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Ecoterrorism or Justified Resistance? Radical Environmentalism and the "War on Terror"



Radical environmental groups engaged in ecotage—or economic sabotage of inanimate objects thought to be complicit in environmental destruction—have been identified as the leading domestic terrorist threat in the post-9/11 “war on terror.” This article examines the case for extending the conventional definition of terrorism to include attacks not only against noncombatants, but also against inanimate objects, and surveys proposed moral limits suggested by proponents of ecotage. Rejecting the mistaken association between genuine acts of terrorism and ecotage, it considers the proper moral constraints upon ecotage through an examination of just war theory and nonviolent civil disobedience.
Eco-terrorism or Justified Resistance? Radical
Environmentalism and the “War on Terror”
Radical environmental groups engaged in ecotage—or economic sabotage of inani
mate objects thought to be complicit in environmental destruction—have been iden-
tified as the leading domestic terrorist threat in the post-9/11 “war on terror. This
article examines the case for extending the conventional definition of terrorism to
include attacks not only against noncombatants, but also against inanimate objects,
and surveys proposed moral limits suggested by proponents of ecotage. Rejecting
the mistaken association between genuine acts of terrorism and ecotage, it consid-
ers the proper moral constraints upon ecotage through an examination of just war
theory and nonviolent civil disobedience.
Keywords: ecotage; eco-terrorism; radical envirommentalism; civil disobedience;
just war theory
In the atmosphere of political opportunism that has characterized the current
“war on terror, the language and rhetoric of terrorism have been used against per
sons and groups that oppose entrenched political and economic powers, including
not only genuine terrorists but also legitimate anti-war, anti-globalization, and
environmental groups.
Describing someone as a “terrorist” serves an explicitly
rhetorical purpose in contemporary discourse, though the very language and
imagery the term conjures obscure its rational analysis: it implies a moral claim
for their aggressive pursuit and prosecution unconstrained by the conventional
limits set upon military or law enforcement action. A “terrorist” refuses to
The author thanks James Sheppard, Dale Murray, and the participants in the Virginia Common
wealth University Philosophy Colloquium series, as well as members of the Editorial Board of Politics
& Society, for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.
POLITICS & SOCIETY, Vol. 33 No. 3, September 2005 425-447
DOI: 10.1177/0032329205278462
© 2005 Sage Publications
observe any moral or legal limits against harming others, and thus a “war on ter
ror” ought likewise to be freed from any such limits (or so the argument goes).
Recent U.S. anti-terrorism laws have significantly eroded civil liberties such that
mere suspicion of terrorism has become sufficient cause for invasive surveillance
and even indefinite detention, creating powerful and potentially abusive tools for
suppressing dissent. Included in the current loosely defined dragnet against “ter
rorism” has been (along with the pursuit of real terrorists) a politically charged
smear campaign by regimes in power against various enemies, both foreign and
Lost in the recent public discourse surrounding the concept are several crucial
distinctions that might restore some measure of credibility to a campaign against a
serious moral offense by dissociating it from other actions with which it has been
mistakenly (and sometimes disingenuously) associated. Some process of sorting
out true from false accusations of terrorism is desperately needed if the current
“war on terror” is to deploy its considerable resources appropriately, and if the
concept is to be used in a coherent sense to identify a specific kind of moral
offense. An exemplary case highlights the need for conceptual clarification and
illustrates the contrasts between genuine terrorism and less objectionable politi-
cal tactics with which it has been unfairly conflated: despite the recent appearance
of several homicidal social movements that present genuine cases of domestic ter-
rorism, the FBI in 2001 named the Earth Liberation Front (ELF)—an organiza-
tion that destroys property but directs no violence toward persons—as the
nation’s leading domestic terrorist threat.
What has the ELF done to earn such notoriety? The group formed in 1992 as an
offshoot of Earth First! when some members became convinced that the original
radical environmental group was moving too mainstream. Perhaps its most publi
cized action was the 1998 torching of a ski lodge under construction at Vail in
which arsonists caused $12-26 million in damage to a ski resort expansion which
the group claims encroached upon critical habitat of the Canadian lynx. Over the
past five years, the group has claimed responsibility for attacks against property
associated with urban sprawl, air pollution, animal testing, genetic engineering,
and public lands logging, and has caused an estimated $100 million in damage.
While the property damage caused by ELF actions is considerable, the FAQ on
the groups website notes that “in the history of the ELF internationally no one has
been injured from the group’s actions and that is not a coincidence.
stress that all necessary precautions must be taken in order to protect life during
group actions, and that the goal of property attacks is to cause targeted economic
harm to anti-environmental offenders in order “to remove the profit motive from
killing the earth and all life on it. Rejecting the label eco-terrorist (preferring
economic sabotage or ecotage) as a descriptive label for the group’s tactics, they
suggest that the FBI’s aggressive campaign against the ELF, combined with a
spate of recent state and municipal “eco-terrorism” laws, “are a definite sign that
the authorities are considering the ELF a viable threat to the westernized way of
life and to the idea of profits and commerce at any price.
Though the ELF has been painted by these authorities with the brush of terror
ism (triggering the legal powers to pursue activists free from the constraints of
conventional civil liberties), can the charges stick? Should radical environmental
ists who commit acts of ecotage—sabotage of inanimate objects (machinery,
buildings, fences) that contribute to ecological destruction—be equated (by
inclusion within a common definition of terrorism) with sociopaths like Timothy
McVeigh who regard the slaughter of innocents as “collateral damage” in an ideo
logical war? According to the tenets of just war theory, the primary moral trans
gression of terrorism lies in its failure to respect the distinction between combat
ants and noncombatants (known as the principle of discrimination in jus in bello),
and the so-called eco-terrorists in the ELF commit crimes against propertybut
adhere staunchly to a similar principle (though one that admits of no legitimate
human targets, distinguishing instead between persons and the inanimate objects
they use to degrade the environment). Does this distinction make a difference?
Moreover, might ecotage (insofar as it is to be conceptually distinguished from
actual terrorism) ever be justifiably employed? On what grounds might sucha
defense rest?
This article shall consider two primary questions in an examination of the ethi-
cal issues surrounding ecotage. First, is it accurate to classify acts of ecotage as
either a variety of or the equivalent to acts of terrorism? Is violence against inani-
mate objects categorically similar to that against persons such that both might
legitimately be described as intending to “terrorize” some population for political
ends? Insofar as some might fear for the integrity of their property as well as their
persons in the face of perceived threats, is the secondary harm of ecotage (in
which the primary harm is to property and not life) morally equivalent to the sec
ondary harm caused by attacks against persons? Second, insofar as ecotage might
be treated as an intermediate case between terrorism (which is always wrong) and
nonviolent civil disobedience (which is sometimes justified), might ecotage ever
be defensible as a tactic of justified political resistance? If one person’s terrorist is
another’s freedom fighter (as is often claimed), might ecotage be defended as not
only morally permissible but also (in some cases, at least) morally required?
Does ecotage (that is, violence against inanimate objects rather than persons)
constitute a genuine instance of terrorism? Insofar as it does not, what is the nature
of its moral offense, and how might it be compared with other tactics for social
change? To attempt an answer to these questions (and thus to define the term), one
must first identify the specific offense inherent in terrorist acts. Terrorism is con
ventionally defined as “the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to
attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature . . . through intimi
dation, coercion, or instilling fear.
Within just war theory, Michael Walzer iden
tifies its specific offense as the refusal to adhere to the conventional limits of jus in
bello, especially that of noncombatant immunity.
Accordingly, merely threat
ened violence may constitute terrorism, so long as the threat is sufficiently palpa
ble and directed toward these public ends (as opposed to merely private gain,
about which persons may be similarly terrorized but with different moral effect).
Whether or not actual or threatened violence toward property should be consid
ered as the equivalent to violence or threats of violence against persons is a ques
tion that shall be addressed presently, but the relevant point here is that terrorism’s
unique offense lies not in its actual violence (which is straightforwardly wrong on
obvious grounds, at least when directed against persons) but in its threatened
future violence, which may not necessarily require some initial act of violence in
order to produce that characteristic terror (though a successful terrorist attack
surely makes the threat of future violence more palpable to a targeted population).
Furthermore, acts of terrorism have both a primary target (those on whom vio-
lence is actually inflicted) and a secondary one (the larger population against
whom further violence is threatened, producing the characteristic terror), and the
unique wrong of terrorism concerns not the primary target but the secondary one.
Absent the threat of further violence (should some set of demands not be met), a
terrorist act is identical with mass murder (or whatever else comprises the initial
strike against the primary target). Again, the relevant question in this inquiry shall
be whether or not the secondary target may be adequately terrorized when the pri-
mary target includes property but not persons and the threatened future attack
promises adherence to the same distinction, and shall be discussed below.
Finally, terrorism is conventionally understood such that those targeted must
not only be randomly selected (in the sense of targeting a specific people but not
specific persons) but also be innocents. Otherwise similar acts against non-
innocents (for example, attacking armies or colonial oppressors) present categori
cally distinct (and less objectionable) cases and warrant their exclusion from the
conventional definition. Absent the random selection condition (as in targeted
assassinations of persons based on some criteria that exclude larger populations,
such as membership in a government), a larger population cannot be suitably ter
rorized by the prospect of becoming the next victim of a terrorist campaign. While
the wrongness of terrorist acts depends upon the fact that its victims don’t deserve
the harm they receive (or are threatened with), its efficacy in intimidating a larger
population turns on the randomness condition. Insofar as ecotage targets only the
property of specific offenders (and, moreover, the very inanimate objects used in
ecological destruction), it lacks the randomness of genuine terrorism. Not only
are persons themselves not targeted, but also (at least in those cases where ecotage
targets only the property of extraordinary offenders) ordinary persons need not
fear for their property.
Conventionally, then, the moral offense of terrorism is captured in the injunc
tion against intentionally harming (or threatening to harm) innocent persons
found in a standard principle of nonmaleficence, and is most clearly instantiated
in the principle of noncombatant immunity in jus in bello (the person-affecting
component of the more general principle of discrimination, which binds agents to
respect the distinction between military and civilian targets) and its manifestation
in international law (most notably, the Geneva Conventions), which both define
and provide the legal means for addressing acts of terrorism. Terrorist acts are, in
short, conventionally regarded as acts or threats of illegitimate killing (where acts
contain implicit threats to further such acts), and therefore (conventionally, at
least) treat differently acts of violence against mere property from that against
persons. As vandalism is a lesser offense than murder, threatened further vandal
ism must also be a lesser offense than threatened future murder, even if persons
can be made to fear (and thereby be illegitimately coerced by) either.
At issue in the labeling of ELF acts of ecotage as instances of “terrorism” is
whether or not actual persons need to be either the primary or secondary targets of
terrorist attacks, or whether the term ought to incorporate all manner of induce-
ments that may illegitimately coerce some targeted population into accepting
some set of public demands. Even if the conventional definition draws the line
between violence (or threats thereof) against persons and that against inanimate
objects (as it does), this distinction requires further critical scrutiny. Suppose the
definition of terrorism were expanded to include acts of violence against property
in which persons were not physically harmed as primary targets or threatened
with future harm as secondary targets, but their economic interests were the actual
or intended targets of attack.
In fact, the legal definition of terrorism under U.S. law (generally, an act that
“is calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or
coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct”)
has, as part of the 2001
USA PATRIOT Act, been significantly broadened to include many such attacks
against inanimate objects. This legislation added an extensive list of specific
offenses to the federal crime of terrorism, including “arson within special mari
time and territorial jurisdiction” and the “destruction of communication lines, sta
tions, or systems.” But perhaps the most expansive category of offense upgraded
from an ordinary felony to the status of terrorism (with its concomitant height
ened penalties and diminished rights of the accused) includes any act which
maliciously damages or destroys, or attempts to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an
explosive, any building, vehicle, or other real or personal property used in interstate or for
eign commerce or in any activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce.
This addendum to the federal criminal law specifically and intentionally includes
ecotage within the legal and rhetorical arsenal of the “war on terror” by criminal
izing acts of sabotage, thereby sharply curtailing the civil liberties of suspected sab
oteurs and their associates.
The question, then, is not whether the law recognizes violence against inani
mate objects as acts of terrorism, but whether or not it is proper to do so. By the
expansive definition given above, the ELF would appear to deserve the reproach
given it by the FBI, for its history of property destruction is both significant and
calculated to produce a political or ideological result. Likewise, as several U.S.
administrations have argued, the sabotage of Occidental Petroleum’s Colombian
pipeline seems to be a fitting candidate for the “war on terror, as does the Taliban
for its destruction of centuries-old Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. More contro
versially, perhaps, but clearly falling under the above definition, the participants
in the Boston Tea Party willfully destroyed property in order “to retaliate against
government conduct” and so must be guilty of exactly the kind of terrorism now
proscribed under the USA PATRIOT Act. Once harm to property interests is
allowed to count as the equivalent to harm to persons in the moral assessmentof
terrorism, one begins on a perilous slope down which this initial expansion leads
inevitably to a trivialization of what ought to be among the most serious moral
transgressions by association with far less serious offenses. At the bottom of
the slope, those illegally downloading music from the Internet likewise may
become enemies in an all-consuming “war on terror” that knows no principled
In order to avoid this absurd conclusion, the temptation (manifest in the con-
ventional definition of terrorism as the violation of the principle of discrimina-
tion) has been to circumscribe the definition of terrorism so as to include only
harm (or threatened harm) to persons, relegating attacks (or threatened attacks)
against inanimate objects to a distinct and less objectionable (though not neces
sarily benign) category of offense. Such a restrictive view, however, may be
unjustified, as consideration of some kinds of attacks against property appears to
contain the requisite ingredients of terrorist acts. If a person or people can be “ter
rorized”—that is, illegitimately intimidated by the calculated use of force and
implication of further violence—by random killing, then surely they can also be
similarly terrorized by the significant destruction of certain kinds or quantities of
property. The burning of civilian areas has long been a psychological weapon of
war designed to intimidate and demoralize a population that deserves the name
terrorism for its violation of the principle of discrimination. Such wanton destruc
tion produces the secondary fear characteristic of terrorism (that is, such attacks
make persons fear for their lives and not only for their property) and so seemsafit
ting candidate for inclusion within the definition. Similarly, the targeting of criti
cal infrastructure (power plants, water treatment facilities) during wartime like
wise serves as a psychological weapon designed to coerce civilian populations
into accepting terms of an attacking military that they might otherwise find
repugnant, and so makes for a fitting example containing the characteristics of a
terrorist act.
These examples of violence against inanimate objects serve not to support the
inclusion of ecotage within the category of terrorism, but instead to suggest how
the definition might be justifiably broadened to include certain kinds of indirect
threats to persons as among the primary or secondary targets of terrorist acts.
Destruction of a basic human need like shelter or sources of potable water
amounts to an indirect physical attack upon persons (insofar as it places persons at
serious risk of illness or death by deprivation), and so approaches the wrongness
of a direct attack upon those same persons. Palpable threats against a population’s
water or energy supply—when such an attack would have severely deleterious
effects upon the health and welfare of that population—can produce the requisite
fear and intimidation characteristic of terrorism. The destruction of whole cities
or other significant sites during wartime further damages the culture and identity
of a targeted population well beyond any casualties that might accompany such an
attack, as the loss of artifacts and records that provide crucial connections with a
people’s history can have a similarly devastating effect upon the welfare of a pop-
ulation, and threats of such destruction can serve as a similarly illegitimate form
of intimidation if significantly palpable. Hence, one might postulate a category of
attack or threat against inanimate objects but not (at least directly) against persons
that seems deserving of the name terrorism.
Such considerations suggest that the conventional limits set upon the defini-
tion of terrorism (as requiring acts or threats of violence against civilians) need
not necessarily serve as the principled guardrail preventing the slide down the
slippery slope, but that any expansion of the definition of terrorism to include
inanimate objects (and not persons) as among the targets of terrorist acts must be
carefully circumscribed so as not to trivialize the morally relevant distinction
between persons and mere objects. One clear case for expansion of the definition
involves the nature of the secondary threat implied by the initial act of violence. If
an attack against a well-chosen inanimate object threatens further violence
against persons (as in “shock and awe” airstrikes designed to pressure civilians to
agitate for quick surrender), then that act ought to count as terrorism. After all, the
unique offense of terrorism lies not in the primary target of attack, but in the sec
ondary targets who are threatened (and therefore illegitimately intimidated
toward specified ends) with future attacks. If significant attacks against inanimate
objects can so terrorize a population with fear for their personal safety, then they
are structurally identical with attacks in which the primary targets are persons. On
the other end of the spectrum, many acts can use fear in order to coerce a popula
tion for political ends (e.g., fear of economic insecurity or cultural decline)
without that fear being constitutive of terrorism.
One might further expand the definition of terrorism to allow in violence
against inanimate objects insofar as—even though they neither target persons
directly in the initial attack nor threaten to do so in the future—they indirectly
threaten the survival of persons or groups through threats or attacks against criti
cal infrastructure or objects of extraordinary cultural importance. Destruction of
property that merely threatens the further destruction of property (as, for exam
ple, by the ELF), where no people need to fear for their personal safety and no cul
tural artifact of major significance to a people is threatened with obliteration, must
be regarded as a categorically distinct act. Conflating it with genuine terrorism
unfairly associates those who observe a crucial moral distinction with those who
do not.
Dave Foreman (a cofounder of Earth First! and author of a field guide to
ecotage) has elucidated several principles of what might tendentiously betermedthe
ethics of ecotage (a topic explored further below). It is, he stresses, never directed at
living things, but only “at inanimate machines and tools that are destroying life.
In addition to this key constraint (which he calls the “first principle”), a further
principled limit is issued: ecotage is not “mindless, erratic vandalism” but rather
consists in a calculated targeting of specific objects that are ecologically destruc-
tive. Without this second limit, acts of ecotage would be “counterproductive as
well as unethical” since sabotage only works if the tools belong to the “real cul-
prit” and because “senseless vandalism leads to loss of popular sympathy.
Whatever else can be said against acts of ecotage, they cannot (so long as this prin-
ciple is observed) justifiably be condemned as the equivalent of the willful killing
(or threatened killing) of persons characteristic of genuine terrorism.
To dissociate ecotage from terrorism is not to defend the actions of the ELF,
nor is it to suggest that the groups tactics may sometimes serve as legitimate
forms of protest or vehicles for change. The intentional destruction of property
constitutes a violation of rights (though not an act of terrorism), regardless of
whether committed from simple malice or a well-meaning commitment to eco
logical sustainability. Insofar as ecotage entails the destruction of property, there
fore, it must be regarded as prima facie objectionable. The defense of ecotage has
thus far considered only its relative seriousness, in comparison with acts that tar
get (and thereby terrorize) persons, and has found the association of ecotage with
terrorism to rest upon a mistaken conception of the specific offense that terrorism
entails. A more ambitious defense (and one that the remainder of this paper shall
attempt) would hold not only that ecotage must be categorically distinguished
from terrorism, but also that its use might, in some cases, be justified.
Ecotage, as conceptually distinct from and less serious than terrorism, occu
pies an intermediate ethical space along a continuum of political tactics between
terrorism (which is never justified) and civil disobedience (which may be in some
cases unjustified, but is elsewhere defensible). Less serious acts of resistance (and
so situated between civil disobedience and ecotage) include illegal but largely
symbolic acts of vandalism (e.g., billboard modification through “subvertising”)
or trespass (e.g., squatting in trees slated for extraction), as these primarily aim for
social change through the mobilization of public support, while ecotage instead
aims primarily at the profitability of acts taken to be ecologically destructive. In
comparison with civil disobedience, ecotage is plainly a more serious and objec
tionable tactic to employ, given its negative and galvanizing effect upon public
opinion, its heightened tendencies toward disorder and lower fidelity for law, and
the dangers of both its abuse and unintended consequences. For this reason, the
latter could never be defensible in cases where the former was also available.
However, one might posit a circumscribed range of cases in which ecotage might
be defensible as a political tactic, provided that it is appropriately limited by ethi
cal considerations. One might further speculate that, if circumstances ever justify
the resort to ecotage, then its application may, like civil disobedience, become a
moral duty grounded in the obligation to remedy injustice.
John Rawls, for example, finds a positive duty to commit acts of civil disobedi
ence in certain well-defined cases, grounded in the natural duty “to assist in the
establishment of just arrangements when they do not exist.
Like ecotage, civil
disobedience also involves a prima facie objectionable political tactic (creating
civil unrest through targeted lawbreaking), but has gained broad acceptance as a
legitimate vehicle of social change in serious cases of injustice in which lesser
means of social change have been exhausted. To be sure, civil disobedience and
ecotage share some common features but also differ in some important respects,
and so the case for ecotage must begin with a consideration of the established case
for civil disobedience. Insofar as the two tactics are relevantly similar, the justifi-
cation for ecotage may rest upon similar ethical foundations as those for civil dis-
obedience. Insofar as they are dissimilar, however, ecotage must either identify a
unique justification for its application, or else remain (as popularly construed) a
lesser offense than terrorism but a moral transgression nonetheless, however
noble the goals of the perpetrator might otherwise be.
Terrorism is likewise an objectionable tactic for reasons discussed above, but
its use in certain circumstances has nonetheless been defended by philosophers
(although mistakenly so), with the primary objection to such arguments arising
from their consequentialist justifications. Generally, defenders of all three tactics
rely upon arguments from necessity, which suppose that all lesser avenues of
recourse have already been exhausted, and that no preferable alternatives remain
for avoiding an outcome that is significantly worse than the tactics employed to
avoid it. Sanctioning evil means in the service of putatively defensible ends
invokes a deservedly notorious history of means/ends rationalization, and any
such claim must be met with a critical skepticism. The burden of proof ought to be
placed upon the defender of ecotage (or civil disobedience, or terrorism) to dem
onstrate not only that all lesser means have already been exhausted, but also that
the potentially avoided bad consequences (discounted by the tactics probability
of success) compare favorably with the certain bad consequences that result from
the use of the tactic itself. Such a test is beset with difficulties, not least of which is
the uncertainty surrounding such predictions about future outcomes. Nonethe
less, we might posit that, in principle, some otherwise objectionable tactics may
be justified by the seriousness of the consequences to be avoided. Supposing oth
erwise disqualifies many historically vindicated extralegal means of dissent and
resistance, and opens the door to forms of oppression that some of these tactics
might otherwise discourage.
Of the three, only terrorism ought to be categorically prohibited as a legitimate
tactic, regardless of the gravity of the outcome to be avoided. Although Walzer
flirts with the notion that “supreme emergency” (e.g., the imminent destruction of
an entire political community) may justify violation of the noncombatant immu
nity principle, he aptly rejects those arguments that seek to justify terrorism by
necessity: “Those who make them, I think, have lost their grip on the historical
past; they suffer from a malign forgetfulness, erasing all moral distinctions along
with the men and women who painfully worked them out.
Besides the histori-
cal argument that many of the worst atrocities in human history have relied upon
similar claims, Walzer notes a crucial moral difference between terrorism and
other tactics. Terrorism “breaks across moral limits beyond which no further limi-
tation seems possible,” and as such can never successfully appeal to the sympa-
thies of a larger community. By explicitly rejecting all moral limits on action, and
seeking power solely through the spread of fear and intimidation, terrorism
appeals to force alone and not to justice (even if based in valid complaints of injus-
tice), and so is bound to be self-defeating as a form of grievance. Even in cases of
brutal oppression and exploitation, a minimal reciprocity between parties must
remain a prerequisite: one cannot recognize the validity of any claim of injustice
that is premised upon a willingness to abandon all pretence of justice.
Civil disobedience, however, is another matter. In his “Letter from Birming
ham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. defends civil disobedience through a version of
the argument from necessity, claiming that “the city’s white power structure left
the Negro community with little alternative.
Recognizing the prima facie case
against causing social unrest, King sets two crucial limits upon the application of
the targeted lawbreaking of civil disobedience that provide useful contrast with
ecotage: first, that it must demonstrate fidelity to law while calling attention to a
particular injustice (hence the willingness of protestors to accept legal punish
ment), and second, that it is premised upon the priority of good faith negotiation,
in that efforts at negotiation should first be made, and that the targeted disobedi
ence has as its goal the return to negotiations. He writes,
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such tension that a commu
nity which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dra
matize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored.
Those engaged in civil disobedience, that is, may resort to an otherwise objection
able tactic (i.e., targeted lawbreaking) only in cases of serious injustice and after
sincere efforts at social change through conventional legal and political channels
fail (the South, he writes, has “been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in mono
logue rather than dialogue”). Indeed, nonviolent direct action is itself situated
between normal politics (the preferred tactic, ceteris paribus) and the “frighten
ing racial nightmare” of Black Nationalism, to which King’s movement is offered
as the preferable alternative.
The primary tension in King’s advocacy of civil disobedience as a tactic for the
civil rights struggle is instructive for evaluating its structural similarities and dis
parities in comparison with ecotage. King emphasizes that “the means we use
must be as pure as the ends we seek” and that “it is wrong to use immoral means to
attain moral ends,” but nonetheless ends up sanctioning targeted lawbreaking on
grounds that “it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to
preserve immoral ends.” The problem, in other words, lies in weighing two dis
tinct moral offenses, and endorsing one if a necessary condition for avoiding the
other. This claim is based on a familiar judgment about the obligations of citizen-
ship: persons have a duty to follow just laws, but to oppose unjust ones. Law-
breaking is not always wrong, and may be permitted (given appropriate con-
straints) when disobedience aims to remedy injustice and when it stands a
reasonable chance of successfully doing so. Insofar as following unjust laws (for
example, the Jim Crow segregationist statutes of the kind that King opposed) per-
petuates injustice, person are not only negatively excused from following those
laws, but also positively obligated to violate them (in a public way, and accepting
the legal consequences that follow).
Since the established case for civil disobedience rests largely upon its conse
quences (where the remedy to serious injustice outweighs the otherwise objec
tionable lawbreaking), and since Walzer’s rejection of the arguments for terrorism
depends upon similar considerations (where, by contrast, terrorism is assumed to
be ineffective in advancing its putative aims), one must consider ecotage as politi
cal strategy in any defense of the tactic. Rawls, for example, suggests that civil
disobedience may only be “wide or prudent” in cases where it is reasonably likely
to be effective in its desired aim, and not when it “serves to provoke the harsh
retaliation of the majority.
