The judiciary groaned, wiggled a toe and blinked once within the span of a week.
On May 26 The New York Times featured a story under this headline: "Radical Environmentalist Gets 9-Year Term for Actions called 'Terrorist.'"
A Federal District Court judge sentenced Chelsea D. Gerlach to nine years in prison after she was convicted of "arson and other destructive actions at an electrical transmission tower; timber research centers; a Eugene (Oregon) police station; a ski resort in Vail (Colorado); and other sites in five Western states that they viewed as threats to the environment or their mission" between 1996 and 2001.
In addition to Chelsea Gerlach, Judge Aiken sentenced Stanistas Meyerhoff to 13 years in prison for his role in the crimes, "which included setting fire to more than 30 sport utility vehicles at a dealership," and Kevin Tubbs 12 years and 7 months.
"It was your intention to scare, frighten and intimidate people and government through the very dangerous act of arson," said Judge Ann L. Aiken to Gerlach at the sentencing.
But, to what end were those actions taken? To scare, frighten and intimidate people--especially private property owners--into obeying the wish of the "activists" by not building that property, and ultimately, by ceasing to exist.
The Times article elaborates:
"The cases have provided a window into conflicts in the radical environmentalist movement about strategy and loyalty. They have also highlighted a debate over what constitutes domestic terrorism at a time law enforcement and the military, as well as public attention, have focused on the terrorism of September 11, 2001."Aye, there's the rub.
Yes, the "intentions" of the defendants were criminal in nature. And they could be labeled "terrorists," since they used terrorist methods to accomplish their ends. But apparently the destruction of property played little or no role in the judge's cogitations and in the court's convictions and sentencing.
That underscores the very low status of private property in the American judiciary today. The only person reported in the Times article who raised the subject of property was a federal assistant defender assigned to Gerlach. Speaking of her actions, Craig E. Weinerman of Portland, Oregon, said, "It was only intended to damage property."
"Defense lawyers had argued that the environmental cases were not terrorism because they did not take aim at people's lives," reported the Times.
Well, not immediately. It is doubtful that the lawyers for either the prosecution or the defense, not to mention the bench, have bothered to thoroughly examine the philosophical and moral ends of environmentalism. If they had, they might have concluded that, yes, fundamentally, and ultimately, those actions were taken against people's lives.
"Last week," goes the Times article, "Judge Aiken rejected those arguments, ruling that some of the crimes could be sentenced under the 'terrorism enhancement' classification, which can add substantial time to a prison term, if they were intended to retaliate against, coerce or intimidate the government."
"For each of the three defendants who had hearings this week," reads the Times article, "Judge Aiken found that at least some of the crimes warranted the 'terrorism enhancement' classification."
"Indictments of most of the defendants [Judge Aiken will sentence six or seven other defendants this week] were announced in Washington in January 2006 by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Robert S. Mueller III, director of the F.B.I. Mr. Mueller said then that prosecuting crimes committed in the name of the environment was one of the bureau's 'highest domestic terrorism priorities.'"However, Gerlach and his colleagues were not agents of foreign powers seeking the defeat of the U.S. government or acting to facilitate the conquest of America.
Ideally, the defendants should have been indicted, convicted, and sentenced for having destroyed private and government property. Instead of elevating their actions to acts of terrorism, the court should have simply treated the defendants as the criminals they are. Instead of granting the defendants an aura of martyrdom for a "cause," it should have branded them as vandals. No distinction should be made between the criminal actions of non-ideological thugs and those of "domestic terrorists."
Ideally, the best way to rob the environmentalists of their ideological thunder and deflate their cause is to treat their activists as common criminals, and, in the bargain, reinstate the sanctity of individual rights and the sanctity of property.
Any person who initiates force against others can loosely be deemed a "terrorist" who intends to "scare, frighten and intimidate" his victims. But that would be a dangerously improper identification, for the vast majority of criminal acts are not committed from political or ideological motives.
But, the focus in these cases, it seems, was not exclusively on property as such, but on actions that were perceived as having been taken against the state. That is the drift of law today, away from protecting individual rights (and the nominal sanctity of "public" property, such as the Eugene police station) and toward the idea of "crimes against the state." The reasoning of Judge Aiken cannot be construed any other way. It represents the encroachment of statist jurisprudence upon objective criminal law.
Adding to the confusion, however, is the position of the defendants' supporters.
"For some radical environmentalists," the Times reports, "the terrorism label is offensive. 'It's an outrage that they're being put into the same category as Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh,' said Jim Flynn," who was in the courtroom when Gerlach was sentenced. "'It weakens the word 'terrorist.'"
Beyond this individual's grasp is the fact that bin Laden, McVeigh, and Gerlach and Company each subscribed to an anti-life ideology of destruction, and each took "terrorist" actions in conformance to his particular ideology. Islamist jihadists do not like being called "terrorists," either. They prefer the label "freedom fighters." They wish to "purify" the earth of the "infidel" West with the same death-worshipping ardor that environmentalists wish to "free" the earth of man.
Timothy McVeigh conspired against the U.S. government by bombing a federal office building, arguably acting to overthrow the government. Bin Laden is an agent of state-sponsored terrorism.
Bin Laden, however, was not merely attacking real property when his hijacking killers brought down the World Trade Center. He was explicitly attacking everything the West stood for, which just happened to include car dealerships and electrical transmission towers. Compared to him, Gerlach and her Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front henchmen are myopic, obsessive/compulsive amateurs.
In his June 4th newsletter, Daniel Pipes had this interesting development to report:
"Federal prosecutors have named CAIR [the Council on American-Islamic Relations] and two other Islamic organizations, the Islamic Society of North America and the North American Islamic Trust, as 'unindicted co-conspirators' in a criminal conspiracy to support Hamas, a designated terrorist group.Pipes comments further in the article that it "is only logical that CAIR, whose origins lie in the Islamic Association for Palestine, which was founded by Hamas, be legally investigated in connection with Hamas."
"In a filing last week, prosecutors described CAIR as a present or past member of 'the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood's Palestine Committee and/or its organizations.' They listed ISNA and NAIT as 'entities who are and/or were members of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood.' Josh Gerstein of The New York Sun reports that spokesmen for CAIR did not respond to requests for comment.
"This development occurred in connection with the trial, scheduled to start on July 16 in Dallas, of five officials...of the now-defunct Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, accused of sending funds to Hamas. This court filing listed some 300 individuals or organizations as co-conspirators."
That is a step in the right direction, but one that would not need to be taken at all if the Bush administration took military action against the state sponsors of Hamas and other terrorist organizations, namely Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. These states have declared war on the U.S. by ill-disguised proxy through those organizations.
The most perfect outcome of such a legal investigation would be that the federal prosecutors would find that these organizations are waging war against the U.S. and have been for decades, and then send the evidence to the White House with a recommendation that there exist grounds for a declaration of war. It is doubtful, though, that anything more dramatic will happen other than the conviction of the five individuals connected with the Holy Land Foundation and the embarrassment and inconveniencing of officials of CAIR, ISNA and NAIT.
One step forward, two steps back. When the U.S. declared war on Japan and Nazi Germany, did it focus on defeating just kamikaze pilots and the Luftwaffe, or the governments that unleashed them on civilization? When Joe Blow robbed a convenience store or slashed the tires of his neighbors' cars as a malicious prank, was he treated as a national security threat, or as a common criminal?
Before it relapses into semi-consciousness, our judiciary should ponder these crucial distinctions.