Monday, May 09, 2011
Cutting Through the Fog of Fear: The Green Scare and Beyond
Review of Green Is The New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege by Will Potter (City Lights Books, 302 pages, 2011)
The American Civil Liberties Union did not oppose the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Let me repeat that: the American Civil Liberties Union did not oppose the heinous Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act when the legislation was getting rammed through Congress in late 2006.
When I was reminded of that fact while reading Will Potter’s new book, Green Is The New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, I had to take a deep breath and tell myself that the ACLU is a mainstream organization that worries too much about sustaining its ability to raise funds and often backs away from staunchly defending civil liberties, the principle on which it supposedly was founded.
Let me explain why the ACLU and all freedom-loving people should have publicly and actively opposed AETA. Well, I’ll let Potter, an expert on AETA, explain why the ACLU should have opposed the bill. Testifying before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security in May 2006, Potter stated:
“Public fears of terrorism since the tragedy of September 11th should not be exploited to push a political agenda. I urge you to reject this bill and ensure that limited antiterrorism resources are used to protect national security and human life, not profits.”
AETA was a new version of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992, legislation that gave birth to the so-called crime of “animal enterprise terrorism.” AETA amplified AEPA by extending the range of legal prosecution of activists, updating the law to cover Internet protest campaigns, and enforcing stiffer penalties for “terrorist” actions. It made it a criminal offense to interfere not only with so-called “animal enterprises” directly, but with affiliated parties such as insurance companies, law firms, and investment houses that do business with them.
AETA, introduced partly in response to the successful campaign of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, also expanded the law to include interfering with “any property of a person or entity having a connection to, relationship with, or transactions with an animal enterprise.”
In Green Is The New Red, Potter writes that when the ACLU proclaims, “The ACLU does not oppose this bill,” as it did with AETA, “it’s like a bank security guard turning his back with the vault’s doors swung wide.” In the case of AETA, many lawmakers took the ACLU’s proclamation and ran with it. Both Republicans and Democrats rushed en masse to vote in favor of the anti-civil liberties legislation.
“The silence of the ACLU gave the green light to the Green Scare,” Potter contends.
The ACLU’s stance on AETA, Potter writes, could be viewed as an example of history repeating itself. In 1940, the ACLU leadership passed a resolution barring communists from top positions and voted to remove Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from the board because she was a member of the Communist Party. Not only was the ACLU barring communists, some ACLU leaders even supplied documents on the group’s activities to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
The National Lawyers Guild, on the other hand, did not accommodate the government’s demands during the Red Scare. Most of the attorneys in key Red Scare court cases were NLG members, Potter writes. “It continues to do so today. National Lawyers Guild members have been representing ‘eco-terrorists’ in court, and the guild’s executive director, Heidi Boghosian, has firmly positioned the organization on-record against the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, the FBI’s ‘Operation Backfire,’ and the broader campaign to persecute animal rights and environmental activists,” Potter states.
When Congress passed both AEPA and AETA, lawmakers were following the orders of industries that were growing tired of environmental and animal rights activists getting away with using legal means to cut into the profits of their member companies. So, the corporations instructed lawmakers to pass designer legislation that would curtail the freedoms of their opponents, branding them with the “terrorist” label.
It has been demonstrated throughout U.S. history that Congress and state legislatures are wholly owned subsidiaries of Corporate America. Green Is The New Red, published by City Lights Books, looks at a relatively recent period of U.S. history and demonstrates how the biomedical, corporate farming and energy industries are succeeding in getting laws passed that allow their opponents to be deemed “terrorists” and then handed lengthy prison sentences, while the companies engaging in the real “eco-terrorism” get to continue destroying the earth and torturing animals.
Green Is The New Red explores much of the same ground as Muzzling A Movement, attorney Dara Lovitz‘s in-depth examination of the government’s legal case (or lack of a case) against SHAC and the passage of AETA. Both books are written in a clear and straightforward writing style. Where the two books differ is in Potter’s rich detail about the actions of environmental and animal rights activists. Unlike Lovitz’s legal analysis and references to previous court opinions, Potter writes in a more intimate, first person point of view. He provides details of his contacts and friendships with some of the people who were getting rounded up in the government’s Green Scare campaign.
