Let's define our terms

Last week, you used the term "ecoterrorist" with regard to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). A note on semantics: The Department of Defense defines terrorism as "The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence against individuals or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies, often to achieve political, religious, or ideological objectives."

Somehow, burning a bulldozer fails to meet these criteria. Unlawful and ideological, yes. But they intended to coerce corporate entities (United Land, Virginia Land, Kessler Group, Regency Centers, and Dierman Realty Group), not governments or societies.

Do you feel "terrorized" by the loss of the Land Company's trackhoe? Even developer Wendell Wood seems non-plussed. "You can go buy another."

What is scary is how terms like "ecoterrorist," "cyber-terrorist," "narco-terrorist" and "special-interest terrorist" are slipping into our vernacular.

Know this: "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act" legislation was proposed in Texas and New York, to officially label many forms of advocacy as "terrorism." Plus, President Bush's proposed Patriot Act II hopes to broaden the definition of terrorism and make it easier to sentence such "terrorists" to death. Now, who's scaring who?

Indeed, the ELF is the FBI's top priority regarding domestic terrorism. But I, for one, would hope they'd instead focus more on whoever mailed U.S. military-manufactured anthrax and ricin to Congress.

Truth is, most people agree with ELF's intentions. A recent national survey found that two out of three people think the environment is more important than property rights, corporate profits, or even creating jobs.

The ELF usually targets only the most egregious of industrial polluters and ecology-destroying profiteers. Take Nestle's Ice Mountain bottled water, which built a plant in Michigan's Mecosta County (despite a 2-1 resident vote to deny them zoning) and then proceeded to violate state and federal water rights by siphoning from public rivers and streams. ELF activists, after exhausting legal avenues of dissent, tried to blow up the plant.

Is the sprawling Hollymead Center as bad? No. But Richmond's SUVs were arguably an environmental and social menace. Objectively speaking, SUVs kill more Americans than al-Qaeda does.

The last word: There was a time when we had a very different term for those who sabotage avaricious corporations. As John Adams said of the Sons of Liberty who dunked East India Company tea into Boston harbor: "There is a dignity, a majesty, a sublimity in this last effort of the patriots that I greatly admire."

Brian Wimer

P.S. This week, Bush's Education Secretary called the National Education Association teachers union a "Terrorist Organization" for criticizing the shortcomings of Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. Who's next? Editorialists?