The "Eco-Terrorist" Propaganda Machine

by Know Chomsky Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2001 at 11:29 PM

The "Eco-Terrorist" propaganda machine: reflections on [in]accuracy, bias, and propaganda in corporate media.

errorThe label "terrorist" today is a joke. It's applied without discussion or dialog to any individual or group that speaks out on the ills of the status quo. It's an effective way to marginalize people and causes, quite like calling someone a "racist". You can't defend yourself against being called a racist (or terrorist), and the accuser doesn't have to "prove" the allegation. Peaceful protesters in Seattle and elsewhere are now regularly slapped with the label "terrorist."

When I hear the word Ecoterrorism, I think of the thousands of corporations that have dumped toxic waste, spewed smoke into the air, poisoned our water, and so on. These aren't "accidents", they are calculated costs of day to day operations that corporations use to profit by externalizing costs of pollution. The real victims of these ecoterrorists are the people who suffer from a polluted environment, who die from health problems and cancer.

From a news article in today's Chicago Tribune:

"The Fox, a schoolteacher who took the name of the river valley he wanted to save, got his start in Chicago's far western suburbs in 1969. He plugged sewer outlets of factories that fouled the water, crawled up belching smokestacks to cap their fumes, and once dumped a small coffin of dead fish and slime onto the white carpet of U.S. Steel's executive offices. His specialty: squirting skunk scent into buildings owned by polluters. To some environmental activists across the U.S., The Fox was the first ecoterrorist--or rather, the first ecosaboteur. In furtive conversations with reporters, the affable, ordinary-looking provocateur took pride in the clever tactics that made him something of an environmental Robin Hood: He was feared by the bad and loved, or at least cheered on, by the good. His goal was to embarrass and befuddle polluters, not destroy them. To his delight, he's never been caught, or even identified."

Note the terminology used in more honest times. "The Fox" was labeled a "saboteur", not a "terrorist". The burning of a few houses (regardless of any merit as a tactic) would have been more accurately called "arson" or "vandalism". It's quite a leap from there to terrorist status. Applied equally, the U.S. has achieved terrorist status abroad (hundreds of unilateral, international acts of war, not sanctioned by the U.N.), and at home (e.g. Waco, where a structure was burned down with people inside it, those trying to leave were shot; peaceful protesters in Seattle who were shot and teargassed with carcinogenic chemicals by police; Cuban-Americans in Florida terrorized by federal police.)

Terrorism is also not applied equally to corporations like Shell and Chevron, who back undemocractic, military regimes in Africa and elsewhere, and have citizens shot or executed for speaking out against pollution. Or to U.S. corporations such as Unocal in richmond, CA, which is responsible for thousands of cases of cancer and other health problems from it's yearly "accidents," which release thousands of pollutants, toxics, and carcinogens onto the air (in part due to "safety" mechanisms which violate the law).

Now, the word ecoterrorist is hyped to divide and marginalize the environmental movement, through infighting and association. Discussion is steered away from the real ecoterrorist acts of corporations, and focused on a few tiny cases of arson here and there; cases which have only caused property damage, and not human injury. Don't miss the message here: property is more important than people.

This sort of "terrorism" is an American tradition, ever since the Boston Tea Party was thrown to make a point about economic injustice (which is what pollution and unfair labor practices is all about).

Stick the ecoterrorist label where it belongs: on companies like Shell, Chevron, Exxon, Union Carbide, Bechtel, DuPont, McDonalds, Mitsubishi, etc. etc. etc.

"Ecoterrorist" - label brought to you by corporate-sponsored government propaganda.