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3303Environmentalists = terrorists

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  • Sandra Wijnveldt
    Jun 9, 2003
      Environmentalists = TerroristsĀ 
      The New Math
      Karen Charman is an investigative journalist specializing in agriculture,
      health and the environment.

      Have you ever signed a petition in support of an environmental or
      animal-rights issue? Do you belong to the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources
      Defense Council, or Greenpeace? Have you publicly protested some
      environmental or animal rights outrage? If legislation crafted and promoted
      by the ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
      becomes law, these fundamental rights of American citizenship could become
      illegal.

      Exploiting the current political climate against terrorism, ALEC has teamed
      up with the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, a pro-hunting group, to create a
      model "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act." The legislation is part of an
      intense backlash against increasingly effective and vocal citizen campaigns
      aimed at halting -- and holding corporations accountable for --
      environmental, animal-rights and public health abuses.

      Forging this kind of marriage to produce anti-progressive legislation is old
      hat to ALEC, now in its thirtieth year of policy bending. With an annual
      budget of nearly $6 million, ALEC's funders read like a Who's Who of the
      right, and include organizations like the National Rifle Association, Family
      Research Council and Heritage Foundation. It counts conservative activists
      and politicians such as Jesse Helms, Jack Kemp and Henry Hyde among its
      alumni. Enron, Phillip Morris (now Altria) and several oil companies rank
      among ALEC's corporate sponsors. And to bring the loop full-circle, ALEC
      boasts 2,400 state lawmakers representing all 50 states among its current
      members.

      In light of this, it's hardly shocking that ALEC is no friend to green
      groups. According to a 2002 report by Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural
      Resources Defense Council, corporations and trade associations "funnel cash
      through ALEC to curry favor with state lawmakers through junkets and other
      largesse in the hopes of enacting special interest legislation -- all the
      while keeping safely outside the public eye."

      The strategy obviously works. ALEC spokesperson David Wargin estimates that
      out of about 1,000 ALEC model bills introduced in the last legislative
      session, 200 were enacted.

      The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act may be next. Intended for states, it
      criminalizes virtually all forms of environmental or animal-rights advocacy.
      Versions of the proposed law were introduced in Texas in February and in New
      York in March. New York Assembly member Richard Smith (D-Blasdell), who
      introduced that state's bill, says four or five other states have also
      expressed interest.

      The Texas bill defines an "animal rights or terrorist organization" as "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... natural resources." The
      bill adds that "'Political motivation' means an intent to influence a
      government entity or the public to take a specific political action."
      Language in the New York bill is similarly broad.

      Michael Ratner, a human rights lawyer and vice-president of the Center for
      Constitutional Rights, has never seen such draconian legislation in the
      United States.

      "This is unique. Even under the definition of domestic terrorism in the
      Patriot Act, you have to at least do something that arguably threatens
      people's lives," he says. "The definitional sections of this legislation are
      so broad that they sweep within them basically every environmental and
      animal-rights organization in the country."

      Sandy Liddy Bourne, director of the ALEC task force that came up with the
      model bill, insists the legislation is narrowly targeted at environmental
      and animal-rights extremists who blow up buildings or destroy research
      facilities.

      "We're certainly not attempting to interfere with anybody's civil rights to
      protest or express their opinion on environmental or animal-rights issues,"
      she says. However, "there are legitimate business operations across our
      country that are being targeted by environmental extremists, and it's time
      to bring this kind of activity to a halt."

      Ratner points out that there are laws against trespassing, vandalism,
      destruction of property, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. The
      only reason for this legislation, he says, is to eliminate all forms of
      dissent, including the time-honored democratic traditions of nonviolent,
      peaceful protest and civil disobedience.

      Civil rights advocates who thought the Patriot Act was bad should turn their
      attention to this legislation. Because if ALEC is successful, millions of
      people might just lose the only tool they have left: the right to loud and
      public dissent.


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