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Eco-terrorism is a term believed to have been coined by Ron Arnold, the Executive Director of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. [1]

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the word 'terrorism' has become a potent political weapon. Since the 1980s, Arnold has blurred the boundaries between nonviolent civil disobedience and more contentious tactics such as vandalism and sabotage - which have on the whole been rejected by mainstream environmentalists - and elevated property damage to equal terrorism as a societal threat. More recently, he has been joined by other prominent anti-environmentalists including self-styled "eco-terrorism expert" Barry Clausen and Nick Nichols, the now retired chair of PR firm Nichols-Dezenhall. (After Nichols retirement the company was renamed Dezenhall Resources).

The deliberate conflation of civil disobedience with terrorism by Arnold, Clausen and Nichols has paved the way for the introduction of draconian legislation, such as the so-called Ecoterrorism Prevention Act of 2004 [1], to ban or increase penalties for civil disobedience protests.


Arnold, considered by many as the 'father' of the Wise Use movement, first used the term in a 1983 article in Reason Magazine. However, the tactic of linking environmental protest to violence in the public's mind dates back to 1977, when supporters of the Marxist turned right-wing extremist Lyndon LaRouche told police that acts of violence were planned during protests against the construction of a nuclear reactor at Seabrook, New Hampshire. The FBI subsequently concluded that the allegations had been fabricated. [2],[3]

During the 1980s, the equation of environmentalism with violence was assisted by what researcher Bron Taylor has described as the "martial rhetoric" of some radical environmentalists, in particular the willingness of early Earth First! activists to advocate sabotage as a legitimate tactic. However, in a 1998 paper published in the journal Terrorism and Political Violence, Taylor concluded that "[t]here is, nevertheless, even after 18 years of radical environmental action, little evidence that radical environmentalists intend to maim and kill their adversaries or to foster 'terror' among the general populace." [4]

Among the eleven principles for a strategic "monkeywrenching" (or sabotage) campaign outlined by Earth First! founder Dave Foreman in his 1985 book Ecodefense, nonviolence was primary:

Monkeywrenching is nonviolent resistance to the destruction of natural diversity and wilderness. It is never directed against human beings or other forms of life. It is aimed at inanimate machines and tools that are destroying life. Care is always taken to minimize any possible threat to people, including the monkeywrenchers themselves.

In advocating for the legitimacy of of tree spiking, Foreman claimed - naively, some might argue - that injury to workers was unlikely because of the safety measures in place to protect workers in large timber mills. Because of the "remote" risk of injury to chainsaw operators associated with spiking the base of trees, Foreman recommended against using this particular form of spiking.

Nonetheless, tree spiking was seized upon by the logging industry as evidence of a violent agenda behind radical environmentalism. In 1987, when an employee of logging company Louisiana-Pacific was seriously injured by a bandsaw blade which shattered when it struck a 60 penny nail, company president Harry Merlo dubbed the incident "terrorism in the name of environmental goals". While Earth First! was condemned by state officials and the media, it later emerged that the chief suspect, against whom no charges were laid, was a 50 year old "survivalist" with no connection to Earth First! [5]

In 1990, Earth First! activist Judi Bari, prompted by concerns that the radical environmentalist movement's support for "tree spiking" was allowing the timber industry to drive a wedge between timber workers and environmentalists, led Earth First! in Northern California and Southern Oregon to renounce the controversial tactic. [6]

Linking environmentalism with terrorism

Since 1990, there have been numerous attempts by industry front groups, PR firms and conservative think-tanks has to associate environmental activism with terrorism. For instance:

  • In 1991 a leaked memo from Ketchum Public Relations, hired by the Clorox Corporation to develop a crisis management plan, detailed proposed responses to a number of hypothetical scenarios, including a Greenpeace direct action at Clorox factory. Among the recommended tactics was the launch of a "Stop Environmental Terrorism" public relations campaign. [7] [8] Download pdf extract from Ketchum's plan for Clorox
  • In 1994, Barry Clausen and Rogelio Maduro, an associate editor of LaRouche's 21st Centry Science and Technology magazine, published a photocopied newsletter called Ecoterrorism Watch, which featured a review of Clausen's book Walking on the Edge: How I Infiltrated Earth First.[9]. Clausen, who spent a year "undercover" with Earth First!, wrote the book after he was apparantly fired by his timber industry sponsors for failing to produce any evidence of "terrorism" beyond demonstrations and minor vandalism. [10], [11]
  • In June 1998, Arnold and Clausen were among witnesses to appear before the U.S. Congress' House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime during its Hearing on acts of ecoterrorism committed by radical environmental organizations.[12]. The primary advocate for the 1998 "eco-terror hearings" was Californian Congressman Frank Riggs, in whose office, in October 1997, Earth First! activists protesting against logging company Pacific Lumber had pepper spray applied to their eyes while immobilised by "lock on" boxes. [13]
  • In 2002, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Nichols-Dezenhall co-sponsored a conference titled "Stopping Eco-Extremism: A Conference On Legislative, Legal And Communications Strategies To Protect Free Enterprise". The speakers included Nichols and former Louisiana Pacific media relations official Kelly Stoner, who was billed as the executive director of an organisation called Stop Eco-Violence. The domain name used by the Stop Eco-Violence website was registered by Nichols-Dezenhall employee Ryan Knoll in November 2001.[14],[15]
  • In 2003, an article written by Marc Levin of the American Freedom Center, entitled "Terrorism in the Name of the Earth: Flush out eco-terrorism money", appeared in the National Law Journal, Front Page Magazine, The American Enterprise, the Austin Review and the San Francisco Chronicle. In the article, Levin claimed that "acts of eco-terrorism" attributed to the Earth Liberation Front were funded by money "illegally laundered through tax-exempt organizations" and cited the Public Interest Watch report Green-Peace, Dirty Money: Tax Violations in the World of Non-Profits before going on to accuse Greenpeace of committing "numerous acts of eco-terrorism".[16]


The term 'eco-terrorism' would be defined into law by draft legislation as The_Animal_and_Ecological_Terrorism_Act which proposes provisions to target those deemed to have encouraged, assisted or financed offences under its extraordinarily broad definition of 'terrorism'.

In an article for Tom Paine, Karen Charman noted that the draft legislation would effectively ban environmental and animal rights advocacy. The Texas bill, she wrote, defines an "animal rights or terrorist organization" as "two or more persons organized for the purpose of supporting any politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals or... natural resources." [17]

"'Political motivation' means an intent to influence a government entity or the public to take a specific political action," the bill states.

By such definitions, the Green Party of the United States would certainly qualify as guilty of eco-terrorism for its various demonstrations and support of political actions to influence government or the public. And so would the over one hundred other such parties in all democracies on the Earth. However, such parties all include change through the legislative process itself and support change through peaceful means. Such lobbying or influencing would seem to be illegal under the Act.

There have been individuals who have been prosecuted and convicted in the U.S. for various forms of vandalism undertaken with an environmental motivation, albeit without to date causing injury to individuals. There have also been groups or factions within them - such as Earth First! - that have rejected traditional non-violence as precluding damage to property and embraced vandalism as a tactic. Many groups - both conservative and from within the environmental movement - have rejected the distinction and disowned such actions.

While conservative groups routinely denounce both peaceful protests and vandalism as the equivalent of terrorism, they remain silent about violent attacks against environmentalists and animal rights activists.

Conservative groups have succeeded in mobilising conservative elements within law enforcement agencies to monitor and investigate 'eco-terrorism'. However, the same agencies have no equivalent monitoring or investigation of patterns of violence against environmentalists.

Other SourceWatch Resources


  1. Ron Arnold, "The Birth of a Buzz-Word: Eco-Terrorism", The Indypendent, September 17, 2007. This was a response by Arnold to an article on the word.

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