Environmental activists over the past few years have reported a series of incidents involving surveillance, police overreaction, and harassment that lead them to believe they are being targeted by a campaign to discredit them and hamstring their attempts to exercise their constitutional rights. Many of those targeted are members of the environmental group Greenpeace, and it’s not just a problem in big cities, as one person fighting a rural toxic waste dump found out the hard way.
Mike Buckner’s family has deep roots in central Georgia–relatives have lived there since 1832–so he was apprehensive when he learned of plans to build a toxic waste incinerator there. Buckner, who works for the post office, and other concerned citizens came to believe that state and county officials and corporate interests had rigged the planning and hearing process. County officials had voted in secret to nominate the site, and the first suitability study neglected to mention health and environmental concerns. Then, according to a local lawyer who sued the state, several state officials admitted they had voted for the Taylor-county site because “it was the governor’s wish.”
Now, the local people were being invited to a town meeting calledby the consulting firm hired to do a second study. But this company had close ties to Waste Management Incorporated, the corporation that wanted to build the incinerator. The local people were angry. “They call all these meetings,” Taylor resident Ben Parham told a local paper, “and they don’t amount to a tinker’s dam.”
Mike Buckner sat next to Brian Spears, an experienced civil rights attorney from Atlanta, who recalls “the courtroom was nearly packed with some 250 people.” As the meeting opened, Katrina McIntosh walked forward to present the panel with a suitcase stuffed with fake money as “welcome gift.” Halfway up the aisle, she was intercepted and hustled out by officers of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Others began to throw more wads of fake money at the consultants.
After the consultant’s presentation, it became clear that the hearing would go as some of the others had before–no opportunity for opponents of the incinerator to speak. So they turned to their last resort. Somebody tripped the switch on a tape recorder in a locked briefcase in the balcony, and the strains of the Beatles hit “Money” filled the courtroom. Taylor County Sheriff Nick Giles ordered his deputies to silence the case, which was attached by a chain to a chair bolted to the balcony floor. They complied, smashing it with their boots.
“The protests were certainly colorful,” says Spears, “but they were harmless, and definitely not criminal.” Yet Buckner was placed on administrative leave for three weeks after Sheriff Giles falsely told Buckner’s supervisors that Buckner was involved in the “disruption.” Buckner also was interrogated by his superiors. “I was asked what I knew about bombings of federal officials and bomb threats at the meeting and other things I had never heard of,” says Buckner. He was asked if he was a member of Greenpeace.
Local environmental activists tell Spears they now are worried about attempts to discredit them. A local newspaper reported that the authorities were compiling information about potential troublemakers. Sheriff Giles is quoted saying “We have photographed the crowds at every meeting. We know who is at these meetings. We have videotapes of some meetings.” Jan M. Caves, whose family owns property next to the proposed site, told reporters of “an air of harassment towards the opponents [of the incinerator] adding that some had become too intimidated to speak out. “The harassment has become unbelievable,” says incinerator opponent Marie McGlaun.
What happened in Taylor County is not unique. The environmental movement is entering a new era, one in which the traditional channels of reform–the courts, the hearing room and the legislature–are proving increasingly unresponsive to the concerns of ordinary citizens. At the same time, the overwhelming influence of big business in setting priorities, such as where incinerators should be sited or how much old growth should be clearcut, is becoming obvious.
In response, average people are beginning to act in defense of their country, their homes and their environment, often using tactics that are traditionally drawn upon in this situation: sit-ins, demonstrations, and other time-honored acts of civil disobedience. And for their trouble, they are being treated as criminals and subjected to surveillance and retaliation in the workplace.
Their tactics, pioneeered by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi, are being recast by the media and others as “terrorism.” In parts of the country, legal authorities are levying fines and setting bail for environmental activists that equal or in some cases exceed those leveled at suspects held for muder and other violent crimes. Even worse, some people are being singled out by the police and the FBI as well as private interests solely on the basis of their activities in defense of the environment.
In Arizona, revelations of possible cover-ups and illegal collusion between the state and a company planning to build an incinerator led to vocal and active opposition from a local group. A hearing last May in the town of Mobile, southwest of Phoenix, dissolved into a shouting match when the hearing officer tried to oust hundreds of concerned citizens who crowded the back of the hearing room. With no provocation, officers arrested 18 activists and dragged them outside, using high voltage “stun guns” on five of them.
Fourteen activists were locked in a sheriff’s van at the side of the highway and denied phone calls or legal counsel until the hearing ended. Seven of them have since been charged with disorderly conduct.
