BERGER: Will Eco-terrorists Kill?

Timothy McVeigh is dead, but I don't feel any better.

Morally, I think he deserved to die -- and I think death is what he wanted. It will, I believe, make him a martyr to some; it will also hide forever the truth of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Legally, I think his execution was a travesty: the withholding of 4,000 documents from McVeigh's defense team by the FBI was outrageous. Despite his conviction and his confessions, I think he should have been granted a new opportunity to defend himself. As it is, the FBI has little incentive to do things right the next time: hobble an accused's defense, wait until he confesses, then release important evidence after the fact is hardly a recipe for justice. Allowing McVeigh to be executed without a new trial let the FBI off the hook. It will also solidify antigovernment sentiment in some quarters -- and frankly, it ought to.

But the more lasting unease I have is this: that while organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center monitor militias and so-called hate groups on the far right -- groups which, for the most part, are in decline -- left-leaning political violence is on the rise.

Anarchists have delighted in trashing Starbucks and McDonalds during anti-globalization protests; saboteurs have attacked, blown-up or disabled logging trucks and equipment; animal rights activists have demolished research labs; and eco-arsonists like the Earth Liberation Front have claimed credit for torching facilities at the University of Washington, a ski resort in Vail, and suburban homes in Phoneix and on Long Island.

It disturbs me that some on the left deny that these acts are violent, or simply choose to look the other way. After the WTO protests in Seattle, many local activists angrily disputed such press characterizations of the anarchists acts. They rationalized that private property is violence, so vandalizing Niketown isn't. I guess the two things are supposed to cancel each other out. But if you were standing between that Niketown and the rocks aimed at its windows, as I did, you would have no doubt that such an act is a violent one. Just as I have no doubt that the police were being violent went they fired rubber bullets and pepper pellets into the crowd.

Being in denial about violence can lead to an escalation of the type Tim McVeigh represents. Most members of the far right are not babykillers, and don't condone it. But the far right's love of playing soldier and the escalation of its rhetoric moved it to the point where people like Tim McVeigh could see killing innocents as simply "collateral damage."

Eco-activists run that risk also: it is only a matter of time before someone, somewhere in the movement steps over the line -- intentionally or accidentally -- and makes a similar, McVeigh-like mistake. Will killing a student, a professor, a logger, a construction worker, or a suburban housewife be acceptable collateral damage for "saving the planet?"

I am not opposed, in principle, to violence to meet politcal ends. I certainly believe in self-defense. But any political movement that goes down that road needs to face up to the fact that violence is inherently unpredictable and destructive. Target it, limit it, rationalize it all you want, but it can have terrible consequences.

The environmental movement has the moral high ground -- especially with Bush in the White House. It does not need an "Oklahoma City" -- but it's heading toward one.


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