In either a society without an adequate sense of jus
tice (so that the appeals of civilly disobedient acts fall upon deaf ears) or one with
out a reasonably responsive democratic government (so that a remedy to injustice
is unavailable through an appeal to the sympathies of a larger political commu
nity), civil disobedience (because wrong prima facie) is not recommended (as a
matter of “practical considerations” rather than principle for Rawls). He further
cautions that a limited public capacity for considering the grievances of protestors
entails an “upper limit” on the quantity of effective civilly disobedient campaigns
at any given time, reserving justification only for the most serious cases of
injustice at a given time.
Whereas the nonviolent approach of civil disobedience makes for an effective
appeal to society’s sense of justice, the violent approach of terrorism fails. Pre
sumably, the distinction between tactics is separate from that between causes that
they may aim to advance, so the lack of public sympathy for causes linked to ter
rorist acts owes to the outright rejection of ethical limits in their indiscriminate tar
geting of innocent persons, and not to the associated causes themselves. In effec
tively declaring war upon a community (as terrorism does), the opportunities for
sympathy from and reciprocity with that community are negated, and the appeal
rests entirely upon fear rather than justice. Civil disobedience, by contrast,
appeals not to fear but to the public moral outrage at a particular injustice. Though
ecotage (like terrorism) endorses violence, it does so (unlike terrorism) within cir
cumscribed ethical limits. Can it, then, appeal to the sense of justice of a political
community (and so mobilize democratic pressure for change), or does it (as
Walzer suggests of terrorism) appeal to force alone, and not to justice? Does a
defense of ecotage depend upon its effectiveness as political strategy, depending
in turn upon its ability to sympathetically appeal to large numbers of people?
Ecotage as strategy for popular political mobilization may be effective in either
of two ways. Like civil disobedience, it may be designed to appeal directly to the
sense of justice of a larger political community, which may in turn pressurelaw-
makers to remedy some serious injustice. Though defenders of the tactic deny that
such acts are designed to influence public opinion (insisting instead that they
merely aim to make ecological destruction more expensive), many such acts con-
tain elements of political theater that seem explicitly designed to appeal to a wider
audience. Their effectiveness in this regard, however, is another matter. Though a
small number of eco-radicals may be stirred to action by ELF acts of ecotage,
these are unlikely by themselves to make for successful political strategy, as
potential allies among mainstream environmentalists may be repelled by the law
lessness of ecotage (viewing ELF action as bombastic and counterproductive,
even if they are sympathetic to ELF goals), and those not already sympathetic to
the green agenda are unlikely to be persuaded to sign onto it by what are certain to
be perceived as nothing short of criminal acts (as they have been legally rendered
by majoritarian political institutions).
Media coverage of successful attacks against organizations believed by more
moderate environmentalists to be major offenders (timber companies, Hummer
dealerships) draws public attention to such causes (publicity that is facilitated by
the ELF claiming responsibility for such acts), though this publicity can only
effectively mobilize a wider population if it endorses the groups goals and is not
repulsed by its tactics. Whether such publicity outweighs the inevitable backlash
against the mainstream environmental movement by members of the public out
raged by ELF actions is another question, but as a political strategy this comprises
one possible (though dubious) avenue of efficacy.
The other strategy relies upon this general public outrage against the audacity
of ELF actions, but uses this off-putting radicalism to the advantage of main
stream environmental organizations, which appear more reasonable as a result of
ELF actions. King’s positioning of the SCLC as a more moderate alternative to
the Nation of Islam offers a parallel from the civil rights movement for sucha
“good cop, bad cop” strategy. Working in concert with more moderate groups
(regardless of whether or not they do so with the knowledge or approval of more
centrist groups), those on the ideological extremes can have the effect of moving
the median in the direction of those extremes (providing a power-balancing disin
centive against the noncooperation of ecological offenders during negotiations),
and political history is replete with successful campaigns to manipulate the center
in exactly such a manner.
In his defense of ecotage, Foreman appears to acknowledge such strategic con
siderations: “The ELF does not engage in more traditional tactics simply because
they have been proven not to work, especially on their own.
Here, tactics closer
to the mainstream are not rejected out of principle, nor because they are demon-
strably ineffective, but because they don’t work “on their own, suggesting at least
some conscious effort to employ this strategy even while denying that ecotage
aims to influence either general public opinion or the willingness of opposition
forces to bargain with more mainstream environmental groups. Either of these
two strategies for appealing to a wider public, of course, may work in tandem with
the explicitly acknowledged ELF strategy of raising the costs of doing ecologi-
cally destructive business, though the first appears often to be counterproductive
and the second entails a morally relevant difference from the established case for
civil disobedience, and suggests a further objection insofar as (to be explored in
more detail below) it violates the obligation to engage in good faith negotiations
before resorting to prima facie objectionable extralegal tactics, using the latter
only in order to return to the former.
At this point, several dissimilarities between nonviolent civil disobedience and
ecotage suggest that the two tactics may too disanalogous to rest upon the same
moral foundations. Both employ direct action through targeted defiance of laws,
practices, or institutions taken to be unjust, and see these actions as both necessary
given the failure of good faith negotiations and potentially effective in educating
the public and mobilizing political support for social change. Civil disobedience,
however, is conducted in the light of day by protestors who are willing to bear
legal responsibility for their actions (indeed, this is seen as essential for reopening
closed negotiations), while ecotage is typically committed under the cover of
darkness, figuratively if not literally, as individual activists aim to avoid detection
while groups like the ELF claim responsibility. Since accepting responsibility for
one’s defiant acts is assumed to be an essential condition of demonstrating fidelity
to the system of laws (which is itself assumed to be a necessary condition for
effective political strategy), ecotage represents a more significant departure from
normal politics than does civil disobedience. The anonymity of the saboteur may
likewise work against the publicity strategy of civil disobedience, which relies for
its sympathy-generating power upon media coverage of nonviolent protestors
being badly treated by police, or otherwise by putting a human face upon an injus
tice. As such, the defense of ecotage may not be able to rest upon an extensionof
the established case for civil disobedience. Whether this difference amounts to
one in kind or merely in degree remains a central question.
The aim of civil disobedience, as Rawls notes, is a rhetorical one that operates
through the persuasion and mobilization of a political community; one intends “to
address the sense of justice of the majority and to serve fair notice that in one’s sin
cere and considered opinion the conditions of free cooperation are being vio
As King and Rawls both maintain, civil disobedience does not accom
plish social change by itself, but instead forces deliberation or thrusts a previously
ignored issue onto the public agenda. Chances of successful change depend upon
the consonance between the sense of justice of protestors and of the larger com-
munity; appealing to a larger community that did not share the protestor’s moral
outrage would accomplish little beyond short-term disruption. In this sense, civil
disobedience serves as a publicity check against injustice, and hence “helps to
maintain and strengthen just institutions.
Ecotage does not appear to share this causal process, even if drawing public
attention to ecologically destructive practices is occasionally an ancillary effect.
The intended primary audience of ELF actions, unlike the direct action of envi-
ronmental groups like Greenpeace that engage in political theater, is not the mass
public but rather the polluter or developer that is responsible for some ongoing act
of ecological destruction. The sabotage is not retaliation for some past offense,
but an effort to make certain present and future acts more expensive, and hence to
discourage them. Saboteurs do not aim to intimidate through force or threats of
violence against persons, but rather (according to ELF literature, at least) seek
change through the manipulation of the economic incentives surrounding ecolog
ically destructive activities. Whether or not the mass public is sympathetic to
ecotage as a tactic affects its efficacy as a political strategy, but its express aims lie
not in mobilizing the mass public so much as manipulating private balance sheets.
Because ecotage is not primarily a rhetorical act, it cannot serve the same watch
dog role as is provided through civil disobedience. Likewise, the public’s sense of
justice cannot serve as a check upon ecotage as it does with civil disobedience
(chastening protestors with silence when their complaints stray too far from pub
lic sympathies), since moral dissonance between protestors and the mass public is
largely irrelevant to the success of the former but is fatal to the latter.
Because civil disobedience is designed to appeal to the public’s sense of jus
tice, Rawls specifies that civil disobedience must be committed in public, which
means that “it is engaged in openly with fair notice; it is not covert or secretive.
This publicity requirement is a central justification for the emphasis upon nonvio
lence, since the act is a form of address, and acts which injure others or “any inter
ference with the civil liberties of others tends to obscure the civilly disobedient
quality of one’s act.
The public nature of civil disobedience also ensures that
protests remain parts of ongoing democratic deliberation about justice, which can
thereby be checked by standards of justice latent in public culture. Ecotage, by
contrast, need not be concerned with these publicity requirements, since it neither
appeals primarily to a larger sense of justice nor depends upon one for its success.
The facts that persons engaged in ecotage seek to avoid legal responsibility for
their acts and that ecotage may entail violence against property (a serious offense,
but a categorically different one from violence against persons) are largely
explained by these structural differences. While civil disobedience attempts to
persuade, and so must avoid acts which alienate its intended audience, ecotage
instead aims at the balance sheet of what its perpetrators take to be an offender (or,
in some cases, to physically stop ongoing acts of ecological destruction), and
intentionally draw the ire of their audience.
Supposing that ecotage be treated as a more serious prima facie offense than
civil disobedience—and thus that the circumstances in which the former maybe
justified be more restrictive than those for the latter—is a version of the “sliding
scale” argument in jus in bello.
Rawls invokes something like it in his discussion
of the “militant action and obstruction” (which, like ecotage, he treats as more
objectionable than civil disobedience, even if he does allow for its possible justifi-
cation) against which he seeks to distinguish civil disobedience:
The militant, for example, is much more deeply opposed to the existing political system.
He does not accept it as one which is nearly just or reasonably so; he believes either that it
departs widely from its professed principles or that it pursues a mistaken conception of jus
tice altogether. While his action is conscientious in its own terms, he does not appeal to the
sense of justice of the majority (or those having effective political power); since he thinks
that their sense of justice is erroneous, or else without effect.
The militant, he goes on to note, does not take legal responsibility for his act, and
so disavows the fidelity to law taken to be essential for civil disobedience.
Although he suggests that “sometimes if the appeal fails in its purpose, forceful
resistance may later be entertained” and that “in certain circumstances militant
action and other kinds of resistance are surely justified,
Rawls dissociates his
defense of civil disobedience from these more objectionable forms of resistance,
which he sets aside without further ethical examination.
Ecotage is neither civil disobedience, with its demonstrated fidelity to law and
targeted legal anomaly in an otherwise just world, nor militant uprising, with its
wholesale rejection of the mores of the community. Indeed, despite the expressed
sympathy for Luddites found throughout Foreman’s work and in its inspiration,
Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang, neither describes monkey wrenchers
as violent anarchists bent on bringing down the industrial order. Foreman, for
example, insists that ecotage is “not revolutionary” and is “not major industrial
sabotage”—its aims and acts are narrowly confined to specific offenses, and it
does not aim “to overthrow any social, political, or economic system.
the militant that Rawls describes disavows any commitment to public order or the
rule of law, the practitioner of ecotage that Foreman proposes observes a set of
strict ethical limits upon allowable action, and targets their actions specifically to
a narrow range of offensive practices rather than to an entire political or legal sys
tem. As such, ecotage would seem to occupy a space closer to civil disobedience
than to militant action, given its relative restraint and commitment to principled
limits on action.
As is the case with civil disobedience theory, several of the limits attached to
ecotage serve both ethical and strategic considerations. Following the require
ment of good faith negotiation prior to direct action in order to make lawbreaking
a last resort (prior to more revolutionary change, that is), Foreman urges that
ecotage not be used while nonviolent direct action is taking place, or during nego-
tiations. Not only might ecotage bring negative publicity to a particular environ-
mental battle, but it also violates the trust that is essential to good faith negotiation.
Here, Foreman’s own endorsement of the use of ecotage as a strategic device to
manipulate the political center and encourage relevant policy makers to negotiate
with the mainstream groups that appear more reasonable as a consequence of ELF
radicalism can be seen as a violation of the good faith that is necessary for any
effective negotiations, however effective that may be as political strategy. Ethical
considerations require that it be reserved for cases in which less objectionable tac-
tics have already failed (and negotiations are no longer ongoing), and not merely
that it not be used concurrently with them. Given Foreman’s occasional emphasis
upon strategy rather than principle (as noted above), this additional restriction
becomes critical. Ecotage should never be used before both legal and nonviolent
extralegal tactics have been exhausted not only for the practical reason that such
tactics undermine ongoing negotiations and alienate political constituencies
rather than cultivate them as potential forces of change, but also because a more
objectionable tactic can never be ethically justified if a lesser one will do.
The emphasis within civil disobedience theory upon nonviolence likewise
serves both ethical and strategic purposes, and so is instructive for promoting the
persuasive efficacy of ecotage, which also risks alienating persons who are other
wise sympathetic to its aims but repulsed by its placing persons at risk. Though
ecotage cannot renounce violence against inanimate objects, a central ethical con
straint upon its use must be a principle of discrimination that guards against
exposing persons to risk of harm. The evolution of the Earth First! tactic of tree
spiking illustrates how such a principle may be operationalized in practice. Early
acts of tree spiking involved driving metal or ceramic (which elude metal detec
tors) spikes into the trunks of trees slated for harvest; a practice which injured sev
eral loggers when their chainsaws hit the spikes, bringing immense negative pub
licity (and the first “eco-terrorism” laws)
upon the group and the practice for its
apparent indifference to human welfare. One faction of Earth First! (led by Judi
Bari) disavowed the practice entirely, while another (led by Foreman) urged that
spikes be driven high enough so that only sawmill blades and not chainsaws are
threatened by them, suggesting further that spiking be appropriate only for “large
timber sales where the trees are destined for a corporate, rather than a small,
family-oriented mill, as the former have protective shields that prevent injury to
mill workers when sawmill blades are shattered by spikes, and since the latter “are
seldom a major threat to wilderness.
While this concern should have been exer
cised at the outset, the changing practices nonetheless reflect one manner of insur
ing against morally repugnant and strategically self-defeating actions. As an addi
tional safeguard, the broader publicity requirement in civil disobedience might be
applied in a more limited way to ecotage by requiring not that ecoteurs themselves
act in the open (as in civil disobedience) but rather that their actions be transparent
to those who might otherwise be harmed by them. Where an action might place a
person at risk of injury, those risks must be sufficiently publicized in order that
they may readily be avoided.
While marking all and only those trees which have
been spiked may undermine the efficacy of the practice (as timber operations
could simply harvest all unmarked trees), creative modifications of the practice
(for example, marking all mature trees in some stand in an ecologically and aes-
thetically nondamaging but obvious way whether or not spiked) may be able to
adequately protect persons (thereby maintaining adherence to principle and
avoiding bad publicity) while maintaining the tactic’s deterrent value.
Under what circumstances might a resort to ecotage be warranted? If its use is
ever to be justified, a necessary condition must be that all lesser tactics have been
exhausted, and that nothing less than ecotage might avert a serious wrong. Rawls
aptly limits justified civil disobedience to “the special case of a nearly just soci
ety” as opposed to cases of more pervasive injustice or in societies which are not
well ordered, since only in the former might an injustice be remedied through the
rhetorical force of direct action as an appeal to the sense of justice of a political
community. Similarly, one might posit that ecotage (or “other kinds of dissent or
resistance”)—insofar as it is less likely to appeal to the sympathies of a larger
community than is civil disobedience, and is therefore unlikely to be effective in
mobilizing popular support for some cause where civil disobedience has already
failed—is appropriate only in societies where serious injustices are more broadly
tolerated, where political processes are unresponsive to public opinion, or where
rhetorical appeals are otherwise unlikely to produce positive effects. Consider, for
example, the following cases in which activists turn to ecotage as a tactic of
Case 1. A “cut and run” logging operation is illegally harvesting rare and valu
able old growth timber from a protected area on public lands. State officials,
although in full knowledge of these activities, refuse to take adequate steps to halt
them or to prosecute the offenders, in part because of an institutionalized sympa
thy with the timber industry and an ideological hostility to the environmental pro
tection laws that now prohibit the state from selling this timber. Opponents of this
illegal logging have attempted to compel the state to enforce its own laws through
lawsuits, and to protect the forests directly through nonviolent action (blocking
roads, encouraging boycotts of illegal wood products), but to no avail. Finally,
opponents begin driving metal spikes into the “protected” trees—which destroy
sawmill blades if the trees are illegally harvested but do not harm the trees them
selves—in an effort to dissuade these operations by increasing their costs.
Case 2. By law, large parcels of “untrammeled” public lands (i.e., those with
out roads or other signs of human habitation) are eligible for inclusion within a
protected national wilderness system. Inventories of suitable land have been con
troversial, because wilderness designations (which must be approved by the legis-
lature) permanently protect parcels of land from extractive or other ecologically
damaging uses. The legislature has for some time refused to designate some suit-
able lands as wilderness, and so they remain unprotected. In order to permanently
prevent these lands from being added to the wilderness system, anti-environmen-
tal “property rights” groups are building illegal roads across them. The relevant
state officials ignore these acts, since they share an interest in opening these lands
for development, and hence in the budget-enhancing sales of extraction permits
from them. Private citizens have attempted to halt these illegal road-building pro-
jects nonviolently, but to no avail. In order to halt one such operation, opponents
sabotage a group of bulldozers and road graders by draining their oil and pouring
sugar in their gas tanks.
Case 3. Due to a loophole in automobile fuel efficiency standards, vehicles
weighing over three tons were left exempt from regulations designed to reduce
gasoline consumption and its deleterious ecological consequences. Though origi
nally an exemption intended only for a few heavy work trucks, the increasing pop
ularity of large SUVs for regular transportation led several manufacturers to
intentionally design vehicles heavy enough to gain this exemption (necessary
given their fuel inefficiency) and one company (“Bummer”) to specialize in such
large and ecologically destructive vehicles. Various groups urge legislators to
close this loophole (which undermines the aims of the regulations), but to no
avail, and public relations campaigns by environmental groups against the pur
chase of such vehicles (including a protestor chaining herself to one in order to
draw attention to their harmful effects) are similarly unsuccessful. Given an
unwillingness of policy makers to amend existing regulations in order to bring
such vehicles under fuel efficiency standards, and in order to counter a highly
effective marketing campaign for the SUVs, a small group of activists sets fire to a
Bummer dealership, vandalizing and spray painting “I [heart] pollution” on
several of the vehicles.
