Right Attacks WTO Protesters, Enviros
Last year's high-profile anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle and this spring's anti-World Bank/International Monetary Fund actions in Washington, D.C. have stimulated a flurry of anti-environmentalist activity and commentary. Some of the most strident comments have come from David Horowitz, former lefty turned right-winger and head of the conservative Center for the Study of Popular Culture. Following the Seattle demonstrations Horowitz played the "red menace" card, telling Fox News that "these people [Seattle demonstrators] are communists who have obviously been sleepwalking through the twentieth century." James Taranto wrote in The Wall Street Journal that among the "green" demonstrators, "hammers and sickles haven't been this abundant since the Soviet Union fell. Every commie organization imaginable [was] represented here."
In addition to fanciful red-baiting, denunciations have come cloaked in quasi-journalistic garb. Truth about Trade (TaT), is a Des Moines, Iowa-based agriculture industry group whose chairman is Dean Kleckner, former president of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). (You may remember the AFBF from the Sixty Minutes story that exposed how the Bureau acts mostly in behalf of large factory farms at the expense of small family farmers). Kleckner says that the organization has "an extremely important mission: to stand up for farm exports and advancements in biotechnology based on sound science." In addition, he added "environmental extremists and radical protestors should not be allowed to limit America's economic and technological potential."
In the September 2000 edition of Farm Journal an article by Patricia Peak Klintberg, entitled "Gangs Against Modern Agriculture," charges that "a growing gang of environmental organizations is targeting modern agricultural practices for eradication. Funded with tax-free dollars, establishment environmental groups are nurturing activist offspring to influence the international policy agenda."
Given the tone of the article, it's quite likely that Klintberg got much of her information from Who Props Up the Protesters, the recently released publication from Truth about Trade (www.truthabouttrade.com/TruthResearch.asp). This 342-page report provides readers with "an outline of the history, goals, financial strength and level of activism for each of the groups listed in the Turning Point Project's New York Times full-page advertisement on global warming and organizations involved in the anti-trade protests in Seattle."
According to Who Props Up the Protesters, these groups are becoming more bold in their activism and are empowered by a sympathetic Clinton administration and a zealous Environmental Protection Agency. The report contains brief profiles of more than 50 "environmental groups actively opposing trade," including the Ruckus Society, Direct Action Network, Earth Island Institute, Friends of the Earth, Global Exchange and the National Wildlife Federation, and details if and how these groups participated in the Seattle protests. The study also delves deeply into "foundations funding environmental anti-trade activities."
In its profile of the Berkeley, California-based Ruckus Society, the report asserts that Ruckus uses its trainings on non-violent civil disobedience as a cover for its real agenda: "violent lawbreaking [by] leaders [who] are no stranger to violence themselves, [and who] might actually have expected the vandalism by the anarchist members of their protest." The report highlights the Turner Foundation's support for the group. (The Ruckus Society, founded in 1995 with support from Turner, became the subject of numerous newspaper feature stories and television pieces in the swirl of interest surrounding the Seattle and Washington, DC protests).
Environment & Climate News, published by the conservative Heartland Institute, opines that "when it comes to orchestrating events, such as the riots in Seattle and Washington, much of the heavy lifting is done by the Ruckus Society." In the John Birch Society's The New American magazine, senior editor William F. Jasper takes this charge one step further -- linking Ruckus leaders to Greenpeace, which is then linked to the Baader-Meinhoff gang, "a Marxist-Leninist terrorist group based in West Germany," the Dutch Communist Party and finally to spying for the Soviet Union.
Truth about Trade maintains that the anti-trade network is bankrolled by "grantmakers [who] are funneling large sums of money to environmental groups." Among the major foundations highlighted are the Bullitt Foundation, HKH Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Pew Charitable Trust, Rockefeller Foundation, Turner Foundation, W. Alton Jones Foundation and C.S. Mott Foundation.
Other sections of Who Props Up the Protesters includes: lists of foundation grants to environmental groups actively opposing trade; total environmental giving, listed by foundation; government grants to environmental groups; a collection of articles on "the protest-turned riot in Seattle, Washington during the recent WTO meeting"; and a "junk science primer & resources."
Other conservative enterprises are also taking dead aim at foundations for providing the financial lifeblood for the environmental movement. The Washington, D.C. based Capital Research Center (CRC) is one of the rising stars in the crowded universe of right-wing think tanks. Established in 1984, CRC, through its seven serial publications (Organization Trends; Alternatives in Philanthropy; Philanthropy, Culture & Society; Foundation Watch; Labor Watch; Studies in Philanthropy; Studies in Organization Trends), "analyze[s] and report[s] on [how] those organizations with tax-exempt, tax-deductible-and sometimes tax dollars-mix advocacy and 'direct action' to promote their own vision of the public interest." It also looks at how closely individuals in the corporate and foundation sectors are sticking to the "donor intent" of the founders of these corporations and foundations.
Conservatives become apoplectic when they discover that a significant amount of money earmarked for environmental groups comes from foundations established by free-market entrepreneurs who accumulated enormous wealth based on decidedly anti-environmental activities.
"The source of wealth for the Pew Trusts comes from energy exploration and development," Capital Research Center Executive Vice President Robert Huberty told the House of Representatives Resource Committee at a May hearing. Complaining about Pew support for a forest protection campaign, he said that the original intent of the founders of the foundation was to "acquaint the American people [with] the evils of bureaucracy, the values of a free market and the paralyzing effects of government controls on the lives and activities of people." Frustrated, Huberty asked, "how do the Pew Trusts honor the intentions of their donor by supporting a campaign to permanently end logging in a large portion of the national forests?" (For more on this see CRC's The Great Philanthropists & the Problem of "Donor Intent" and Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy XI: Passing the Shareholder's Buck.
The most recent Gallup Earth Day Poll clearly showed that the public supports more environmental protection, not less. More than 80 percent of Americans agree with the goals of the environmental movement. When asked who people trust as a source for environmental information, nationally known environmental organizations came in first, followed by local environmental groups and the EPA. Holding down the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth spots were small business, Congress, the Republican Party and large corporations.
In the face of public opinion, can Truth about Trade's report damage the credibility of the "anti-trade" movement and by innuendo the entire environmental movement? Will shouting "communist" in anti-environmental publication detract from the public's support for more environmentally sound initiatives? It seems pretty clear that the time-honored conservative approach of attacking the environmental movement will not amount to a hill of beans until conservatives establish credibility with the public. This cannot be done through spin and attack-dog politics.
Bill Berkowitz is the editor of CultureWatch, a monthly publication tracking the Religious Right and related conservative movements. He can be reached at email@example.com.