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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Thursday, May 29, 2003
Defining Terrorism Down

Labelling opposition to the right wing agenda as "terrorism" is becoming a common theme, both in law and spin, and it is likely to get worse. The Volokh Conspiracy notes a proposed law in Texas (where else) designed to criminalize environmental activism. The bill is quite specific in its intent to target political activity: "`Animal rights or ecological terrorist organization` means 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 an activity involving natural resources. `Political motivation` means an intent to influence a overnmental entity or the public to take a specific political action."

Advocates are equally open about the purpose of the law and the spin being used to support it:

[Advocate Mike Flynn claims] the language separates violent criminal actions from what some legislators see as less serious offenses. "The fact that you are brought up on trespassing charges is not same as if you are convicted of undertaking a terrorist act," Flynn explains.

"When these incidents come up, the local DA [District Attorney] might not prosecute the violation. He might treat it like some high schoolers caught in the mall after dark. We believe they are more serious and deserve a more serious response....Let's all agree that these people are terrorists and move on."

Flynn is less honest about the scope of the bill:

The bill's language is specifically intended to separate the volunteer who writes a check to the local Sierra Club or other environmental organization from someone who would commit acts of violence, Flynn says.

In fact, the bill makes no real distinction between persons who commit violent acts and those committing non-violent civil disobedience. The claim that the "language is specifically intended to separate" them is a blatant lie - in fact the language is explicitly intended to eliminate that distinction. The following are defined as "ecological terrorism":

  • Obstructing the use of an animal or a natural resource owned by the individual, if the obstruction is for a period of time sufficient to significantly decrease the value or enjoyment of the animal or the natural resource to the individual;
  • physically disrupting the operation of [an animal] facility;

Numerous non-violent activities - tree-sitting, sidewalk blocking, road blocking, etc, clearly come within the scope of the bill. Even a labor union striking against a mining or forestry operation would arguably be included.

The bill is equally explicit in including any person involved with "ecological terrorism" as a criminal: "A person commits an offense if the person knowingly provides financial support, resources, or other assistance to an animal rights or ecological terrorism organization for the purpose of assisting the organization in carrying out an act described by Subsection (b)." This would almost have to mean that any person who assists in any way the activities of a group which carries out any acts of environmental civil disobedience could be charged with terrorism.

Unless I'm mistaken, that would include the Sierra Club, which I believe does sometimes support sit-down blockages of logging roads and other non-violent but illegal protests. And since there is no doubt that the Club does engage in "politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals or an activity involving natural resources", the Sierra Club is plainly a terrorist organization under the terms of this law. Any environmental group which engaged in 99% legal advocacy and 1% non-violent disobedience would at the very least be forced to keep 2 completely separate sets of accounts, facilities, etc. Otherwise, anybody who wrote a check, donated equipment, or otherwise assisted the group knowing that some part of the assistance could potentially contribute to the illegal activities would become a criminal.

The bill also provides for violators to be placed in a registry, essentially making them environmental equivalents of registered sex offenders. The record "must include the individual's name, residence address, and signature and a recent photograph of the individual", to be placed in "an Internet website containing each record described by this section". The record is to be kept for at least three years, but can be retained after that for as long as the state chooses. If any registered environmentalism offender "makes a change in name or address, the individual shall, not later than the 30th day after making the change, provide to the [state] written
notice of the change."

This was one of the bills that died, at least for this year, when Texas Democrats ran out the legislative clock in an Oklahoma hotel. One more reason why those refugees have earned the country's thanks.