors covering their faces. They held their batons, and repeatedly hit the batons against their other hand, in a menacing, threatening manner. Then came the terrorist police assault. They came upon us like an army, meant only to injure and hurt the nonviolent participants.
I was knocked down with a blow to the chest with a police boot, and another officer stood on my foot. Officers stood on each of my arms and legs, making me completely defenseless. I was hit repeatedly with batons, mainly on the chest. Because these wounds are hidden by people's clothing, they are a common choice for police brutality attacks. They are also the most deadly, and provide serious, life-long health problems and pain.
A heavyset officer came down on me on my right middle chest, with a baton using all of his force. I screamed in pain as I felt my rib crack and the air escape from my right lung. Then I was barely in consciousness, my pulse erratic, at the brink of death.
A friend, Chris Evans, was with his girlfriend at the time, Dina Rudick, who is now a photographer with the Boston Globe. Chris went into the frenzy to help me out. I could barely move, shocked by the blow, and I turned as my left hand was freed by the officer who had standing on it. Then came the blows on my kidneys. They were swift, strong and extraordinarily painful. I crawled to try to get out, and saw Chris. He helped pull me out, and I collapsed. Medics came to the scene and said that my pulse was erratic, and that I could easily die. They said I needed to get to a hospital immediately.
I eventually went into the ambulance, and to Howard University Hospital, where I was diagnosed with a severely displaced rib, two other fractured ribs, and two damaged kidneys, with blood in my urine. Every bump of the ambulance ride sent a jolt of pain on my fractured ribs. There was one rib in particular, about an inch below my right nipple, that jutted into my lung and winced in extreme pain. I had a collapsed lung, and was in excruciating agony.
In the hospital, I said that I had broken ribs. The doctor used his rubber hammer, and went from rib to rib. When he hit the first fractured rib, I winced in pain. At the next one – the one that was severely displaced – I yelled out, wondering if he had pushed it in more, and caused yet more damage. Eventually he had a Computerized Axial Tomography Scan done.
The pain lasts to this day, and doctors warn it will get worse as I age. There is no way to set a broken rib because it would cause so much damage to cut in to do so. Thus, the displaced, sharp-edged bone cuts into my nerves, lung and vital organs every day, accentuated when I exercise.
I filed a lawsuit against the DC police with attorneys James Klimaski and Andrea Grill. I sued Washington DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey personally, as well as in his official capacity for violating my civil liberties under color of law. The lawsuit states “As the MPD (Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department) officers closed in on Mr. Kister, Officer John Doe struck him without provocation, forcefully and repeatedly in the chest, with a baton, and leaned his full weight on Mr. Kister's chest for several seconds continuously. Immediately thereafter, Mr. Kister was dragged along the asphalt by Officer Richard Doe and other unknown MPD officers, as Officer John Doe continued to strike Kister in the chest with a baton.” (Klimaski, 2001)
My ribs hurt on my right side to this day, particularly when the barometer changes, and when I exercise. “Mr. Kister suffered three broken ribs, as well as permanent pulmonary damage (and damage) to his ribs chest and kidneys as a result of the beating. Prior to the officers' unprovoked actions, the demonstrators, including Mr. Kister, were given no warnings or orders to disperse. MPD officers also assaulted and battered among others, several bystanders and a national news photographer. Lacking any reason to, Mr Kister was never taken into custody or arrested by the MPD or its officers. The MPD eventually attended to Mr. Kister's severe injuries by calling for an ambulance.”
“More than an hour after the beating, Mr. Kister, who was incapacitated, in a location near to the beating, on a stretcher, was taken by ambulance to Howard University Hospital in Washington DC where he was treated for, inter alia, cuts, bruises, and broken ribs. The Howard University medical staff conducted a CAT scan which disclosed the presence of broken ribs and other serious injuries. Mr. Kister's diagnosis by the staff included permanent pulmonary and kidney damage.” (Klimaski, 2001)
“The Officers, as MPD Officers, had a duty to protect Mr. Kister from the deprivation of his rights by other unnamed MPD Officers. Officers John Doe's acts of beating, crushing and otherwise injuring Mr. Kister.... and severe injury by the the Officers deprived Mr. Kister of his right to liberty without due process of law, in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The beating, crushing and dragging of Mr. Kister without probable cause to do so deprived him of his right to be secure in his person.” (Klimaski, 2001) The lawsuit lists a series of violations of my Fifth, Fourth, First and other constitutional amendments. By punishing officers that violate Constitutional Rights, supervisors can work to prevent horrific beatings such as that which I endured. Most likely, the officers had previously violated rights, but were never punished. Had they been punished, or fired, the beating would likely not have occurred.
“The dragging of Mr. Kister through the use of excessive and injurious force deprived Mr. Kister of his right to peacefully express his views in a public forum, in violation of the First Amendment.” (Klimaski, 2001)
“The District of Columbia and Charles Ramsey, reckless and without regard for the rights of others, breached their duty to properly train, supervise, investigate and correct the improper actions of its employee Police Officers. The District of Columbia's and Chief Ramsey's disregard for the rights of others, in particular those of Mr. Kister, was the direct and proximate cause of the substantial and severe injuries Mr. Kister sustained.
“As a result of the District of Columbia's and Chief Ramsey's failure to act, Mr. Kister suffered from pain and suffering, emotional trauma, extreme humiliation, and deprivation of his Constitutional and civil rights.” (Klimaski, 2001)
My attorneys and the DC attorneys arranged depositions and mediation. I came to a mediation session going by scenic Amtrak train through the New River Gorge at the peak of the leaf change. At the mediation, the District of Columbia asked for an offer. We made one for $776,000. Eventually, we went through depositions, including conducting a deposition of Charles Ramsey. Ramsey is now the police chief of Philadelphia, causing more police brutality. I have witnessed and photographed horrific police brutality by Philadelphia police during the Republican National Convention demonstrations in 2000.
On November 30, 1999, I joined 100,000 labor and environmental leaders from around the country in mass demonstrations against the WTO. I saw police open the eyelids of demonstrators who were locked down, and put q-tips covered with pepper spray on the eyeballs of the demonstrators. Some of the police had tears in their eyes because they could not bear what they were doing. I was machine gunned with rubber bullets, tear gassed dozens of times, hit with concussion grenades, knee knockers and batons. I was pushed around by police, and threatened with arrest on numerous occasions just for photographing police brutality.
At the G-20 demonstrations in Pittsburgh in September, 2009, people threw eggs at those who were just peacefully marching. Police blasted a super-high pitched screech, called an L-Rad at demonstrators that causes hearing loss. That this state-sponsored terrorism can go on in 2009 shows a perverse lack of concern among the general public for the liberties for which our country was created. Hearing damage is a major assault that can hurt people their entire lives. Police also fired tear gas indiscriminately, and threw demonstrators onto concreted sidewalks for no reason. I was pushed and grabbed by police and nearly arrested for videotaping police throwing people onto the concrete.
In 1995, I sat at the front of an auction of oil and gas leases across 15,000 acres of Wayne National Forest, very close to where I lived. A large group of demonstrators stayed in the Lafayette hotel in Marietta, Ohio, then stormed into the auction wearing endangered species costumes. Just as the auction began, we went to the front and a young woman from Cincinnati and I locked arms behind our back and began changing “don't stain the Wayne” and “the Wayne is not for sale.”
About 10 Marietta police department officers used pain compliance to try to get me to unlock with the Cincinnati woman. We had linked arms behind our backs, clamped our hands and vowed to hold on for as long as we could. The police focused on me with the pain compliance. I cried out in agony as they used pain pressure points around my body to inflect excruciating torture, which can easily cause permanent damage. Eventually, we unlocked, and they carried me out, still using pain points until I got outside.
In 1997, I was punched by an Athens County Sheriff Deputy, who dislocated my jaw. I sued Athens County Sheriff David Redecker, along with the deputy who punched me. The lawyers for the Sheriff forced me to get x-rays to show the dislocation. X-rays are unsafe because of radiation poisoning. They were forced to pay me $15,000. They still need to pay for the damage caused by forcing me to get x-rays.
In 1999, Ron Brooks, with the Athens City police department wrongfully, arrested me 6 weeks after I took photos of police aggression on Court Street, along with a photo of the police chief. The wrongful arrest occurred a few minutes after I filed a complaint against an officer for using profanity. Judge William Bennett was bemused by my photos, and threw out the charges. He said it was obviously retaliatory prosecution, and that taking photos was not a crime.
