An activist in Goteborg, Sweden was attacked this week for his efforts at crippling the fur industry in Sweden. Some of the furs he targeted in his actions were seal furs from Canada. Branded an “eco-terrorist,” his opponents say he is threatening jobs and the economy. But when the “eco-terrorists” are the ones actually being terrorized, who are the real terrorists here?
Alfred Törre, an animal rights activist in his mid-20’s, had a fire bomb smash through his apartment window. Törre was inside his apartment at the time as his window curtains went up in flames; luckily he was able to extinguish the fire before it spread further. But the police believe that the perpetrator is connected with the Swedish fur industry and the crime has been reported as attempted arson. Törre, who could have been sleeping during the arson attack, fears for his life.
Attacks on “eco-terrorists” are not rare. Some attacks have taken the form of imprisonment by governments; others have been physical intimidation or harm by self-styled vigilantes. In the post 9-11 era, radical environmental activists, such as animal rights activists, have been transformed into ‘eco-terrorists’ in the public eye.
In 2005, the FBI “rated eco-terrorists” as the “top domestic terrorism threat. The media inflamed this threat, with reports appearing in ABC News, BBC News and the Globe & Mail. They all talked about the threat of “eco-terrorism” and gave little voice to the side of the alleged perpetrators—the activists, instead demonizing them.
According to the blog Green is the New Red, a “green scare” has been promoted through ad campaigns in newspapers such as a New York Times and public relations campaigns that have turned innocuous literature like Charlotte’s Web into manifestos of eco-extremism.
But the ones facing the real threats are not society at large or civilians, but the activists themselves. Activists face surveillance and infiltration for their environmental efforts which is damaging our civil liberties. Törre himself had his apartment watched for months, then raided by federal police in 2007, for a perceived link to radical animal rights groups. Following the raid, he spent several months in jail without being informed of the charges against him.
Other activists have been physically beaten and their lives endangered by the goons of industry. In 2003, Allison Watson, a Sea Shepherd activist who was protesting the Taiji dolphin hunt, was brutally attacked by some local fishermen. She was run over by a fisherman’s boat while in the water, and another fisherman attempted to strangle the activist with rope.
This kind of green-fear-mongering is not to make us safer, but to promote a corporate agenda, a corporate agenda that the “eco-terrorists” threaten when they protest against dolphin, whale, seal, and fur commodization, among other things. But this message gets slanted to protecting jobs and the economy and much of the public buys into this argument.
Take for example the Canadian seal hunt, before this recent EU ban on seal products, the seal industry brought in $5.5 million to our GDP and 6,000 jobs. Eco-actions against the 300,000 baby seals clubbed every year were deemed as “eco-terrorism” that threatened jobs and the local economy.
But what are the costs to demonizing eco-activists? Beyond the obvious environmental degradation that gets subverted, our rights and democracy are at risk.
Standing up against injustice, being an engaged citizen, and voicing opposition promotes a healthy functioning democracy. Freedom of speech is our basic civil liberty. Threatening these cripples our society.
The attack on Törre is not a simple arson investigation, but part of a larger societal problem. The problem being that the real eco-terrorists, corporations and conservative governments that aid them, are scaring us into inaction, or bullying those who do act, for the sake of private profit.
In a time when Prime Minister Harper is attempting to intimidate the EU with a costly and lengthy legal appeal to the World Trade Organization for their ban on seal products, the questions over what ‘eco-terrorism’ is are more important than ever. On whose behalf is Harper pressuring the WTO, and can we allow this to happen?
Alfred Törre is a pseudonym; names have been changed to protect sources.