By Will Potter, March 11, 2009

The FBI labels the environmental and animal rights movements the number one domestic terrorism threat. Those activists have never flown planes into buildings, taken hostages or sent anthrax through the mail. So how did they make it to the top of the government’s list?

Here are 10 ways you can be labeled an eco-terrorist:

10.) Sabotage corporate property.
Underground groups like the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front have released animals from fur farms, vandalized SUV’s and, at the most extreme, set fire to empty buildings. Those crimes have only harmed property, not people, but the government has pushed for terrorism enhancement penalties in those cases. It may come as a surprise that sabotage is the bottom of this list, but these cases are actually only a very small focus of the bigger Green Scare.

9.) Fall in love with an FBI agent.
That’s what happened to Eric McDavid. He didn’t harm anyone or break anything, but he was convicted of conspiring to sabotage federal facilities in the name of defending the environment and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The entire case against him hinged on the work of Anna, an FBI operative who provided the group with bomb-making recipes; financed their transportation, food and housing; strung along McDavid, who had the hopes of a romantic relationship; and poked and prodded the group into action.

8.) Attend vegan potlucks.
While Al-Qaeda continues to release video communiques threatening Americans, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces are using anti- terrorism resources to attempt to infiltrate vegan potlucks.

7.) Protect your privacy.
The FBI and local law enforcement have been exposed for spying on activists around the country, including peace activists in Maryland and the HoneyBaked Hams protesters in Georgia. Understandably, many activists don’t want their faces in FBI files, so they often wear bandanas at protests. And guess what? The government says THAT is terrorism. Joint Terrorism Task Forces have arrested an animal rights activist in Virginia for wearing a mask, and four California activists are facing terrorism charges for the same.

6.) Beat the good ol’ boys at their own game.
A Utah lawmaker is promising to introduce new eco-terrorism legislation. His target? Not the Earth Liberation Front, Animal Liberation Front, or some shadowy underground group. Hes openly, proudly targeting mainstream environmentalists. Specifically, he has his sights on Tim DeChristopher, the University of Utah student who disrupted an oil and gas auction by bidding on parcels of land. The state lawmaker says DeChristopher’s auction bids are no different than burning down a mans cattle operation eco-terrorism. DeChristopher took millions of dollars away from us, and hes laughing at us. Its not right. Its not fair.

5.) Stop the symbolism.
With the RNC coming to town, local organizers in the Twin Cities set up a community infrastructure including housing, transportation, child care and protest logistics. They worked with a wide range of mainstream, lawful organizations. They were very public, vocal and outspoken from the beginning about their intentions: We don’t just want a photo opportunity or a symbolic civil disobedience, were going to disrupt business as usual. The government’s response? Eight organizers were arrested before the protests began for conspiring to riot in the furtherance of terrorism.

4.) Be vocal and unapologetic.
The government hasn’t made headway on the vast majority of crimes by groups like the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front. So they’re targeting above-ground activists who vocally, unsympathetically support the underground. In the SHAC 7 case, animal rights activists were convicted of animal enterprise terrorism for running a website that posted news of both legal and illegal actions against a notorious laboratory, and vocally supporting all of it. The government also uses grand juries like the recent one in Utah to harass and intimidate activists, and force them to testify about their political beliefs and political associations.

3.) Go after their money.
I’m not just talking about the kind of property destruction mentioned in #10. Sweeping new legislation called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act wraps up a wide range activity as terrorism, including causing a loss of profits to an animal enterprise. Causing a loss of profits is not terrorism: it is effective activism.

2.) Get to their root of the problem.
The government isn’t going to label people as terrorists for recycling or volunteering at an animal shelter. That’s not because those things aren’t important, its because they aren’t radical in the true sense of the term: they don’t get to the root of the problem. When activists go deeper — when they move beyond questioning the types of light bulbs we use to questioning the entire, unsustainable economic system — that’s when they truly become terrorists.

1.) Be effective.
More than anything else, this is the sure-fire way to be labeled a terrorist. For instance, shortly after the historic victory of Proposition 2 in California, a corporate front group bought a full- page ad in the New York Times labeling the Humane Society of the United States as terrorists. Whether its activists burning SUV’s or passing landmark legislation, the common thread between every activist being labeled a terrorist is that they are successful. In this War on Terrorism, the number one domestic terrorism threat includes any environmental activist who is passionate, uncompromising and, above all else, effective.

Will Potter is an award-winning independent journalist who focuses on how lawmakers and corporations have labeled animal rights and environmental activists as “eco-terrorists.” Will has written for publications including The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News and Legal Affairs, and has testified before the U.S. Congress about his reporting. He is the creator of