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Year : 2018  |  Volume : 16  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 147-156

License to Kill: Contesting the Legitimacy of Green Violence

Sociology of Development and Change Group, Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen, Netherlands

Correspondence Address:
Robert Fletcher
Sociology of Development and Change Group, Wageningen University and Research, Wageningen
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_16_148

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Date of Web Publication11-Apr-2018


The predominant focus within the growing body of research addressing 'green violence' – that employed in the name of protecting nonhuman natures – has been the exercise of such violence by representatives of nation-state regimes. Largely overlooked thus far, therefore, is a remarkably similar discussion conducted among civil society environmental activists, who have long debated the legitimacy of employing analogous forms of violence in their own defense of 'nature.' Juxtaposing these two discussions, this article explores how green violence has been discussed and contested among state and non-state actors, respectively. At stake in this discussion is the essential question of when, and by whom, green violence can be legitimately exercised. This question, in turn, raises the related question of who can legitimately employ ‘biopower’ when both state and non-state actors commonly justify green violence with quite similar claims to be acting in defense of imperiled forms of nonhuman life. In addressing these questions, this analysis suggests that we may need to rethink how biopower is being mobilised in the contemporary world wherein the nation-state political order is increasingly challenged by manifold forces while environmental concerns have at the same time come to be seen as one of the principle security threats to states, their subjects, as well as life as a whole.

Keywords: Conservation, violence, environmentalism, biopower, the state, protected areas, green wars

How to cite this article:
Fletcher R. License to Kill: Contesting the Legitimacy of Green Violence. Conservat Soc 2018;16:147-56

How to cite this URL:
Fletcher R. License to Kill: Contesting the Legitimacy of Green Violence. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2018 [cited 2021 Jan 26];16:147-56. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2018/16/2/147/221952

   Introduction Top

A growing body of research has addressed what Büscher and Ramutsindela call 'green violence,' defined as 'the deployment of violent instruments and tactics towards the protection of nature'1 (2016: 2). The predominant focus of this discussion has been the exercise of such violence by representatives of nation-state regimes. In this respect, researchers have documented the use of military tactics, weaponry and even personnel to patrol protected areas (PAs) against incursion by those wishing to extract wildlife and other resources, a dynamic termed 'green militarisation' (see esp. Duffy 2014; Lunstrum 2014; Duffy et al. 2015; Büscher and Ramutsindela 2016; Kelly and Ybarra 2016). This exercise of physical violence has been accompanied by violent rhetoric advocating often extreme forms of punishment for the perpetrators of such incursions (Büscher 2016; Lunstrum 2017). We have also witnessed incorporation of such dynamics within overarching efforts to address ‘terrorism’ and other issues of global geopolitics by conventional military forces (Duffy 2016).

Largely overlooked thus far within this growing body of research, however, is a remarkably similar discussion concerning what Nagtzaam and Lentini (2007:112) call 'environmentally oriented political violence' – 'that which is performed by humans on behalf of certain non-human species' – conducted among civil society environmental activists, who have long debated the legitimacy of employing analogous forms of violence in their own defense of 'nature.' This discussion has, in turn, become the subject of a modest body of scholarly research. In this article, therefore, I juxtapose these two discussions in order to compare and contrast how green violence have been employed and debated from the perspective, respectively, of state and non-state actors.

My analysis demonstrates that, while most states have condemned the (limited) environmentally oriented violence exercised by non-state actors, even going so far as to label them 'eco-terrorists' in order to implement the same sort of counter-measures directed against more conventional insurgent movements, a number of states are themselves now advocating far more extreme forms of violence than those whom they have condemned (Lunstrum 2014; Büscher and Ramutsindela 2016). By contrast, while many radical environmentalists have advocated destruction of property, they have generally, except in a very few extreme cases, clearly distinguished this from violence against living beings and vehemently condemned the latter. In doing so they have often defended their perspective and actions as a direct challenge to the monopoly on legitimate violence characteristically claimed by the state (Weber 1968). Complicating such polarised positioning, however, I show that in some cases states have in fact given limited support to green violence exercised by civil society groups, while in others states have even employed non-state actors themselves to exercise green violence in their name.

