In the US today, ‘terrorism’ has replaced ‘communism’ as the catchphrase for all that is evil in the world. Where the ‘Red Scare’ once saw all left-wingers stigmatised as ‘communists’, it is environmentalists and animal rights activists who are now being targeted as ‘eco-terrorists’ by the media, business interests and politicians – including the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. Building on post-9/11 fears and legislation, a new ‘Green Scare’ has escalated in recent months with a sudden rise in the number of environmentalists arrested and a dramatic lengthening of the potential sentences they face. Activists who have never physically harmed anyone now risk being arrested and charged with crimes that carry life sentences – or, as in one case, a charge sheet that could result in a 300-year prison sentence.
On 7 December 2005, the FBI began ‘Operation Backfire’, a multi-state sweep of environmental and animal rights activists. Fifteen people have since been indicted by Grand Jury on 65 charges in connection with Earth Liberation actions between 1996 and 2001. The arrests sent shockwaves across the activist community in the US, with the constant threat of new arrests and legislation resulting in the spread of fear and caution.
Many of those arrested recently insist on their innocence, and the FBI evidence against them is weak. A confession by a self-proclaimed arsonist and heroin addict provided the initial basis for the arrests. The accused were then encouraged to give evidence against each other, in return for the promise of reduced sentences. But confessions under duress are not always the most reliable sources of information.
In the current US political climate, it is virtually impossible for the accused to get a fair trial once the spectre of ‘terrorism’ has been raised. This became clear during the ‘SHAC 7’ case, brought against activists from the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign. They were put on trial under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, which legislators dubbed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. It defines as a terrorist anyone who causes financial damage to companies involved in the animal industry.
The six were not accused of carrying out any crimes themselves, but rather of maintaining a website containing information that could potentially be used to commit a crime. They were essentially being accused of terrorism for exercising their right to free speech. But the jury didn’t see it that way. Getting past the term ‘terrorist’ proved too difficult, and the six were found guilty on all counts. They now face potential sentences between one and 23 years for the administration of a website.
This climate of fear is reinforced by legislative changes that have considerably broadened the definition of a ‘terrorist’. Successful lobbying by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful right-wing advocacy group funded by more than 300 corporations, has resulted n several pieces of state-level legislation now defining terrorism as an act by ‘two or more persons organised 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’. It needlessly includes such acts as property defacement – which is already illegal – within the scope of terrorism, and holds the potential to include other forms of legal protest within the same definition. So far ten states have already passed legislation defining the destruction of property as terrorism.
At a federal level, Section 802 of the USA Patriot Act (the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act) defines domestic terrorism as an act that intends to ‘intimidate or coerce a civilian population’, to ‘influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion’ or to ‘affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping’ with the ‘intent to harm human life’. But as the American Civil Liberties Union points out, the breadth of the first two of these definitions means that ‘Greenpeace, Operation Rescue, Vieques Island and WTO protesters and the Environmental Liberation Front have all recently engaged in activities that could subject them to being investigated as engaging in domestic terrorism.’
The Patriot Act also includes greatly expanded search and seizure powers, making it far easier to arrest activists. The US government can now search homes, workplaces, documents and emails, listen to telephone conversations and follow internet use patterns without proving probable cause that someone has committed a crime. They only need to assert, but not prove, reasonable grounds to think that a person may be involved in terrorist activity. These search and seizure powers are the same as those that caused public outcry in 1971 when the FBI’s Cointelpro (counter intelligence programme) was discovered and it became known that the FBI was carrying out illegal and covert activities in violation of the right to privacy and free speech in order to ‘misdirect, discredit, disrupt and otherwise neutralise’ political resistance.
To add insult to injury, the Senate is currently debating the USA Patriot Act II, which would greatly expand the powers of the executive branch – the White House, Department of Justice and so on – over the judiciary. The proposed Act would also make certain search warrants obtainable without a court order, further undermining the checks and balances built into the ‘democratic’ structures of government.
These measures look likely to make an already bad situation worse. There are now so many pending cases that it is impossible to mention them all here. But there is an urgent need for support from abroad. For those arrested, it provides much needed moral support to know that people overseas are aware of their situation. And for US activists in general, it lessens the sense of isolation and fear as they are targeted under the Green Scare.
Please visit www.ecoprisoners.org for more information, and write a letter to the US embassy asking them to ensure a fair trial and calling for an end to the description of environmental activists as ‘terrorists’: Robert Holmes Tuttle, Embassy of the United States, 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE. Tel O20 7499 9000
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant