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Green is the New Red: An Insider's Account of a Social Movement Under Siege by Will Potter

October 21st, 2012

Book Review by Mark Hand

The ACLU's stance on AETA, Potter writes, could be viewed as an example of history repeating itself. In 1940, the ACLU leadership passed a resolution barring communists from top positions and voted to remove Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from the board because she was a member of the Communist Party. Not only was the ACLU barring communists, some ACLU leaders even supplied documents on the group's activities to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

The National Lawyers Guild, on the other hand, did not accommodate the government's demands during the Red Scare. Most of the attorneys in key Red Scare court cases were NLG members, Potter writes. "It continues to do so today. National Lawyers Guild members have been representing `eco-terrorists' in court, and the guild's executive director, Heidi Boghosian, has firmly positioned the organization on-record against the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, the FBI's `Operation Backfire,' and the broader campaign to persecute animal rights and environmental activists," Potter states.

When Congress passed both AEPA and AETA, lawmakers were following the orders of industries that were growing tired of environmental and animal rights activists getting away with using legal means to cut into the profits of their member companies. So, the corporations instructed lawmakers to pass designer legislation that would curtail the freedoms of their opponents, branding them with the "terrorist" label.

It has been demonstrated throughout U.S. history that Congress and state legislatures are wholly owned subsidiaries of Corporate America. Green is the New Red, published by City Lights Books, looks at a relatively recent period of U.S. history and demonstrates how the biomedical, corporate farming and energy industries are succeeding in getting laws passed that allow their opponents to be deemed "terrorists" and then handed lengthy prison sentences, while the companies engaging in the real "eco-terrorism" get to continue destroying the earth and torturing animals.

Green is the New Red explores much of the same ground as Muzzling A Movement, attorney Dara Lovitz`s in-depth examination of the government's legal case (or lack of a case) against SHAC and the passage of AETA. Both books are written in a clear and straightforward writing style. Where the two books differ is in Potter's rich detail about the actions of environmental and animal rights activists. Unlike Lovitz's legal analysis and references to previous court opinions, Potter writes in a more intimate, first person point of view. He provides details of his contacts and friendships with some of the people who were getting rounded up in the government's Green Scare campaign.

Anybody who has followed Potter's "Green is the New Red" website through the years will recognize many of the Green Scare cases and names that he mentions in the book. But the book is not a collection of essays or articles that you've already read on websites or in academic journals. It's a tightly woven, 250-page narrative (not including its comprehensive bibliography, index and acknowledgements) that, along with analyzing the legislation and court cases, offers an inside look at some of the more daring actions carried out by environmental and animal rights activists.

Potter also describes his own experience with the Green Scare, when in 2002 FBI agents sought to intimidate him for distributing leaflets in a Chicago suburb, near the home of an executive with March Inc., an insurance company for Huntington Life Sciences, the animal testing lab. FBI agents visited his home in Chicago and told him they'd put him on a "domestic terrorist list" if he didn't provide information about the people who were leafleting with him. Potter refused to provide the FBI agents with any information, but the encounter spooked him. And yet, it also opened his eyes to the close relationship between the state apparatus and corporations.

"I do not know it right now, but this experience will mark the beginning of both a personal and a political journey," Potter writes. "After the initial fear subsides, I will become obsessed with finding out why I would be targeted as a terrorist for doing nothing more than leafleting."

And that experience in Chicago sent Potter on his journey as an investigative journalist into the shadowy world of the Green Scare.

Potter spends many pages on the life and actions of Daniel McGowan, one of the activists caught up in the Green Scare dragnet who is now imprisoned in a communication management unit at the U.S. penitentiary in Marion, Ind. The federal judge in McGowan's case, Clinton appointee Ann Aiken, applied a "terrorism enhancement" to his sentence. "Terrorism enhancement" is a measure that allows judges to dramatically increase a person's sentence if his or her offense "involved, or was intended to promote, a federal crime of terrorism," as defined by Congress. Unrelated to AEPA or AETA, the "terrorism enhancement" provision emerged from the Effective Death Penalty and Anti-Terrorism Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996.

