The Environmental Movement and the Next Major Wave of Terrorism
May 14, 2014 by Bruce Wallace, 121Contact
History tells us that terrorism comes in waves. Different manifestations of terrorism have erupted over time and, although there is overlap, there is usually one dominant form at any given time. David Rapoport introduced the wave theory in 2004 and many have used it since to help understand terrorism’s evolution.
The Anarchist period, 1880-1930 was followed by the Anti-colonial from the 1920s through the 1960s. Then came the New Left Wing, 1960s through 1990s, followed by the current wave of Religious Terrorism. He concludes that terrorism is “an evolution” wherein successive waves learn from their predecessors and evolve tactics that reflect the evolution of counter-terrorism strategies.
What Rapoport did not explicitly state: if terrorism is a series of waves then the current wave is destined to die out as previous forms have done. Terrorism has always been with us and it is probable that there will always be terrorist movements in the future. That means that the current wave of religious terrorism will be replaced. I believe a good candidate for the next wave is ecoterrorism, and that different groups within the environmentalist movement exhibit characteristics that could lead members and others to radicalize to the point of accepting violence against people as a legitimate weapon in their fight to save the planet.
There is no more fundamentally sacred value than that of the persistence of human life on planet Earth. The advent of nuclear weapons brought an apocalyptic vision never before imagined. It was suddenly possible to envision the reality of the sudden and total destruction of life on Earth. So great is this threat that most people are unable to think clearly about solutions and dangerous, illogical schema, such as Lifton’s ‘Nuclearism’, have become generally accepted panaceas. The illusion that technology can fix any problems created by technology has become accepted wisdom. We counter nuclear threats with more nuclear weapons and the circularity of the logic precludes sensible thought. We normalize the Nuclearism so that we no longer have to worry over the problem: it is solved.
The technocratic illusion, Scientism in Lifton’s terms, is extended to global warming and the claim arises that whatever we do to our habitat can be undone by more technology. We even change the language so that ‘global warming’ is replaced with ‘climate change’ in the public debate, softening the image.
Now we are faced with factual evidence that advances in technology coupled with human action are rapidly degrading the environment. If unchecked our current path will lead to an apocalyptic end to life as we know it. The threat to the most sacred value, human life, we have begun to develop solutions but our response has, so far, been mainly the nonrational reliance on more technology to fix the ills of technology.
In the wake of the irrational a more sensible movement, called Environmentalism, has slowly begun to grow. It seeks to alter attitudes, policy, and the environment by increasing research and spreading knowledge based upon
I contend that within this movement are the seeds of the next wave of terrorism: ecoterrorism.
The word ‘terrorism’ has taken on many meanings over the course of history, often at the whim of those in power who seek to discredit opposing ideologies.
“According to FBI Deputy Assistant Director John Lewis, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) are "one of today's most serious domestic terrorism threats." Skeptics, including The New York Times editorial page, argue that this threat is over hyped as these groups have confined themselves to property crime.”[i] While the FBI statement is obviously false, if serious means life threatening, it may merely be ahead of its time. However, this broadening of the definition of terrorism leads to “…something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, since clamping down on legitimate peaceful dissent tends to foster the appearance of more confrontational, even violent, methods.”[ii]
Although violent attacks against people from environmentalist organizations began in the 1990s, there has been a growth of general violence since the 1970s. Research scientists, corporate individuals, and their families have been targets as well as research facilities, farming operations, timber companies, fast food establishments, fishing companies, and building sites. In the U.S. employees have been beaten with clubs, had acid sprayed in their faces, and faced death threats to their children. In 1999 Graham Hall, who filmed ALF members choosing sites for violent attacks, was kidnapped, and brutally branded with the letters ALF.
Within their writings and pronouncements is an apocalyptic theme that sees their role as critical to staving off an imminent end to life on Earth. Facilities and infrastructure have been the most common targets of attack, but people seen to be aiders and abettors of ‘crimes against the planet’ have also been targets. Intentional indiscriminate violence against people has not been documented although civilians have been put in harm’s way. These are the definitions used in this paper:
Terrorism: Violence and/or the threat of violence against non-combatants and/or symbolic targets in pursuit of ideological goals.
Environmentalism: Advocacy of the preservation or improvement of the natural environment. Most environmentalist organizations are non-violent. To date there has been almost no injury to persons caused by environmentalists.
Ecotage: The destructive or obstructive action designed to publicize or harass people believed to be harming the environment. This includes attacks on symbolic targets.
Ecoterrorism as defined by the FBI: the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented, sub national group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature. [BW: material things become equal to human lives in this definition.]
Ecoterrorism as defined by the author: This paper defines ecoterrorism as violence and/or the threat of violence against people in pursuit of environmentalist goals.
Ecotage and ecoterrorism may have the same goals, but they are extremely different, and I was looking for evidence that environmentalist movements have within them the potential for ecoterrorism.
I searched for evidence of particular characteristics that are common within extant and historical terrorist movements. Apocalyptic thinking is common to terrorist groups, and environmentalists present a strong case for a disastrous end to life as we know it. Violence can be justified when the destruction of contemporary civilization is deemed necessary to fulfill the dream of a perfect future. This future is often based upon a mythical past. The apocalyptic narrative provides historical context, dualistic thinking, and violent imagery. Paranoia and rage are justified and directed. Terrorism can easily grow from this soil. Totalism and paranoid psychology characterize the followers; paranoia is common in the leaders. Fundamentalism and Apocalyptic thought has a strong association with violence.
Terrorism has a long history in the United States of America. Anti-abortion, anti-government, militia, and white supremacy movements, among others, provide a context for domestic terrorism. The vigilante justice extolled in history, movies, and current television plays an important part in generating acceptance of violence for ‘good causes’.
The fundamentalist mindset is common to many terrorist organizations. Associated with it are: the dehumanization of ‘the other’, rejection of alternate ideas, a Totalism of conversion to the espoused tenets, and the dualistic thinking of Manichaeism. All aid processes of fundamental attribution and confirmation bias enabling one to build a fortress against doubt. One of the elements searched for is a shift of agency, whereby the responsibility for violent actions is attributed to God and so relieves individuals of responsibility. I also looked for strategies embracing the use of media consistent with known terrorist groups.
In general, the groups studied do not publicly advocate violence against people. There have been very few ecoterrorist acts. A sense of urgency is found, and for the most part they are still hopeful that science and rational thought will save the planet. But they are increasingly frustrated as they see that environment continues its negative momentum. It may very well be true that if things keep going the way they are going then we will destroy life on the planet as we know it and make the planet inhospitable for human habitation. In spite of the declarations of non-violence there are factors that might lead the more radical members to embrace ecoterrorism as a last hope. Isolated acts of violence against people have already occurred, but are not nearly of sufficient number to be considered a ‘wave.’
The Rain Forest Action Network (RAN): RAN was the first group I studied. The RAN mission statement explicitly espouses non-violence: “Rainforest Action Network campaigns for…the natural systems that sustain life by transforming the global marketplace through education, grassroots organizing and non-violent direct action” . . . “to protect rainforests and the human rights of those living in and around those forests.” They are committed to non-violent civil disobedience.
They’ve been labelled a terrorist group by the government but I was unable to find evidence of harm to people or a threat of anything other than non-violent civil disobedience.
One could detect a possibly humorous trace of paranoia, however, in a Founder Randy Hayes’ quote, “Who was really underneath those black masks violent protestors wore during the 1999 WTO riots in Seattle?” He thinks they may have been police.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS): Their mission statement, “Our mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world's oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.” Their latest video begins, “We are on a mission from God.” This shift of agency perhaps allows them to quiet the cognitive dissonance evoked by the conflict between the law and their unlawful acts. It would serve to relieve them of guilt for acts they commit.
Their headquarters is in Washington State in the U.S. They have branches in 20 countries and their activities are global. Some SSCS actions fall under our definition of ecoterrorism in that they put human lives in danger in pursuit of their goals. They have been known to ram whaling vessels, and they have used limpet mines to damage hulls of whaling ship (in harbor).
Evidence of Apocalyptic thought can be found on seashephard.org. The use of language such as: “mass genocide [of sharks]”, and “Humankind will come to its own extinction,” frame their work.
Animal Liberation Front (ALF):ALF is an example of the more radical, and potentially radicalizing, environmentalist organization. ALF published an apocalyptic declaration in 1991: "The Declaration of War: Killing People to Save the Animals and the Environment." Chapter 6 states: “Liberators firmly believe the best thing that could happen to the Earth and all of its non-human inhabitants is that human societies come to an end, along with all people.” They picture a world in which the extinction of species will alter the Earth’s environment to the point of making in inhabitable by people. They also claim the right to "use any and every tactic necessary to win the freedom of our brothers and sisters. This means they cheat, steal, lie, plunder, disable, threaten, and physically harm others to achieve their objective."
