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I hate the game of false equivalence that (ironically) both sides of the political spectrum seem all too eager to play.  Whenever anything happens, there is an immediate search for something, anything, to prove that “both sides do this.”  I have been gratified to see some push-back lately to the fairy tale of false equivalence here at Daily Kos and elsewhere.  In our haste to use the label “false equivalence,” however, we need to be cautious that we do not ignore instances of actual equivalence.  The danger in ignoring these instances is that we give our opposition ammunition to dismiss us and we miss an opportunity to educate others about the subtle differences that make the cases of actual equivalence, well, different.

Recently, we have all watched in horrified dismay as the corporate media relay the details of story after story of a “crazed lone gunman attacks (fill-in-the-blank.)”  This story keeps repeating itself.  We all hold our breath as we wait for the details and sigh with guilty relief when the “crazed lone gunman” once again appears to not be someone from our side.   See?  We tell each other...we don’t do that.  We don’t go crazy and shoot up places.  We aren’t terrorists.  Deranged right-wing whackos driven crazier by a steady diet of right-wing talk radio and hate messages are the terrorists we need to worry about in this country.  Leftists only peacefully demonstrate and boycott.  Leftists aren't terrorists!  Phew!

  Peaceful Progressives showing support after Sikh Temple shooting

Peaceful Wisconsin Progressives show support after Sikh Temple shooting.

Except there are left-wing terrorists…and they do more than wave signs on overpasses and avoid eating Chick-Fil-A sandwiches like most peaceful protesters.  Failing to acknowledge this leaves Progressives vulnerable.  We can—and will—be dismissed in the market of open ideas if we do not recognize examples of left-wing domestic terrorism and defuse those examples with details of how left-wing terrorism differs in significant ways from right-wing terrorism.

I live near Eugene, Oregon, and over the years the Pacific Northwest has been the focal point for a lot of eco-activism as Progressives all across the spectrum have worked to preserve our natural environment from the loggers’ chainsaws and the developers’ bulldozers.  As a life-long bleeding-heart liberal, I grew up sympathetic to the cause of protecting nature and natural areas.  I had my obligatory “Save the Whales” bumper sticker.  Living here my whole life, however, it has been impossible to not become friends with, and related to, people who work in the “resource extraction industries,” i.e. loggers, mill workers, commercial fishermen, etc.  I can see and sympathize with BOTH sides of this issue and the purpose of this diary is not to argue that one side or the other is more righteous.  The purpose of this diary is to examine a couple of examples of left-wing terrorism with which I am familiar.

If the purpose of terrorism is to change the behavior of one group of people through acts of violence by another group of people, then at times Pacific Northwest eco-activism has regrettably crossed the line into terrorism.
Oregon forest
Tree Spiking   In the early 1980s the environmental group Earth First! advocated the practice of randomly placing metal spikes into trees in forests they wanted loggers to leave alone.  A chainsaw that runs into an embedded spike in a tree breaks and the flying bits of broken chainsaw can injure the logger.  Spiked logs that somehow make it to a mill can similarly injure millworkers as the log is sawn into boards.  After an admittedly brief search of the Internet, I could find only one report from 1987 of a case of tree spiking actually hurting anyone (California millworker George Alexander), after which everyone in the eco-activist community, even Earth First!, roundly denounced and abandoned the practice. (  This seems really weird to me because I can tell you that the chatter around the campfire was and still is that tree spiking happened all the time and the loggers and millworkers I know all lived in fear of it.  They remain convinced that “lots of guys” were hurt by tree spiking.

How is this different from right-wing terrorism?   For one thing, despite the “common wisdom” that it happened all the time, tree spiking apparently didn’t happen often enough to hurt anyone and after it (possibly) actually did hurt someone, eco-activist groups denounced tree spiking and pressured their own members to cease. For the most part, eco-activist groups protesting logging turned to more passive methods like tree-sitting and chaining themselves to road equipment.  Loggers find these practices to be frustratingly obnoxious but the only people in danger are the activists themselves.

Earth Liberation Front   There is some controversy about whether or not E.L.F. should carry the label “terrorist group,” because not everything E.L.F. does is violent.  Locally, however, E.L.F. came under scrutiny because one of its members set fire to a bunch of luxury SUVs at a car dealership and others sabotaged some power lines and a Ranger Station was burned down, amongst other sorts of property destruction.  

“Let this be a lesson to all greedy multinational corporations who don't respect their ecosystems,”
they wrote to a local paper.   (  This was back in the 1990s and early 2000s.  E.L.F. is a global organization, but here in Oregon we seem to have had a particularly active branch that shared membership or crossed territory with the Cascadia branch of Earth First!  Eventually the hybrid group drew the attention of the F.B.I.’s “Operation Backfire."  This F.B.I. endeavor was tasked with combining several separate investigations into a unified search for eco-terrorists.
Earth First! logo
Earth First! logo

Through infiltration, wiretapping and interrogation, Operation Backfire gathered enough information to arrest and convict several “eco-terrorists” associated with E.L.F. and Earth First! here in the PNW (2000 on).  One of the most notorious cases involved Jeff “Free” Luers, the activist responsible for the original car dealership arson in 2000.  In 2007, he was sentenced to over 22 years in prison, which many pointed out was a more severe sentence than rapists or even some murderers receive.  No one was injured in Luers’ crime and the total damage to property was less than $30,000.  Eventually Luers’ sentence was reduced to 10 years and he served 9 ½.  Other E.L.F. activists arrested by Operation Backfire throughout the 2000s have all faced similar extreme sentencing issues, some even being threatened with life imprisonment, which has earned Operation Backfire the criticism of legal rights groups.

How is this different from right-wing terrorism?  First of all, apart from a few alternative publications, E.L.F. has been thoroughly criticized and its destructive and dangerous actions widely condemned by people on all ends of the spectrum.  One of the chief criticisms it receives (from the left) is that by burning down and destroying stuff, E.L.F. actually makes the problem bigger because now the owners of the burned stuff have to go and replace their burned stuff with more luxury SUVs and more mansions and more ranger stations.  More resources are thus wasted.

Remember, too, that E.L.F. was the object of not only investigation by the FBI and local law enforcement, but severe prosecution by the justice system.  Convicted members had the book thrown at them and then some in a concerted effort to make examples of them and to encourage E.L.F. members to rat each other out to receive lighter sentences.  They absolutely were treated as terrorists by the legal system, not mere law-breakers.  Wearing the terrorist label in post-9/11 America carries implications that I don’t think many “mad lone gunmen” on the right have had to face.

These are just two quick examples from my own local experience of “left-wing” terrorism.  I’m sure there are other examples where Progressive activism crosses the line between positive actions intent on changing the world and violent or destructive actions intent on changing one’s opponents.  (Animal rights activism comes to mind as being fraught with extreme viewpoints.)

Again, the intention of this diary is not to argue that “both sides do it” and strain credulity in an attempt to prove that contention.  My concern is that all too frequently lately I hear folks on our side claiming (falsely) that we don’t do it (terrorism) at all.  That claim is simply not true.  We are passionate people and we have many just causes to fight for.  It would be bizarre to think we wouldn’t attract people who are willing to carry our views to a violent extreme.

There are important differences between right-wing and left-wing extremism, however and those differences are found in how each group handles its own extremists and how society metes out consequences for the actions of the extremists.  For the most part, those of us on the Progressive side eschew violent actions and we tend to marginalize those who participate in them…much to the disgust of left-wing extremists, I might add.

"What's upsetting is how quickly people are folding and how namby-pamby and weak
Earth First! looks when you compare it to the Black Panthers and the American Indian
Movement, where people have held out for decades without talking," said former Earth
First! Journal co-editor Jim Flynn. "It just makes our movement look weak and soft and
middle-class. For people like me, who have spent years in the movement, it's
embarrassing. How will we recruit new people?" (Quote from Eugene Weekly)
I think it is worth observing that the most recent expression of Progressive activism, the Occupy Movement, has been noted for its sincere disavowal of violence and its strict adherence to peaceful noncooperation.  The corporate media have searched for violence in the Occupy Movement and for the most part have only discovered confrontations manufactured by overzealous law enforcement.
protest at Oregon Capitol building
Protest at Oregon Capitol building
I could write an entire diary (or series of diaries!) about the abuses of right-wing extremists and how the media steadfastly look the other way and obstinately refuse to see them for the organized threat they are.  “Crazed lone gunman,” my ass.  We all know that for every Earth First!er threatened with a decades-long prison sentence for arson at a ranger station there are any number of conspirators involved in bombing Women’s Clinics who walked away free because they weren’t tied to the “lone wolf” who took the fall.  At its worst, destroying millions of dollars of property in a vain attempt to stop developers from building a resort in the Rockies can never compare to shooting and killing a doctor at his church.  However frightening and threatening it might seem for an animal rights activist to splash some red paint on a fur-wearing socialite, that is nothing to the terror and anguish of having your place of worship attacked by yet another right-wing “crazed lone gunman.”

We have a fantastic free publication here called Eugene Weekly.  Mostly it keeps us locals informed about the doings of the local arts community and local politics.  It has a definite tilt to the left, however, and over the years its writers have kept a mostly sympathetic, very detailed account of the Earth Liberation Front, Earth First! and various other Progressive activist groups.  I encourage you to go to the Eugene Weekly website and peruse the excellent 5-part series “Flames of Dissent” by reporter Kera Abraham about Eugene’s “eco-anarchist” groups, their connections to a global network of activists, and the government crackdown on them in the wake of 9/11.  It is eye-opening.

For the sake of accuracy, the next time you hear a fellow Progressive claim that our side “doesn’t do that,” remind him or her that that yes, we do, but our extremists destroy PROPERTY, not lives and they GO TO PRISON for it.  We don't deny that they are organized and we don't look the other way and pretend they don't exist when the government takes action against them.  The next time you watch or read about a right-wing “crazed lone gunman” remember that we have our extremists too, but ours never forget the value of human life and Progressives often are in the forefront condemning them.      

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (21+ / 0-)

    "When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." Dom Helder Camara

    by koosah on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 06:00:10 AM PDT

  •  Excellent point. (7+ / 0-)

    Thanks for the perspective, koosah. Great writing again. I look forward to reading more from you.

  •  Well done, koosah! (4+ / 0-)

    This topic is rarely discussed, so thanks for bringing it to our attention in a very insightful way.

    The perspective of someone like you, living in a part of the country that has experienced eco-terrorism, is valuable indeed.

    Please keep writing!  We look forward to additional diaries from you.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 06:23:44 AM PDT

  •  OK, OK :) (4+ / 0-)

    I'm tipping this diary.

    At first, I was worried you weren't going to provide examples, in which case your efforts would clearly look trollish. But you did, and so it's valuable grist for discussion.

    As you point out, progressives tend to be on the forefront of condemning violence by fellow progressives. When some terrorist who professes RW views, on the other hand, perpetrates some monstrosity or other, you generally don't hear a peep out of the RW. Not a whimper. That's a difference right there.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 06:28:03 AM PDT

    •  Absolutely my point, karmsy! (4+ / 0-)

      We have our extremists, but we do NOT glorify their actions.  I can tell you firsthand that burning up a Ranger Station is NOT looked on favorably by most Progressives here.  We LIKE having the Ranger stations around for when we get lost hugging trees in the forest, after all.  

      I think one of the most disgusting aspects of right-wing extremism is how their side has no problem creating and using their extremists, but then disavows their little Frankenstein monsters after they've crossed some line.  

      "When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." Dom Helder Camara

      by koosah on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 06:35:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Many of the white power groups are also rabid (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ashaman, karmsy, koosah, emidesu, Catte Nappe

    environmentalists. I read a book a few years ago about the white-power movement (I believe it was Gods of the blood : the pagan revival and white separatism by Mattias Gardell) and was surprised to find this out. There is a long history of them being obsessed by their "precious bodily fluids"- Hilter was a vegetarian and the Nazis emphasized "clean" living to dissassociate themselves from the inferior races.

    So many of the violent environmental/animal rights types are not bleeding heart liberals who have gone over the edge; they are right wing nuts who have embraced one of the same causes that many progessives support, but for very different reasons.

