Of course, there are differences between groups of individuals that try to blow up airplanes and those who try to sabotage industries by violent direct action. The former commit murder and terrorize entire populations with general targets, whereas eco-terrorists destroy or disable specific commercial property and intimidate particular individuals. Since the eco-terrorist does not make us all feel threatened and usually does not aim to kill, should we treat him more leniently?
Take Sea Shepherd, the violent group that attacks whalers and sealers. It rejects any notion that it is merely a protest organization, claiming to be an anti-poaching group acting under the UN Charter for Nature. Since the activities it targets are lawful, and since the UN has not sanctioned groups to take the law into their own hands, these claims can best be viewed as providing public relations cover for its violence.
In so far as it is attempting to eliminate legally undertaken activities to which it objects, Sea Shepherd is an anarchist organization. On land, eco-terrorists may be apprehended, tried and convicted and therefore they attempt to conceal their identities and whereabouts. But at sea, illegal acts are committed outside national jurisdictions and away from normal legal processes, assault weaponry is less lethal (but still dangerous), the whereabouts of the attackers are not concealed and their activities are tolerated, if not endorsed, by nations like the United States and Australia, who are amongst the most aggressive players against land or airplane-based terrorism.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), these actions amount to piracy, creating another gray area since the Sea Shepherds are not physically stealing from the ships that they attack. However, Sea Shepherd is paid by Animal Planet (part of the Discovery Channel) for the rights to broadcast its violence and Sea Shepherd’s fundraising is boosted by the higher public profile that results from the show. Over the past year it spent millions of dollars purchasing two new vessels. In some ways, this is the perfect piracy. The Sea Shepherds obtain money by attacking vessels without physically having to commit theft.
The role of Animal Planet is particularly troubling. The level of Sea Shepherd’s violence has markedly increased since the so-called reality series began, with the attacks clearly being choreographed for Hollywood. Animal Planet denies it has any role in planning the attacks, saying it is just a fly on the wall. Still, it is a fly with an international audience, adding another layer of mystique to any possible legal action.
A Sea Shepherd operative (pictured) is now in custody in Japan after illegally boarding a research security vessel in the Antarctic. Last year, a Sea Shepherd vessel was impounded by the Canadians after illegally harrassing sealers. South African maritime authorities had earlier detained a Sea Shepherd vessel in port for failing to meet International Maritime Organisation manning requirements.
But the United States, where Sea Shepherd somehow maintains charity status, and Australia, whose ports are used as the launching base for its attacks, are yet to take any action to stop this eco-terrorism. Sea Shepherd claims that it is not trying kill anybody, but its actions are irresponsible and it has already injured crewmembers on the ships it attacks. If someone is killed, how will these countries react?
Now is the time for the United States and Australia to get serious in tackling all environmental terrorism. Anything less amounts to hypocrisy.