Anybody who has followed Potter’s “Green Is The New Red” website through the years will recognize many of the Green Scare cases and names that he mentions in the book. But the book is not a collection of essays or articles that you’ve already read on websites or in academic journals. It’s a tightly woven, 250-page narrative (not including its comprehensive bibliography, index and acknowledgements) that, along with analyzing the legislation and court cases, offers an inside look at some of the more daring actions carried out by environmental and animal rights activists.
Potter also describes his own experience with the Green Scare, when in 2002 FBI agents sought to intimidate him for distributing leaflets in a Chicago suburb, near the home of an executive with March Inc., an insurance company for Huntington Life Sciences, the animal testing lab. FBI agents visited his home in Chicago and told him they’d put him on a “domestic terrorist list” if he didn’t provide information about the people who were leafleting with him. Potter refused to provide the FBI agents with any information, but the encounter spooked him. And yet, it also opened his eyes to the close relationship between the state apparatus and corporations.
“I do not know it right now, but this experience will mark the beginning of both a personal and a political journey,” Potter writes. “After the initial fear subsides, I will become obsessed with finding out why I would be targeted as a terrorist for doing nothing more than leafleting.”
And that experience in Chicago sent Potter on his journey as an investigative journalist into the shadowy world of the Green Scare.
Potter spends many pages on the life and actions of Daniel McGowan, one of the activists caught up in the Green Scare dragnet who is now imprisoned in a communication management unit at the U.S. penitentiary in Marion, Ind. The federal judge in McGowan’s case, Clinton appointee Ann Aiken, applied a “terrorism enhancement” to his sentence. “Terrorism enhancement” is a measure that allows judges to dramatically increase a person’s sentence if his or her offense “involved, or was intended to promote, a federal crime of terrorism,” as defined by Congress. Unrelated to AEPA or AETA, the “terrorism enhancement” provision emerged from the Effective Death Penalty and Anti-Terrorism Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996.
Potter is clearly the anti-Daniel McGowan. As a professional journalist—and one who specializes in legal and legislative issues—Potter tries to remain as detached as possible when he writes. He steers clear of emotion in his reporting on the Green Scare. He is neither a cheerleader nor a firebrand. McGowan, on the other hand, “is articulate and well read, but on some issues he becomes fervid,” Potter writes. “He does not shy away from words like fascism, patriarchy, ecocide.”
Somehow, Potter is able to manage his emotions when he writes about case after case in which activists are being labeled a “terrorist” or being sentenced to years in prison for petty crimes or actions in which no one was injured. This level of detachment allows him to perform a valuable service to the activists, many of whom he admires. His writings, including Green Is the New Red, are an honest assessment, warts and all, of the tactics, strategies and goals of the environmental and animal rights movements.
In Green Is the New Red, Potter worries that he might be doing more harm than good by writing and speaking about the government’s campaign against activists. “The most dangerous consequence of this terrorism rhetoric is fear, so does raising public awareness just make more people afraid?” he asks. “As someone who cares deeply about these issues, I’ve wondered if I’m just doing the job of the government and corporations for them by spreading fear.”
But activists, both aboveground and underground, need truth-seekers like Will Potter. Ignoring the crackdown on environmental and animal rights activists will not make the problem go away, Potter writes. “The best way to cut through the fog of fear is to shine a light directly on the source,” he says.
By immersing himself in the issue since the day the FBI visited him in Chicago and through his skills as a newshound, Potter is now a leading expert on the government’s crackdown on environmental and animal rights activists. But in Green Is the New Red, he does more than report on the last 15 years of the movement. Potter offers words of wisdom. Perhaps his most salient words are the ones he saves for near the end of the book when he writes:
“Through it all, one thing must be remembered about the activists labeled terrorists: they are in good company. Many of the radicals we revere today were feared and vilified in their time.”
Review by Mark HandShare