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If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front


I recently watched If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, which came out last year. The film follows the story of Daniel McGowan, a radical member of the Earth Liberation Front. During the late 90s and early 00s, the ELF took to arson as a means of stopping companies and organizations it saw as destroying the environment of the American West. This included timber mills, SUV dealerships, and most famously, a ski resort in Colorado. McGowan was heavily involved in several of these actions and took the leading role in burning the offices of a tree farm the ELF believed was using genetically modified trees. It took years for the police to bust open this case (in fact, most of the arsons remain unsolved), but after nailing a ringleader in Eugene, Oregon, law enforcement arrested the Eugene cell. By this time, McGowan had quit the ELF, moved back to his home in New York, and was working for an organization fighting domestic violence while organizing nonviolent environmental rallies in New York. McGowan was arrested, tried to hold out against taking a plea deal, and finally agreed when he had no option. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison, received a “terrorism enhancement” sentence from the judge and was placed in the “Communication Management Unit” of a federal prison in Illinois, where he receives a single 15 minute phone call a week and a brief personal visit a month. He remains there today.

As an Oregonian who not only grew up in the middle of the spotted owl crisis but who writes on these issues (though not this specifically), I have deeply mixed feelings on the ELF and other environmental radical organizations. Some of these people were deeply committed activists, others were screw-ups who floated into the group because they had nowhere else to go. I don’t think arson was a good tactic, but I’m not opposed to it on theoretical grounds. I don’t see the endgame of the ELF resorting to it, but on the other hand, given what corporations have done to the planet, it’s hard to blame them for viewing radical violence as a logical answer.

It’s also important to place ELF actions in the context of police violence. We are beginning to have honest conversations about police violence again because of the awful responses to activists at Occupy protests. The protestor shot in Oakland, the pepper spraying at Davis, and the violence last weekend in Chicago reminds us that the police will use maximum violence against nonviolent protestors. In Oregon, environmental protestors faced this during the 1990s. The most powerful footage in the film wasn’t of clearcuts or McGowan’s discussion of his past. It was of the police doing horrible things to protestors. Pepper spraying protestors who were chained to objects in the eyes. Rubbing some kind of substance right on their eyeball. Cutting a man’s pants who was in a tree and applying pepper spray directly to his testicles. These are the actions that less fortunate Americans experience from police everyday and we don’t hear about it. Why police culture unleashes such horrible behavior on nonviolent people is probably better left for another post, but if you are an activist engaging in nonviolent protestor and you experience violence, it’s very easy to see why you would think that traditional means of protest are useless. This trajectory of radical activism is hardly unique to environmentalists; watching the film, you could have substituted some of the conversations for radical cells in the 60s anti-Vietnam movement or the Black Panthers.

Without question, the ELF did some really dumb things. They were central to the black bloc that took over the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, hijacking a well-planned protest to go break some Starbucks windows. They had no right to do that. Attacking small timber companies just seems pointless and stupid. The burning of the tree farm that McGowan helped execute was especially dumb considering that the farm had been sold to a new owner who stopped using GMO trees. If you are going to burn things, you’d better have your information correct!

The film itself does a good job giving voice to all sides. Marshall Curry, who also directed the outstanding documentary about Newark politics “Street Fight,” made the film; in fact, McGowan was working for his wife when he was arrested, providing Curry with an amazing opportunity. At the same time, he gave full voice to those negatively affected, such as the owner of a small timber outfit that ELF protestors burned, as well as the cops who investigated the case. Most of the other activists were unwilling to talk. Only Suzanne Savoie, who accepted a plea deal early on, spoke at length. Curry managed a brief interview with Jake Ferguson, the ELF member who rolled. A heroin addict and drifter, he didn’t exactly inspire confidence that the ELF ever knew what it was doing.

What really made me angry about the film was the concept of “ecoterrorism.” Such a thing can exist but the ELF were not ecoterrorists. They hurt no one. They specifically chose actions that would not cause damage to human life. When a few members did suggest upping the ante to target individuals, the entire group fell apart as most members, including McGowan, refused to even consider such a thing. To compare Daniel McGowan and Suzanne Savoie to Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh insults the intelligence of Americans. Yet the politics of terrorism are so politicized that so-called ecoterrorists get far more attention than right-wing loonies who actually could be terrorists. For example, the museum at the Oklahoma City National Memorial goes into all sorts of detail on domestic terrorism launched by radical environmentalists but says nary a word about the right-wing writers that influenced both Timothy McVeigh and the conservative wing of the modern Republican Party. It’s a sick joke. Burning an SUV dealership is not the same as flying a plane into the World Trade Center. Burning a sawmill is not the same as putting a truckload of explosives under the federal building in Oklahoma City.

And why is Daniel McGowan, a threat to no one, wasting away in a Communication Management Unit? When he gets out next year, will he still be sane? 7 years of almost solitary confinement? Savoie received 4 years in her plea agreement. For the first 3, she could not go outside. Why? What possible reason is there for this? It’s clear enough-these were people the Bush Administration could make examples of and distract Americans’ attention from their failures of stopping real terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the prosecutors notes in the film that nowhere in the terrorism laws does it say you have to harm people to be a terrorist. Of course–that’s because the government doesn’t want to define what is terrorism so it can charge anyone under these laws. They are a great threat to our already declining civil liberties.

Anyway, If a Tree Falls is a really fantastic, thought-provoking, and amazingly fair documentary about a controversial subject and I highly recommend it to anyone.

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  • CheezWhiz

    Whoo boy, this oughta be good. I’ll start by pointing out that violence as a tactic at best fails without a) broad popular support and b) a goal of the overthrow of the current government. The ELFs had neither in spades. Force gets met with force, and guess which side has more and has no hesitation or doubt in applying it?

    And of course, the whole point of disproportionate punishment is to send a message to those watching from the sidelines. Ask Bradley Manning.

  • Lee

    The misuse of the word terrorism really gets to me because it causes a lot of heat and little light. Terrorists need to cause physical harm to humans. Destruction of property is vandalism, not terrorism.

    • Anticorium

      Cross-burning seems a rather obvious example of terrorism that takes the form of a lot of heat and light.

      • Jon H

        Or, say, smashing the windows of all the Jewish businesses and synagogues.

        • joe from Lowell

          There is a problem with positing these as equivalent to the ELF arsons. These two are examples of property destruction that goes hand-in-hand with acts of murder. The cross-burnings and Kristallnacht displays served to remind people of the bands of murderous thugs that had been killing people, and would continue to kill people.

          • firefall

            but, but, but .. the ELF arsons remind people of the time they were cornered at a party by some beardy birkenstocker and harangued for 10 minutes about recycling.

    • Furious Jorge

      Terrorists need to cause physical harm to humans.

      Hmmmmmm. Would you consider cross-burning to be a terrorist act?

      I do. I consider the KKK to be a terrorist organization, and historically that has been one of their methods for striking terror into the hearts of black people.

      But clearly, there’s a difference between that and burning down a ski lodge. I guess I would say that it’s probably the fact that the KKK has a well-documented history of killing black people in this country, so if you saw a cross burning in your yard, you had a good reason to be afraid of what was in store for you next. Whereas ELF never killed anyone, ever, and so did not have this track record from which to infer a similar threat.

    • rea

      “Terrorism” doesn’t necessarily involve actual physical harm to individuals–the point is to make people feel terror people, not necearily to harm them. Blowing things up or burning things down qualifies.

      And I don’t care how careful you are, bombing property, or burning it down, very forseeably can lead to people getting hurt. “Oh, they were just unintended collateral damage” isn’t any better an excuse in this context than it is when the US bombs a wedding in Afghanistan.

      • DrDick

        I would generally agree with this. There does seem to be some skewed selectivity in applying this label, however. It is routinely applied to leftwing groups, but seldom to rightwing groups, even those with long, significant histories of violence (the radical anti-abortion movement for instance).

      • Asteele

        Except that the Americans are trying to kill people, and the ELF wasn’t. The idea that their is no moral continuum between deliberately killing people, and destroying property, while actively trying not to hurt people is stupid.

        • Jon H

          “Except that the Americans are trying to kill people, and the ELF wasn’t.”

          Yet. Some members did support targeting people. That was opposed, but those supporting violence against people could have gone off on their own, or the faction that supports violence might well gain the upper hand eventually.

          If you’re setting fires, you’re already endangering lives, so directly targeting people wouldn’t be all that big of a shift.

    • DrDick

      I particularly like the fact that ELF, which only damaged property, is a terrorist group, while Operation Rescue, which targets people, is not.

      • Jon H

        That would see to be a separate issue, and ought to be corrected not by giving the ELF the wrong designation, but by working to give Operation Rescue the correct one.

        • DrDick

          I never suggested otherwise (indeed, my post just above this one suggests I would agree).

    • Jon H

      If you’ll burn a building, you might burn it while people are inside. If you’ll burn a lab, you might burn the homes of the lab workers.

      There’s no reason to give the perps the benefit of the doubt. “Oh, they wouldn’t do that.”

      Sure they would.

      • joe from Lowell

        Well, they didn’t. It’s not about the benefit of the doubt anymore. These people were active for years, and they stuck to the property destruction. Like Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the ELF fell apart when someone wanted to switch to attacks on people.

        So, I think we need to think about this phenomenon in terms of what it actually was, what they actually did.

  • I wonder if the Eritrean Liberation Front, the original ELF can sue the Earth Liberation Front for trade mark violation? I remember when the World Wildlife Federation forced the World Wrestling Federation to give up the acronym WWF.

    • Barry Freed

      And maybe the Moro Islamic Liberation Front can sue the producers of American Pie for abuse of their trademark or something.

      • I had forgotten about that one. Of course Mohammed Ibrahim Law Firm (it really exists) in Egypt also uses the acronym so maybe they could file multiple injunctions.

      • firefall

        what, and devastate their best recruiting tool?

  • njorl

    If you’re using arson to send a political message, you’re a terrorist. The risk of inadvertantly killing is too high.

    • Let’s say that’s true. I’ll accept the argument. Would it still make you a terrorist if it was accidental? Isn’t the fundamental definition of the word “terrorist,” to spread terror? If you have no intention of spreading terror, can you be a terrorist?

      • Dan Miller

        If someone burned down my business, I’d find that pretty terrifying even if they took pains not to harm me. Who’s to say that they, or some offshoot or related group, will show similar restraint in the future (not to mention the damage to my livelihood)?

        • mark f

          It seems to me a person would likely take it, and it may well be intended, as a warning about “next time.”

      • njorl

        Guys who don’t intend to hurt or scare their ex-girlfreinds are still stalkers if they follow them around. You don’t get to decide what a reasonable reaction to your activities is. Other people do.

    • Malaclypse

      Well, sawdust is potentially explosive. If you are setting fire to sawmills, you are showing reckless disregard of potential consequences. You are not placing much concern on the safety of firefighters.

      And of course property damage can be about terror.

    • Murc

      If you’re using arson to send a political message, you’re a terrorist.

      By this definition, quite a lot of the Founders were terrorists. Shit belonging to the British government or loyalists got burned down deliberately to make a political point ALL the damn time.

      If you’re resorting to terror tactics, tho, you had better be willing to take the heat for it, and you’d better have the moral high ground. Going outside of the rule of law is an extraordinary response that demands extraordinary provocation.

      • firefall

        Well quite a lot of the Founders were terrorists, quite clearly. And a pretty high proportion of terrorists of all stripes consider that they have the moral high ground (in fact, if they dont, it’s more or less just a protection racket).

    • Zoltar the Magnificent

      Wouldn’t locking a nonviolent guy up in solitary be a form of terrorism? After all, the sentence and treatment seem to have been chosen to send a message/intimidate others–there’s no public safety rationale to keeping a guy who tried to avoid hurting people in isolation to the point of probable permanent psychological harm.

    • mpowell

      I think that in principle, you could make this argument, but you aren’t going to get very far by simply performing an analysis of the word ‘terrorist’. I think it is worth distinguishing between groups who are intentionally trying to kill people, or intentionally trying to cause people to fear for their lives (as with cross-burning) and a group that is trying to make a statement through property destruction while taking measures to avoid personal injury. If you apply the label terrorist to both groups you make this distinction more difficult to draw and one of the consequences, McGowan serving a longer sentence in a Comm Management Unit highlights this problem. Ultimately, how we choose these labels should be based on achieving the purpose of accurately categorizing people and determing how we should respond to them. It’s hard to argue that the label in this case has been used to achieve a proportionate or fair juidicial response.

  • Corey

    “I don’t think arson was a good tactic, but I’m not opposed to it on theoretical grounds.”


    • njorl

      I think it’s reasonable to use it against an occupying army or a brutal totalitarian government. Using it in a free society is elevating your political desires above the lives of innocents.

      • Anonymous

        That’s kind of the point. Even a democracy isn’t perfect. Slavery was permitted in a “free society;” it’s not immediately obvious why a white person wouldn’t be justified in acting like John Brown and committing arson to stop slavery.

        That’s a pretty obvious example. What about when there’s just a lot of friction in the system, like one we might be entering in the US where wealth may hugely drive election results beyond what the normal democratic process would create? What if the courts don’t then act in their theoretical anti-“majoritarian” role but only protect the entrenched, wealthy, interests? Are you just supposed to sit and whine in blog posts about the injustice inherent in the system?

        It’s pretty easy to just blindly say terrorism is always bad because it hurts innocents. We’d all be part of the Commonwealth if everybody agreed with that.

        • Dave

          And slavery would have got abolished a lot quicker, maybe…

    • Sly

      One of the many lessons given to us by the great William T. Sherman is that burning people’s shit to the ground can be a brutally effective means of achieving victory.

      • DrDick

        Not to mention the firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden or the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

        • Bill Murray

          were the firebombings particularly successful in this regard?

          • Malaclypse

            And what do we think of McNamara and LeMay today?

      • Murc

        I still maintain that Sherman, as an agent of the state, was wrong to countenance violence against an occupied civilian population, but I do still own this hoodie.

        (The best part is the back text.)

        • firefall

          of course, it wasn’t an occupied civilian population – the Army of Tennessee was passing through, not leaving an occupation force.

          • rea

            The Army of Tenessee was the Confederate force. Sherman commanded essentially an army group made up of the Armies of the Tennessee, the Cumberland and the Ohio. Union armies were named after rivers; Confederate armies after states and regions.

      • Zoltar the Magnificent

        I’m not sure that the US Strategic Bombing Survey would agree with you–in Europe, burning down oil refineries and synthetic oil plants worked pretty well, but German arms production was not hugely affected (for values of ‘not hugely affected’ including ‘we made more tanks and airplanes while you were bombing us around the clock than we did before’), and while Bomber Command was always hot on terror bombing of civilians, if that did anything to hasten the end of the war I’m not aware of it.

        The day bombing campaign, once decent escort fighter became available, may have helped degrade/destroy Nazi air superiority though.

  • Barry Freed

    IIRC Judi Bari was a different sort of ELF leader and got them out of the counter-productive and stupid tactics like tree-spiking that can harm timber workers and actually supported them in their labor issues.

    • Kadin

      Bari was Earth First, not ELF.

      • Barry Freed

        D’oh. I knew that too. Thanks.

        • DocAmazing

          And she got blown up by an FBI informer for her troubles. Who are the terrorists again?

          • Barry Freed

            If it wasn’t actually the FBI themselves who were conducting some kind of bomb making and disarming workshop in the area at the time, IIRC.

            BTW, I’d love to see Loomis do a post on Bari (if he hasn’t already and I’d just missed it). She seemed to be the perfect union of environmental and labor activism.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, and look what happened to her…

  • pete

    Thanks for writing this post. I also recommend seeing the movie, as I did last year. For me, its best attribute was that it brought home some human issues, questions of doubt and motivation and loyalty and fear. When to stand up, and how and for what, and when (and whether) to cut a deal with the Feds and maybe even fink out your buddies. It was full of confused people in confusing situations, most of them trying to sort out, in the changing moment, what seemed right. Personally, I’d rather spend an hour and a half in their video company than in that of pretty much any elected official (or actor).

  • Evan

    I could be mistaken, but doesn’t “ecoterrorism” mean economic terrorism? As in, waging a terror campaign against a company’s/industry’s economic assets and interests? You destroy their capital until the extractive activity is no longer profitable (analogous to threatening violence against a population to achieve a political goal).

    • njorl

      I’ve always heard it the other way – ecological.

    • Hanspeter

      Nope. Ecoterrorism is spreading fear and terror based on ecological objectives. They generally had economic targets, but the eco is for ‘ecological’.

  • Sly

    If you engage in violence as a means of widespread intimidation, you are a terrorist.

    I’m generally not one to split heirs over the definition of terrorism, because the goal of such an exercise seems to be to recognize the political claims of the terrorist in question by ridding them of a label that, by association, has been given some pretty nasty connotations. But the label has nothing to do with their political claims; it has to do with how they act on those claims against their opposition (real or perceived).

    • I’m generally not one to split heirs…

      Thou art like Solomon, with a few notable exceptions.

    • Heron

      Does the ELF fall under that definition? They were burning property to prevent that property, and the businesses that owned them, from harming the environment; not to terrorize anyone.

