Magazine article Sierra

Hold a Bake Sale, Go to Jail

Magazine article Sierra

Hold a Bake Sale, Go to Jail

Article excerpt

Sierra Club members, beware: Legislation has been introduced in many states--and passed in Oklahoma--that could define environmentalists and animal-rights activists as "ecoterrorist" criminals. While ostensibly aimed at groups like the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front that advocate property destruction, the legislation is so sweeping and nebulous it could also cover nonviolent civil disobedience or even ordinary environmental activism. The version introduced in Texas defined terrorists as "two or more persons organized for the purpose of supporting any politically motivated activity intended to obstruct or deter any person from participating in an activity involving animals or ... natural resources." A person giving money to such a group could be charged with abetting a crime; holding a bake sale to support tree-sitters could be a terrorist offense.

The bills are particularly concerned with trespass; the Oklahoma legislation, which goes into effect in November, makes trespassing that results in damage of more than $500 a felony. The language is so vague, points out Club lobbyist Keith Smith, that "damage" could be interpreted to include EPA fines or bad publicity resulting from, say, polluted water samples collected from giant hog-raising facilities by activists. Because such samples helped win a lawsuit against the Oklahoma operations of mammoth pig-producer Seaboard Farms, the Club's Oklahoma Chapter chair, Tom Libby, thinks the legislation is retaliation: "By making such actions a potential felony," he says, "the law is designed to intimidate anyone who might want to take on the big corporate farms." Says Smith: "This would put Erin Brockovich in jail."

The apparent goal of this type of legislation, says Peter Cannavo, a professor of government at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, "is to push environmental activism out of the realm of legitimate political discourse. …

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