This analysis raises important questions about the nature and practice of green violence 2 in the world today. On a practical level, it explores the pressing questions of when green violence should be considered legitimate? Which forms of violence? What is the relative value of human and nonhuman life in the exercise of this violence (Taylor 2016)? And who gets to decide all of this? On what basis? While I offer no firm answers to these difficult questions, my analysis shows that they remain subject to ongoing contestation along various lines and thus demand much further debate.

On a more conceptual level, meanwhile, my analysis raises intriguing questions about the nature of ‘biopower’ today. Justification for green violence, after all, is commonly couched in prototypical biopolitical terms: as a proportional response to the grave threat posed by those targeted by these actions to the life of those in whose defense this violence is exercised. In other words, the ending of some life is justified by the threat this life poses to other forms of life singled out for protection (Biermann and Mansfield 2014). As I show, in its classic Foucaultian formulation, biopower referred exclusively to a particular mode of power exercised by states and their legitimate representatives. Yet as my analysis demonstrates, civil society activists have commonly defended their own actions in very similar terms, as have, increasingly, a variety of actors and institutions beyond the nation-state level as well. In this way, biopower seems to be in a process of transcending its traditional nation-state moorings and becoming more of a property of global politics in general. From this perspective, then, the question of who can claim to legitimately exercise biopower – and the violence justified in its name – becomes crucial in contemporary (environmental) politics in general.

All of this, in turn, has important implications for those implicated in the exercise of green violence themselves. While such violence is commonly promoted and planned by high-level state representatives, after all, it is usually carried out by the on-the-ground agents – particularly park rangers – who are called upon to exercise it. Increasing evidence demonstrates the harsh toll, both physical and psychological, this work often exacts on these people, many of whom are undertrained, underequipped and underpaid for the enormous sacrifices they are called upon to make (IUCN 2014; Neme 2014). In undertaking this analysis, therefore, I am certainly not seeking to directly impinge these individuals' actions or motivations. Rather, I aim to problematise the overarching institutional milieu that demands this sacrifice of them.

I begin by outlining academic discussions of biopower and its contestation within contemporary politics. Drawing on scholarly research as well as writings by activists themselves, I then discuss the nature and scope of debates among civil society environmentalists concerning the ‘appropriate’ use of violence in defense of their causes. I link this to growing discussions of state-centered green violence, while also showing how lines between state and non-state actors have at times become blurred in the advocacy and exercise of such violence. Returning to my discussion of ‘biopower’, I show that both state and non-state actors have commonly justified their green violence with quite similar claims to be acting in defense of imperiled forms of nonhuman life. I argue that this complicates our common understanding of biopower, suggesting a new dimension of how biopower is mobilised in the contemporary world wherein the nation-state political order is increasingly challenged by manifold forces while environmental concerns have risen to become seen as one of the principle security threats to states, their subjects, and life as a whole (Peluso and Watts 2001). Building on all of this, I explore how the institutionalisation of lethal green violence via its employment and endorsement by state forces contributes to legitimising this violence and thus influences how it is perceived and operates in the contemporary world. This has significant consequences, one of which, I suggest, concerns the growing endorsement of such violence, often itself articulated in extremely violent ways, within discussions conducted in various forms of online social media. In closing, I outline several pertinent research questions that ongoing contestation concerning the legitimisation of green violence raises.

   The Varieties of Biopower Top

‘Biopower’ is Foucault's wildly popular term for a form of power that legitimates itself based on its claim to nurture and sustain the life it is charged to defend (see esp. Rabinow and Rose 2006). In its prototypical form, biopower was fundamentally about competition among different social groups, conceived in Darwinian as well as Parsonian structural-functionalist terms as internally-interdependent organisms. It is for this reason that race and racism constitute such central elements in Foucault's discussion, functioning as 'the condition for the acceptability of putting to death' (2003: 228) based on the relation of alterity between those subject to killing and those in defense of whom the killing is done (see also Mbembé 2003). And of course, this racist exercise of biopower was fundamentally entrusted to the national state as the defender of the population's (organism's) vitality. The (English) title of the lecture series in which Foucault most fully develops the concept is thus Society Must Be Defended (2003).

Yet while Foucault's account focused on the exercise of biopower in defense of human populations, others have subsequently extended his analysis to describe how actions in defense of nonhumans are often justified in similar biopolitical terms (e.g. Luke 1999a, 1999b; Youatt 2008; Cavanagh 2014). State creation and enforcement of PAs for preservation of biodiversity can thus be understood as a quintessential form of biopower exercised in the interest of sustaining forms of nonhuman life that states also consider within their domain of protection (Youatt 2008; Fletcher 2010; Biermann and Mansfield 2014). In aggressively defending PAs, then, states can claim that they are simply extending their general monopoly over the legitimate use of force into this realm as well.

Our understanding of biopower is further complicated when the locus of governance shifts away from the national state. A by-now massive body of research has discussed and debated the ways in which the current era of globalisation may be challenging nation-state sovereignty and the international geopolitical system based upon it. The development of a global environmental governance infrastructure over the past several decades has been understood as a central component of this challenge, potentially displacing sovereignty both upward, to the system of international organisations including United Nations agencies, the World Bank, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and downward to the myriad nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) that direct much of the environmental intervention occurring throughout the world (Luke 1999a; 199b). Many of these organisations explain their interventions in quite similar terms as the state's conventional invocation of biopower as the basis of its own legitimacy. Yet this advocacy is now framed in terms of the defense not of particular groups of humans in competition for growth and expansion but of biodiversity – life as a whole – itself. As Cavanagh summarises this shift, 'biopolitics mutates from simply constituting a specific mode of governing humans, if it ever truly was, and instead manifests as the politics and political economy of supporting certain and asymmetrically valued forms of both human and nonhuman lives within rapidly shifting ecological conditions' (2014: 277).

All of this has implications for our understanding of green violence. As Foucault (2003) describes, a central problem from the perspective of biopower is how a form of authority fundamentally legitimised by its claim to nurture life can justify the killing to which states often resort. The explanation Foucault (2003) provides is of course that the entity targeted for killing must be considered a threat to the life of that which biopower defends. In this way, the killing of some can be justified by the action's contribution to the 'making live' of life in the aggregate, rendering what Mbembe (2003) calls ‘necropower’ integral to biopower as well (see also Braidotti 2007).

From this perspective, green violence can be justified based on the threat those it targets are seen to pose to entities considered under state protection. In the militarisation of conservation, Lunstrum thus proposes, threatened species are 'invited into an expanded national community,' after which 'militarisation rather effortlessly becomes authorized as an answer to the vexing problem of commercial poaching' (2014: 826). Yet this justification may not be as effortless as Lunstrum assumes, entailing, rather, a significant transmutation in the nature of biopower as described above. After all, within this frame green violence is legitimated less in terms of its defense of national heritage than of life – biodiversity – as a whole. In other words, it is not merely the specific population of a given species contained within one's national borders that this violence addresses but rather the sense that this threat portends the imminent extinction of an entire species 3 – and by extension, the sum total of biodiversity on the planet seen as necessary for the future adaptation and continuation of life as a whole. Hence, while wildlife poachers may indeed be seen to 'threaten the sovereign nation-state...its territorial integrity, and its borders' (Lunstrum 2014: 826), from this perspective they are also increasingly seen to threaten the future of life itself as well.

This dynamic is further complicated when non-state actors are included in the discussion. As I will demonstrate in more detail below, radical environmentalists have often explained their actions in very similar biopolitical terms as those authorising state-sponsored green violence. What does this mean concerning the role of biopower in the exercise of green violence? In the next section I begin to explore this key question.

   Environmentalism and Violence Top

‘In 1989 five activists, including Dave Foreman, the most prominent co-founder of Earth First! were arrested in the first officially designated act of environmental terrorism in the United States’ (Taylor 1998:6). Since then, attention to the rise and extent of such actions has steadily increased. Concern over the prospects of this type of environmentally oriented political violence has in part been spurred by the often incendiary discourse of activists themselves:

The martial rhetoric and tabloid graphics found among radical environmentalists amplify such concerns and appear to promote violence, perhaps even terrorism... Some Earth First! activists, for example, depict their struggle as a holy war against those who would desecrate a sacred earth, express solidarity with diverse revolutionary movements around the globe and endorse sabotage that involves at least some risk to human beings. One sabotage manual distributed by an anarchist faction associated with Earth First! even discusses firearms and firebombs. (Taylor 1998: 3)

Notwithstanding such rhetoric, available evidence makes it abundantly clear that the vast majority of civil society environmental activists, including many of those considered most extreme among them, claim adherence to a strict code of nonviolence, at least with respect to other humans. This is in contrast to their frequent labeling, by critics, as 'eco-terrorists' with pronounced violent tendencies, or at least potential to become quite violent (see e.g., Arnold 1997; Ackerman 2003; Berkowicz 2011). While distaining violence against people, however, many of the more radical environmentalists do in fact condone – and in some cases enthusiastically advocate – what many consider other forms of violence. In this, they commonly draw a distinction between violence exercised against living beings and that directed at inanimate objects.

This is true of many of the organisations commonly considered most extreme and aggressive within the global environmental movement. Representatives of Greenpeace, the Sea Shepherd Society, Earth First! (EF!), and Earth Liberation Front (ELF) – four of the organisations most frequently identified in discussions of 'eco-terrorism' – have all explicitly professed non-violence towards people even while endorsing, to varying degrees and in certain circumstances, destruction of physical objects, particularly private property. Common examples of environmentally oriented violence directed against property have included:

cutting cables, inserting sand into machinery or vehicle fuel tanks, hammering small metal spikes into tree trunks to damage chainsaws or mill blades, arson against housing developments and ski resorts, targeting universities or companies with animal research labs, theft, and trespassing. (Berkowicz 2011: 16)

While largely agreeing on the illegitimacy of interpersonal violence, then, the extent to which direct action intended to destroy property is acceptable has become a contentious issue among (as well as within) these groups. The Sea Shepherds, led by Paul Watson, indeed split from Greenpeace, which Watson helped to found, in 1977 over precisely this issue. Greenpeace, 'while employing direct action methods such as stunts, has eschewed violence as a means of furthering its cause' (Nagtzaam and Lentini 2007: 120). By contrast, 'the Sea Shepherds are quite willing to commit violence against property and claim that humans are not to be considered legitimate targets' (2007: 115). In this spirit, '[s]ince 1979, they have sunk ten whaling vessels in the North Atlantic and damaged other ships through tactics such as fouling propellers' (2007:123). Yet despite explicit advocacy of property destruction, Watson has emphasised his commitment to nonviolence vis-à-vis human beings, describing of his principles of direct action: 'One is that we don't use firearms. Two, we don't utilise explosives. Three, we don't take any action where there is the possibility of injury to somebody' (Nagtzaam and Lentini 2007: 115–16).

The relationship between EF! and ELF presents an analogous dynamic, with the latter branching off from the former in 1992 over similar disagreements concerning the extent to which property destruction should be used to combat environmental destruction. Even within EF! such debate continued after this split, with co-founders Dave Foreman and Mike Roselle both professing commitment to non-violence yet diverging concerning the extent to which they believed the organisation should pursue revolutionary transformation and employ so-called ‘monkeywrenching’ in pursuit of this (Taylor 1998). Indeed, within such debates the very nature of the label ‘violence’ has been an issue of contention, since '[f]or many activists who advocate destruction of property for a political purpose...the targeting of property for action is not considered a 'violent act'' at all (Nagtzaam and Lentini 2007: 115).