Ron Brooks had wrongfully arrested me in November, 1990 when I led a peace march through Athens with about 300 people. The crowd followed the two police officers who were escorting me. They had originally planned to take me into the city police building, but because hundreds of people were following, and all around me, including several who laid down to block our path, they instead called in an OU police department cruiser driven by Steve Noftz. I was put in his car, and the crowd surrounded the cruiser on College Street, shutting down the street for about an hour. The crowd eventually continued the march, and charges were dropped against me and others who were arrested.
In 1989, OSU police wrongfully arrested me. The American Civil Liberties Union represented me, and I beat the charges in court. The Judge, Wasylick was not re-elected in large part because of his misconduct in not dismissing the charges against me immediately.
During a break in one of my many month-long speaking tours in Hartford Connecticut, I got off the train to get some video and photos of the Acella train, the only high speed train in the U.S. from Washington DC to Boston, Massachusetts. I have been on the bullet train in Japan, but not the Acella, which is not included in the North American Rail Pass that I use for month-long speaking tours around the United States and Canada. As I tried to get back on the train, two Amtrak police came up to me and asked for ID. I said I had to get back on the train, that it was about to leave. As the doors began to close, I rushed up the stairs, just in time to get in before my train, with all of my gear and my only ride to my speaking engagement in Durham, New Hampshire, left. One of the police officers grabbed me, holding me back as the door closed in on me.
He pulled me back. I said wait, that I had to get back on my train. I showed him my rail pass, and my ID, and a man who had bought my book came to the door. I said that the officers had detained me because I was taking photos of the train. The man showed the officers my book that he had just purchased from me about an hour earlier, and asked them what they were doing to a published author. The officers let me on the train. The conductor said that I could easily have been killed if the train had taken off and he had not noticed that I had been trapped in the door.
In a peace demonstration in Columbus, I was trampled by a police horse. The officer purposefully assaulted me with the horse, which trampled down on me. I let out a blood curdling screech as one of the horses' hooves scraped my shin. Once of the demonstrators videotaped the assault, and we gave the video to Channel 4 News. They aired the footage showing me being trampled by the police horse.
So many people are lulled into thinking that police repression against activists doesn't occur in this day and age, that that was a thing of the past. In fact, solving the climate crisis affects the biggest industries in the world. The oil, coal, auto, tire and airline industries would all lose tremendous amounts of money if we were to switch primarily to high speed rail running on solar and wind energy, and meet our other energy needs through renewable sources. Thus, the few that are engaged in solving the climate crisis have been targeted with tremendous, horrific repression, assault and assassination.
When Jesse Jackson held a rally for more coal mines, with more than a thousand coal miners, I held up a sign saying stop global warming. Miners spat on me, kicked me, and ripped my sign up. Police did not arrest any of the many assailants that they witnessed. A local author and peace activist, Peggy Gish, helped to keep many of the attackers away. Police tried to remove me, and I rushed toward the center of the crowd, toward the stage. When Jesse Jackson asked for courage, I held my sign up high. I was attacked by miners. They ripped my sign, and hit down on me. Eventually, police came to the area and kept the people away. While kneeling under a crowd of attacking people, I pulled out my scotch tape, and taped the torn sign back together.
In impoverished places like Appalachia, big anti-environmental industries like to inflame hatred against environmentalists, so they can get free will to devastate the environment. Then cancer increases, and sustainable industries like eco-tourism are greatly reduced. People avoid devastated areas except those who have no choice. I was severely beaten on May 13, 2003 in Nelsonville, Ohio. Nobody was ever convicted, despite an enormous effort on my part to try to catch the assailant.
I receive death threats regularly by those in the coal industry on the radio program Viewpoint (770 a.m. out of Nelsonville, Ohio). In the fall of 2009, William Theisen was found guilty in Athens Municipal Court of menacing after he threatening to kill me several times because I opposed a strip mine he wanted to do near Amesville. Theisen's father was an Athens County Commissioner for more than a decade, and it was he who was the main proponent of the strip mine that I opposed. Gary Grant, who works on a barge hauling coal down the Ohio River to power plants, has routinely talked about killing environmentalists to help the economy and keep electric prices low. He has said this, when clearly referring to me, while Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly was a guest on the radio program, but Kelly did nothing about it.
In 1989, I organized camping trips next to a controversial strip mine in the Wayne National Forest. Student activists from around the country were horrified at the devastation being caused to our national treasure. The Ohio University Ecology Club had hundreds of supporters and was successful in implementing recycling at OU. The group was also a national leader in the effort to organize student environmentalists nationally with the creation of the Student Environmental Action Coalition.
That same year, about 100 Athenians packed a public meeting, with most people opposing a proposed strip mine by coal industry tycoon Robert Murray in the Millfield area. I stood up and explained why the strip mine should be stopped, naming the environmental laws that would be violated. I vowed to lay in front of the first bulldozer if the mine were to be opened. A coal miner stood up and said that he would run right over me. This was featured in a front page picture in the Athens Messenger with a caption explaining the death threat. No charges were filed against the miner.
Many years later, I would become a leader in the effort to save Dysart Woods, among the last of the .004 percent of old growth forest left in Ohio, and a critical reserve of virgin forest, with 500-year-old trees. Robert Murray owned Ohio Valley Coal Company that had filed a permit to mine near the forest, with plans to continue mining, eventually under the National Natural Landmark. Ohio University hired me to work on protecting the ancient forest. I organized large rallies and placed hundreds of newspaper articles around the state. I also assisted OU's legal effort to block the mining.
In December, 2000, at a court hearing to protect Dysart Woods, Robert Murray choked me, and slammed by head against the wall, while attorneys and state employees looked on. He was charged by the state of Ohio and the city of Columbus with assault and disorderly conduct.
While on the way back from a meeting of Belmont Countians opposing the proposed mining near Dysart Woods, I stopped on State Route 550 just east of Sharpsburg for a family of raccoons to cross the road. A car driven by BP station owner Wayne Gilchrest barreled into the rear end of my three-cylinder, 50-mile-per-gallon Geo Metro, nearly totaling the car, and giving me permanent neck injury. I had been a leader in the effort to boycott BP as the biggest polluter in the state.
We had recently ended the boycott after we met with BP officials on the 850-mile walk that I organized that included a press conference in East Liverpool, Ohio, which had the largest air polluter in the state: a BP chemical refinery. BP officials met our demand to cut their pollution in half with an agreement with the EPA. The success was part of an enormous number of victories that came from the powerful environmental movement in the early 1990s.
The brake lines in both of my cars were cut in 2008, nearly causing an accident. The brakes on my bicycle were disabled several years ago. When I went under the Richland Avenue bridge on the bike path, I was unable to stop, and smashed into a pole, breaking my jaw.
In 2001, one of my housemates, David Walker, was working for the Kasler family on a nearby farm. The farm burned a bunch of tires, and I called the EPA, who had the fire department come out and put out the fire. Walker then attacked me constantly, and threatening me, saying how dare I call the EPA on his boss. The call was supposed to be anonymous, but apparently the EPA told the Kaslers about it. He locked me out of my house, and I had to call the Athens County Sheriff's department to come out to get him to let me in. I insisted that they arrest him, but they did not. The next day, he broke down the locked door to my room, and threw feces and urine tainted five gallon buckets of water into my room, soaking me, my computers and books. He was finally arrested, and forced to pay $500 in restitution. I had a massive loss of valuable items that plagues me to this day, well in excess of $500.
When I bought a house near Neslonville, Ohio from the $60,000 settlement that I received from the Washington DC beating by police, a massive onslaught of break-ins began, which continues to this day. I moved next to one of the largest expanses of national forest, right in my backyard so I could take breaks from writing and go hiking in the forest. Being an environmentalist in coal mining country is like being a freedom-fighter in China. Persecution comes daily, along with death threats, intimidation and violent attacks.
Wise Use Movement Foments Hatred Against Environmentalists
People in southeast Ohio and throughout much of Appalachia have been taught to hate environmentalists, who have been blamed for coal mine closures which are inevitable because they run out of coal. So-called wise use groups funded by extractive and polluting industries have been on the forefront of fomenting hatred against those working to protect the source of life on our planet, the quality of our own lives and the health and safety of the community.
“For people in desperate circumstances whose needs are not being met by the system, Wise Use has provided an identifiable enemy, “the preservationist,” on which to focus their anger and vent their rage.
“If, as Ron Arnold has put it, Wise Use is engaged in a 'holy war' against the new pagans who worship trees and sacrifice people,' it's the pagans who have suffered most of the casualties.
“'We were told if we killed any of them there was $40,000 that was there to defend us in court or to help us get away,' says Ed Knight, an ex-logger and Hell's Angel about how he was hired to lie in ambush with an Uzi, waiting to shoot Earth Firsters in the California woods.” (Helvarg, 1994) Anti-environmentalists burned down the house of Greenpeace USA's toxics coordinator Pat Costner. She had lived in the house nearly 20 years.