  •  sent you a note/kosmail nt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  Good diary, but apples and oranges (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    koosah, Melanie in IA

    The Property/People distinction is great. But there's a bit of misdirection here, because when Democrats say "we don't do that" it's not usually about terrorist acts. It's about the type of lying that goes on ad nauseam at Fox News, which we don't do, and it's about the fact that, historically, we just don't hit back well when we're hit -- see the John Kerry campaign in 2004 and Nancy Pelosi on impeachment in 2007 -- which we should do.

    Tipped and rec'd anyway.

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 06:36:51 AM PDT

    •  That is true, but after the recent shootings (3+ / 0-)

      at the Sikh temple and the movie theater, I read many comments around here and on Facebook basically stating that Progressives don't resort to violence to make their point.  

      I think if we don't acknowledge and address the violence that our extremists resort to then we will be caught flat-footed if/when the next time someone decides to break into a lab or sabotage a whaling vessel.  

      I agree with you, BTW that we Progressives need to be much more aggressive in the responding to media attacks and right-wing lies.        

      "When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." Dom Helder Camara

      by koosah on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 06:56:20 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You're right, Dave, that what we see (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koosah, Dave in Northridge

      on a continuous basis, the lying and conflating and manipulation, "we don't do that." But I agree with koosah, our self-righteousness tends to come out when violent acts happen. And while we don't generally engage in violence against other humans, there certainly are examples of property damage that merit considering the apples AND the oranges.

  •  Well stated. (7+ / 0-)

    Sometimes I wish I could strike the phrase "false equivalence" from our lexicon.  Too often, it seems to be little more than shorthand for "I don't want to talk about that".  

    A lot of us get stuck in a binary trap where acknowledging bad behavior from the left is equated to condoning bad behavior from the right.  What happened to nuance?  There's no harm in recognizing that we have some nuts on our side, and I think its valuable to compare, as you have here, the relative numbers and impact of "our nuts" versus "their nuts".

    •  Their ideology encourages nuttiness, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koosah, Melanie in IA

      including especially disregard for others. Our ideology encourages regard for others, even those who have differing views.

      It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

      by karmsy on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 06:56:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  True. Plus... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        karmsy, emidesu, RockyMtnLib

        Their side is OK with "collateral damage," as the military calls it.  If a few people are killed blowing up a Women's Clinic, that's too bad.  To them that is a small price to pay to stop a perceived evil.  

        I can tell you first hand that around here we have Progressives who feel every bit as passionate about saving the forest and the environment as the Forced Birthers feel about saving fetuses.  I also remember how everyone was horrified that someone might be hurt by tree spiking...and it stopped.

        "When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." Dom Helder Camara

        by koosah on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 07:13:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Tree spikers gave notice as standard practice. nt (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          koosah, Bill W, happy camper, EthrDemon

          Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

          by the fan man on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 07:41:40 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'd forgotten that, but you are right! (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            the fan man, emidesu, RockyMtnLib, karmsy

            The Earth First!ers always announced their actions because their goal was to keep the forest standing.  Their goal was NOT to punish loggers for cutting trees by hurting them, but to scare them enough to at least delay them from cutting until the courts could rule on a Forest Service decision allowing cutting in this or that federal forest .

            "When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." Dom Helder Camara

            by koosah on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 07:52:30 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  But who do you mean... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          koosah, emidesu

          ...when you say "their side" justifies clinic bombings or murdering doctors?  Do we exaggerate the number of people who support such things?

          •  I have sat across the table from a (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Bill W, emidesu, Catte Nappe

            casual friend who "tut-tuts" about killing doctors but sees it as an end that regrettably justifies the means, because taking this one life will save hundreds of others.  She is a nice person, sends her kids to Catholic schools, taught pre-school with me years ago and now is an average stay-at-home mom.  She would never dream of classifying her belief as "supporting terrorism" but it is.

            I don't know what the numbers are generally, but I was stunned to have that conversation with her.  Stunned that I could actually know anybody that really thinks that way.  It would be worth looking at the stats.    

            "When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." Dom Helder Camara

            by koosah on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 08:05:01 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  I have wondered about this too. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Bill W, koosah, Catte Nappe

            I notice the Right uses groups like the new Black Panthers to try to characterize us, and wonder how much we generalize the far right into their mainstream. I do think there is a difference, though, and I find it fascinating that they expect mainstream Muslims to call out their extremists but can't seem to call out the many right wing extremists.

            The founding fathers knew of the mutually corrupting influences of Church and state, wisely sending them to opposite corners.

            by emidesu on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 08:19:27 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Not calling out their own extremists is yet (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              EthrDemon, emidesu

              another example of "It's OK if you're...(Fill-in-the-blank)"

              It's OK if you're a Christian.  It's OK if you're a Republican.  It's OK if you're rich.  It's OK if you're a "real" American.  The list just get bigger every day.  

              It is important that we do not look the other way when "our extremists" do something or we run the danger of being just as hypocritical as our opponents.  

              "When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." Dom Helder Camara

              by koosah on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 08:35:40 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I couldn't agree more. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                I try to consider a contrarian viewpoint when I read "our" posts, much as I try to look for flaws in scientific reasoning when reading health reporting or journal articles.

                The founding fathers knew of the mutually corrupting influences of Church and state, wisely sending them to opposite corners.

                by emidesu on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 09:09:35 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  It's extremely important to point out the (7+ / 0-)

      significant difference in how the government and law enforcement have reacted to "both sides."  Progressive extremists were labeled "eco-terrorists" and their organizations are infiltrated and neutralized.  They are severely punished for acts that basically are property crimes.  

      Right-wing extremists?  They get a pass from the media who label them "lone wolves" and the government backs down from investigating them as terrorists.

      This is the difference we need to highlight.  

      "When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." Dom Helder Camara

      by koosah on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 07:03:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  An article (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        koosah, Catte Nappe

        from Alternet pointed this out.

        The crux of the matter is that RW terrorists often share the sensibilities of "reg'lar Murkins" so if any public official even thinks of considering the terrorist angle, the right throws a collective hissy fit, and claims this is proof that ruling elites want to round up good right-thinking Americans and send them to FEMA reeducation camps.

        liberal bias = failure to validate or sufficiently flatter the conservative narrative on any given subject

        by RockyMtnLib on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 08:38:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Great article! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          The part that saddens me (because I'm a bleeding-heart librul, after all) is that I know from personal conversations with some "reg'lar Murkins" in my own family that when they are pressed and given examples, these reg'lar Murkins  usually agree with progressive sensibilities too.  They mostly love the natural wild places in their states and want to protect them.  They were suspicious of Bush's circumvention of the Constitution.  They hate their insurance company and want a "better system" that helps everyone have healthcare.  Really really.  

          But they are gleeful when the "dirty effing hippies" fighting for those causes are marginalized, arrested and punished.  

          More right-wing cognitive dissonance?  :^/  

          "When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." Dom Helder Camara

          by koosah on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 08:53:26 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Julia Sweeney's testimony about coming out (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            atheist comes to mind. Her parents' first reaction was "It's one thing to say you don't believe in God, but you're an atheist?"

            Poll after poll shows that when you go issue by issue, a large plurality, if not majority, of people, support progressive policies. But the term "liberal" has become a slur word where in the last 30 or so years many people are ashamed to identify themselves that way. I'm almost waiting for people to say "I support a society that gives everyone a fair chance, and that gives us clean air and water, but I'm not one of them liberal dirty hippies".


            liberal bias = failure to validate or sufficiently flatter the conservative narrative on any given subject

            by RockyMtnLib on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 09:57:30 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  The significant difference (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    between mentally ill right-wing murderers shooting innocent people who have no connection with their grievances, and misguided eco-terrorists putting nails in trees should be obvious to anyone with a handful of functioning neurons.

    I think the reason you had a hard time finding examples of loggers injured by tree spiking is because it is very rare. These guys are alrerady wearing sturdy safety gear--hard hats, goggles, heavy gloves and sleeves, etc, because the job demands it. And hitting a big nail, in a tree or at the mill, is not that likely to cause parts to break off the machine and fly around. It just wrecks the saw chain/saw blade/planer knives/whatever.

    Besides, a cheap metal detector can find that stuff easily.

    "A lie is not the other side of a story; it's just a lie."

    by happy camper on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 08:13:10 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for your concern. (0+ / 0-)

    The community stands corrected.

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