Within the fundamentalist mindset one finds a desire to return to a perfect past; one that never really existed except in a distorted reading of history. ALF, in order to support its vegetarian view, makes the assertion that Jesus was a vegetarian. A weak logical links says ‘because he was compassionate and he could not kill animals.’ This ignores the Biblical description of Jesus as Jewish. As a Jew he took part in Passover rituals including the slaughtering of a lamb. He performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes to feed the hungry. This ‘return’ to a pure way of life is illusory and marks a break with reality common to fundamentalist groups.
ALF is organized as a leaderless resistance with both a legal, public level and a secretive, lone wolf level of participation. This tactic is common in other terrorist groups because it allows for legal funding and insistence upon First Amendment freedoms while its clandestine arm commits illegal acts that the public body disavows.
The Bible’s saying that God gave man dominion over animals is taken by ALF to mean people have the responsibility to take care of animals. Since animals, according to Pope John Paul II, have souls they deserve consideration as any other creature with a soul, like Man. This indicates a shift of agency that can serve to remove responsibility from individuals who carry out acts in the name of ALF.
Although ALF officially states its opposition to violence towards “any animal, human or non-human”[iii], its spinoffs have already resorted to ecoterrorism, primarily in the UK. The first act, in 1982, was a set of letter bombs sent to 3 political leaders and a government official.
In the U.S. “On July 22 , special agents (ATF) and the FBI arrested Walter Bond in Denver and charged him with conducting the April 30 arson that destroyed a Glendale, Colo., business…which sold a variety of sheepskin products…several firebombing attacks by such activists in the United States this year , not only at businesses but also at the homes of animal researchers.”[iv]
In the UK in 1985 “firebombs destroyed vehicles of biological researchers. In 1986 a large firebomb was placed under the vehicle of Dr. Andor Sebesteny, an animal researcher… He noticed the device before it exploded. In 1990, cars of veterinary researchers were destroyed by sophisticated explosive devices in two separate explosions…in one attack a 13-month-old baby sustained burns, shrapnel wounds and a partially severed finger. A wave of letter bombs followed in 1993…Eleven similar devices were intercepted in postal sorting offices.”[v]
Earth Liberation Front (ELF): ELF is organized as many modern terrorist organizations with “no central leadership or chain of command. Each cell was intended to be autonomous and an individual could join or drop out at will. Anyone could call him or herself a member of ELF but no one can be an ELF leader.”[vi] They publish manuals containing terrorist tactics such as how-to manuals for fire-bombing, etc. Their blogs commonly carry statements that can easily be interpreted as advocating violence like, “Only uncontrollable forms of resistance can hope to remain free.” [http://325.nostate.net/?tag=earth-liberation-front]
Much of the ELF rhetoric found on the web is extreme. Self-appointed spokesperson Craig Rosenbraugh advocated the overthrow of the government and was quoted as stating, “revolution… cannot be successful without the implementation of violence… we are morally justified to resort to whatever means are necessary . . .”[vii] They speak of ‘atrocities’ and ‘raping nature’. They characterize their movement in militaristic terms such as ‘eco-guerilla’, and ‘eco-commando’.
Although there is a record of 1200 ELF incidents without any injuries or loss of life, perpetrators were labelled terrorists by the media, local enforcement agencies, and the Federal government. This is fueling a schism within ELF. Dueling websites extol or condemn violence against innocent people, depending on the views of the writers. This is one of the consequences of their vowing to have no single spokesperson. It also marks the splintering of the more radical members into more radical groups that mirrors the evolution many terrorist groups in the past.
Apocalyptic thinking appears in their polemic. They are against ‘ecocide’. They see the Guatemalan government’s treatment of indigenous Mayans as genocide.[viii] On a small scale they see the use of herbicides as genocidal. On a larger scale they view technology, business interests, and greed as contributing to global genocide.
Earth First! (EF): Apocalyptic visions permeate the polemics of Earth First! Founder Christopher Miles wrote, in Green Rage, “The understanding of radical environmentalism... begins at the end, the end of the world as we know it, the meltdown of biological diversity that our industrial culture has recklessly set in motion.'' Cofounder Dave Forman stated, “Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental.”
Joan Norman, writing in the online earthfirstjournal[ix] frames the struggle as a war saying, “Earth First! is a warrior society…” Images of martyrdom appear in the writings also. Norman said, “No, I would rather go out in a blaze, defending the world I love.” They use the term ‘martyr’ for the faithful dead (victims of policy and one suicide in jail) and imprisoned. Mirroring Hamas and al-Qaeda they list, quote, and detail the deaths of those killed (or so suspected) by opponents of EF.