Logging companies also burned down the house of forest protection activist Michael Vernon, nearly killing him and destroying his house. Environmental activist Paula Siermers was knocked unconscious by a stone. Her dog was poisoned, and her house burned down. Two men assaulted Siermers and stabbed the antitoxics activist with a knife in Cincinnati in the early 1990s.
Environmental activist Stephanie McGuire was raped and tortured by three men wearing camouflage. They cut her throat and poured river water in the wound. Then assailants then said “Now you'll have something to sue about.”
Just before she was to testify against clearcutting on the Navajo reservation, the body of Native American environmentalist Leroy Jackson was found along a highway.
“Along with the growth of Wise-Use/Property Rights, the last six years have seen a startling increase in intimidation, vandalism, and violence directed against grassroots environmental activists. Observers of this trend have documented hundreds of acts of violence, ranging from vandalism, assaults, arsons, and shootings to torture, rape, and possibly murder, much of it occurring in rural, low-income areas.”
It is the power of the environmental movement that prompted such a backlash. Perhaps it is the indifference to the massive destruction that extractive industries cause to the environment that makes the indifference to human life inherent among anti-environmentalists. In other countries, like Australia, the coal miners' union has been in strong support of measures to combat climate change to evolve to clean renewable energy. They realize that there will always be jobs in generating energy, and that solar and wind jobs are much nicer than dirty coal mining and oil industry jobs. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw a swelling of environmental support. Fossil, chemical, nuclear and other extractive and polluting industries felt threatened by this movement, and mobilized a backlash that included infiltration, murder, arson and assault.
Helvarg warned that the strong contingent of anti-environmentalists in the Republican party would have a boomerang effect to weaken the party. “A May 1992 Rupert poll found 80 percent of the U.S. public to be at least 'sympathetic' to the environment, with more than two-thirds declaring the environment more important than the economy and believing that more, not less, environmental regulation is necessary.” (Helvarg, 1994)
Helvarg warned that the anti-environmental backlash of the early 1990s would boomerang to hurt the Republicans in three ways. First, the general public might see through the corruption culture of the Republicans by seeing all of the subsidies given to extractive industries, while they oppose subsidies to renewables and other environmental shifts. A second way that the backlash could occur is by seeing all of the benefits that the Republicans are giving to multi-national corporations. For example old growth trees of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska were sold to Asian companies at a fraction of their value, and sunk in the Sea of Japan until the market for wood rose.
“The third and most immediate danger of a boomerang involved the public's identification of the militant anti-environmentalist rhetoric of the Wise Use/Property Rights movement and confrontational tactics used in many of its protests with the physical assaults and vigilante-style attacks on environmental organizers and community activists taking place around the nation.” (Helvarg, 1994)
It is ironic that those who are working to stop the largest number of assaults, the most severe, and the greatest numbers of murders – environmentalists – are themselves under assault. Globally, hundreds of thousands of people die every year because of pollution. A 2009 Global Humanitarian Forum report, “Human Impact Report: Climate Change – The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis” found that global warming is killing 300,000 people per year (Hurst, 2009) That same report found that 325 million people are seriously affected and the global economy sustains a $125 billion loss every year because of climate change. (CBS/AP, 2009)
“Further evidence of an emerging international green backlash template comes from an unusual geographical source. Despite the fact that Australia and New Zealand are thousands of miles from the hotbed of anti-environmentalism of North America, the green backlash is flourishing 'down under.' All the trademarks of anti-green activism are on the increase: corporate fronts groups, the demonising of environmentalists as terrorists, the use of dirty tricks, physical and legal harassment and the use of violence against environmentalists. Networking is also occurring between key North American anti-environmentalists and their Australian counterparts.” (Rowell, 1996)
Police around the world have set up environmentalists, apparently because powerful extractive industries use bribes as a standard operating procedure. “In 1991, when the Coode Island chemical terminal in suburban Melbourne was ripped apart by a huge explosion, a fire raged for two days causing $20 million of damage. Six weeks later, just days before the commencement of the public hearings into the fire and a week before a major TV investigative report into safety problems in the chemical industry, Victoria police convened a press conference to announce that they had conclusive forensic evidence that pipes had been cut with oxyacetylene equipment. They speculated that a small group of people may have been trying to light a fire as a protest or make a statement to the government about safety concerns at Coode Island.... The local police was deluged with calls from 'welders who stated emphatically that oxyacetylene equipment could not be used to cut stainless steel pipes.'” (Rowell, 1996)
After the police said it may have been a terrorist attack that caused the explosion, local environmentalists received numerous threats. Eight months later, police admitted the explosion was an accident. A subsequent investigation found that the police department had known this all along, and had lied at the press conference. The police lies fomented hatred against environmentalists, who are nonviolent and working to end the massive violence being committed by chemical, nuclear, fossil and extractive industries.
