When does green rage become “ecoterrorism”?

Several members of Earth Liberation Front face lengthy prison terms, possibly life, for their role in several environmentally motivated firebombings and destruction of buildings. The goverment says they are “terrorist” thus the possibly extremely harsh sentences. Ordinary arson just gets you a few years in prison. But if the arson is politically motivated then it becomes way more serious legally.

AlterNet has a thoughtful piece on this using it as a way to discuss if and when violence is ever justified.

The Question of Violence sometimes gets discussed in political circles. Should violence be used? If so, when? Hey, the US was founded on violent revolution, so our founding fathers apparently thought it justifiable sometimes. But that doesn’t mean that a fringe group adopting it as a tactic won’t end up in prison or dead. As Saul Alinsky famously said in the 60’s about the Black Panthers, it’s lunacy to say all political power grows out of the barrel of a gun when the other side has all the guns. But there’s also state-sponsored violence (and lots of it) and sometimes people choose to fight back using “any means necessary” calling it self-defense. So when does that become justifiable?

I’m guessing the defendants were influenced by or are fellow travelers with Green Anarchy and the ideas of John Zerzan.

Their central precept is not that civilization needs to be reconstructed, but rather that it needs to be overthrown in its entirety and never replaced. Things started to go wrong, they contend, when humans first domesticated plants and animals.

John Brow's gravestoneWell, the door to the Garden of Eden is closed. We can’t go back. And maybe Eden wasn’t all that idyllic in the first place. The best way to create mass change is by creating mass movements, and that requires mass organizing. That’s the flaw I see in anarchist thought. If you want to be without rules and hierarchies, then mass action can’t happen because there’s no structure to organize it, guide it, and make it happen.

The article closes by wondering if the defendants will eventually be seen as abolitionist John Brown is now, as a symbol of a movement that grew in power until it changed the country, even though they paid dearly for it.


  1. It is a fallacy to say that anarchists are against organisation and also wrong to link all anarchism to violence. It is some fringe groups that advocate violence as a means. However most anarchist theory calls for the ends to be embedded in the means and all structures must come from the bottom up and all action must be taken by those who are the oppressed not an elite group doing it for them. This calls for resistance to come at different points and at different times with co-operation between the groups and so growing into a mass movement to end all oppression. Like you say, violence is the state’s weapon, the weapon of power and oppression and will be used at will, the people have at times the right to defend themselves but our structures for change, the means used, must always have within them the kernal of our desires. It is no use making structures and saying but we will change when we have the power, those who gain power seldom reliquish it. So from the beginning it is all those involved that must have the power of decision.
    May I suggest your read Ben Franks “Rebel Alliances”
    AK Press ISBN 1-9048594-0-2 it will I’m sure give you a better understanding of anarchism.

  2. Wasn’t trying to imply either one, neither was the article, which was basically sympathetic.

    When fast action is needed, a consensus form of governing doesn’t work. It’s too slow and too prone to one faction blocking everyone. I saw this happen over and over when I was active in the Green Party, some of whom were allergic to anyone telling them to do anything, thinking it to be authoritarian. And I think that current is in some but certainly not all anarchist thought.

    The Paris Commune is an example of a group that should have organized into a serious army with leaders and attacked then then-retreating French Army. They didn’t. The French Army regrouped, and slaughtered them. A disciplined cadre, I think, wouldn’t have made that fatal mistake.

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