Confronting the eco-xenophobia of Apply The Breaks, Captain Paul Watson, James Lee and the whole lot of ‘em
Statement from the Earth First! Journal collective
Earlier this month, the Center for New Community (CNC) released a report on Apply The Brakes (ATB), a recently formed pro-border, anti-immigrant voice coming from many well-known environmentalists. While it appeared at first glance to be the newest attempt in a long history of xenophobic environmentalists attempting to manipulate the broader ecology movement towards their own ends (as an extension of the famed John Tanton network), there are some elements particularly relevant to Earth First! here.
First, ATB includes the vocal support of several former Earth First!ers, including Dave Foreman and George Wuerthner (their website make multiple reference to EF!, including a claim that it was founded by David Brower—who they claim as a posthumous affliate of their group!).
Second, The CNC study came at an interesting time. In the midst of debate around the report—most specifically a particular depressing, off-base exchange between CNC and Captain Paul Watson—the Discovery Channel hostage scenario hit the news. In a sad blend of courage and nonsense, James Lee manifested the fears of immigrant advocates wary of the radical ecology movement at large.
Oddly, the statement that follows was written the week prior to the Discovery Channel hostage situation as an interjection from the Earth First! Journal collective to the CNC vs. Watson debate. We felt our position as a recognized voice of radical ecology situated in the borderlands could be of value. Today, September 2, 2010, we feel that value has an even broader relevance.
This much we can agree on: there is a war against the Earth and we cannot stay neutral and observe passively. Where our common ground with people such as Paul Watson and Dave Foreman exists from there, it is unclear.
We view industrial civilization as the primary aggressor of this war. The same system that dominates the planet has succeeded in dominating most people on the planet as well. Despite this general agreement among current active participants in the Earth First! movement, many among us still experience the feeling of misanthropy (and some still embrace it wholly). But even for those who view attacks on the planet stemming from the human species (rather than the systems that dominate it), we on the EF! Journal collective fail to see how that equates aligning yourself with white nationalists, right-wing nativists and border militarization rather than immigrant campesinos, refugees and the youth of undocumented families fighting to stop their parents and siblings from deportation? How does keeping people behind walls address global population?
From Paul Watson’s letter it is difficult to tell if he even read the report or watched the video sent to him about Apply The Brakes (ATB) by Center for New Community (CNC). Does he disagree with the documentation presented about ATB affiliations with known racists and xenophobes who are classified as hate groups by multiple sources? Does he have some information to counter this? Or is he indifferent to it because he agrees so strongly with their strategy for urgent action—which, according to their website, entails writing generic form letters to elected officials about population increase and immigration in the United States? Since when did Paul Watson think writing form letters to congress was the best way to get results anyway?
And to what end? What we have seen from the loudest anti-immigrant groups have been expanded border walls through sensitive desert bioregions and indigenous land; “national security” measures which override federal environmental protection, such as REAL ID Act and Secure Borders Initiative; and legislative efforts like HR4437 in 2006 and SB 1070 in Arizona this year aimed at increasing the police state power to criminalize people for crossing arbitrary borders established through wars of colonial conquest and empire building.
Watson’s letter states: “By the way I’m all for unrestricted immigration by wolves, bears, fsh, birds and any other non-exotic formally native species wishing to return home.”
When’s the last time Paul was in the borderlands? Does he know that they’ve been building and expanding massive walls across the desert for almost twenty years; that Audubon and Sierra Club lawsuits against construction of the wall in sensitive areas of Texas and Arizona were thrown out of federal court for the same “national security” reasons hailed by ATB?
The last known jaguar in the southwestern U.S. was killed last year. State biologists and other liberals say it doesn’t matter because they’ll never live here again anyway. They’re right—militarization and border wall expansion will likely ensure that a Mexican jaguar never makes it to this half of their range again.
If you’re nor worried about jaguars, how about endangered pygmy owls and Sonoran Pronghorn antelope in Arizona; fat-tailed horned lizard and peninsular bighorn sheep in California; the grey wolf in New Mexico; Big Bend National Park, Cabeza Prieta National Refuge, Organ Pipe National Monument, the San Pedro and Rio Grande Rivers, all bisected by the borders ATB praises.
Stephen Mumme, an expert on borderland ecology at Colorado State University says that current border policy presents an extremely high threat to biodiversity, “right up there with the most serious and long-term adverse consequences for the environment created by humankind—right up there with the worst instances of urbanization, the worst instances of damming up our rivers.”
Desert ecologist, Daniel Patterson, with the Center for Biological Diversity, said “the only living things the walls won’t stop are people” (millions of them, who continue coming in direct relation to global economic pressures.)
So, has anything good come of anti-immigrant bigotry masquerading as ecology or xenophobes using ecologists to their own ends? We would venture to say yes: one thing. Judging from the short CNC video of young people in New York confronting the Weeden Foundation for financing the Tanton Network (specifically the slick new image of ATB) it has mobilized a whole new generation of activists, many of whom seem to realize they are facing the latest face of Manifest Destiny. The same Manifest Destiny that cleared the vast majority of ancient forests, wiped out the buffalo and drove millions into the agricultural and industrial slavery that continues today.
For our part, we have made a conscious decision to side with immigrant activists, many of whom come from land-based communities and know more closely the practical reality of living with the earth instead of against it.
While we are not necessarily interested in the “economic renewal” proposed by Center for New Communities, we don’t see ATB calling for the end of industrial civilization either. In fact, the contrary—where former Earth First!ers like Dave Foreman and George Wuerthner once spoke of the need to deindustrialize the entire society, they now speak as defenders of status quo as self-described leaders of ATB. Their decision is a turncoat alliance with the system that is killing the planet.
In years 20 past, we have increasingly parted ways with some of the prominent old guard deep ecologists over the subject of population and immigration. Today, we find much of that debate is over. There is no way to be a committed biocentrist in support of a regime of colonial borders, devastating walls through bioregions and the fortification of the police state intended to keep the current system intact.
“One of the key concepts of bioregionalism is that modern political boundaries have no relationship to natural ecological provinces. Bioregionalists argue that human society—and therefore, politics and economics—should be based on natural ecosystems. They find affinity with Indian tribes and with Basque, Welsh, and Kurdish separatists, and have no sympathy with the modern nation-state, empire, or multinational corporation.” Sound familiar? Who could have written those words but Dave Foreman himself in his autobiography, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. (Harmony Books. NYC, 1991. pp. 43)
For those who do not have the wax too far in their ears, we ask you to reflect your position on biocentrism and deep ecology in relation to your alignment with ATB.
In our effort to form an appropriate response to end the war against the Earth, where will we search for allies—among right-wing elitist think tanks or among ground level movements of people facing off with power?
It’s been an easy choice for us.
In solidarity with the wild & for full freedom of movement to all species!
—Earth First! Journal collective
September 2, 2010