Statements such as “Earth First! will not associate with and will ostracize informants” create internal mutual monitoring that helps enforce group solidarity and secrecy, a tactic used by many terrorist groups. They actually list identifying information about those suspected of informing the authorities of EF actions. Their inflated view of their own importance echoes many Fundamentalist group’s thinking. They refer to selves as ‘world-changers.’
They speak of being “In an instant. . .uplifted into another realm,” as Fundamentalists speak of conversion. Their values are considered sacred, and therefore above other conflicting values. Millennial statements, such as “Out of loss comes regeneration: a terrible beauty is born” show an acceptance of destruction in the name of saving the Earth.
They also exhibit paranoia, a common trait within terrorist organizations. For example, they have accused the FBI of deliberately introducing the concept of Non-Violence to the group, indicating an underlying embrace of violence.
Dave Forman, cofounder of Earth First! stated, “In everything we do, the primary consideration should be for the long-term health…of the Earth. After that, we can consider the welfare of humans,” and “Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental.” John Davis, in the Earth First! Journal, wrote “Human beings, as a species, have no more value than slugs.” This devaluing of human life makes it easier to contemplate murder in the name of the planet. ELF pronouncements from the 1980s exhibit clear ‘antihumanism’. They have spoken against medicine because it prolongs life and overpopulates the planet, they also spoke in favor of “acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) as a welcome palliative [to overpopulation].”[x]
The shift from ecotage to ecoterrorism
A shift from ecotage to ecoterrorism will involve many factors: individual, societal, organizational, and perhaps most importantly, the direct effects of global warming. The mounting evidence of an increasing pace of environmental degradation will validate Apocalyptic thinking about the future of the Earth. Factual evidence is mounting: ice packs are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, sea level is rising, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, areas of drought and flooding are shifting, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.[xi] Health effects due to pollution are documented. The chairman of the U.N.’s intergovernmental panel on climate change, Rajendra K. Pachauri stated “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.” The world’s food supply is at risk. There are already islands that are becoming uninhabitable due to sea-level rise. Islands within the republics of Kirabate, The Marshall Islands, and Palau face their last years of human habitability. These facts confirm worst case projections and inspire activism on the part of environmentalist organizations.
Several factors increase the frustration of those seeking peaceful roads to change. Attempts to alter government policy have largely failed. The general public is expectedly apathetic. The United States subsidizes the production of fossil fuels at the rate of about four billion dollars a year. The U.S. tax credit for wind generation production has been allowed to lapse.[xii] Legislation is often meaningless as funds for enforcement are minimally allocated. Attempts to limit emissions have had little impact. Frustration can lead to anger, and anger to violence.
At present the direct effects are incurred mainly in poorer nations making it easier for the more affluent world to ignore. There is possibly a racial element that allows the devaluation of the lives of these ‘others’.
Attempts to change the minds of the public at large are thwarted by many factors. Scott Atran notes 6 elements that contribute to keeping global warming ‘not on the radar’: 1) these immediate effects are complex 2) there is a tendency to ignore the future, 3) competing priorities such as energy security, global warming dilute attention, 4) the developing world is largest potential source of pollution as they scramble to catch up, burn fossil fuels, etc., and 6) the competing priorities have become sacralized in EU and US, as indicated by the shift of attention from climate change to energy security.
Scientism is a critical enabler. It allows people to ignore the facts of human agency in environmental degradation by asserting that the problems are not real threats because science is capable of fixing whatever is wrong. This fallacious logic supports technological ‘progress’ that continues to worsen the environment. Faced with the knowledge that we are all part of the problem we resort to denial, and individual cognitive mechanisms to ease the cognitive dissonance we experience. Individual occurrences of extreme environmental conditions like flooding and drought are relegated to ‘weather anomalies’ rather than symptoms of global warming. The increasing frequency of these events is ignored. Those who work in fields that degrade the environment must live a “doubled” life in which their destructive efforts are re-imagined as technologically sound modes of behavior.
A great deal of energy is spent in ‘not thinking clearly’ about the problem because realistic solutions carry a price in convenience and dollars that we are unwilling to face. Unfortunately, the unimaginable future is now, and this drives the need for immediate action.
Peaceful demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience are garner increasingly violent responses by the police. The application of the ‘terrorist’ label to acts of ecotage opens a self-fulfilling door to those already radicalized. This over reactive response has historically led to ‘mirroring’ and further radicalization. It is not hard to imagine the more radical environmentalists thinking along the lines of “Why not go the next step if we are already considered terrorists?”
The nature of ecotage often requires individuals to work closely in small groups. Like modern American Fundamentalists they often splinter into small and relatively isolated groups in which outside influence is minimized and inside support is maximized. Group dynamics then come into play so that processes such as competition for status, group pressure, and punishment for deviation can all work to further the radicalization process. While many terrorist groups are centrally organized and controlled, there has been a recent shift to ‘leaderless’ resistance, independent cells, and ties only to a central ideology without physical contact with a leader or even an organization. This is fertile ground for radicalization to terrorism.
We must take into account the values that lie within the environmentalist movement as interpreted by different groups. Some consider their beliefs to be sacred. The Earth is being threatened. All life on the planet is being threatened. The situation is getting worse in spite of the attempts by citizens and governments to improve it. The need for action is obvious. Effective tactics have so far failed and there seems to be no answer. The chance for increased violence grows as frustration grows.
In the short term, as governments are destabilized by the resource limitations and populations are directly affected by global warming’s effects on food and clean water shortages violent groups may step into the chaos to enhance their own positions just as Jihadists have done in the Middle East.
Further into the future, as governments are seen to be ineffective in their attempts to counteract environmental trends, the chance for widespread ecoterrorist movements to grow in numbers and strength will increase. Ecoterrorism may then become the scourge that Jihadism is today.
The U.S. Declaration of Independence states that “whenever any form of government becomes destructive to the ends of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.” World governments, by the policies they uphold, can be said to be destructive to the life of the world’s population, thereby giving the people the right to abolish them in the interests of the planet. How this is accomplished depends upon many factors, and ecoterrorism may become the primary mover over the short and long term future.
The two horizons, near and far, should not be confused. The near will probably find terrorist elements stepping into the political disruption of the first stages of degradation as governments fail to stem the tide and populations get the first tastes of significant disruption of food and water shortages, and extreme weather events. Islamic Jihadists are currently doing that in Indonesia, the Middle East, the Maghreb, and sub-Saharan countries. Already experienced at high-jacking local religious and territorial disputes, they should easily be able to do the same when the first waves of disorder arrive.
The far wave lies many decades into the future and comes after the wave of islamists/religious terrorism has all but died away, due primarily from an inability to effectively deal with problems caused by global warming. The planet will no longer look the same because shoreline and island topography will have changed due to the rise in sea level. National boundaries will be altered by both competition and cooperation over water resources. This will not be a localized effort of selfish national interests. Populations driven to severe depravation will generate large numbers of people who will to ‘do anything’ in the name of survival. A global terrorist movement will arise fueled by large scale failures in government’s abilities to provide a basic level of security concerning food, water, and a habitable environment for citizens. The movement will justify violence against innocents in the name of our most sacred value: life on Earth as we know it. It will be the age of ecoterrorism writ large, and it will come not with a whimper.
We need not go blindly to this Apocalyptic end, but only if the terrorists are overwhelmed by a large scale non-violent movement that supports radical change in the interest of the environment. This would require sacrifices by all citizens in order to ensure the health of the planet. It would require radical changes in the way governments regulate businesses, the adoption of new modes of belief, and a shift from competition to cooperation. Most important will be the embracing of a totalistic acceptance of the reality of global warming and a commitment to rational solutions. It will be the dawn of a new ideology of oneness that transcends other sacralized values. This will mark a great change in the evolution of consciousness for humankind. It will not be easy.
For Further Study
The possibility for the environmental movement to spawn the next wave of terrorism, ecoterrorism, is real. A more detailed analysis of the public and private views of those within the environmental movement would illuminate the potential terrorist threat and provide information valuable to mitigating the danger. When the messages are viewed through the lenses of various psychological disciplines there might be found a correlation between the psychological mechanisms embedded within the movements’ language and images that would stimulate responses in aid of moving someone to be radicalized to ecoterrorism.
Furthering our knowledge about how people think and feel about the environment will aid our ability to counter destructive narratives and foster healthy attitudes that can drive policy away from ecoterrorism toward more rational solutions to the problems facing the planet as a whole.
Resources and Works Cited
Strozier, Charles B. Apocalypse, Beacon Press. 1994. Print
Lifton, Markusen. The Genocidal Mentality. Basic Books, New York. 1990. Print
Strozier, Terman, Jones. The Fundamentalist Mindset. Oxford University Press. 2010. Print
[x] Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy – 2nd/ 7/18/2008 1’8:13 Page 221
[xi] NY Times March 31, 2014
[xii] New Yorker, April 14, 2014