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"Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy."Franz Kafka
On May 18, 2005, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPWC) met to discuss the burning topic of "ecoterrorism." This hearing was prompted by the fact that the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF) are increasingly active and effective in their efforts to attack the property and profits of corporations who exploit animals and the earth.
The committee assembled also to discuss the alleged relations between the illegal underground activities of the ALF and ELF and legal aboveground organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). It met, in other words, as one offensive in the overall war waged by the corporate-state complex on any and all facets of resistance to its pogrom on the natural world, whether these forces operate through illegal or legal means, with Molotov cocktails or mass mailing campaigns.
John Lewis, deputy assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and David Martosko, director of research for the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), were among the "witnesses" called to advise the committee on the growing dangers of "extremism" in the animal and environmental activist movements. I myself was "invited" to "submit" to an interview by the Committeecoercive requests they punitively forwarded to the president of my university (University of Texas-El Paso) and to the entire University of Texas Board of Regentsbut as I was about to leave the country, I impolitely declined.
With some irony, I listened to the live broadcast of the hearings from an Internet café in Prague, the city that spawned Franz Kafka's bureaucratic nightmare visions. Expecting to be a nodal object rather than featured subject of the digital transmission, I was astounded to hear myself demonized as a champion of the "terrorist" actions of the ALF and accused of using my academic position to recruit students into the criminal underground. Suddenly, McCarthyismpersecutorial spectacles, political lynching, character assassination, and "naming names"hit home in a sickeningly concrete manner.
Prague has nothing on the U.S. when it comes to the "Kafkaesque," for, tragically, within the dark reign of Bush II, our nation has reverted to the witch-hunts of the 1950s. Once again, the U-SS-A is in the frenzied throes of McCarthyism. The chilling atmosphere of the House Un-American Activities Committee (where citizens who expressed or were alleged to express dissenting or liberal views were vilified as "communists") has been revived in the Environment and Public Works Committee. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) presides in place of Senator Joseph McCarthy. The bogeyman of "communism" has become that of "terrorism." The Red Scare has morphed into a "Green Scare," where bands of radical environmental and animal rights activists, allegedly propped up by mainstream "front groups," are alleged to be the main threats to homeland security.
Throughout the spectacle, Agent Inhofe led the way. Inhofe has the proper credentials for the job, with a long record of zealous opposition to environmental causes. He opened with a bumbling, mumbling monologue as frightening as it was tedious. During the hearing, Inhofe emphasized two chilling points. First, he assured all good Americans, no doubt lying awake at night in fear of an ALF strike on their homes and children, that the "investigation" is ongoing. Like Bush's "war on terror," Inhofe's war on dissent has no end in sight, draws on unlimited (taxpayer) resources, deploys an unqualified and illegitimate exercise of power, and has zero accountability to citizens or to the truth. Second, Inhofe's fervent goal is to destroy not only the illegal underground forces of the ALF and ELF, but also their aboveground supporters.
By "supporters" Inhofe means those who aid the underground in any waywhether through economic, financial, or legal assistance, or even through "rhetorical support."
"As with any other criminal enterprise," Inhofe said during the hearing, "we can not allow individuals and organizations to, in effect, aid and abet criminal behavior or provide comfort to them after the fact."
According to Inhofe, there is "a growing network of support for extremists like ELF and ALF," and he singled out PETA for giving financial support to both groups, along with yours truly for lending a rhetorical hand. Clearly perturbed that both Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, and I refused to dignify the show trial with our appearance, Inhofe threatened to subpoena both of us to star in a future episode.
FBI Deputy Assistant Director John Lewis made clear the institution's intentions to dismantle the animal rights and environmental direct action movements. While ignoring the real threats of violence that stem from right-wing hate groups, he ludicrously boasted of the resources the FBI has committed in its priority war on ecoterrorism: "Currently, 35 FBI offices have over 150 pending investigations associated with animal rights/eco-terrorist activities." In lockstep with animal exploitation industries, Lewis complained that existing laws against animal rights activistssuch as the 1992 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Actare inadequate to stop groups like Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) who are legally savvy and know how to play hardball politics in the Age of the Internet.
Martosko took the State reaction to direct action militancy a quantum leap further in his cunning conflation of underground and aboveground organizations, and his call for a blitzkrieg on any form of dissent against the industries he represents, including not only PETA, but also HSUS, both of which "are troubling examples of animal-rights charities which have connections to their movement's militant underbelly. In some cases, the line between the direct-action underground and more 'mainstream' protest groups is quite blurry."
This is paranoiac, ghost-chasing, persecutory McCarthyism at its best/worst, based on a McCarthyesque illogic of guilt-by-association. In perfect McCarthyesque form, Martosko collapses all distinctions, sees evil and conspiracy schemes everywhere, demonizes all forms of dissent, and recklessly hurls false and slanderous charges against individuals and organizations, all the while promoting a fundamentalist laissez-faire policy that demands industries the right to operate without government regulation.