The first two of these cases have several instructive features in common, which
can instructively be contrasted with the third case. To simplify, they both involve
acts that are both illegal and (arguably) unjust. The more difficult third case (rep
resentative of a category of grievance which is far more vulnerable to abuse) tar
gets an act (selling or driving large and fuel-inefficient SUVs) that is legal but
arguably unjust (or at least highly damaging), but fails to meet the necessary con
ditions for a justified resort to ecotage (and shall be discussed as such further
below). In all three cases, the state is complicit in the acts in question, and so stan
dard legal avenues of appeal are unlikely to be effective. Given that the democratic
responsiveness of political institutions is assumed to be a prerequisite for the use
of rhetorical tactics like civil disobedience, and since the institutions are in these
three cases unresponsive to political and legal pressure, one might surmise that
further publicity of the offenses in question will fail to move the relevant actors
toward remedial action. Finally, all three cases involve failed attempts at both
legal and less offensive extralegal oppositional tactics, and in the first two cases
(though not the third) the resort to ecotage is taken only as a last resort and in cases
of clear emergency, where further delay would likely lead to long-term and
irreversible damage.
The above cases suggest a set of necessary conditions for the application of
ecotage as a tactic of political resistance: (1) some act is being undertaken which
is contrary to both law and justice; (2) state officials charged with enforcing rele-
vant laws are unwilling or unable to do so; (3) serious damage is imminent and,
once complete, will be durable and irreversible; (4) legal means were attempted
and proved unsuccessful; and (5) appeals to the sense of justice of the community
have either already failed or would be frustrated by the unresponsive policy mak
ing or enforcement processes. They suggest also (especially in conditions 1 and 3,
above) why the third case presents neither an adequately serious, nor unique, nor
immanent threat to justify the acts described (which are equally unlikely to deter
the manufacture and purchase of such vehicles as well as the passage of relevant
regulatory legislation). Following the civil disobedience literature, one might fur
ther specify that damage be narrowly targeted to the offensive inanimate object in
question, that the economic damage inflicted be proportional to the offense in
question, and that any sabotage must inflict the least damage necessary in order to
avoid the bad outcome. Under no circumstances (whether intentional or as the
result of inadequate care) should persons be physically harmed or subjected to
undue risk, either directly or indirectly.
Taken together, do the above constitute sufficient conditions for justified
ecotage? Ruled out would be cases that are not narrowly tailored to an identifiable
offense, such as case 3s protest of the state and auto industrys indifference to fuel
economy, or the burning of a timber company office as a general protest against
the industry’s unsustainable logging practices. Likewise excluded wouldbe
ecotage against acts which may be environmentally destructive but which are not
obviously unjust, such as the arson of luxury homes in sprawling subdivisions or
the vandalism of property carrying the logo of a particularly anti-environmental
corporation. Targeting research facilities that develop genetically modified crops
would likewise be prohibited, on the grounds that technologies in development do
not yet pose an imminent threat, and so cannot justify the more aggressive and
immediate response of ecotage. Taken together, that is, the above conditions may
constitute both necessary and sufficient conditions for a resort to ecotage, at least
if any circumstances warrant such acts.
Supposing that ecotage may be justified in at least a narrow range of cases, eth
ical limits similar to those from jus in bello constrain both the acts themselves and
the circumstances in which they may be undertaken. Several limits have been sug-
gested above. Four final remarks underscore the need to recognize principled
restraints on the application of any prima facie objectionable political tactics,
including ecotage.
First, ecotage must be understood as an act that must be reserved for extraordi-
nary circumstances and then narrowly targeted to the exigencies of specific cases.
It is not, as defended here, militant resistance or insurrectionist in nature. Foreman
comes perilously close to undermining his own case for ecotage when he
describes it as a kind of self-defense, urging that “it is aimed at keeping industrial
civilization out of natural areas and causing industrys retreat from areas that
should be wild” and that “it is defensive in that it is used to prevent destructive
development in wild places and in seminatural areas next to cities.
While the
image of an environmental militia in defense of the earth may stir the passions of
potential followers, it also risks the blurring of the above ethical limits suggested
for acts of ecotage. If ecotage is to be sufficiently disciplined to observe these lim
its, seeking to alter economic incentives that are presently unjustly skewed toward
ecological destruction but not to inflict gratuitous damage, then the rhetoric of
defensive warfare is unhelpful. Rhetoric such as this may motivate the already
converted, but risks alienating potential allies and encouraging the transgression
of the necessary moral limits set upon acts of ecotage.
Second, the risks associated with ecotage as political strategy are immense,
and must therefore be kept in mind throughout this analysis. It remains unclear
that ELF actions have thus far had any positive effects on public opinion, nor have
they advanced the agenda of mainstream environmental groups (moderate alter
natives to ELF radicalism) in any obvious ways. Though they’ve inflicted in
excess of $100 million in damage (primarily through arson), these costs have been
borne primarily by insurance companies rather than agents of environmental
destruction, giving rise to justified skepticism that ELF actions have been effec
tive in any of their possible avenues of social or political change. On the other
hand, the lawlessness of ecotage risks alienating mainstream public opinion for
the very reason that Walzer identifies as the failure of terrorism and both King and
Rawls identify as the strength of civil disobedience: it fails to make its case in a
straightforward and public way, and it fails to accord adequate respect to the sys
tem of law and justice toward which it directs its action. This downside riskisa
serious one, especially in light of the lack of a corresponding upside to ecotage,
and activists must remain mindful of this potential for a backlash of public opin
ion against the environmental movement if they sincerely desire to bring about the
requisite changes to achieve a more sustainable society.
Third, and related to the risk of a backlash of opinion, ecotage presents the risk
of violating its own principles, either by inadvertently causing harm to persons or
in appearing to sanction violence such that the strategy could be hijacked by less
principled cohorts. Historically, clandestine groups that employ limited violence
have experienced difficulty in maintaining their principled opposition to the
expansion of that violence, and have as a consequence crossed the lines separating
the defensible from the criminal. In that ecotage eschews the publicity condition
requisite for civil disobedience, it forgoes the check against wielding the tactic
without adequate grievance in serious injustice that is provided by the process of
public deliberation of which civil disobedience remains a component. It therefore
risks violation of many of the ethical limits elucidated above: refraining from
harming persons, targeting only extraordinary offenders in clear cases of injustice
where serious damage is imminent and potentially irreversible, narrowly tailoring
its attacks to particularly destructive equipment, and resorting to ecotage only
when all lesser means have been exhausted. One might minimize this risk by
requiring that acts of ecotage be preceded by careful deliberative processes
designed to replicate the functions of the failed democratic institutions whose
authority is being challenged through such extralegal acts, but the prospects of
effective deliberation in clandestine groups like the ELF are, at best, limited. Even
if justifiable cases for ecotage may be articulated in theory, one must worry about
the effect of its principled limits in practice.
Finally, claims of injustice surrounding acts that are ecologically destructive
must be met with the proper critical scrutiny, and the burden of proof must be
placed on those seeking remedial action through ecotage, but such claims ought
not to be dismissed out of hand (as, for example, through the misleading moniker
eco-terrorism). Present threats to the integrity of the biosphere are multifarious
and pervasive, and the radical environmental movement was born of a frustration
with the slow pace of remedial change accomplished through mainstream poli
tics. It must be remembered that, as King notes in his famous letter, “law and order
exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail to do this they
become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”
Likewise, as Rawls notes, a preference for order and stability cannot rule out
efforts to rectify injustice categorically, for “if justified civil disobedience seems
to threaten civic concord, the responsibility falls not upon those who protest but
upon those whose abuse of authority and power justifies such opposition.
may have an obligation to first pursue social change within the confines of main
stream politics and good faith negotiation, and then through civil disobedience,
but ruling out ecotage categorically would, like foreswearing nonviolent direct
action, be in some cases excluding a defensible avenue of social change.
1. See, for example, Eric Lichtblau, “FBI Scrutinizes Antiwar Rallies, New York
Times, online edition, November 23, 2003, The story documents
the monitoring of antiwar demonstrators as part of the FBI’s counterterrorism efforts.
2. Earth Liberation Front, “Frequently Asked Questions about the Earth Liberation
Front (ELF), North American ELF Press Office, 2001, http://www.earthliberationfront
.com, 27.
3. Ibid., 31.
4. Noam Chomsky, “Terror and Just Response, in Terrorism and International Justice,
ed. James Sterba (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 69.
5. Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (New York: Basic Books, 1977), 197-206.
6. U.S. Code, sec. 2332b, title 18.
7. U.S. Code, sec. 844i, title 18.
8. Dave Foreman, “Strategic Monkeywrenching, in Ecodefense: A Field Guide to
Monkeywrenching, 3rd ed., ed. Dave Foreman and Bill Haywood (Chico, Calif.: Abbzug
Press, 1993), 9.
9. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 1971), 334.
10. See, for example, Jean-Paul Sartre’s preface to Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the
Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove, 1986), 7-31, in which Sartre
defends FLN (National Liberation Front, or Front de Libération Nationale) terrorism in
Algeria through the argument from necessity. For a critical reply, see Walzer, Just and
Unjust Wars, 204-6.
11. Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 204.
12. Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in Martin Luther King Jr.,
Why We Can’t Wait (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 77-99.
13. Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 376.
14. Earth Liberation Front, “Frequently Asked Questions,” 20.
15. Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 382-83.
16. Ibid., 383.
17. Ibid., 366.
18. See, for example, Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 229-32.
19. Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 367.
20. Ibid., 368.
21. Foreman and Haywood, Ecodefense, 10.
22. Anti-spiking legislation was added as a rider to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 in
a subsection entitled “Hazardous or Injurious Devices on Federal Lands” that prohibits
“tree spiking devices including spikes, nails, or other objects hammered, driven, fastened,
or otherwise placed into or on any timber” (U.S. Code, sec. 1864, title 18).
23. Foreman and Haywood, Ecodefense, 19.
24. Foreman (in Ecodefense) urges that “anyone spiking trees has a moral obligation to
notify the ‘proper authorities’ that a particular area contains spiked trees and that it would
be hazardous to cut those trees” (31), and that the goal is to raise the costs of timber sales
and thus to provide a “long term deterrent” against further incursions into federally man
aged wilderness. To this publicity requirement, an additional marker on each spiked tree
would provide an additional safeguard against injury.
25. Dave Foreman, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior (New York: Harmony Books, 1991),
26. King, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” 88.
27. Rawls, A Theory of Justice, 390-91.
Steve Vanderheiden ( is an assistant professor of philosophy
and political science at the University of Minnesota Duluth. His research has been
primarily concerned with political and philosophical issues in environmental prob
lems and movements, and he is currently working on a book-length treatment of such
issues in problems of and responses to climate change.
... Nevertheless, although the paragraph above may have convinced some people that there is such a group that commits eco-terrorism, as [5]. stated, the term ecoterrorism itself is problematic. ...
... For one, although advocating for the destruction of property, these groups are not advocating, even outright banning, killing, or hurting any human, a stark difference from another terrorist group where human lives can be the primary target. Furthermore, this term, although used heavily in the general discourse of these groups, is marred with controversial classification impacted by the controversial enactment of the Patriot Act [5]. Thus, although in this paper, the term eco-terrorism will be used, it is not to be understood as an endorsement of the term validity but instead as a generalization to make it easier to classify the activities that the character do in the films. ...
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In the age of social media and streaming platforms, the visuality of an idea has become much more important than before, including in the space of environmental activism. The representation of an ecoactivism idea campaigning for climate change, including the more radical practice of those activisms, is now communicated mainly not with written words but through the audio-visual medium of film or vlog to the audience. In the realm of cinema, films are worth analyzing regarding their representation of radical environmental activism Pom Poko (1994) directed by Isao Takahata, and First Reformed (2017) by Paul Schrader, because of their originality and nuanced representation of radical environmental activism. Through these films, we can see not only the surface representation of radical environmentalism but also the philosophy and reason behind it that usually has been overlooked. The authors chose both films to highlight that radical environmentalists' ideology and actions have been depicted relevantly since 1994 and continue in 2017 and beyond. Using hermeneutics reading of the text and Bordwell’s four levels of meanings, we found that the cinema, specifically fictional films, can be an effective tool to represent the nuanced idea of environmentalism and radical environmentalism as much as its documentary counterpart.
... For example, in e Netherlands, recently Dutch Police have been responding to a number of dierent demonstrations; the most prominent ones have been organized on one hand by Dutch farmers against the government's plans to cut nitrate emissions, and on the other hand, by environmental activists (Extinction Rebellion in particular) against the Dutch government's support for fossil fuels (Hayden, 2023). e police response to environmental direct action is oen to construct and frame such behaviour as criminal (at best) and/or, at worst, as an example of eco terrorism (Vanderheiden, 2005). e ndings from a UK research project on policing two dierent climate camps suggests that the mobile, fragmented, and possibly transnational nature of climate change-induced protests imply that the police will be forced to pursue dierent tactics and conict management methods compared with those they commonly apply, for example to respond to football-related violence (Baker, 2011). ...
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Climate change is now considered more than just an environmental issue, with far-reaching effects for society at large. While the exact implications of climate change for policing practice are still unknown, over the past two decades criminologists have anticipated that climate change will have a number of effects that will result in compromised safety and security. This article is informed by the outcome of a co-creation workshop with 16 practitioners and scholars of diverse backgrounds based in the Netherlands, who sought to conceptualise and systematise the existing knowledge on how climate change will most likely impact the professional practice of the Dutch (or any other) police. These challenges, with varying degrees of intensity, are observable at three main levels: the societal level, organisational level, and individual level. The levels cannot be separated neatly in practice but we use them as a structuring device for our article, and to illustrate how dynamics on one level impact on the others. The focus of this article will be on establishing the precepts necessary to consider when exploring the intersection between climate change and policing. We conclude that much still needs to be done to ensure that the implications of climate change and the subject of policing are better aligned and that climate change is recognized as an immediate challenge experienced on the ground and not treated as a distant, intangible phenomenon with possible future impacts. This starts with creating awareness about the possible ways in which it is already impacting the functioning of policing organisations, as well as the longer-term repercussions of this.
... ramını da tekrar tartışmaya ve kavramsallaştırmaya açmıştır. Kabaca iki farklı görüş olduğu söylenebilir: Bunlardan birincisine göre terörizmin devletler tarafından baz alınan geniş tanımı bir yana bırakılırsa, bir yerde terörist faaliyetten bahsedebilmek için orada şiddetin olması ve bu şiddetin sivil/masum insanlara yönelmiş olması gerekmektedir.Vanderheiden (2005) veAmster (2006) ileLiddick (2006) bu doğrultuda çevre ve hayvan hakları örgütlerinin sivillere zarar vermediklerini, mülkiyete verdikleri zararı da minimumda tuttuklarını belirtmektedir. Benzer görüşü savunan Monaghan da (2013), bu örgütlenmelerin terörist değil de aşırıcı (extremist) olarak tanımlanmasının uygun olacağını ve yargılanma ...
11 Eylül’ün ardından, terörizm tüm dünyayı ilgilendiren bir mesele haline gelmiştir. O günden sonra, bir hayli tartışmalı bu kavramı yeniden tanımlamaya yönelik hem akademik hem de popüler tartışmalar ortaya çıkmıştır. Bir taraftan, siyasal otoriteler ve genel olarak güvenlik kurumları kavramın anlamını genişletmeye başlarken, diğer taraftan çok sayıda araştırmacı temel hak ve özgürlüklerin istismarını engellemek amacıyla terörizm kavramının sınırlarını çizmek ve ona belirli ve nesnel bir tanım vermek için çaba sarf etmiştir. Bu süreçte, uluslararası terörizmin yükselişine yönelik artan ilgiyi rağmen, diğer taraftan, ABD’de bir başka terörizm türünün -yerel terörizm- kendini göstermiş ve beraberinde tartışmaları tetiklemiştir. 2000’li yıllarda FBI ekolojik terörizmi ABD için en önemli tehlike olarak gördüğünü açıklamıştır. Bu çalışma, bir ekolojik örgütlenme olarak Dünya Kurtuluş Cephesi ve hayvan hakları örgütlenmesi olarak Hayvan Kurtuluş Cephesi’nin stratejileri ve kundaklama ve genel olarak mülkiyeti yok etmeye yönelik faaliyetlerini incelemek suretiyle bu örgütlenmelerin terörist olarak sınıflandırılıp sınıflandırılamayacağını tartışmak niyetindedir. Bu tartışmayı yürütebilmek için Ganor’ıun siillere ve sivil hedeflere zarar vermeye odalanan terörizm tanımını kullanacaktır. Eko-terörizm üzerine yapılacak tartışma üzerinden, çalışma, Ganor’ın terörizm tanımının eksik ve yetersiz yanlarını ortaya koyacak ve daha iyi yapılandırılmış bir terörizm tanımı sağlamak amacıyla gerekli kriterleri göstermeye çalışacaktır.
... Animal rights, anti-nuclear, and environmental protection activists utilizing disruptive tactics to oppose industrial development projects (such as Earth First! and the Earth Liberation Front) were increasingly pursued by the U.S. Justice Department, which later extended terrorist-related laws to protect private material property beginning in the 1980s. 22,23,24,25 In a parallel continuation of prosecutorial legacies aimed at social justice groups, such as the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, and other civil rights activists of the 1960s and 1970s, state security responses to Occupy Wallstreet and the Black Lives Matter movement have similarly extended political appetites to apply terrorist-related laws to progressive protest movements. 26,27 As has been observed in the United States and elsewhere, collaborations between the state and environmentally damaging industries create mutually beneficial security partnerships for the purpose of securing sacrifice zones for the ecological and social exploits of free market industrialism. ...
