LA Weekly‘s Judith Lewis has written a short but incisive piece on a subject dear to my heart:

When the American Civil Liberties Union this week released a new batch of documents obtained from the FBI verifying that the federal agency has been monitoring domestic environmental- and animal-rights groups, it was only the latest evidence of government working on behalf of the anti-environmentalist industry and property-rights advocates to, as one of those advocates put it in 1992, "destroy the environmental movement." It’s an effort that’s been under way since the 1980s, using various tactics from intimidation to slander. Only recently have the anti-environmentalists hit upon their most promising idea yet: Linking environmentalism to terrorism.

Lewis goes on to question whether the ELF (Earth Liberation Front) actually exists as an organization at all. Its alleged website is little more than a hook for a bunch of advertising; its alleged spokesmen are self-promoting cranks; the criminals allegedly connected to it deny any such connections.

Indeed, the people who seem to have the most to gain from the ELF existing are Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the leaders of the wise-use movement, and certain industries whose excesses are threatened by environmental activism.

Zealots need enemies, and if those enemies don’t exist, zealots will create them.

The documents the FBI has released so far, most of them heavily edited accounts of monitoring activities directed at Greenpeace and PETA, may be just the tip of the surveillance iceberg. “The reason we have the documents on PETA and Greenpeace is because we asked for them,” says Ben Wizner, an attorney with the ACLU. “There have also been requests by local environmental groups around the country. They’re trickling out. And I expect that because of these revelations there will be more groups that want to see their FBI files,” he said.

You could call the FBI surveillance a colossal waste of public resources, but Wizner thinks it’s worse than that: Also in the documents obtained by the ACLU is a memo about a source planted within Greenpeace informing the agency that recent law-enforcement efforts have already damaged morale.

As I’ve said before, the goal here is not just to hurt morale, not just to slander, but more specifically to question the tax-exempt status of certain powerful environmental organizations.

I think it’s far past time for the mainstream green movement to speak out about this publicly. They’re letting their enemies define the terrain.