Using factual fragments taken out of context, misrepresented, twisted, and distorted to suit his agenda, Martosko mounts a hysterical attack against PETA, HSUS, and me. Using McCarthyesque logic of guilt-by-association, for example, he takes the fact that PETA gave thousands of dollars for ALF activist Rodney Coronado's legal defense and transmogrifies it into the ALF-ization of PETA. The fact that HSUS currently employs a former ALF supporter (who now renounces their tactics) becomes evidence that HSUS is really a terrorist outfit, rather than, in truth, a leading opponent of direct action from within the animal advocacy movement.
I can best destroy the credibility of Martosko by exposing the outrageous lies he spewed about me, slanderous fictions enthusiastically and uncritically swallowed whole by Inhofe. On live TV, before powerful people in Congress and the FBI, Martosko stated that: "Dr. Best is at the epicenter... of the organizational aspects of what the ALF is doing. Dr. Best is part cheerleader, part recruiter. He uses his classroom freely and openly to indoctrinate adolescents with ambitions and simultaneously praises the ALF and ELF... He is a conduit for terrorism to the mainstream." When asked by Inhofe about my alleged influence in the ALF, Martosko smugly replied, "He closes the deal, he seals the deal." When asked by Inhofe if he believes I "advocate criminally-based activity," Martosko gravely intoned, "It is a fact."
For the record, Herr Martosko, Herr Inhofe, and other Brown Shirt agents of persecution: I defend the ALF only in words, never deeds. I work for animal rights only in legal ways, never illegal ways, and I operate openly in the aboveground movement and never clandestinely in the underground movement. Despite your paranoid fantasies that put HSUS on par with Al Qaeda, I am not a member of the ALF, nor do I know or communicate with anyone in the ALF. My relation to the ALF as an outside sympathizer is entirely peripheral, and hardly stems from a command post at its "epicenter," a ludicrous metaphor for a decentralized movement. And although I commend and support the just and courageous actions of the ALF, I have never attempted to recruit students into its ranks. Sorry to disappoint the snarling dogs of denigration, but I guess that makes me something less than a "conduit of terror" to the mainstream.
Shreds of Sanity
Though equally vehement in their excoriation of the ALF and ELF, some Democratic lawmakers objected that the committee's focus was selective, politically motivated, meant to smear legitimate environmental and animal welfare groups by associating them with extremists and criminals, and displayed warped priorities by prioritizing a war on the ALF and ELF over the far greater danger of right-wing extremist groups.
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) contested the politically charged use of terrorist discourse, such that it amounts to little more than a weapon of persecution. "I deplore as much as anybody here these violent acts," Lautenberg said, "but I am against this loose characterization that takes innocent people and throws them in with a bunch of thugs." Lautenberg urged to the committee to "keep things in perspective:
"The Oklahoma City bombing killed 168 people. The attacks of 9/11 killed 3,000. Since 1993, there have been at least five fatal attacks on doctors who performed legal abortions. Eric Rudolph recently pleaded guilty to placing a bomb in a public area during the Olympic Games in 1996, as well as bombing a Birmingham women's clinic and a gay nightclub.
"All of these cases involved the loss of human life. To date, not a single incident of so-called environmental terrorism has killed anyone. It's wrong to destroy property and intimidate people who are doing their jobsand those who commit these crimes must be brought to justice."
Lautenberg thereby questioned the sanity of targeting animal rights and environmental militants who have never harmed anyone rather than right-wing extremistsfrom militia men and neo-Nazis to Christian extremists of all disgusting flavorswho spew bigotry and hatred and implement their values with guns and bombs.
Similarly, Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), in a written statement submitted to the record, raised potential dangers with a witch hunt on animal and environmental activism that gets confounded with criminal organizations. Obama too questioned the rationality of elevating the ALF and ELF to greater threats than right-wing extremists:
"According to the FBI, there were over 7,400 hate crimes committed in 2003half of which [were] racially motivated. More directly relevant to this committee, the FBI reports 450 pending environmental crimes cases involving worker endangerment or threats to public health or the environment.
"So, while I appreciate the Chairman's interest in these fringe groups, I urge the Committee to focus its attention on larger environmental threats, such as the dangerously high blood lead levels in hundreds of thousands of children. With all due respect, Mr. Chairman, I believe the Committee's time would be better spent learning why [the] EPA has not promulgated regulations to deal with lead paint in remodeled homes. Such an oversight hearing could have a significant impact on improving the lives of children all over the country."
Obama cogently questions the rationality of prioritizing an assault on activists who threaten some corporate interests and have never committed violent attacks against anyone over menacing groups armed to the teeth and with a proven track record of violence, while neglecting an endless array of urgent social problems such as the well being of children needlessly poisoned due to government negligence. Martosko's priorities, in contradistinction, are not with human health and happiness but rather with corporate profits, such that his misnamed organization is far better characterized as the Center for Corporate Freedom. It is with some irony, therefore, that Martosko and the CCF accuse animal rights activists of being anti-human.
