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How the Feds Support Eco-Terrorism

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Tags The EnvironmentLegal SystemThe Police StatePolitical Theory

08/10/2016

Both before and after September 11, 2001, the FBI has considered “eco-terrorism” one of its primary domestic terrorism concerns. The FBI defines eco-terrorism 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.”

It comes in several forms, but one of its primary tactics is “ecotage” or “monkey-wrenching” where radical environmental groups sabotage the property of companies whose activities they deem to be bad for the environment (such as the capital goods used in the logging industry).

But, some groups have discovered a tactic in which they are able to not only avoid punishment by federal law enforcement, but also enlist the feds as willing partners in their effort to destroy private property or deprive people of it.

One of the groups that has practiced this method to perfection is the Western Watersheds Project (WWP), which has the intention of abolishing all grazing on lands claimed by the federal government. As detailed by William Grigg, the WWP sends people to search for endangered species (including while trespassing on private lands) in order to sue the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to revoke grazing permits for ranchers using those lands, or to sue the ranchers themselves. The federal courts have been more than willing to indulge WWP in their efforts. In one case, the WWP sued an 85-year-old rancher named Verl Jones, claiming that irrigation of water on his own property harmed the bull trout. Despite not presenting any evidence to demonstrate this, the federal court required Jones to stop irrigating and to pay the WWP’s legal fees. After losing his ranch and being forced to sell off his assets in order to pay them, Jones soon passed away.

The legal actions of the WWP that have decreased grazing allotments have not only made life more difficult for ranchers, but have led to lands growing vegetation that has served as extra fuel for range fires. One such fire, the Soda Creek Fire, occurred last year and devastated nearly 300,000 acres. Ironically, the WWP, aided by the federal courts and the BLM, has helped to destroy much of the habitat of Sage Grouse and other federally protected species, as well as kill wild horses and cattle. Whereas other radical environmental groups intentionally avoid harming humans (at least physically) and animals, the joint efforts of the WWP and the federal government have led to the deaths of both. In this way, the feds have enabled radical environmentalists to be more dangerous than they would be on their own.

Of course, it isn’t uncommon for the US government to provide material aid and comfort to groups that itself has labeled as terrorist. Allies transform into national security threats, and vice-versa, depending on the times and what crises are needed by politicians to obtain more power. On the one hand, selling the threat of terrorism allows them to create legislation in order to prosecute people who have no intention of committing terrorist acts. Ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, for example, were prosecuted under an anti-terrorism statute for lighting fires on their own land (to give themselves a buffer against fires that the BLM fails to prevent or contain) that minimally spread to remote federal lands. On the other hand, the feds have a clear incentive to exaggerate all environmental threats and promote themselves as savior, provided they are given the money and power to regulate nearly all human activity.

It should not surprise us that the federal government plays both sides of the fence in order to increase its own power. Although the FBI considers eco-terrorism — the use or threat of violence to violate property rights in the name of the environment — a top domestic terrorism threat, the purpose of another federal agency, the EPA, is to violate property rights in the name of the environment. Just as in foreign policy, whether a particular action is considered a terrorist act depends on the identity of the perpetrator. Bombing civilians is not terrorism, but collateral damage. Burning down someone’s house because it is on a wetland is terrorism; imposing excessive fines until they leave or forcibly preventing them from building it in the first place (when done by the EPA) is considered good policy.

Therefore, everyone should recognize that the federal government has little interest in protecting property rights or the environment (which are not mutually exclusive; protecting the former naturally protects the latter). Rather, whether it is aiding and abetting radical environmentalist groups to drive ranchers off their lands, or creating anti-terrorism laws to ostensibly target radical environmentalist groups, the feds will do whatever is necessary to increase their power.

Tate Fegley was a 2016 Mises Institute Fellow. He is currently a graduate student at George Mason University.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
Image source: Will Potter www.flickr.com/photos/greenisthenewred/
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