Activism Updates: Green Is the New Red, by Will Potter

Please Note: My work on the next ConLangs 101 entry is ongoing, but it will probably be another week before I post it, and I'll be moving to a monthly posting cycle for that series going forward. The research and writing for those entries is somewhat time-intensive, and there has been some minor movement in my efforts to place my novel series (though certainly nothing reportable as yet), so I'm eager to stay on that task. Thanks for understanding, and I hope you enjoy this Activism Update. ~ C.S.M.

In this edition of Activism Updates, I'm reviewing Will Potter's book Green Is the New Red: An Insider's Account of a Social Movement Under Siege. Potter is a journalist who begins investigating the "Green Scare" after being threatened with a domestic terrorist label for participating in a peaceful leafleting campaign against animal testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences. His investigation leads him to associate the targeting of environmental and animal activists with the McCarthyism of the 1950s, and while he doesn't gloss the sabotage of property some activists have perpetrated, he does make a compelling argument against the escalation of anti-green rhetoric by uncovering its origins.

Potter begins with a personal account of his own story and that of Daniel McGowan, an Animal Liberation Front (ALF) member convicted of arson and conspiracy and sentenced to a seven-year prison term with a terrorist enhancement. He follows with the account of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), a multi-faceted protest movement whose members were also labeled domestic terrorists by John E. Lewis, former deputy assistant director of counter-terrorism for the FBI. In spite of the fact that no environmental or animal rights activists to date had been responsible for any injuries or deaths and had indeed taken pains to avoid them, Lewis testified in 2004 before the Senate Judiciary Committee that "the FBI's investigation of animal rights extremists and eco-terrorism matters is our highest domestic terrorism investigation priority." In 2005, he told a Senate committee that "there is nothing else going on in this country, over the last several years, that is racking up the high number of violent crimes and terrorist actions, arsons, etc., that this particular area of domestic terrorism has caused." Yet in the three years following 9/11, the National Abortion Federation tracked hundreds of attacks by anti-abortion extremists: twenty-four assaults, eight arsons, seven attempted bombings/arsons, 240 acts of vandalism, forty-eight bomb threats, twenty-four anthrax threats and twenty-four death threats. None of these were investigated or prosecuted as terrorist actions, and indeed the FBI consistently downplays or omits the violent activities of anti-abortion, militia, white supremacist and other right-wing groups when discussing domestic terrorism1.

Building on an impressive array of source material, Potter makes the case that this inequality of prosecution and conviction is underpinned by corporate powerhouses with a vested interest both in crippling environmental and animal activism with punitive reprisal and stopping the changes in perception this sort of activism encourages in society. Specifically, he discusses the contribution of major pharmaceutical companies to the drafting and passage of The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, following a money trail between these corporations and the legislators most influential in the passage of the act into law. Later, he writes:

"The mainstreaming of these movements, and the accompanying shift in public opinion, has potentially grave implications for industries that profit from the abuse of animals and the destruction of the environment. The animal rights and environmental movements, more than any other social movements, directly threaten corporate interests. They do so every time activists encourage people to go vegan, stop driving, consume fewer resources and live simply. They do not advocate boycotts so much as life-changes, and the changed lives they envision do not include some of the most powerful industries on the planet."

Provocative and alarming by turns, Green Is the New Red is a thoroughly researched and engaging exploration of judicial prejudice fueled by corporate interest. A must-read for environmental and animal activists alike and highly-recommended for anyone who cares about the way legislation is influenced by money.

You can find Will Potter on the Internet here:

  • 1. Potter, 46-47.