Conservatives target the Rainforest Action Network

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After the Rainforest Action Network launched a campaign to pressure Boise Cascade to end logging old-growth forests it came under attack from the company, Ron Arnold and the Frontiers of Freedom.

One of the main organizations leading the counter-attack has been Frontiers of Freedom led by former Republican Senator Malcolm Wallop. Wallop's organisation has close personnel and organizational ties to the Wise Use Movement.

On the 8th January 2001, Wallop opened the salvo in an article in the Investor's Business Daily: "Employing illegal and legal, violent and non-violent tactics, green revolutionaries - led by the likes of Greenpeace, Earth First and Rainforest Action Network, or RAN - are crusading against every consumer, marketer and developer of natural resource-based products. If you use electricity, live in a home, consume paper products made of wood, drive a car or enjoy seedless watermelons, you are a target. These groups are ideologically anti-business and anti-profits and largely indifferent to the salutary effects of technology and prosperity."

Just under a fortnight later CNN gathered together political pundits to discuss George Bush's inaugural speech. Conservative journalist Robert Novak from "The Chicago Sun-Times" commented that: "All 18 left wing organizations attacking John Ashcroft as attorney general received federal funds worth $150 million in the last four years. Planned Parenthood received $27 million followed by the NAACP and the National Education Association. The same is true of groups attacking Gale Norton as secretary of the interior, with Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club on the federal dole. George W. Bush should consider that old conservative slogan, defund the left". (The following year Novak was awarded American Legislative Exchange Council's award for Excellence in Journalism.

In a March 2001 press release the Frontiers of Freedom accused RAN of lying and using coercion to achieve its aims.

On the 11 June, Wallop updated the attack from earlier in the year. In the National Review he attacked the "Enemy": "Combining illegal and legal, violent and non-violent tactics, these so-called "green" revolutionaries employ Lenin's tactical code: Conceal one's true objectives, and mobilize "useful idiots." Led by the likes of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and Rainforest Action Network this cult of the latter-day Left crusades against every consumer, marketer, or developer of natural resource-based products. No producer or consumer is immune. They target people who drink milk, use electricity, live in a home built of wood or consume paper products made of wood, drive a car, take Viagra, or enjoy seedless watermelon."

In fact Wallop, and his co-author, L. Francis Bouchey, also from the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, used the old Wise Use analogy that environmentalists were all watermelons, green on the outside, but red inside. Under the headline "From Red to Green?" they noted that within recent history there was "The lineage from red to green to eco-radicalism and violence."

In fact the other strand of the counter-attack - first take away their money and second classify them as terrorists now came into play. In June 2001, Frontiers of Freedom sponsored an "Eco-Terror" Conference, called "Eco-Terrorism & Extremism: The Costs Imposed on Americans," addressed by republicans, right-wing activists and wise use leaders, who were determined to try and make environmentalists the domestic public enemy number one, although this would change with September 11th. Speakers included Wallop, Orrin Hatch, Congressman George Nethercutt, Ron Arnold, Steven J. Milloy "the Junkman" and R.J. Smith from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. According to FoF: "the extreme environmental movement is endangering lives, harming the environment, killing jobs and economic opportunity, and costing taxpayers millions of dollars".

According to Wallop environmental advocacy and 'eco-terrorism' were indistinguishable. "Make no mistake. These are acts of terrorism and they must be stopped. Ecoterrorists have been allowed to continue their path of destruction and wage war on American businesses for years, all under the guise of 'contributing to the greater good.' In reality, these terrorists are endangering lives and costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars". Wallop and Ron Arnold from CDFE singled out Rainforest Action Network, which was labelled "one of the biggest law-breakers."

Boise Cascade had sent letters to RAN's individual and foundation donors branding RAN as "reckless, lawless radical activists lashing out against modern society". At the same time, an anti-RAN Web site (ranamuck.org) published by Ron Arnold from the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise accused RAN of "pursuing an anti-capitalist 'social change' agenda to disempower every kind of business and industry that supports the modern world". All three - the timber company, Frontiers of Freedom and CDFE accused RAN of being linked to the Earth Liberation Front, which RAN denies.

On June 18, 2001, Frontiers of Freedom, sent a letter to the IRS asking it to revoke RAN's 501(c) 3 nonprofit tax status. A Frontiers of Freedom press release was headed "Test Case Could Slash Donations to Radical Environmental Groups test case". If successful, the press release noted, the strategy could be applied against other "radical environmental groups that are skirting our nation's tax laws". "It's really pretty simple," Frontiers of Freedom spokesman Jason Wright said. "If you take taxpayer dollars, you ought not to get involved in controversial issues".

The protest actions that FoF listed mostly involved the hanging of banners, which according to the think tank, does not fall under the legal definition of "charitable" or "educational" activities. On this basis, Frontiers of Freedom argued RAN's IRS tax-exempt status should be withdrawn.

A tax lawyer specialising in non-profits at the legal firm Shaw Pittman in Washington told the Wall Street Journal that even if the complaint was dismissed it was a tactic that would have an effect. "Reporting political enemies to the IRS is an attractive tactic because it forces the enemy to spend resources and sleepless nights ... Adverse publicity is an added bonus, particularly if it scares away donors," he said.

Rather than retreating, RAN opted to defends its actions and accuse Frontiers of Freedom of attempting to curtail their rights to free speech. The President of the Tides Foundation, Drummond Pike, spoke out as a foundation funder that wasn't going to be deterred. "If it were up to these folks, they would have taken away Martin Luther King's church's status," he said in a RAN media release. [1]

Jim Wheaton, founder and senior counsel for First Amendment Project, which is provided legal support to RAN: "No one should think for a moment that this is anything other than an attempt to put RAN out of business".[2]

The Independent (UK) reported the attack as follows: "Loggers Try To Demonise Environmental Groups As 'Terrorists': "Emboldened by their powerful new friends in the White House, some of America's most prominent lumber and mining companies have launched an offensive against grassroots environmental activists. They are trying to associate them with "terrorist" acts of sabotage and urging the government to strip them of tax-exempt charitable status". The paper called the confrontation "arguably the nastiest environmental stand-off since the Reagan era." [3]

By the end of 2003, Boise Cascade had retreated, announcing a new environmental policy promising that as of 2004 it would "no longer harvest timber from old-growth forests in the United States."

In a review of the campaign, journalist Jeff Shaw noted that the aggressive attacks on RAN may well have backfired. The Director of the old-growth campaign for RAN, Jennifer Krill, told Shaw that the letters sent to the organisations funders had little effect. "If anything, I think we got more funding as a result [of Boise's letter-writing campaign]," says Krill.

The attempt to equate peaceful civil disobedience with terrorism prompted the organisation to organise a major protest outside Boise's corporate headquarters in July 2001. "That action, in my view, is what turned the tide," Krill said. [4]

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