By Ed Quillen
The Cold War was hot when I was growing up in the 1950s and
’60s. It affected our domestic discourse because politicians so often sought to
discredit their opponents as “Communist sympathizers” or “comsymps,” people
“soft on Communism,” “just a little bit pink” or outright “pinkos.”
Something as basic as the integration of public facilities
could be denounced as part of a Communist conspiracy to weaken America. As
Strom Thurmond of South Carolina put it in 1961, “It has been revealed time and
time again that advocacy by Communists of social equality among diverse
races... is the surest method for the destruction of free governments.” The
Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, and although China remains Communist in theory,
in practice it is proving quite talented at capitalism. Today, pinkos are
passé, so how do you discredit political opponents, especially on environmental
Simple. Call them terrorists.
Witness the recent press release from an outfit called “Americans
for American Energy,” based in Golden, Colo. At issue was the leasing of the
Roan Plateau in western Colorado for oil and gas drilling. This is a wonderful
place for wildlife, but part of the plateau was originally set aside as a Naval
Oil Shale Reserve by President Woodrow Wilson. At that time, and even today,
there was no economical way to extract petroleum from oil shale, so control of
the land passed from the Navy to the U.S. Department of Energy and then to the
federal Bureau of Land Management.
Lots of people including local ranchers and hunters oppose
drilling on the Roan Plateau. They worked through the system to protest,
writing letters, speaking out at public meetings and lobbying their elected
officials. They did nothing violent or destructive. But the press release from
Americans for American energy denounced them as “economic terror groups —
eco-terrorists” who had “launched an attack against the U.S. Naval Oil Shale
Reserve,” thereby “weakening American security, right when we are in the middle
of a war.”
Greg Schnacke, the group’s president, explained that “America
can better support our troops if our economy is strong. And producing more
American energy here at home — instead of buying foreign energy —
makes us stronger. But these eco-terrorists and their supporters in Congress
want to hamstring America’s ability to harvest American energy. ...” Thus does
a peaceful, legal effort to protect public lands become an act of terrorism.
The energy lobby isn’t the only one to play the name-calling card,
however. A couple of months ago, a wide 12 by 14 inch, 5.25 pounds book landed
on my desk called “Thrillcraft: The Environmental Consequences of Motorized
Recreation.” It’s a lushly illustrated anthology of passionate attacks on
motorized recreation including motorcycles, ATVs, ORVs, snowmobiles, jet skis,
dune buggies and swamp buggies, to name the most prominent offenders.
As someone who tries to tread quietly and lightly, I sympathize
with the authors. But are motorheads really practicing eco-terrorism? In the
book’s foreword, Douglas Thompson, president of the Foundation for Deep
Ecology, believes so. Thrillcraft was designed “to document the pervasive
destruction of America’s public lands by a homegrown crop of eco-terrorists,
people who wantonly disfigure landscapes in the pursuit of thoughtless,
Motorized recreationists might be boorish, loud and
destructive. But does that make them terrorists?
Granted, there are some who knock down signs and tear out
gates. I saw their handiwork a few months ago at one of my favorite hiking
areas. Some four-wheelers had contrived a detour around the big rocks that the
BLM had installed to block a deeply rutted, washed-out path up a gulch. Those
drivers were certainly vandals and lawbreakers, but I would call them jerks, as
well as various unprintable epithets. I wouldn’t call them terrorists.
What, after all, is terrorism? My American Heritage Dictionary
says it’s “the systematic use of terror defined nearby as intense, overpowering
fear, violence, and intimidation to achieve an end.” Perhaps more pertinently,
the U.S. State Department calls it “premeditated, politically motivated
violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or
clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”
In our land-management disputes, there certainly have been acts
of terrorism, such as the pipe bombs aimed at U.S. Forest Service personnel in
1995 in Nevada, or the 1998 arson that damaged or destroyed seven buildings at
the Vail ski resort in Colorado.
But citizens who go to public hearings or who ride snowmobiles
are hardly committing acts of terrorism, right? If you don’t agree, then you
must be one yourself, or at least a pinko comsymp.
Ed Quillen is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a
High Country News
(hcn.org). He lives in Salida, Colo., where he publishes Colorado Central
Magazine and is a regular columnist for the Denver Post.