Of all self-styled radical environmental groups, ELF is generally considered the most extreme. Indeed, even characterising ELF as an organisation is something of a stretch, as its self-proclaimed spokespeople claim that in fact ELF is a common label ascribed to a loose collection of relatively autonomous ‘cells’ that act independent of central planning or control, and that in theory therefore anyone can claim the ELF name (Leader and Probst 2003; Joosse 2007, 2012). Those claiming affiliation with ELF have, often quite enthusiastically, claimed responsibility for substantial destruction of physical property, thus gaining a reputation as 'the most active and the most destructive environmental terrorist group in the United States' (Leader and Probst 2003: 37). As Leader and Probst describe, ELF 'was founded by the more radical members of... Earth First! who believed criminal acts would better advance their environmentalist agenda than would legal protest' (2003: 38). In this way, 'Earth First! recruits those who believe in peaceful, non-violent protest. The ELF, in contrast, draws those who favour direct action and revolutionary violence' (2003:38). Yet even within ELF interpersonal violence is widely condemned. The group's website, indeed, claims as a central goal: 'To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and nonhuman' (Leader and Probst 2003: 40).

This situation becomes more complicated when the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is considered as well. As Leader and Probst (2003: 38) explain, ALF 'was formed in Great Britain in the 1970s as an outgrowth of groups such as Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherds Conservation Society. It predates ELF and is predominantly concerned with animal rights issues. Over the years, ALF has become increasingly radical and violent.' While Taylor contends that '[t]o a significant extent, the animal liberation and radical environmental movements represent distinct subcultures' (2003:18), ALF does conform to the definition of environmentally oriented political violence offered earlier. Moreover, there is substantial affinity between ALF and members of more directly environmental groups. Members of EF! have expressed solidarity with ALF (Taylor 1998), while more explicit links exist with ELF: 'Traditionally, the agendas of the two groups have overlapped and, in an open 1993 communique, ELF declared solidarity with the ALF. Since then, increasingly, there has been a convergence of leadership, membership, agendas and funding' (Leader and Probst 2003: 38). Together, the two groups 'are believed responsible for some 600 criminal acts between 1996 and 2002 and some $43 million in damages' (2003: 37). Yet, the two organisations clearly differ in their views on interpersonal violence. While ELF members, as previously described, tend to decry such violence, 'there are a number of cases where animal liberationists appear to be willing to assault and even kill those they consider torturers/murderers' (Taylor 2003: 180). Taylor contends that this is due to the particular 'individualistic ethics of animal liberationists, which provides a basis for labeling the killing of non-human, sentient animals as murder, and for equating vivisection with torture, provides a logic that can justify violence as a means to prevent such wrongs' (2003: 180).

Among activists directly focused on broader environmental issues, only a few largely autonomous individuals – the type of actors Kaplan (1993) calls 'unguided missiles' or 'lone wolf assassins' – have openly advocated interpersonal violence and even fewer of these have actually employed it. Of these latter, the most well-known and controversial is of course Ted Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber, who killed three people and injured 23 others with a series of 'letter bombs' before his arrest and conviction in 1996. While the motives for Kaczynski's actions were complex and remain debated, it is clear that aspects of 'his ideology intersected with typical elements of the worldviews of radical environmentalists and green anarchists' (Taylor 1998: 16), as statements such as the following demonstrate:

An ideology, in order to gain enthusiastic support, must have a positive ideal as well as a negative one; it must be FOR something as well as AGAINST something. The positive ideal that we propose is Nature. That is, WILD nature; those aspects of the functioning of the Earth and its living things that are independent of human management and free of human interference and control. (Taylor 1998: 16)

While most environmentalists have condemned Kaczynski's actions, others have been less dismissive. One Earth First!er, for instance,

expressed disappointment that the movement so quickly distanced itself from the Unabomber after Kaczynski's arrest. He understood it 'from a PR perspective,' but complained that since the Unabomber is anti-industrial and anarchist it is cowardly for movement people to disavow him. A number of movement activists feel sympathy for Kaczynski, more often for his anti[-]industrial ideas than for his tactics. (Taylor 1998:7)

Others, however, have stridently contested such support; in response to 'efforts to link Earth First! and the Unabomber, for example, one Earth First! group insisted that, 'Earth First! practices non-violent civil disobedience'' (Taylor 1998: 14).