After the incident, it was discovered that the EPA had forwarded videotapes showing some of the activists at a demonstration in California to police authorities in Arizona. These same citizens were picked out of the crowd and arrested.
In Bucks County, Pennsylvania, an activist with Bucks People United to Restore the Environment (B-PURE), was pulled by police from a township meeting and held illegally in a holding cell without charges. His request to use a phone was refused. His crime? He had approached the chairperson and demanded that more chairs be added to accomodate the people who were unable to fit into the meeting room. In Astoria, Oregon, ten Greenpeace activists were held overnight without bail after being arrested on class-C misdemeanor charges (one step above a parking ticket) during an antinuclear demonstration. The only other person refused bail in recent history by the judiciary in Clatsop county was a man charged with two murders. In Texas a local magistrate demanded $100,000 bail for a Greenpeace activist who blocked a railroad track, roughly ten times the bond set for some drug dealers and murders in the same jurisdiction.
The loose group of activists known as Earth First! is being subjected to particularly harsh treatment. No person associated with Earth First! has ever assaulted anyone; the only felony conviction of a person associated with the group was for the crime of pulling up survey stakes. But last year in Arizona, four activists associated with Earth First! were arrested on conspiracy charges including the organization’s founder, Dave Foreman, whose alleged crime was to have donated some money for the other activists to use in an illegal operation. After the arrests, it was revealed that the FBI spent some $2 million on a two-year campaign to infiltrate Earth First!, largely through an undercover agent named Michael Fain. Fain befriended several environmentalists, forming a romantic relationship with one, and according to several witnesses, joined in illegal witnesses and encouraged the activists to act illegally.
At one point, Fain accidentally left his hidden tape recorder on and recorded a conversation reflecting his frustration with having failed to get Foreman to incriminate himself. [Foreman] was there, but he doesn’t even mention it (illegal activities)… Foreman isn’t the guy we have to pop–I mean in terms of an actual perpetrator. [Foreman] is the guy we have to pop to send a message.” This and other evidence adds ammunition to the charge that the prosecution of these activists is politically motivated.
Perhaps the most chilling example was the reaction of local police and the FBI after the mysterious May bombing of the car carrying Earth First! activists Darryl Cherney and Judi Bari. Although the pair had received dozens of death threats and had not been associated with violence of any kind, they were immediately arrested by local police and charged with carrying the bomb.
Two months later, the District Attorney declined for the third time to prosecute, and the case appears to have collapsed for lack of evidence. But in the hours after the bombing, Oakland police ransacked the home of a group of local activists without a search warrant. Lawyers also were turned away from the local jail, where friends and acquaintances of Bari and Cherney were questioned and held without charges or legal counsel for seven hours. Bari’s lawyer had to get a court order to see her client in the hospital. The FBI implied that it had the evidence to prosecute all along, creating a climate of suspicion and anger toward Earth First! and environmentalists in general. Even now, according to environmentalists in California, the FBI investigation has yet to follow up on several obvious clues, including the death threats received by the pair in the months before the bombing.
Many observers suspect political motivation in the FBI’s biased investigation of the Earth First! bombing incident. Two alliances of individuals and groups including Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, California Congressman Ron Dellums, Earth Island Institute president Dave Brower, Greenpeace, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for Women have drafted letters calling for an investigation of FBI and Oakland police conduct in the case. But the public is not inclined to believe that federal and local agencies are capable of bias of this sort. While no evidence has yet surfaced to suggest that there has been any wrong-doing this time, the history of FBI activities regarding protest groups is not encouraging. “We don’t like to face this aspect of our society,” say Spears, “but it is part of the historical record.” As the environmental movement grows in numbers and impact, there is little reason to believe it will remain free of the harassment that has been visited upon every other significant social-change movement in U.S. history.
Brian Glick is an attorney and author of a handbook on resisting FBI activities called War at Home. Glick concludes that historically, “dissenting groups came under attack as they began to seriously threaten the status quo.” Since the environmental movement “threatens to meddle with people who control billions of dollars, it should be no surprise when they fight back,” says Glick, “especially as corporate and government officials come to realize how dramatically they will have to restructure their activities in response to the environmental crisis.”
Another area where environmentalists face unfair harassment is in the courts and through overreaction on the part of police departments. As we have seen, judges and prosecutors can arrange for high bail, ignore due process and otherwise harass activists when they are so inclined. While activists can countersue in cases of outrageous conduct, this involves considerable time and expense.