      While I agree that the term needs to be confined to the simple, clear definition dictionaries provide for it, it must also be admitted that our own government doesn’t hold to that concept. I realize it’s somewhat tiresome to bring it up these days, but there’s zero evidence that al-Awlaki was killed for anything more than the things he said and the people he spoke to, and the entire “signature strike” strategy is based on killing people for the places they go and the people they associate with; not the actions they commit. On the flipside we have the MEK, which in all likelihood has been carrying out a genuine campaign of terror against Iran with US and Israeli backing for the last 3-4 years, about to be removed from the State Department’s Terror list. Then, of course, there is the continued refusal to classify domestic, genuinely right-wing group with histories of using violence for political intimidation as “terrorists” which Erik points out.

      In a pragmatic sense, “terrorist” doesn’t mean anything about the tactics one uses. What it means is “Someone the US Establishment decides is an enemy”. When people who rob banks, kill radio show hosts, and attempt to assassinate the president as a means of igniting a race-war aren’t considered terrorists, but people who burn down saw mills in the middle of the night after making sure no one is still in them are, you can be sure the term has become primarily a tool of politics, not accuracy.

      • mpowell

        This is an important addition to a similar point I made in a response upthread. The label is not used to accurately describe the actions of a group, it is used to determine how we respond to them. And based on that, you can see how it is inappropriate to use it to describe ELF.

      • joe from Lowell

        there’s zero evidence that al-Awlaki was killed for anything more than the things he said and the people he spoke to

        Back in the real world, we have the statements Abdulmutallab made to the FBI, and in court, stating the Awlaki directed the bomb plot and trained him and ten other people to carry out terrorist attacks.

        I know this is a cherished belief, but we’re supposed to be the reality-based community around here.

        On the flipside we have the MEK, which in all likelihood has been carrying out a genuine campaign of terror against Iran with US and Israeli backing for the last 3-4 years

        This is, indeed, the “flipside,” in the sense that this actually is a statement for which there is no evidence.

  • Tcaalaw

    Such a thing can exist but the ELF were not ecoterrorists. They hurt no one. They specifically chose actions that would not cause damage to human life.

    So on occasions when ETA or the IRA would warn authorities so that an area could be evacuated in advance of a previously planted bomb going off, they weren’t committing acts of terrorism?

    • Murc

      In the IRAs case, that actually depends.

      The explicit goal (and they were quite open about that) of a lot of the late-era ‘we will plant a small bomb, and then warn the authorities and the locals about it eight hours before it goes off’ wasn’t to inspire terror; it was to remind people, especially the british government, they still existed. It got almost formulaic after awhile.

      I dunno if something can be a terrorist attack if none of the people involved had causing terror as any kind of real motivation.

      • Planting a small bomb implies an ability to plant larger bombs, i.e. an ability to use weapons to hurt and even kill people that just hasn’t been fully activated yet.

        • Murc

          That’s true, but if you back up enough everything that has some sort of implied threat component becomes “terrorism,” doesn’t it?

          I mean, I slow down when I see a cop car and make sure I’m signaling and changing lanes, becomes I’m fearful of being pulled over. But I don’t think anyone but the most crazy of libertarians would buy the argument that the cop ‘terrorized’ me.

          At the international level, countries saber-rattle all the time. When we send a carrier group to the western pacific to conduct joint exercises with the JSDF, part of the reason for it is to tell China “we can and will fuck you up if it turns out to be necessary.” When the North Koreans test a nuke, same deal.

          Not all instances of trying to put people in fear or serve them notice that you can do violent things to them are terrorism, or if they are, the definition is so broad as to be useless in practical terms.

      • joe from Lowell

        it was to remind people, especially the british government, they still existed.

        Well, no. It was to remind people, especially the British government, that they still existed and could resume killing people any time they wanted.

        • mpowell

          Well, yes, it was saber-rattling in the context of a civil war.

  • dave3544

    I, too, thought the movie was powerful and thought provoking. Enough that I know I need to see it again before I know what I think about it. It was interesting watching it in the Bijou the night after it opened in Eugene.

    I didn’t know any of the ELF participants, but was on the fringes of that world at the time. People in the movie were familiar to me. I thank whomever that I was in graduate school with a family, so had no time to be involved in any of it too much. But you also identify another factor, they just seemed like people who were very much willing to act on their own set of facts without doing to much finding out if they were correct. So I could, on the one hand, agree that they knew a hell of a lot more than me about certain environmental issues, but also that they were not terribly interested in challenging their own beliefs.

    Anarchy! seemed to me an idiotic statement of disaffection than anything else, but then again as you report, the police and the DA were so intent on turning this into “crazy radical v. Johnny Good Citizen of Eugene” that my sympathies drifted in their direction.

    I know I watched the movie with “There, but for the grace…” going through my head.

  • joe from Lowell

    Such a thing can exist but the ELF were not ecoterrorists. They hurt no one. They specifically chose actions that would not cause damage to human life.

    People who send envelopes full of harmless white powders, made to look like the anthrax letters, are specifically choosing actions that don’t harm human life.

    Does anyone want to dispute that that is a terrorist act?

    • Michael Watson

      People who send envelopes full of harmless white powders, made to look like the anthrax letters, are specifically choosing actions that don’t harm human life.

      Does anyone want to dispute that that is a terrorist act?

      Good Call. Of course it is a terrorist act.

      It’s been interesting and entertaining watching the far left here contorting and twisting as much as they can to try to distance ELF from other criminal labels.

      And that is what they are in any case….criminals.

      But this defense of ELF is consistent for Mr. Loomis. He has, just recently, lauded communists and other undesirables in his posts.

      • Malaclypse

        communists and other undesirables

        Needs moar Juche.

        • Michael Watson

          Yeah, I can’t wait for Loomis to laud North Korea next.

          And why not? It would certainly make sense for him.

          • Malaclypse

            It certainly would, JenBob. Might you have a news-letter where you explicate your well-reasoned ideas?

      • Murc

        And that is what they are in any case….criminals.

        This is true, but it’s sort of beside the point. This country was founded by treasonous criminals. Most of the protestors during the Civil Rights era were criminals, many of them felons.

        It is usually the case that criminals are in the moral wrong. There is rarely justification for cold-bloodedly murdering someone, for example. But criminal methods for achieving political goals, within certain moral frameworks, have always been acceptable in this country as long as history judges you to have been in the right.

  • joe from Lowell

    The info about the OKC Memorial is appalling.

    • Eric

      Yet utterly unsurprising.

  • MosesZD

    What really made me angry about the film was the concept of “ecoterrorism.” Such a thing can exist but the ELF were not ecoterrorists. They hurt no one. They specifically chose actions that would not cause damage to human life.

    I think this is pretty fair:


    1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

    2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.

    3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

    As the old quip goes, when they’re on my side they’re ‘freedom fighters,’ when they’re on yours they’re terrorists… I don’t play that game. I also don’t care if you’re not hurting people intentionally. When you’re buring their houses down, you’re using a terrorist method to strike fear and to intimidate.

    Game over. No mercy. No empathy. I hope he rots.

    In the meanwhile, I’ll do something fucking useful for the environment by continuing to give money to the Nature Conservancy. Something I’ve done since the mid-1980s.


    • joe from Lowell

      I agree that it’s terrorism, and yet, there must be a difference between hurting and killing people, and not hurting and killing people.

      Their restraint may not absolve them of the charge of terrorism, but clearly it’s a mitigating factor.

      Also, they weren’t burning down homes. They were burning down businesses and construction sites, not occupied homes. That, too, is a mitigating factor.

      I’d go so far as to say that these factors mitigate the terrorism right down to where a 7-year sentence, instead of several decades, is appropriate.

      • Michael Watson

        I agree that it’s terrorism, and yet, there must be a difference between hurting and killing people, and not hurting and killing people.

        Yeah, it’s called murder.

        • DrDick

          So you agree that the government should aggressively pursue and punish the radical anti-abortion movement and place Operation Rescue and similar organizations under intense legal scrutiny for inciting terrorism and murder?

        • DocAmazing

          So wee can finally treat Operation Rescue like the assassins and terrorists that they are, and shut down some of the churches that openly support them.

          Let’s get to work on that.

  • Jim Lynch

    “I don’t think arson was a good tactic, but I’m not opposed to it on theoretical grounds”.

    Theoretical grounds?

    Look at it this way. Arson is attempted murder. Firefighters risk their lives each and every time out, because things can go terribly wrong in the blink of an eye.

    • DocAmazing

      By that logic, dumping toxic chemicals illegally is attempted murder, because HAZMAT teams risk their lives each and every time out because exposures are often cumulative and not avoidable despite the best of protective equipment.

      • Jim Lynch

        That is really a silly comparison.

        • Malaclypse

          Well, the chances of causing physical injury to a human are probably far higher with toxic waste dumping. The only substantial difference is that “we have the right to poison you” is not controversial in the same way that “we have the right to preserve trees” is.

