Tinea's Reviews > Green Is the New Red: An Insider's Account of a Social Movement Under Siege

Green Is the New Red by Will Potter
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's review
Jul 18, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: anarchism-and-activism, enviro-justice
Recommended for: activists.
Read from May 01 to June 01, 2011

[I won a free copy of this book]

First off, hoorah for this book and Will Potter's reporting. This is a critical living history, a first attempt to pull the last decade of eco and animal rights action and repression into one cohesive analysis. Read it for the narrative. Read it for the names and the individual stories, the Green Scare and particularly the Operation Backfire and SHAC7 defendants; for the explanation of US policy and lobbying record; for the breakdown of legal jargon; for the synthesis of many events into a posited whole. It is critical that we know these stories, tactics, legal proceedings, repression, and laws. At times Potter's book feels rushed, and he sometimes dips in and out of present/past tenses making it hard to know what happened when. But that's because Potter's book is rushed. He has captured and collected an ongoing historical event and attempted to present it as completely as possible to an audience that is still enacting it. Activists, read it to help reflect on your own experiences.

This Green Scare history is set within the context of the post-9/11 War on Terror. Potter covers the language and rhetoric of "terrorism" and the ambiguity and evolution of that word's definitions. Potter asks why the label "terrorist"-- and its related sentencing enhancements-- are being applied to environmental and animal rights activists engaged in non-violent civil disobedience, and to those who have caused property destruction but have never injured humans or animals, who went out of their way to ensure they did not harm living creatures. Why isn't the word "terrorism" applied to rightwing ideologies whose adherents have actually killed people, like women's clinic bombers and racist or anti-immigrant militias? Potter argues, "The [US] government treats attacks on corporate property more seriously than violence against doctors [i.e. George Tiller] and minorities not because of the nature of the crime but because of the politics of the crime. The government's domestic terrorism operations are more about protecting profits than protecting people" (p.47). Potter then follows the money back to the machinations of agro-industry to insert "terrorism" into media reports on petty vandalism and into bills like the "Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act," laws that impose harsh sentencing upgrades and harsh (super max!) prison conditions on people convicted of non-violent crimes.

The book's biggest weakness is its narrow focus; like his blog by the same name, this book lacks an intersectional foundation. Potter writes a book about terrorism in the post-9/11 era and yet rarely connects the demonization, surveillance, and repression of eco and animal rights activists with that of anti-war, Palestinian, and global, social, and environmental justice activists, and Muslim and Arab people generally. At one point (p.109) he recounts how a group of sharp-dressed, mostly (all?) white animal rights defendants gathered outside court were asked by a passerby if they were law students. "'No,' [SHAC defendant] Gazzola says, smiling, without hesitation. 'We're on trial for terrorism.'" A cute story, sure, except that it's inclusion and other similar comments implies that, haha! of course cleancut white kids aren't really terrorists! Doesn't their appearance make the absurdity of the charge poignant and clear? ...But where does that leave someone else who does fit the social construction of what a "real terrorist" looks like? Potter's narrow lens creates (or enhances) a false split between those who fight for earth & animal justice and those who fight for human social, economic, and environmental justice. It ignores that these are often the same people. It creates a huge gap in his analytical paradigm, ignoring the connections between capitalism's colonial exploitations of people and land. It hangs entire groups of people out to dry.

Potter did make some overtures to other movements vilified by the "terrorist" label in the chapter on prison conditions, though others have done a better job. Of those writing on the issue, notable is SHAC defendant Andy Stepanian, who was housed in a quasi-legal, ultra-harsh Communication Management Unit prison as a "balancer," a white person brought in to decrease the overwhelming majority Muslim population held in these awful conditions (p.215).

The other major weakness of this book was Potter's decision not to question or complicate the tactics of the activists he writes about. His repeated insistence that no animal or eco activist have "harmed" a human being rings false when some of their tactics have targeted individual people with stalking, economic and social sabotage, and direct threats of injury or death (regardless of whether they were carried out). These are not the same tactics as corporate property destruction, just as property destruction is not the same thing as non-violent civil disobedience, and separate too is publication of completed actions from publication of home addresses. Potter weakens his credibility by refusing to acknowledge these distinctions-- if he really believes they are equivalently nonviolent, then he should address this issue head on and break it down for the reader. Me, I don't see it.

Bonus quote from a Homeland Security report:
Animal and eco rights activists success "not only would fundamentally alter the nature of social norms regarding the planet's habitat and its living organisms, but ultimately would lead to a new system of governance and social relationships that is anarchist and anti-systemic in nature." (p.245)

[Review written 1 month after finishing the book, because my original review was swallowed whole by the internet monsters]

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