The Supreme Court in Australia found that police indifference to violence by industry against environmentalists fueled the increasing attacks, including fire bombs, shootings, assaults, threats and harassment against environmental activists. The court found that by blaming environmentalists for accidental fires and explosions, the police encouraged people to attack environmental organizations using violence.
Tasmanian police refuse to investigate violence against environmentalists, and even refused to take statements from an environmentalist that had been shot at. The Senior Sergeant of the Tasmania Police wrote “I'm on their side” to the local newspaper about his support for loggers who had been engaged in illegal violence against environmentalists. When a group of environmentalists were attacked by loggers in the South East forest in Australia, a police officer joined the logger assailants and punched a female environmental activist in the chest, breaking her sternum.
The Sahara Club advocates violence against environmentalists. (Miller, 1994) The group organized meetings of timber industry activists to train them how to disrupt environmental meetings. The group worked to disrupt the Redwood Summer Earth First! event with “Dirty Tricks Workshops.” “One (Sahara Club) member advised his colleagues, 'I have stocked up on Superglue and find it works best in the door locks of BLM vehicles. One little squirt in each lock and they have to break the window to get in. If I have time, it's also fun to let the air out of the tires, then Superglue the valve caps back on so they can't be refilled.” (Switzer, 1997) The Sahara Club group included off road vehicle enthusiasts who routinely violated environmental laws and ripped up desert areas, threatening endangered species.
After the passage of critical environmental legislation in the early 1970s, a backlash developed in western states in the U.S. States tried to seize jurisdiction of federal lands to allow extraction and grazing in violation of environmental laws, in a protest called the Sagebrush Rebellion. (Clifford, 1998)
“In 1988, several hundred grassroots organizations funded primarily by corporate donors affiliated with the mineral extraction industry, spoke out in opposition to environmental policies and practices. Small land owners in the West felt threatened by federal and state actions taken on public lands. As part of their response, offices and vans belonging to the Bureau of Land Management have been bombed, guns have been drawn on park rangers and agents of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and multiple direct threats of bloodshed made against other officers.”
In temperatures exceeding a hundred degrees, forty Native American and environmental demonstrators blocked dozens of trucks from dumping sewage with toxic waste into the Torres-Martinez landfill on August 4, 1994. Activists opposing the sewage dump in California were threatened. Two days after the blockaid, the 14-year-old son of a prominent leader in the movement to stop the dumping of the toxic-laidened waste was shot dead. The protesters were concerned that the dump was causing them to get sick.
Most anti-environmental organizations like the Sahara Club are funded by extractive industries. Many, like the National Wetlands Coalition, sound environmental, but in fact lobby and campaign against environmental laws and regulations. The National Wetlands Coalition in fact represents the oil industry and developers. (Sale, 1993)
“In November, 1991, 125 business groups and fronts organized under a single flag as the Alliance for America, heavily funded by timber cutters, oil drillers, ranchers and other anti-environmental corpoprations who aim, in the words of its chief idealogue, Ron Arnold, 'to destroy environmentalists by taking their money and their members.'”
“Environmental activists coast to coast have reported enough specific examples of violence targed against them – offices trashed, cars smashed, homes entered, death threats, the home of a Greenpeace researcher burned in Arkansas, the office of a National Toxics Campaign worker burglered in Denver, two Earth First! workers firebombed in California – to leave no doubt that some kind of concerted private cruisade was being waged, and at high stakes.”
In 1991, Trans Alaskan Pipeline officials paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to locate and silence oil industry critics using sting tactics, conspiracy, surveillance, theft and eavesdropping. “None of this backlash – 'in full swing' as of 1992, according to one scholar – has so far derailed the environmental train, but it has undoubtedly taken a toll, particularly among the more radical groups and particularly at the local level.” A forest preservation activist in Fort Bragg, California was the target of a logging industry boycott and had to close her day care center. She also reported thefts and unexplained power outages.
