Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Ecoterrorism or Vandalism?

"Ecoterrorism" is one of those words that should have been used for something different than what it ended up meaning. When I hear the word, my mind conjures up some Lex Luthor character scheming to release radioactive killer bees or to pollute a city's drinking water supply.

But it's come to be defined as "to injure someone or cause property damage with the intent of intimidating or coercing the conduct of a business or organization," that is, vandalism, under a proposed law in Maine.

Of course vandalism should be illegal. But the one thing I've never understood about our current legal system is why intent should matter at all in prosecuting crime. If someone vandalizes a place of business, or a religious site, or a person's home or vehicle, the law should hold them accountable and fine them or jail them. Vandalism is by definition a malicious act against someone's property. Who cares why it's perpetrated?

If the current penalties for vandalism seem insufficient, stiffen them. But do it across the board, not just for certain acts of vandalism. Especially when the acts have some philosophical or political rationale behind them.

Consider the White Rose movement in Nazi Germany. They spread anti-Nazi leaflets and defaced public and private buildings with spraypaint to encourage Germans to resist the Nazi regime. Under Maine's proposed law, these folks would have been felons. Of course, they wouldn't have been executed, as they were by the Nazis, but still, that's no way to treat heroes, is it?

And of course, as several testified in the hearing covered by the BDN, you can have all the laws you want if you can't catch the transgressors.

Just to be clear, I am not equating the proposed legislation with Nazism, nor am I saying that the actions of the vandals of the Plum Creek sites were justified or justifiable. Similarly, people who spike trees to make areas of forest unharvestable because of the risk of human injury should be prosecuted. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that the Plum Creek vandals see themselves as defenders of something they hold dear, and which is threatened by the forces of big government and big corporations. I hope the vandals will turn themselves in, renounce violence as a means of political gain, or at the very least turn their energies to actions that will more likely bring about the results they desire. Until they do so, they are in the same category as President Bush.



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