Rainforest Action Network, a San Francisco-based non-profit which provides information about campaigns for the protection of the environment, is currently in a fierce battle with Boise Cascade, a multi-national logging corporation which has fought against industry regulations. RAN\'s public information campaign has most recently claimed victory in a $35.5 million loss for Boise Cascade\'s first quarter this year.
Shortly after RAN bought a full-page ad in the New York Times, announcing a renewed summer campaign against Boise Cascade, a group called Frontiers of Freedom began targeting them. Frontiers of Freedom co-sponsored a conference on "eco-terrorism" in Washington DC, which was attended by current U.S. lawmakers. Retired Senator Malcolm Wallop, who heads Frontiers of Freedom, used the opportunity to speak out against Rainforest Action Network, declaring them one of the "biggest lawbreakers." Such incidents of "terrorism" included hanging banners and holding protest signs on private property. RAN\'s activism policy is limited to non-violent direct action and they do not advocate property destruction.
A week later, Frontiers of Freedom made a formal request to the IRS to examine RAN\'s non-profit status. FOF\'s request mostly documents a lot of banner hanging, some of which resulted in arrest, by Rainforest Action Network. Frontiers of Freedom believes that this will be a "test case of whether many environmental groups are violating tax laws." Activists, in turn, say that they cannot compete with multi-million dollar public relations campaigns waged by massive corporations. Protests, boycotts, and direct actions are the only way to spread their message.
Rainforest Action Network says that these attacks are prompted by Boise Cascade and other members of industry who work against environmental regulation, acting through front organizations. RAN believes this is an attempt to criminalize protest, alienate potential members, and weaken the re-inspired green movement\'s impact on profits.
Jason Wright, a Frontiers of Freedom spokesperson, says this isn\'t true. He says that Frontiers of Freedom is not a front for industry interests or "lobbyists with Gucci suits" -- it is a group of "retirees and former elected officials" who are interested in protecting "individual rights." In this case, Rainforest Action Network is stealing "taxpayer money that is not going into the system." Jason is referring to the tax money that is lost because RAN\'s donations are tax-deductible under non-profit status. FOF believes that groups which engage in direct action and protests, which may result in arrest for crimes like trespassing, should have 501c4 tax status. Under this status, donations are private and non-deductible. Frontiers of Freedom believes this ruling could "slash donations to radical environmental groups."
Although Jason says it is a "ridiculous" assertion that FOF is guided by organization leaders with personal financial interest in environmental issues, a look at their membership tells another story:
- Diemer True is an active member of FOF\'s Board of Directors. Diemer True\'s family owns True Companies, which operates an oil and drilling subsidiary. He is also Vice Chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, a major oil/gas corporation lobbyist PAC. In addition, he is vice chairman of BIPAC, a political action committee for corporations whose motto is "Clout: Electing Business to Congress".
- Randall Roe, a current FOF board member, is Vice Chairman and served as an in-house lobbyist for family business Burns & Roe, a company that evaded asbestos liability claims by declaring bankruptcy, even though the company was solvent and profitable. The company continues to operate normally, but asbestos claim settlements are being deferred to a future trust fund. Mr. Roe is not mentioned on FOF\'s Board of Directors webpage, even though he has been with the organization since at least 1999.
- Warren L. Dean Jr., a past FOF board member, has worked as a lobbyist for oil and gas companies.
- Malcolm Wallop is a retired senator from Wyoming, and the head of Frontiers of Freedom. Jason Wright says that ultimately his faith in FOF as a legitimate organization lies with Senator Wallop, who he believes is a man of great integrity. However, Sen. Wallop doesn\'t seem to be acting out of principle alone. During his career, Sen. Wallop received money from timber lobbyists, and he currently is a board of director for El Paso Energy Corporation. Sen. Wallop has also worked as a lobbyist himself, representing Sherritt International, a mining conglomerate.
- Amy Goodman reported that Frontiers of Freedom receives most of their funding from Philip Morris Cos., Exxon Mobil Corp. and RJ Reynolds Tobacco.
Can Industry Power Buy Grassroots Support?
People for the USA is just starting to join forces and co-operate with Frontiers of Freedom. Having gone through organizational difficulties and a weakened member base, this PFUSA is not the same group it once was. Throughout the 90s, PFUSA fought against many environmental regulations as part of the "wise-use movement." Today, what\'s left is a group made up largely of workers and small land-owners from Oregon whose land has been claimed by the federal government for national monuments, says group representative Kurt Stark. According to Stark, when President Clinton created these monuments, the process for working out the details was undemocratic and blindly grabbed land from private hands, both large and small. Local residents who tried to make a case for the community were largely shut out of the decision-making process.
Stark isn\'t very optimistic about the partnership with FOF. "Unfortunately, you have to have an alliance," he says. "I work out in the woods and for me to go to DC, they\'d laugh at me." Stark, who says he "cares about the environment," believes that grassroots organizers in his group probably have more in common with pro-environmental grassroots groups, but he believes that "the environmental movement shouldn\'t trust the federal government to protect anything."
Residents in the Pacific Northwest have also had a troublesome relationship with timber companies. Aside from normal worker and union trouble, clearcutting by timber companies has caused landslides and fires which threaten people living nearby. Stark says that Frontiers of Freedom "isn\'t ready for grassroots activism," but hopes that FOF\'s connections will help them fight government land grabs which can destroy family businesses. In other words, not all PFUSA members believe in the right-wing, corporate ideology of wise use, and this will be a significant challenge to FOF as it attempts to gain legitimacy by merging with a grassroots group.
Industry Front Groups
Activists say groups like Frontiers of Freedom are "astroturf" -- fake grassroots. A corporation cannot further damage their public relations by directly attacking a protest group, so "independent" organizations are set up to do the dirty work. Frontiers of Freedom going after RAN sounds way better than a trade association or corporation doing the same thing. Working people don\'t have much sympathy for multinational corporations, and blatant harrassment of political activists could destroy a corporation\'s public image.
Frontiers of Freedom is going a step further by trying to establish a link between RAN and "terrorism." The environmental movement in the Pacific Northwest has documented a long history of violence against demonstrators by timber companies, and this latest attempt seems to be baiting the FBI to apply law enforcement pressure. Already, this area is famous for the police tactic of pain compliance and holding a protester\'s eye open to directly apply painful and dangerous chemicals. FOF\'s attempt to further criminalize legitimate political dissent is a scary move, especially considering that the FBI will be the target of a high-profile lawsuit this October over the car-bombing of two redwood activists. The idea that illegal protest is non-educational or "terrorism" is exactly what feeds the brutal attacks against activists.
Ron Arnold, a property rights advocate who spoke at the eco-terrorism conference, attempts to show that there may be links between RAN and "eco-terrorists." His main evidence for this is that while RAN (and many other groups) were running a campaign against Boise Cascade, a group called Earth Liberation Front set fire to a Boise Cascade office. While the campaign against Boise Cascade involved thousands of people and dozens of groups, Arnold asserts that this somehow clues him into a potential link between RAN and terrorists.
Arnold is clear that there is no evidence of a connection between mainstream groups like Rainforest Action Network and secretive, decentralized groups like Earth Liberation Front. But that doesn\'t stop him from publicly insinuating that there is a link. Arnold\'s motivation is his belief in free enterprise and property rights. He doesn\'t believe that people have a right to protest corporations, only the government. And he has a particular grudge against environmental grassroots organizations: "we want to destroy environmentalists by taking away their money and their members." Ron Arnold has worked for Boise Cascade and other industry corporations.
With only a little research, groups which deceptively advocate for major industries
can be caught in the act. It is corporate-created and money-driven organizations
which twist and spin the news. Corporations figure that if they don\'t have grassroots
support, they can just buy some. In this case, two grassroots groups who could
probably be working together against big corporations and big government towards
democratic management of public resources are divided by an industry lobbyist
group which hopes to use one against the other. What if grassroots people on
both sides gave up on political deals and worked together against government
and industry lobbyists? Maybe the people would win for once.
Rainforest Action Network says that they will continue to inform people about the destructive activities of multinational corporations and industry front groups like FOF. They believe their organization is sustainable under any tax status, and they will go on opposing multinational corporations hell-bent on destroying the earth for profit.