Police who are told to prepare for “radical environmentalists” during marches and other forms of peaceful protest will not necessarily exercise the restraint appropriate to the activity of the protesters. When marchers approached the headquarters of American Cyanamid in Bound Brook, New Jersey, to protest the company’s practice of sending mercury-contaminated waste abroad, county police in riot gear rushed the crowd, grabbed several marchers and clubbed them to the ground. Fortunately the incident did not escalate.
“We were peaceful, and we announced our intention to be non-confrontational in advance,” says Peter Bahouth, Executive Director of Greenpeace in the United States, one of the marchers beaten and arrested. “The media’s treatment of incidents like this paints a picture of wild and unreasonable environmentalists marching in the streets, and it portrays the pursuit of healthy debate as dangerous. The first point is not true, and if people are intimidated into not speaking out, we lost the most vital part of our democracy.”
From one perspective, this escalation of public activism and government and corporate response is a measure of the movement’s success. The 8,000 or so community groups that have formed around toxics issues in the United States have proven a significant impediment to the toxic waste handling industry as well as a thorn in the side of major polluters. Thanks to the efforts of a handful of dedicated activists, the razing of the nation’s last stands of old growth forest has become a national issue that could seriously affect the profits of several major corporations. Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior was blown up by the French government precisely because it represented the first creditable threat to their nuclear testing program; more threatening to France than U.N. censure, international condemnation and a 19 International Court of Justice decision.
And now the movement confronts an inevitable backlash. What the environmental community fears most is that the present trend will not abate, and that innocent, concerned individuals will be injured or persecuted for their beliefs. The confluence of interests on the “other side” of this debate–the “growth-at-any-cost” wing of big business, the legislatures and the government–is now openly linking environmentalism with lack of patriotism, an end to the “American way of life” and other vague rhetorical horrors. “As the Cold War thaws,” says David Chatfield, chairman of the board of Greenpeace in the United States, “we may be entering an era in which government, industry and the media substitute the Green Menace for the Red Menace.”
When ordinary citizens begin to be treated as criminals, public discourse is inhibited and democracy begins to break down. “This is a period of time that requires a renewed focus on basic rights,” says Bahouth. “We want to create a climate in which people can speak out freely and participate, without fear of violence, jail or harassment.”
Resisting Spying & Attacks on Environmental Groups
The environmental movement is being subjected to obvious surveillance, intimidation, anonymous letters, phony leaflets, telephone threats, police over-reaction and brutality, dubious arrests, and other threatening actions unfamiliar to most environmental activists. Experienced organizers warn these techniques often create side effects such as false divisions, rivalry, paranoia, false accusations, internal strife, and overall stressful circumstances that divert energy and time from the real work at hand.
The type of subtle and not-so-subtle harassment being experienced by the environmental movement may be new to eco-activists, but to civil rights attorney Brian Spears and other advocates for civil and constitutional rights, these types of incidents strike an all-too-familiar chord. Spears observes that, “activists on Central American issues, Native American organizers, Black power advocates, and others dissidents have been subject to unconstitutional covert surveillance and disruption for many years.” In fact when Spears attended the annual National Lawyers Guild (NLG) convention last summer in Austin, Texas, he found not only two workshops on the grassroots toxics movement, but also two workshops on repression and attacks on political activists.
Brian Glick, an attorney who spoke at the NLG’s political repression workshop in Austin, is the author of a security guidebook for activists titled “War at Home.” Glick concludes that historically, “dissenting groups come under attack as they begin to seriously threaten the status quo.” Since the environmental movement “threatens to meddle with people who control billions of dollars, it should be no surprise when they fight back,” says Glick, “especially as corporate and government officials come to realize how dramatically environmentalists expect them to restructure their activities.”
Glick says the bombing attack on the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand presaged the current situation in the U.S. “Domestic covert action is a powerful deterrent to democratic discussion of public policy and effective organizing for social change,” says Glick echoing a number of civil liberties activists interviewed for this article. “We need to take security seriously without being distracted from our main goals”, says Glick, “and one way is to educate ourselves about what has happened in the past.” Glick and other authors and academics who have studied government intelligence abuse and political repression frequently find people are skeptical that human rights violations can happen in the United States. “We don’t like to face this aspect of our society,” agrees Spears, “but its part of the historical record.”
Assorted Sordid Pasts
Most documented information about government harassment of social change activists came to light in the 1970’s following a series of Congressional hearings which took a critical look at the FBI, CIA, military intellignce, federal agencies and the private security industry.
The most sensational revelations revolved around the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program or COINTELPRO in Bureau jargon. In its final report, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities, often called the Church Committee, concluded:
“COINTELPRO [was] a series of covert action programs directed against domestic groups….Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that…the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas would protect the national security and deter violence.”
The COINTELPRO operations targetted political groups calling for social change, including civil rights and antiwar activists, civil liberties advocates, radicals, feminists, even food co-ops and health clinics. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was a major target in a campaign that included anonymous threatening letters and attempts to scare away his funders. In one ten year period starting in 1966, the FBI employed over 5,000 secret informers in Chicago alone.
According to Glick, a review of the 2,370 officially approved COINTELPRO operations admitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee shows four main techniques: infiltration, psychological warfare from the outside, harassment through the legal system, and extralegal force and violence. In the latter category falls the sinister collaboration between the FBI and right-wing vigilante groups. For instance, in Chicago the
FBI and local police worked with the Legion of Justice, a rightist group that burglarized offices of antiwar activists. In San Diego the FBI hid the weapon used by a Secret Army Organization sniper in a shooting incident directed at a local activist professor which resulted in a woman being injured by a stray bullet.
The revelations of the Church Committee, the Watergate scandal and other [exposes] led to the passage of some valuable but limited reforms that briefly curtailed the abuses of the intelligence agencies. But along with the election of Ronald Reagan to the Presidency came a concerted and successful attempt by the intelligence agencies to abolish the reforms which had restrained them during the late 1970’s. The early 1980’s also saw tremendous growth in the private security industry coupled with an Executive Order signed by President Reagan authorizing the contracting of intelligence investigations to private firms outside the reach of Congressional oversight and laws protecting privacy.
The FBI and other agencies also redefined the terms “terrorism” and “foreign intelligence” to reflect a broad and self-serving interpretation; and then argued their investigations into social change groups met the terms of specific legal language allowing the FBI greater investigative latitude in probes involving political violence and foreign spying. The result was that by 1983, FBI agents and private security specialists had launched broad intrusions into the lives of ordinary citizens engaged in otherwise legal activities.
Ross Gelbspan is the author of a forthcoming book on the FBI’s campaign from 1981 to 1985 against groups critical of U.S. policy in Central America. Gelbspan says “While the FBI conducts legitimate criminal investigations, its carrying out of unauthorized politically-motivated police activity is more than just history.” For proof, Gelbspan (a veteran Boston Globe reporter who helped pen a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative series) points to documents obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act, lawsuits, and Congressional hearings which show that in an FBI probe of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), “the FBI took at face value allegations by right-wing security specialists that members of (CISPES) were terrorists or foreign agents.”
The FBI probe of CISPES moved beyond surveillance to attacks on CISPES, its members and allies. Thousands of citiens were referenced in secret dossiers. The FBI also used the services of right-wing sleuths including a network of conservative campus activists who attended meetings and then submitted reports to the FBI. “The CISPES probe by the FBI was not an aberration by a handful of field agents,” says Gelbspan refuting widely published reports. “It was clearly approved at the highest levels of the Bureau and was apprently sanctioned by the NSC and the White House.”
“Looking at the CISPES investigation in light of other political investigations dating back to the 1950’s, one gets the distinct impression that the FBI sees its mandate as neutralizing or disabling every political movement that has the potential for bringing about significant changes in the American political system,” argues Gelbspan.
Kit Gage, the Washington representative of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation (NCARL) agrees with Gelbspan. “We know first hand the kind of havoc the FBI can wreak on a group exercising its First Amendment rights,” says Gage who has leafed through FBI files recording “38 years of surveillance on NCARL and its predecessors which produced 130,000 pages of files but not one criminal conviction.” What is well documented “is an incredible amount of harassment and disruption of our organization,” Gage charges. “Since the FBI seems unable to regulate itself,” says Gage, “NCARL is currently seeking legal remedies in the form of legislation that would limit FBI investigations solely to criminal activity.” Hundreds of law school professors have endorsed NCARL’s proposed legislation.
Meanwhile, surveillance and disruption continue to hamstring activists. At the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, the Movement Support Network (MSN) maintains a list of suspicious incidents called in by groups around the country. According to MSN coordinator Jinsoo Kim, “since 1984 there have been over 300 suspicious incidents including 150 unexplained break-ins” where usually files are rifled but expensive office equipment not stolen. Suspicions point to an ad-hoc alliance of FBI agents and informants, other government investigators, far right vigilantes, and private security sleuths who trade information and justify their actions in the name of national security and fighting terrorism.
The zealousness of these snoops can lead them to break the law in pursuit of their quarry. Earth First activist Dave Foreman says his unfortunately intimate knowledge of FBI informant-provocateurs leads him to not rule out the possibility that the California bombing incident was the result of a covert operation….a charge that reflects an accurate historical awareness of how far some agents are willing to go in an attempt to trap their target.
An example of this involved Connecticut animal rights activist Fran Trutt, charged with attempting to plant a bomb she says was meant to scare an offical of the U.S. Surgical Corporation which uses animals for medical tests and sales demonstrations. Her accomplices, not charged with any crime, turned out to be private security agents hired by U.S. Surgical. Trutt’s attorney, John Williams, says there is “absolutely no question that Trutt was enticed” into considering the bombing by agents from Perceptions International.” Furthermore, several months prior to the attempted bombing, according to Williams “the entire situation was reviewed at a meeting that included representatives of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Connecticut States Attorney’s office, the security director of U.S. Surgical and at least one representative of Perceptions International…and the topic of the meeting was Fran Trutt.”
According to Williams, it was the agents of Perceptions International, working for U.S. Surgical but posing as Trutt’s friends, who suggested the bombing, paid for the purchase of the pipe bomb, and drove her to the U.S. Surgical parking lot. When Trutt had second thoughts while on her way to the parking lot, she called a trusted friend, and was encouraged to proceed–that “friend”, too, was a private undercover agent from Perceptions International. Although Trutt was clearly set up, under Connecticut law she needed to show substantial state involvement to use entrapment as a defense, a problematic tactic given the available evidence. Trutt reluntantly accepted a plea bargain and will serve a short prison term rather than risk a lengthy sentence on more serious charges. One person troubled by the Trutt case is Gary T. Marx, a sociology professor at Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and author of “Undercover: Police Surveillance in America.” Marx says serious ethical problems can arise “When police must depend on persons whose professional lives routinely involve deceit and concealment and who have a motive to lie.” Informants “often have strong incentives to see that others break the law,” says Marx, who worries that our democratic values are being threatened by the increased use of technologically sophisticated forms of electronic surveillance and computerized dossier-keeping.
What to Do!
Jinsoo Kim of the Movement Support Network urges that environmental activists pick up some simple security consciousness and briefly study the history of political repression against dissent in America. “There has been a whole generation of activists since the revelations about the FBI COINTELPRO program and Watergate,” says Kim. “Something that happened fifteen, or even five years ago, its as if it never happened. We need to teach the lessons learned by previous movements about how to empower ourselves and fight back without losing sight of our political goals.” Kim urges people to contact her at MSN if they want printed information on repression and helpful security tips, have an incident to report, or need advice.
Sheila O’Donnell, a progressive private eye for twenty years who specializes in political cases, suggests environmentalists need to be very suspicious of attempts to define individuals or groups in a way that isolates them. “Smear campaigns often are a part of disruption operations, so charges of eco-terrorism and allegations of violence should be carefully considered on the basis of documented facts, not lurid headlines,” says O’Donnell. “And if people use different techniques, that’s OK,” adds Brian Glick, “there is a place for lobbying, grassroots organizing, education, and militant action…they reinforce each other.” Susan B. Jordan, lawyer for two Earth First! activists whose car was bombed, points out that her clients “were easy people to whip up public opinion against,” because of their reputation for militancy. Attorney John Williams offers this advice based on the Trutt Case and 20 years of defending political activists: “Assume the other side is listening, consider everything you do as if it will be played back in a courtroom or appear on the front page of the local newspaper. If you don’t act this way, you are very foolish, and could not only go down the tubes, but take your friends and your movement with you. Fran Trutt’s problem was that this never occured her. She was literally seduced. It has been a hard lesson for her to learn”
Sheila O’Donnell advises that talking to the FBI or other investigators without the advice or presence of an attorney is not a good idea. “It’s hard for some people to understand this,” conceeds O’Donnell, “But it simply isn’t an issue of social courtesy. Individual FBI agents or other investigators might be friendly and assure you they don’t think you or your friends are criminals or terrorists, but they pass along the information they glean from you to faceless bureaucracies with a history of attacking activists and derailing their movements. You never know what seemingly-harmless bit of information might get you or a friend in trouble,” insists O’Donnell, “an attorney will protect your rights, not the FBI.”
O’Donnell recommends all political activists use the “buddy system” where group members share phone numbers and a pledge to call each other if anything suspicious or threatening happens, no matter how seemingly silly or trivial. “By talking with friends about strange events, the events lose their sinister aspect, and you gain courage by sharing your fears,” says O’Donnell. “I know talking about security makes some people nervous,” she admits. “But other political movements have adopted simple common sense attitudes about security and still reached their political goals.” O’Donnell says when groups are harassed it is important to “promote caring working relationships within the membership and keep a healthy sense of skepticism and humor.” One thing her investigations have shown clearly, says O’Donnell, “is that it is not only true that democracy is worth fighting for…but you also have to fight for it just to keep it alive.”
Creating the Conditions for Surveillance Abuse
In the summer of 1988 Greenpeace Magazine asked me to look into reports of suspected surveillance and harassment experienced by Greenpeace activists. I immediately made reservations to attend the annual conference of the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS). The ASIS convention attracts thousands of private security specialists from business, industry and the military who attend workshops and wander through the world’s largest display of security equipment and services. If something is happening that involves security, you’ll hear about it here.
My credentials said I was an analyst specializing in security, which I figured would get a more honest response than a press pass, and I set off to ask what the security world thought of Greenpeace. The vast majority of the persons I talked to had an accurate, even gruffly respectful image of Greenpeace–“tough,” “creative,” “they can really give your public relations office a headache.” One security firm representative said his biggest worry would be making sure no one gets hurt during a Greenpeace demonstration. A vice president of Baker and Associates, specialists in protective services and corporate investigations, summed up the general view of the mainstream security providers when he said “Those Greenpeace people are not violent, but they [do] stage some colorful incidents.”
But several conversations indicated a troubling trend among a few hard-line outfits. Over breakfast a Navy security staffer said he had attended a Naval intelligence briefing where Greenpeace was described as a “terrorist” group with ties to “international communist groups.” At three security firm display booths I was told archly that their intelligence staff knew what really was behind Greenpeace and that clients who hired them would not have any problems with Greenpeace. Several people including the head of one New York firm that uses aerial photography to help companies improve plant site security said they had recently picked up accounts from corporations that feared politically motivated attacks from the environmentalist or animal rights movements.
The boldest statement came from an account executive from Vance Security who leaned forward and said “We expect Greenpeace to move in the direction of violence soon.” Vance has been accused of using obtrusive surveillance and physical intimidation in a number of strikebreaking and union-busting episodes over the past few years, and is among a handful of security firms frequently referred to derogatorily as “The Cowboys” by others at the ASIS conference. The view of Greenpeace held by Vance and other hard-liners in the security field is an important indicator of future problems, because the “labelling” of a group as violent, terrorist or pro-communist is often a first step toward the delegitimizating the group. Labelling undermines public support and thus sanctions the use of aggressive surveillance and harassment by government agencies or private security firms. There is also a self-fulfilling prophecy with labelling, as police are likely to respond with unjustified force when you think you are peaceful protestors and they have been trained that you are violent potential terrorists.
One of the first groups to label Greenpeace as a violent security risk was that run by ultra-right crank and crook Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr. whose April 21, 1989 “Executive Intelligence Review” contained a lengthy feature titled “Greenpeace: shock troops of the new Dark Age.” LaRouche’s security staff is known to have had contacts with numerous local police intelligence units and several foreign intelligence services. They once convinced two gullible New Hampshire State Police detectives that a peaceful protest against the Seabrook nuclear power plant was a cover for a terrorist attack, leading the Governor to call out the National Guard.
The problems extends to campus activism. Accuracy in Academia’s “Campus Report” attacked Greenpeace in an April 1990 article headlined “Environmentalism Becomes Radical,” and the “1989 Young Americans for Freedom List of Un-American Organizations on Our College Campuses” includes one group opposed to nuclear war, and the respected hunger group Oxfam America. The YAF authors, who warn of “the terrible threat these Hard-Left groups pose to our way of life,” boast in their introduction that they have been “able to secretly monitor Leftist groups for the last several years.”
A murky netherworld exists among ultra-right ideologues that see conspiracies everywhere, the “Cowboys” of the private security sphere, and certain segments of the law enforcement community. They spy on activists, trade information, and inevitably end up harassing persons engaged in the type of freedom of expression our laws are supposed to protect. The one thing that stops them is public exposure.