“Eco-terrorism” was a term developed by the FBI out of the necessity to label and persecute the radical and violent actions of several individuals and groups of activists standing up for the environment.
The FBI defines an “eco-terrorist” as “as the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.”
Between the 70’s and the early 90’s, groups such as Earth Liberation Front and Earth First! were putting innocent lives at risk and causing millions of dollars of damage to car companies and mills across the country and it needed to be stopped.
While at first it seemed that these efforts to combat eco-terrorism were a step in the right direction, a way to prevent senseless damage and injuries as well as a promotion of peaceful activism, today we can see a clear abuse of these laws and labels by the government.
John Robbins states in his 2011 Huffington Post article that, “More than a few public officials have been labeling as ‘terrorists’ people whose beliefs and activities threaten the status quo. If Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mahatma Gandhi were alive today, would they find themselves prosecuted as terrorists?”
Robbins’ suggestions here may be frighteningly plausible. The FBI has now labelled eco-terrorists as the biggest domestic terror threat to United States (FoxNews).
Because of the FBI’s hyper focus on these cases of “eco-terrorism”, many peaceful and innocent people have been wrongly convicted in the government’s ceaseless efforts to protect some of our nation’s biggest industries.
Robbins’ article discusses the corrupt nature surrounding the case of Eric McDavid, a young man from California who was coerced by an undercover FBI agent into “plotting acts of terrorism.” Prior to this case, McDavid has been a lifelong peacekeeper, understanding how to mediate arguments and always doing his best not to hurt any living creatures.
The undercover agent strung McDavid along as he fell deeper and deeper in love with her and followed her lead as she provided him and some fellow environmental activists with instructions on how to build bombs, funded their efforts and continually convinced them that it was necessary for the cause, even when they had second thoughts and did not want to go through with the plan.
McDavid was convicted of eco-terrorism before any plans were ever carried out and held without bail – even though this was not the regular for a crime of this nature – and kept in solitary confinement for two years until his trial.
At the trial he was found guilty and sentenced to almost 20 years in prison for his crimes – longer than most rapists and assaulters. The jury even filed a formal complaint after the trial, claiming that they had asked for clarification as to whether or not Anna (the FBI agent who coerced them) had been an government employee. They were informed that she was not a government agent, an answer that had caused them to switch their decision to guilty.
Cases like McDavid’s are not uncommon in the world of environmental activism.
In 2007 Briana Waters was falsely accused of eco terrorism and brought to trial where the FBI provided doctored evidence that placed her at the scene of an arson when there was other evidence proving she couldn’t have been there at all. The FBI was challenged to bring forth the original reports from the time of the arrests, but they refused (East Bay).
Will Potter was arrested for handing out leaflets on the issues of animal testing in 2002. While his charges were dismissed, he was approached by FBI agents shortly after who told him that he would have to spy on other activists or they would make sure that he would be put on an FBI list and labelled a terrorist. Listen to his TedTalk here.
Through the Ag-gag laws, the government has attempted to target peaceful journalism techniques of acquiring evidence through undercover investigation (the same way that the FBI has been acquiring evidence in these eco-terrorism tactics).
Now, one who records evidence of what is going on in animal facilities without the explicit approval of a business owner may be facing charges similar to those of the accused eco-terrorists, and that’s just not constitutional.