        • DocAmazing

          Really? HAZMAT teams don’t have higher levels of various cancers/ HAZMAT teams aren’t putting their asses on the line?>

          You really need to read up on what HAZMAT teams do.

  • Jon H

    The ELF sure helped the earth by burning that SUV dealership. All that water and oil and gasoline and antifreeze and chemicals and nasty combustion products from all the rubber and plastic, washed down the storm drains and into the ocean or groundwater.

    Meanwhile, Hummer died of lack of interest in 2010.

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  • Nathan Williams

    Huh. My reference for the phrase “ecoterrorism” is totally pre-Bush; I remember hearing “The Monkey Wrench Gang” described as the “founding novel of ecoterrorism” in the early 1990s. Does Abbey rate any kind of a mention in this movie?

  • wengler

    On the one hand you’ve got people starting wars, killing hundreds of thousands of people, and destroying the planet while denying that such a thing is possible.

    On the other hand you’ve got some burned out SUVs.

    One of these groups is terrorists and one of them controls the world.

  • Heron

    “It’s clear enough-these were people the Bush Administration could make examples of and distract Americans’ attention from their failures of stopping real terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

    Can we really say the people we ended up fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are terrorists? If you invade someone’s State, destroy its government, start walking around their streets armed, start killing and kidnapping people in the night, and then those people decide to respond to your violence with their own, are they really terrorists? I find it pretty ridiculous to call someone who would never think of or be able to commit violence against USians, if not for the fact that they are walking around killing people and blowing shit up in his neighborhood, a “terrorist”.

    • joe from Lowell

      If you invade someone’s State, destroy its government, start walking around their streets armed, start killing and kidnapping people in the night, and then those people decide to respond to your violence with their own, are they really terrorists?

      Depends on what the highlighted phrase means.

      Terrorism is a tactic, and merits of the cause for which it is being employed are irrelevant. The notion that something is, or is not, terrorism based on how sympathetic one finds their political goals is an error that people of good will should be pushing back against, not furthering.

      • Malaclypse

        I’d also argue that terrorism is a tactic employed against civilians, not against the military.

        • joe from Lowell

          There can be terrorism that target military personnel. There were some cases of lynchings of federal troops during Reconstruction. Bombings of recruiting offices. This examples are quite different from planting a bomb to blow up an armored vehicle full of troops in a war zone.

          • Malaclypse

            I’d argue that lynching prisoners, while a war crime, is not terrorism. And recruiting offices are filled with civilians.

            • joe from Lowell

              During Reconstruction. Not prisoners, but the troops sent down to enforce federal policy.

              And recruiting offices are filled with civilians.

              Unless the military/civilian distinction is entirely semantic, this is a distinction without a difference. What if the “civilian” has signed his first name but not his last? How about the last letter of his last name?

              The Pentagon is full of people who are classified as “civilian employees,” too, but it is clearly a military target.

        • DrDick

          I would agree with this, though the scholarly community is a bit divided on this issue.

      • Heron

        SO then you think the entire US military is comprised of terrorists? We continue to use landmines-the original Improvised Explosive Device first encountered by Sherman in his march to the sea- in Korea, leading Korean civilians to fear approaching the boarder, and our drone campaigns in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are unpredictable, target individuals not involved immediately in combat, and -given the reactions against those campaigns in the societies at question- unquestionably spread terror among the populace. In what way do these US military actions fail to meet your standard of a tactic meant to cause fear?

        As to my comment, my point is two-fold; First, that a soldier in an occupation or warzone expects to be attacked and to attack others(that’s why they’re there after all) making the classification of attacks upon them as “terrorism” seem little more than a legalism to justify punishing their attackers outside of the Geneva Conventions. Secondly that a person committing violent acts exclusively against an invading military force for the purpose of killing them is obviously not committing them specifically to make those soldiers afraid, or to influence anyone’s political behavior. If intent is what defines terrorism, then what level of intent are we going to count? Immediate? Ultimate? Or are we rather just going to call anything that potentially could frighten someone “terrorism”, making the term even more meaningless than our gov’s current politicized use has already rendered it?

        • joe from Lowell

          What the hell are you talking about? What does anything you wrote have to do with anything I wrote.

          “Civilians can’t approach the DMZ because there are landmines” means “Everyone in the US military is a terrorist?”

          “Civilians can’t approach the DMZ because of landmines” is supposed to demonstrate the US military is targeting civilians?

          “Civilians are accidently killed in military strikes” is supposed to demonstrate that the military is targeting civilians for the purpose of terrorizing a civilian population?

          Your entire first paragraph is nonsensical babble, and the second is so obvious and uncontroversial as to make the word “trite” seem inadequate. I don’t see what either one is supposed to have to do with anything I wrote.

  • Grammar Much?

    Pepper spraying protestors who were chained to objects in the eyes.

    What sort of objects were chained in their eyes?

  • Hovde

    And let’s not forget the most important practical lesson of the film-If someone with whom you used to engage in illegal activity just happens to run into you and wants to talk about the old days, don’t.

  • JL

    Even though this thread turned into a bunch of wankery about the definition of terrorism (and I don’t really agree with yours – I would consider, say, anti-abortion protesters who firebomb empty clinics at night to be terrorists), I’d like to thank you for the post. I spent Friday-Monday being a protest medic in Chicago. The discussion of police violence is important.

    Personally, I really don’t like violence and most kinds of property destruction as forms of protest (some on moral grounds, some on purely tactical grounds). Even when they’re meaningless in any reasonable look at the larger context – a few people throwing empty plastic water bottles at cops, for instance, is meaningless in comparison to mass beatings of protesters by cops in the streets – they skew the narrative. It becomes all about how the protesters were “violent” and there was a “clash” or a “riot”. It adds fuel to a fire that doesn’t need feeding, while generally not accomplishing anything. And it can lead to accidental casualties (of bystanders, that sort of thing).

    I also, however, don’t much care for people who sit on the sidelines and declare protests or protester complaints of excessive force invalid because somebody spray-painted a building wall or threw a water bottle. Or people who equate protective equipment like goggles or helmets with violence.

    There WAS an instance of property damage that allegedly happened in Chicago that I’d normally oppose but make an exception for in this case. A police van accelerated through a marching crowd and ran over a protester (who fortunately will live), paused momentarily, and then attempted to drive off. I was around 100 feet away at the time. The Chicago police have been claiming that somebody slashed the van’s tires after the hit-and-run. Frankly, I consider stopping the van from continuing on, without hurting any people in the process, a good thing.

    I’ve got stories. Luckily for me, I didn’t get hit with a baton or arrested or end up with any broken bones. Not all the medics were so lucky.

    • Heron

      It becomes all about how the protesters were “violent” and there was a “clash” or a “riot”. It adds fuel to a fire that doesn’t need feeding, while generally not accomplishing anything.

      The media will almost always say that about protestors, regardless of what actually happened. There are still people today who blame the people killed at Penn State for the shootings. They even said it about the Occupy Wall Street crowd, and those were people they could actually take a 5-15 minute walk and go see the behavior of first hand. I’m not saying this to justify violent protest, in fact I agree with you that it doesn’t accomplish anything, but the cops will bash your head in because they want, and have been ordered, to bash your head in -not because you did anything to deserve it- and the media is going to justify what the cops did by painting you as the villain because that’s what they’re paid to do, and because going against the story the folks in power want them to tell will get them uninvited from those friendly press-lunches they enjoy so much.

      • JL

        Oh yeah, I totally get what you’re saying (and I’m an Occupy medic as well as a general protest medic, so I’ve seen the phenomenon you’re talking about firsthand). I just think it makes the effect even worse when they actually have images and video of vandalism and violence. What got reported from Occupy Congress? The fool (provocateur?) who tossed a smoke bomb onto the White House lawn (thereby causing a stampede among protesters who thought they were being tear gassed and giving some poor guy an asthma attack – I was there too). What got reported from Occupy Oakland’s 1/28 Move-In Day? Images of the damage at Oakland City Hall. The narrative will be skewed no matter what, but better in most cases not to help the skewing along.

        There’s been a lot of blather coming out of Chicago about a police officer being stabbed in the leg during the police attack after the CANG8/IVAW march (which I was there for). I have no idea how accurate this is, whether the stabbing was deliberate or accidental (I saw at least one jaggedly broken sign pole in the chaos that could have cut someone), what. But what I’m largely NOT hearing from the mainstream media are stories about all the wounded protesters.

        By Penn State, do you mean Kent State, or did something happen at Penn State that I don’t know about?

  • Dave

    Violence is great, when you have enough of it to actually succeed. Crush your enemies, drive them before you, hear the lamentations of their significant others. Establish a revolutionary new order, pure in the crystalline perfection of your will. History will only record that you won, and not what awful compromises were necessary along the way.

    But if you can’t realistically do that, shut the fuck up and engage with civil society.

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