Red-baiters target greens in Oregon

  A group in White City, Ore., has opened a broad attack on teaching environmental sustainability in our public schools and universities, calling it the kind of brainwashing Lenin and Hitler would do.

The group, Operation Green Out, ran two full-page ads in The Oregonian, Oregon’s largest daily newspaper, earlier this year. They warned of a covert plot by the "international Green Party" to manipulate our school-aged kids into thinking green.

One might say this is at least better than programming kids to think "red," as in communist. But the ad’s sponsor says that red is the true color of the greens -- sort of like a watermelon: green on the outside, red on the inside.

Operation Green Out is an enigmatic organization. It is not a registered nonprofit organization, it has no listed telephone number, refuses to disclose its revenue sources and will not give out its street address. In its ads, it asked: "Why are political extremists targeting our kids?"

Operation Green Out’s self-supplied answer: "It’s a political tactic perfected by dictators like Lenin and Hitler who brainwashed kids as a means to take over a nation." Green extremists, the ads went on, know that "if they brainwash America’s children they control America’s future."

Just think of it: A vast international conspiracy discovered by a small organization right there in White City, Ore., population 6,000. One thing that really has Operation Green Out steamed is a collective (oops! bad word) effort by several nonprofit organizations, educational organizations and businesses such as Nike to promote "education for sustainability" in the classrooms of colleges and public schools.

Spearheading that effort is Second Nature, an internationally known nonprofit that works with hundreds of universities and businesses across the country. Its approach is to make sustainability a foundation of their teaching and practice. Second Nature and its partners define education for sustainability as empowering society’s future leaders, teachers and business professionals to solve problems facing our planet, to help college campuses save resources, to improve the health and economies of local communities, and to work to build a just, secure and healthy society, with economic opportunities for all.

Seems harmless enough. So I asked Holly Swanson, Operation Green Out’s founder, what could be subversive about teaching kids to respect ecological systems? She told me it’s a smokescreen for a revolution that seeks to transform our culture and our political and economic systems into something that "mirrors communism."

Nike’s normally sharp capitalists apparently missed this point.

Swanson said the conspiracy is pervasive, but she could not identify a university or school district that had been contaminated.

When I asked Swanson for specific examples of brainwashing, I was directed to the Web site of the Oregon State University Extension Service, and a story about the eco-worries of sixth-graders in Corvallis. In the article, 11-year-old Wyatt Moum says he is concerned that when he is an adult, many animal species clinging to the edge of extinction will be gone.

Operation Green Out thinks this youngster has been brainwashed. But the World Conservation Union says species are vanishing even faster than during the extinction episode 70 million years ago, when the dinosaurs disappeared.

A group called the World Conservation Union is probably not apt to cut much ice with Operation Green Out, though. The group’s very name has the word "union" in it -- by definition a collectivist term (red flag!).

Operation Green Out’s $10,000 ads contained no substantiation for their charges. When I asked for corroborative sources, Swanson told me twice that I could buy her book, "Set Up & Sold Out," for $20 plus shipping.

Operation Green Out is, of course, free to market its views even when they seem to promote ignorance of the environment. But by smearing the loyalty of citizens with whom it disagrees, the organization is engaging in guilt by association, red-baiting and trying to chill freedom of expression. Now, you tell me who really threatens American values?

One more thing: Holly Swanson said she hopes Operation Green Out’s work will "bring Americans together." She asked if I would be sure to mention it in this piece.

Les AuCoin is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a former county commissioner from Ashland, Oregon, who now writes and does radio commentaries.