... However, critiques against terrorism alarmism and high counterterrorism spending focus predominately on the limited deaths from terrorism that consolidated democracies suffer (Muller 2005;Muller and Stewart 2021). Our research partly vindicates these critiques and implicitly suggests that aggregating all terrorist attacks, including those against inanimate objects (see Vanderheiden 2005), without examining fatalities overestimates the extent of terrorist violence. Future research on regime type and terrorism should take fatalities, rather than only incidence, into consideration. ...
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A long literature examines the relationship between terrorism and democracy. However, little research examines the lethality of terrorist attacks across regime type. This article theorizes the terrorism that democracies do experience will be less deadly. Democracy increases the opportunity for nonstate actors to use terrorism to attract attention to their causes, which we argue also mitigates the need to carry out deadly attacks. Using cross-national data on domestic terrorist attacks committed between 1970 and 2013, a multilevel statistical analysis demonstrates that terrorist attacks in democracies are less lethal. A time-series cross-sectional analysis further reveals that consolidated democracies and harsh authoritarian regimes experience few deaths from terrorism. While democracies experience high volumes of nonlethal terrorism, strong autocracies experience low amounts of deadly terrorism. Thus, there is strong evidence that—in one important sense—democracies are safer from terrorism. Existe una extensa literatura que examina la relación entre el terrorismo y la democracia. Sin embargo, son pocos los estudios que examinan la letalidad de los atentados terroristas según el tipo de régimen. Este artículo sostiene que el terrorismo que registran las democracias será menos mortífero. La democracia aumenta la oportunidad de que los actores no estatales utilicen el terrorismo para atraer la atención hacia sus causas, lo que, según argumentamos, también mitiga la necesidad de llevar a cabo ataques mortales. Utilizando datos transnacionales sobre ataques terroristas nacionales cometidos entre 1970 y 2013, un análisis estadístico multinivel demuestra que los ataques terroristas en las democracias son menos mortales. Un análisis transversal de series cronológicas revela además que las democracias consolidadas y los regímenes autoritarios duros registran pocas muertes por terrorismo. Mientras las democracias registran grandes volúmenes de terrorismo no letal, las autocracias fuertes registran bajas cantidades de terrorismo mortal. Por lo tanto, hay pruebas sólidas de que, en un sentido importante, las democracias son más seguras frente al terrorismo. Si une vaste littérature analyse les relations entre terrorisme et démocratie, peu de travaux se sont penchés sur la létalité des attaques terroristes selon le type de régime. Cet article émet l’hypothèse que le terrorisme qui frappe les démocraties est moins meurtrier. En effet, dans la mesure où le régime démocratique augmente les possibilités, pour les acteurs non étatiques, de recourir au terrorisme pour attirer l’attention sur les causes qu’ils défendent, il limite également la nécessité de perpétrer des attaques meurtrières. S’appuyant sur des données transnationales portant sur les attaques terroristes intérieures entre 1970 et 2013, une analyse statistique multiniveau démontre que les attaques terroristes sont moins létales dans les démocraties. Par ailleurs, une analyse transverse et temporelle révèle que les démocraties solidement établies et les régimes autoritaires ne subissent que peu de morts dues au terrorisme. Tandis que les démocraties connaissent une quantité importante de terrorisme non létal, les autocraties fortes ne souffrent que de peu de formes de terrorisme meurtrières. Par conséquent, il est clair que, dans un sens (particulièrement important), les démocraties sont un meilleur rempart contre le terrorisme.
This essay looks at the role of violence within radical environmentalist groups, such as ELF or Earth FIRST!, that engage in or support the use of ecotage or monkeywrenching. By looking at the philosophical underpinnings of monkeywrenching in terms of apocalyptic and utopian discourses within the movement, the author argues that violence against property functions to create a form of subjectivity that can account for the dialectic tension and irreconcilability of utopian and apocalyptic discourses within the group. This tension, with its simultaneous elevation and denigration of the Human, is fundamental to the ecological subjectivity of the members and allows them to act despite a truly apocalyptic belief in the reality of biological meltdown.In addition to providing a way to escape paralysis within such an apocalyptic framework, the eco-warrior functions within the group as well as within larger environmental circles to provide a counter-narrative to benign images of industrial progress by providing an archetypal figure of resistance that marries the modern-primitive, nature-culture, and apocalyptic-utopian together. As such, the author argues that the narrative violence of the eco-warrior provides a way to mobilize a very disparate group of people on the margins of both society and more 'legitimate' environmental groups.
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Social movements often impose nontrivial costs on others against their wills. Civil disobedience is no exception. How can social movements in general, and civil disobedience in particular, be justifiable despite this apparent wrong-making feature? We examine an intuitively plausible account—it is fair that everyone should bear the burdens of tackling injustice. We extend this fairness-based argument for civil disobedience to defend some acts of uncivil disobedience. Focusing on uncivil environmental activism—such as ecotage (sabotage with the aim of protecting the environment)—we argue that some acts of uncivil disobedience can be morally superior to their civil counterparts, when and because such acts target people who are responsible for environmental threats. Indeed, insofar as some acts of uncivil disobedience can more accurately target responsible people, they can better satisfy the demands of fairness compared to their civil counterparts. In some circumstances, our argument may require activists to engage in uncivil disobedience even when civil disobedience is available.
This article evaluates responses to air pollution that lie beyond the domain of state policy and nonviolent civil disobedience. I begin by presenting evidence that fine particulate matter pollution is more serious than commonly recognized. As a result, attempts to address it deserve more attention from those who are concerned about achieving a just and livable world. I argue that, in part because of its physical characteristics, air pollution pushes the limits of civil disobedience as moral communication. I evaluate one nonviolent and one unarmed violent strategy for collective self-defense against air pollution and make at least two concrete recommendations for engaging in collective self-defense against air pollution.
This article examines more than 100 scholarly, think-tank, government, and media reports and three data-sets and finds that since the 6 January 2021 Capitol “insurrection”, War on Terror (WoT) 2.0 is conflating far-right, white supremacist extremism (WSE), and other terminologies, which have superseded “Islamic extremism” on the U.S government’s radar. Further, distinctions are not being recognised between violent and anti-violent far-right/WSE groups, and especially ideologues, and it is far from certain this phenomenon is “global”, “rising”, or comparable to ISIS. Perpetrators of WoT 2.0 terminological conflations and threat inflations are inter-related and mutually reinforcing, be they media, academics, think-tanks, or government officials, and are continuing WoT 1.0’s legacy, which exhibited its own set of inflations and conflations after 9/11. This article employs primary sources extensively and critical approaches to identify and remedy existing problems in studying far-right/WSE terrorism and proposes policies to more effectively address the rare and primarily “lone actor” lethal attacks of such terrorists while reducing potentialities for repeating WoT 1.0’s excesses.
In taking up the mantle of ‘green,’ criminologists concerned with environmental harm have succeeded in shifting criminology away from its anthropocentric focus on crime and harms committed to and by humans. While this framework has generated a large body of scholarship, it has also occluded important discussions about the significance of race and racial ideologies in the ongoing construction of crime, even—and especially—when depictions of crime do not explicitly reference humans. This article employs semiotic analysis of media images of eco-crime to demonstrate that the ways in which we see eco-crime—like ways of seeing crime more generally—construct images of race and contribute to the establishment of racialized relations. By placing eco-crime in a visual context and deconstructing the implicit and explicit racial imagery of eco-crime, I prompt criminologists to consider more critically issues of race and racialization in green criminology.
My Dear Fellow Clergymen: While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms. I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here. But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Incluye bibliografía e índice
Published by the American Friends Service Committee. This copy belonged to Roberta Church. The University of Tennessee Libraries (Knoxville, Tennessee) is the digital publisher.
FBI Scrutinizes Antiwar Rallies The story documents the monitoring of antiwar demonstrators as part of the FBI's counterterrorism efforts. 2. Earth Liberation Front
  • Eric See
  • Lichtblau
See, for example, Eric Lichtblau, " FBI Scrutinizes Antiwar Rallies, " New York Times, online edition, November 23, 2003, The story documents the monitoring of antiwar demonstrators as part of the FBI's counterterrorism efforts. 2. Earth Liberation Front, " Frequently Asked Questions about the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), " North American ELF Press Office, 2001, http://www.earthliberationfront .com, 27. 3. Ibid., 31.
334. 10. See, for example, Jean-Paul Sartre's preface to Franz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, trans
  • John Rawls
  • A Theory
  • Justice
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 1971), 334. 10. See, for example, Jean-Paul Sartre's preface to Franz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove, 1986), 7-31, in which Sartre defends FLN (National Liberation Front, or Front de Libération Nationale) terrorism in Algeria through the argument from necessity. For a critical reply, see Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 204-6. 11. Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 204.
Terror and Just Response
  • Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky, " Terror and Just Response, " in Terrorism and International Justice, ed. James Sterba (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 69.