Potter is clearly the anti-Daniel McGowan. As a professional journalist--and one who specializes in legal and legislative issues--Potter tries to remain as detached as possible when he writes. He steers clear of emotion in his reporting on the Green Scare. He is neither a cheerleader nor a firebrand. McGowan, on the other hand, "is articulate and well read, but on some issues he becomes fervid," Potter writes. "He does not shy away from words like fascism, patriarchy, ecocide."

Somehow, Potter is able to manage his emotions when he writes about case after case in which activists are being labeled a "terrorist" or being sentenced to years in prison for petty crimes or actions in which no one was injured. This level of detachment allows him to perform a valuable service to the activists, many of whom he admires. His writings, including Green is the New Red, are an honest assessment, warts and all, of the tactics, strategies and goals of the environmental and animal rights movements.

In Green is the New Red, Potter worries that he might be doing more harm than good by writing and speaking about the government's campaign against activists. "The most dangerous consequence of this terrorism rhetoric is fear, so does raising public awareness just make more people afraid?" he asks. "As someone who cares deeply about these issues, I've wondered if I'm just doing the job of the government and corporations for them by spreading fear."

But activists, both aboveground and underground, need truth-seekers like Will Potter. Ignoring the crackdown on environmental and animal rights activists will not make the problem go away, Potter writes. "The best way to cut through the fog of fear is to shine a light directly on the source," he says.

By immersing himself in the issue since the day the FBI visited him in Chicago and through his skills as a newshound, Potter is now a leading expert on the government's crackdown on environmental and animal rights activists. But in Green is the New Red, he does more than report on the last 15 years of the movement. Potter offers words of wisdom. Perhaps his most salient words are the ones he saves for near the end of the book when he writes:

"Through it all, one thing must be remembered about the activists labeled terrorists: they are in good company. Many of the radicals we revere today were feared and vilified in their time."


5.0 out of 5 stars Rich and Compelling - An Important Read By modestjake

I started reading the book thinking it would be a quick, interesting read into the animal and earth liberation movements and the prosecution of those involved. But what I got was a serious, in depth analysis of how the government and corporations are in bed with another to prosecute above ground activists as terrorists and punish underground activists engaging in non-violent actions more severely than those committing murder.

It was a compelling read full of smart dissections of the political process and Mr. Potter's own role in it, as well as a rare glimpse into the personal lives of those the US government has deemed domestic terrorists due to their political beliefs. Mr. Potter has a rare knack of telling a rich story of personal drama, conviction and heartbreak while educating the reader about issues that the powers-that-be would prefer to keep behind closed doors.

Green is the New Red is one of the most important books I've read in quite some time.


5.0 out of 5 stars required reading, By E. MICHAUD

If you have any interest at all in the environment, animal rights, activism in general, current events, or the government then you really must read "Green is the New Red." Will Potter chronicles, in a way that manages to be both personal and sweeping, the history of radical activism within the environmental and animal rights movements. By reading this book you will learn exactly how and why the meme of "eco-terrorism" was schemed up and sold to the public by the government even though it twists the customary definition of terrorism well beyond reason. If the book doesn't open your eyes, frighten you, fascinate you, and piss you off all at the same time then, well, I'm afraid you're probably not that much fun at cocktail parties or anarchist potlucks. I couldn't put it down. And I'm not big into rereading books but I'll hit this again for sure.


5.0 out of 5 stars Important, May 14, 2011 By Sandra L. Beardsley

This book is important, Green is the New Red tells the story of how government attempts to shut down an effective voice for the voiceless. It shows how real terrorism, killing people, has been conflated with property damage or even with political speech. Scary but necessary reading. I'd also suggest Muzzling a Movement if you are interested in the subject. And I think we all should be, the terrorism stick can be used to bash anyone the powers that be disagree with.


5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, chilling, eye-opening...a must read, By Debora Durant

Will Potter presents a clear-sighted view of the big picture in the animal rights and environmental movements, of what is at stake, and of the lives that have already been touched by the "terrorism" rhetoric. Many will read this and be frightened. And it is frightening to realize that the American justice system is willing to send people to prison and label them terrorists even if they have not been charged with breaking a law. It begins to sound like Kafka, or like 1984, but I agree with Will's viewpoint that the best way to fight is with knowledge. I highly recommend Green is the New Red to everyone, activist or not.

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