Josh Schlossberg Assaulted by Eugene Oregon Police
A friend of mine from Eugene, Oregon, Josh Schlossberg, who led me on a hike through old growth forest in a nearby national forest, was wrongfully arrested and injured by Eugene police for standing on a sidewalk with a videocamera. He was charged with videotaping (intercepting communications). When police asked to take his video camera, Schlossberg exercised his constitutional rights and said no. Police yanked his arm behind his back, and forced him to the ground, slamming his head on the ground. They forcibly pushed down on his previously injured neck. He was charged with resisting arrest. Charges were dropped, and he filed a lawsuit with attorney Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center on March 13, 2009 against the City of Eugene. (portland.indymedia.org, 2009)
Schlossberg works for the Native Forest Council, a national organization working for the preservation of America's forests, particularly old growth forests. I met the head of Forest Voice, Tim Hermach, in Saint Augustine, Florida at a conference of high school environmentalists several years. We stayed next to the beach, and spoke at a large gathering. After he heard me talk, he encouraged me to come to Eugene to speak, which I have done numerous times since.
In April, 2005 the Native Forest Council publication Forest Voice reminded people that it was the Wise-Use movement and anti-environmentalists that were encouraging violence against federal officials such as those that bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City. (Switzer, 1997)
“Wise Use organizers who whip rural crowds into hateful frenzies against environmentalists and against government employees charged with enforcing the laws on public lands, also bear responsibility for creating a climate that encourages violence. When they accuse environmentalists and the government of conspiring to take away their rights and property, they invite angry rural people to strike out against their 'oppressors,' they plant seeds that erupt as threats, intimidation, and ultimately violence.
Similar to other progressive areas, such as Athens, Ohio, police in Eugene have a fascist bent that makes them prone to misconduct and brutality. I think it is an extension of the Wise-Use backlash to the environmental movement. A corruption culture pervaides most police agencies today, especially with the secrecy that the so-called Patriot Act provides. Police in progressive areas are routinely paid by the special interests threatened by local activists to trump up charges, as has happened to me. In 2002, I won $15,000 in a wrongful arrest lawsuit in Athens, Ohio.
Because they tend to confront the biggest economic interests of their time, which tend to be the biggest polluters, environmentalists through time have been severely persecuted. Big businesses find it is often easier to simply eliminate or intimidate the opponent rather than meeting their demands or face the public ridicule that environmentalists cause. When polluters are called to task, and people see that they are causing murder and assaults on communities through pollution, often the polluters are forced to change at great cost, sometimes even forcing them to close their plants.
Environmental movements are often led by a relatively small number of people, the likes of Rachel Carson, David Brower and John Muir. In the case of Redwood Summer, in Northern California, the lead activists, Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney were bombed. That case also shows a common trend in assaults against environmentalists, in that governments are often either the perpetrators, or work for the assailants. A subsequent lawsuit by Bari's heirs won $4.4 million and proved with a preponderance of evidence that the FBI were the ones who bombed Bari and Cherney.
And still the attacks go on. As one who has been nearly beaten to death by police in Washington DC, when I sat peacefully, I know firsthand how violent anti-environmentalists can be. It is, I believe, an extension of their violence against nature. When one can kill defenseless animals without remorse, any misdeed becomes plausible, including murder. My friends and colleagues have been shot, bombed, beaten and threatened. The academic community needs to help fill the role that law enforcement is failing at and investigate these abuses and hold police agencies accountable for their dereliction of duty at times, and their role in the assaults in others.
By enduring such atrocities and continuing on with the struggle, nonviolent activists inspire people to take action themselves. Will Potter encourages activists to respond with rage against the attacks, and not to allow the assaults to silence their activism. He envisions a world in which those thinking of attacking nonviolent activists come to the conclusion instead to “Never confront the protesters because they know that all social movements we now respect were once demonized and attacked, vilified and imprisoned. And they are learning from history, and the courage of activists throughout history.”
By continuing on despite the persecution, citizen rise from activists to martyrs, who gain the respect of even those who oppose their cause. By cutting through political and social barriers, people respect the courage that is emblematic of the Patriots that founded our country. Through that courage, the environmental movement is winning, but we need to move much farther, much faster, and to recruit far more people if we are to make the necessary changes to combat climate change and address the environmental crisis.
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