Sabotage isn't terrorism

  Dear HCN,

Your article on alleged "ecoterrorism" is misleading and perpetuates the propaganda of polluting industry representatives who have already co-opted mass media (HCN, 10/8/01: Terrorist attacks echo in the West). The Vail fires of 1998, which are better categorized as sabotage, have little to do with terrorism. Terrorism is "best defined as the use of violence against noncombatants for political ends" (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, December 1998). Those who burn or destroy property are vandals or arsonists, not terrorists.

Terrorist attacks take the form of, for example, planting a fire bomb at a ranger station in Idaho's Targhee National Forest (believed to be a response to a government plan to protect grizzly bear habitat), or an anti-logging protester killed by a falling tree after a logger warned him, "Get out of here! Otherwise I'll make fucking sure I got a tree coming this way" (The Nation, 10/26/98). These people are terrorists, not those who damage property or construction plans. Other media parrot similar misinformation * news reporters were 10 times more likely to label the Vail sabotage terrorism than the assassination of a Buffalo, N.Y., physician, who was apparently killed because he performed abortions (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's EXTRA update, December 1998). The latter was intended to take a human life and to create a climate of fear among doctors, while the former crime targeted property. The reader can decide which is terrorism.

Who is driving this deception? Industry figureheads actively shape media reporting. For example, Ron Arnold was widely cited (ABC World News Tonight, 10/22/98; New York Times, 10/24/98) regarding the Vail incident, and he is fond of labeling a wide range of activities as "terrorism," including peaceful sit-ins. These outlets did not acknowledge his connections to extractive industries. He is a former spokesperson for Dow and Union Carbide, and his current group (Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise) was started with money from Exxon, DuPont, Georgia Pacific and Boise Cascade. He characterized his approach to the environmental movement in the following way: "We're out to kill the fuckers. We're simply trying to eliminate them. Our goal is to eliminate environmentalism once and for all" (Common Ground, Fall/1992 - cited in Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's EXTRA update, December 1998).

Let's end media complicity with industry propaganda, and focus our attention on the violent attacks on innocent civilians perpetrated by actual terrorists.

Steven Barger
Flagstaff, Arizona