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!
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.
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. (http://en.wikipedia.org/...) 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.
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 weakI 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.
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)
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.