Published on Wednesday, July 25, 2001 in the Independent / UK
Loggers Try to Demonize Environmental Groups as 'Terrorists'
by Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
Emboldened by their powerful new friends in the White House, some of America's most prominent lumber and mining companies have launched an offensive against grassroots environmental activists. They are trying to associate them with "terrorist" acts of sabotage and urging the government to strip them of tax-exempt charitable status.
The confrontation, arguably the nastiest environmental stand-off since the Reagan era, will come to a head outside Chicago today when a group of celebrity environmentalists, church leaders and rock musicians will picket the corporate headquarters of Boise Cascade. The lumber company is lobbying hard to open national forests and parklands to further commercial exploitation.
Among those seeking to block the entrance to the building will be the singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt, John Densmore, former drummer with the Doors, and Julia "Butterfly" Hill, an environmentalist who came to fame by living in an endangered redwood tree in northern California for two years. They will be joined by the heads of leading environmental groups including Greenpeace, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Global Exchange. The actors Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, and the feminist writer Gloria Steinem have also written letters of support.
"It's the largest gathering of environmental and social- justice leaders for years," said Mike Brune of RAN, who is coordinating the event.
The standoff goes to the heart of the Bush administration's environmental policies with the White House having shown support for commercial use of national parks and wilderness areas, despite strong public opposition. It has also sought to overturn protection orders approved at the end of the Clinton administration.
Last month, industry lobbyists, led by Boise Cascade, wrote to the Internal Revenue Service arguing that groups such as RAN had violated the terms of their tax-exempt status because they engaged in civil disobedience.
At the same time, they made calls to RAN's major donors seeking to link the group to acts of arson, tree-spiking and other forms of sabotage. They urged the withdrawal of all funding.
RAN, they said, was an "attack group", not an environmentalist group, even though RAN does not endorse violence or property destruction.
Among Boise Cascade's supporters is Frontiers of Freedom, whose sponsors include the tobacco companies RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris, and the oil giant Exxon Mobil. Also in the alliance is the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. Its leader, Ron Arnold, was called "No 1 Enemy of the Earth" by People magazine because of his explicit threats to "destroy the environmentalists".
The campaign to demonize the environmentalists appears to have backfired, since no donor has withdrawn funding to RAN and quite a few have increased contributions. The amount of money raised through internet donations has tripled in the last month.
Mr Brune said: "It has had a shockingly galvanizing effect on our supporters.
"Shooting the messenger is a classic corporate PR maneuver that has never worked. It only serves to highlight the issue further."
© 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd