The Terror Tag

One day this spring, I heard a radio ad while driving through northern Mendocino County. Over a background of shouting and unidentifiable mayhem, a smooth male voice said, “This is a terrorist attack on our community, jobs, and way of life. At PALCO, we’re committed to protecting our community.”
PALCO? Pacific Lumber Company, making a subliminal bid to be your buddy? Up until 1986, that might have been credible: The family-owned company logged at a fairly sustainable rate and stayed away from unstable slopes. No one protested.
After the hostile 1986 takeover by his Maxxam Corporation, Charles Hurwitz’s first actions were to sell off the workers’ pension fund and increase the rate of logging by 500 percent. Since then, the company has lost eight lawsuits over practices that caused flooding, erosion, and habitat loss. PL has been cited for over 600 violations of Forest Practice Rules, had timber license suspensions and court orders to cease operations. Still, PL’s haul continues at an average of 200 truckloads a day. Maxxam/PL has extracted $2 billion in lumber from the former forests of Humboldt County.
This spring Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos added another stress to Maxxam/PL executives by suing the company for fraud and deceptive concealment in the Headwaters deal, the first suit against them for simple fraud. Meanwhile, out in the forests, 20 treesitters perched. The same week the war on Iraq began, Maxxam/PL launched its own war, sending hired climbers into the trees to forcibly extract protesters, starting a recall drive to extract the district attorney, and saturation-bombarding Humboldt County residents with the message that their way of life was being threatened by eco-terrorists. In addition to full-page newspaper ads, the campaign included two weeks of TV spots on three networks, and radio ads on five stations that ran 14 to 16 times every day.
The first ad was a page in the March 16 Eureka Times-Standard, featuring a letter signed by PL President and CEO Robert Manne: “…radical environmental activists…illegally trespassing…coordinated campaign of harassment and violence…” — followed by a bulleted list that included terms equating protesters with terrorists:
“Hijacked logging truck and blocked highway, July 25, 2002.
“Staged fake car-bomb attack in Scotia, August 5, 2002.”
A few phone calls later, I was talking to witnesses. “I think you have to take the truck somewhere to call it a hijacking,” forest defender Shunka said. “We locked down to a logging truck in front of the mill to keep it from going anywhere.” Lock-downs often involve arms (human arms, not firearms) locked into heavy metal pipes fastened to machinery or buildings or even upper tree branches.
The “fake car-bomb attack” was also a lock-down, says activist Kimberly Starr, with no whisper of the word” bomb” by either demonstrators or police. Three people drove up to PL’s Scotia headquarters and chained themselves to their car. “It’s revisionist history,” says Starr. “At the time, no one said anything about a bomb. PL workers came out of the office and laughed about it. The three people who locked themselves to the car got $10 fines.”
PL’s TV ad was even more incendiary: A young man’s hopeful face, a milk carton. Voiceover: “To convicted eco-terrorist Rod Coronado this is a tool of his trade.” A background of flames: “Recently Coronado told college students how a milk jug could be turned into an explosive in guerrilla warfare against timber companies and research labs.” The image shifts to a Humboldt County roadside protest while the voice continues: “Lately he’s been here, fanning extremism and targeting the Pacific Lumber Company. This is a terrorist attack…”
After the ad aired, at least two of the nonviolent protesters shown in the commercial were stopped on the street by strangers with “You’re that eco-terrorist”— proving that Maxxam/PL’s tactic worked, even though the commitment of Humboldt County forest activists to nonviolence is legendary. A second newspaper ad tried to stretch the point by contrasting the words of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. with quotes from — who else? — Rod Coronado.
Shall we stoop to the debate Maxxam/PL would like us to think relevant? Rod Coronado did participate as part of a ground support crew in witnessing the treesitter evictions and abided by the local tradition of nonviolence. Coronado may well have philosophical differences with the Humboldt County activists, his preferences being closer to the tactical approach of our revolutionary Boston Tea Party ancestors who felt that the destruction of property sometimes communicates a point most clearly. Northern California forest activists, on the other hand, adhere to an unwavering tradition that includes never destroying property. Activists have been known to return chainsaws to loggers who’ve left them in the woods. The tactics of Maxxam/PL, by contrast, have consistently employed violence, intimidation, and, as these ads show, attempts to instill fear and polarize public opinion. Videotapes of the treesitter extractions show PL’s hired climber stepping on a protester’s neck on a platform 130 feet high. As Coronado put it, “Any opposition to PL involves risk of physical violence against nonviolent protesters.”
Cindy Allsbrooks was so disturbed by Maxxam/PL’s ads that she made her own TV spot in response. Allsbrooks’ son, David Nathan Chain (“Gypsy”), was killed in 1998 when a PL logger felled a tree on him. “When Nathan was killed it was more or less open season on the activists,” she remembers. “If PL employees knocked protesters around, the company looked the other way — as did the police. My biggest fear was that these ads would create a climate like that again.” In her ad Allsbrooks says, “The kids believed that defending the life of these great forests through protest and passive nonviolence was as American as marching for civil rights was in my generation. …Don’t let people call our children terrorists. It ‘s not right and it won’t bring this community back together.”
Allsbrooks’ words ring true in a larger context. In June 2001, before 9/11, Rep. George Nethercutt (R, Washington) and 17 cosponsors introduced the “Agroterrorism Prevention Act,” calling for stiff penalties for “terrorists” who engage or conspire to engage in “physical disruption” resulting in loss of property over $10,000. Even sticking “frankenfood” labels on GMO tortilla chips would be considered a terrorist act, if a store could prove loss of profit. Tree-sitting or blocking a logging truck’s passage would certainly meet the revenue-loss threshold.
Nethercutt’s bill would have set up a National Agroterrorism Incident Clearinghouse and given grants to universities to “harden” up security in their labs. The bill was a rewrite of a failed 2000 bill by Orrin Hatch, itself inspired by “wise use” guru Ron Arnold, who, while testifying before a congressional committee in 1998, explicitly included civil disobedience in his definition of ecoterrorism.
After a spell in the House Subcommittee on Crime, a watered-down version of Nethercutt’s bill, absent the clearinghouse, made it into the bioterror security bill Bush signed into law in June 2002. That version disappointed conservatives: “These domestic terrorists have been hiding behind ‘Green’ camouflage relatively undisturbed… Since their acts of terrorism are done in the name of a tree, instead of in the name of Allah, many do not consider them terrorists,” wrote Frontiers of Freedom columnist David Hawxhurst in “The Green Al-Qaeda.”
Who knew a terrorist could be anyone who wants her home to be a sustainable community rather than the site of an extractive industry? Will the public continue to go along with this attempt to criminalize dissent while the big crooks carry off the goods? Says Cindy Allsbrooks, “We’ve been set back several times before. We’re going to keep working on it.”

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