Given the priorities of the corporate-state complex, for which property is sacred and life is profane, it is a more serious crime in this nation to threaten the profits of a corporation than to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (killing 168 people and wounding more than 500); set off a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics (killing one person and injuring 100) and to assassinate doctors who perform abortions. It is more heinous to smash the computers of animal abusers than to murder blacks, Jews, and immigrants. It is a greater terrorist offense to possess bolt cutters than to stockpile weapons of mass destruction such as anthrax, sodium cyanide bombs, machine guns, several hundred thousand rounds of ammunition, and remote-control explosive devices. Jeffery "Free" Leurs got a 22-year prison sentence for torching a few SUVs, whereas one can murder and rape in this country and receive far lighter penalties.
This crazed illogic is comprehensible only when we consider two factors. First, Bush and the Republican lawmakers who control the game are themselves overwhelmingly extreme right-wing in their political orientation, and naturally relate far more to those preaching fundamentalism, racism, homophobia, and "pro-life" values than those espousing anarchism and philosophies of liberation. Second, since corporate forces such as animal and earth exploitation industries control Congress and the legal system and bend it to serve their profits and priorities, politicians and judges enforce their agendas, whatever they may be.
It is pathetic and tragic that the federal government is wasting precious resources on persecuting activists defending animals and the earth from attack, while leaving our nation unprotected from real foreign and domestic terror threats, none greater than the U-SS-A state itself. Let no one forget these warped, corporate-driven priorities when the next skyscraper on American soil crashes to the ground in a fiery heap.
May I Reproach the Bench?
Despite the small measures of dissent to the persecutory nature of the hearing expressed by Dr. David Skorton, president of the University of Iowa, and Lautenberg, everyone presentnone more than Skorton and Lautenberg themselvescelebrated the virtues of democracy and science. All down the line, the band of merry men praised the miracles that modern capitalism and biomedical research supposedly bring to the lives of all. They deplored the "criminal actions" of the ALF and ELF as abominations unsuited for an open, pluralistic society where supposedly the Lady of Justice wears a mask that blinds her to special interests. No one discussed the corruption of American "democracy" by corporate monopolies, oligarchic structures, campaign contributions and mass media, an ever-growing gap between the rich and poor and hardening class stratification system. Also left unmentioned were the stunning failures of vivisection that held back medical progress time and time again and the corrupt relationship between the FDA and the pharmaceutical industries it serves.
This Senate "investigation" underscores some of the most exquisitely excruciating ironies of the day. While strident voices from the corporate-state complex traduce "terrorists" who use despicable tactics of threats and intimidation, the entire televised charade was meant to threaten and intimidate anyone who would dare question authority of any kind. Every day, the State, urged, aided and abetted by corporate interests, seeks to intimidate activists with surveillance and questioning, threatens them with jail and punishment, and tries to promote fear and terror among those with a strong conscience and a will to protect the earth from violent assault. The White Christians and Corporate Titans excoriate activists who maneuver outside their corrupt institutions while they routinely flout legal norms through influence peddling, back-room deals, bribes, and campaign contributions.
The true criminals never tire of warning that "someday someone will get hurt" while billions of animals suffer and die, species slide toward oblivion, rainforests fall to power saws and bulldozers, glaciers melt into nothingness, and the Antarctic ice shelves crash into the sea as the planet heats up catastrophically to accommodate the interests of the fossil fuel industry. An extreme anti-environmentalist and toadying bootlicker for the Masters of War, Inhofe presides over this devastation as a leading criminal and intolerable threat to the planet. If Inhofe is looking for terrorists, he need look no farther than the mirror.
I understand that my views are controversial and unpopular, but they are protected by the Constitution, a document that theoretically still guides government and social life. In essence, the First Amendment is designed to protect challenging, critical, and controversial speech acts, not banal exchanges at the bus stop or praise for the status quo. Contemptuous of democracy, Herr Inhofe, however, sees it a different way. Inhofe claims that I, and others, have "crossed the line" from legitimate free speech to advocating and inciting violence. I invite him to define the term "violence" in a satisfactory way, and to contemplate the difference between defending the ALF and "advocating and inciting violence," as well as the distinction between advocating and inciting violence. One can advocate violence without inciting it, and so long as that line is not crossed, even advocacy of violence falls under the protection of the First Amendment.
But these are constitutional niceties no longer respected. The First Amendment right to express one's political views has been targeted for a semantic regime change, and is now called "rhetorical support" for criminal activities, as well as advocating and inciting violence. In the U-SS-A, it is increasingly the case that the Constitution is little but a historical document, a political simulacrum eclipsed by the fascist policies of the Corporate Panopticon Police State regulated by the PATRIOT Act and its sundry supplements.
In a sane and humane Washington, the legislative branch of government would be holding hearings on how to eradicate animal suffering and exploitation and deal with the catastrophic threat of global warming, rather than scheming how to perpetuate agony and destruction on this planet. It would give its utmost respect and attention to advocates of animal rights, veganism, and ecology and throw corporate exploiters and their puppet propagandists in the same pen with other criminals who violate ethics and life. It would attend to the real domestic terrorist threatthat posed by extreme right wing hate groups, not the ALF, ELF, or SHAC. In a sane and humane world, the ALF, ELF, and SHAC would not even be necessary.
Dr. Steven Best's book, co-edited with Anthony J. Nocella Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals is available from Lantern Books. It features leading activists and writers like Paul Watson, Rod Coronado, Kevin Jones, and Ingrid Newkirk.
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