Several other individuals who directly identify as radical environmental activists have openly advocated (though to my knowledge never actually exercised) significant levels of violence in support of ecological causes. Perhaps the most vocal of these is Derrick Jensen, an independent activist and writer based in the USA who has garnered a dedicated following over the past decade. His writings have explicitly advocated environmentally oriented violence. The starting point for this advocacy is Jensen's insistence that the modern civilisation to which he stands opposed is itself founded on and deeply implicated in violence:

The dominant culture is killing the planet. Ninety percent of the large fish in the oceans are gone. Amazon rainforests could enter permanent decline within the year... Global warming is accelerating, with a very real possibility that it may render this planet essentially uninhabitable, and the response by those in power is to tell us that this way of life – this way of life that is killing the planet, that commits genocide against every indigenous culture it encounters, that degrades and impoverishes the vast majority of humans, indeed, that is based upon and requires each of these things – is not negotiable. (Jensen 2007)

Non-violent approaches to addressing these issues, Jensen maintains, have been largely ineffective thus far. He therefore asserts that more aggressive measures are necessary in order to counter the illegitimate violence inflicted by modern civilisation on the rest of the planet. Drawing on Churchill's (2007) Pacifism as Pathology (to which indeed he contributed an introduction), Jensen contends that nonviolent responses alone are insufficient to counter violent behavior motivated by what he considers selfish, even psychopathic, interests:

It is impossible to persuade the civilised to change by convincing them that they would benefit and simultaneously allowing them to remain within the framework and reward system of civilisation, because the civilised perceive the benefits of controlling those around them (including humans and nonhumans; including the land, air, water; including genetic structures; including molecular structures) as vastly outweighing the losses... Because of their self-focus, combined with the many rewards they get from controlling those around them, these abusers change only when they have to, so the most important element in creating a context for change in those who are killing the planet is to place them in situ ations where they have no other choice. (2006: 58–59)

As a result of this assessment, Jensen points to the need for stronger tactics:

I've been wondering what our resistance would look like and what it would accomplish— what the world would look like— if those of us who care about life on the planet leveled the playing field. What if we said Jefferson's statement ['In war, they will kill some of us; we shall destroy all of them'] back to those who are killing the planet, and what if we meant it? (2006: 4)

He views this response as proportional to the danger it confronts: 'War has long since been declared and is being waged against the world, and a refusal to acknowledge this war does not mean it's not happening' (2006: 5).

In outlining his perspective, Jensen highlights and counters a number of arguments commonly raised in support of pacifism. Contending that 'violent and nonviolent approaches to social change are complementary,' he asserts:

We need it all. We need people filing lawsuits, and we need people working at battered women's shelters. We need people working on permaculture. We need educators. We need writers. We need healers. But we also need warriors, those who are willing and ready to fight back. (2007)

Jensen is never entirely explicit concerning what type and degree of violence he advocates, beyond ambiguous references to destroying 'all harmful economic activities' and 'all of this civilization that is killing the planet' (2006: 4) and 'removing the economic and transportation infrastructures' (p. 206). This vagueness, he claims, is largely intentional: 'Very rarely in my writing (or in my life) do I get prescriptive. I firmly believe people need to find and follow their own hearts' (2006: 131). He does, however, repeatedly identify dams as a central target of destruction ('If you're like me, you're probably wondering how much explosives it takes to knock out a big dam' [2006: 83]). In fact, he discusses explosives quite a lot, even listing places where they can be purchased. Whether or not destruction of modern civilisation would also necessitate violence against actual people, however, is left unclear. Jensen very clearly distances himself from advocacy of mass killing of the type feared by some critics of 'eco-terrorism,' asserting, 'I don't conflate civilization and our species, and I don't agree that the problem is humanity' (2006: 26). Yet his attitude towards killing in general is quite ambivalent: 'I don't like to kill. It's really difficult for me. No, I mean really difficult' (2006: 144). The closest Jensen gets to openly advocating interpersonal violence are passages such as the following:

I give a talk. Afterwards someone asks, 'How do we hold CEOs accountable for their actions?' I look hard at the person, but before I can piece together my answer, I hear a voice from the back of the room, 'A bullet to the brain does wonders.' I don't say anything. I am surprised, I have to admit, at the number of people I see nodding solemnly. At least half. The person again shouts out, 'What other accountability is there?' Finally I speak, 'There is no legal accountability: when was the last time you saw a CEO put in prison for murder (or for anything, really)? When was the last time you saw a war criminal who was put in prison? Can you say Henry Kissinger? Put in the name of your favorite politician. And there is no moral accountability. A lot of these jokers think they're going to heaven. They all have their claims to virtue, and many of them probably believe them. And there is no communal accountability. These people are, like Hitler, admired. What's left?' The same person shouts out, 'Flesh. They're mortal. They die as surely as do the people they've killed.' It's a big hall, and it's dark in the back. I can't see who it is. It doesn't matter. Many people have expressed these same thoughts to me, only in private. I cannot tell you how many times I have thought them myself, only once again in private. Someone else calls out, 'But they'll just get replaced.' And a third person, 'Take them out, too. And the next and the next. Eventually they'll get the message.' I feel certain this is what Tecumseh would have done. (2006: 237–238).

Another well-known and controversial advocate of direct action environmentalism is Craig Rosebraugh, a self-proclaimed spokesman for ELF. In Burning Rage of a Dying Planet, he describes his transformation from pacifist to advocate of violent action on the part of the organisation he represents:

Having gained a sound education on nonviolence philosophy from Thoreau, King, Gandhi, Gene Sharp, the War Resisters League, and others, I not only practiced the belief but had also taught it in workshops and classes in Portland and across the country. The only area in which I broke with the Gandhian nonviolence doctrine was politically motivated property destruction, which I supported as nonviolent action. Violence against living beings, however, I believed would only lead to more violence. (2004: 90–91)

Influenced, like Jensen, by Churchill's critiques of pacifism, among other experiences, Rosebraugh subsequently 'started to wonder if perhaps the nonviolent movement in the United States was actually promoting violence by encouraging adherents not to fight back if attacked. Furthermore, I considered the possibility that the nonviolent advocates were allowing a greater degree of violence to occur by not vigorously and yes, violently attacking the system' (2006: 92).

Also like Jensen, Rosebraugh concludes that the mainstream environmental movement has been largely impotent:

In the environmental movement, public education, lobbying, boycotts, marches, rallies, picketing, and civil disobedience have proven to be individually ineffective at creating the changes required for the protection of life on Earth. Even working together, these tactics have failed to stop the destruction, exploitation, and murder occurring globally each day. Whether those who draw the line at illegal tactics want to admit it or not, the overwhelming majority of social and political change in the United States and globally has occurred only after people stepped outside of the given laws and norms to advocate for justice. (2004: 93)

And yet, once again like Jensen, Rosebraugh remains (again somewhat intentionally) vague in terms of the nature and level of violence he advocates:

As at every event we promoted, we encouraged 'militant direct action,' a phrase that always excited news reporters and frustrated law enforcement agencies, since neither knew precisely what we meant by it. Technically, it could mean anything from legal activism to civil disobedience to property destruction and even violence. Of course, we always maintained when questioned that we were simply encouraging people to do whatever it takes to stop the unjust state and its policies. (2004: 185–186)

A number of other environmental activists, while far less vocal in expressing their views, remain ambivalent concerning the use of interpersonal violence. As Taylor describes,

even an individual like Judi Bari, who battled long and hard against violence promoting rhetoric in Earth First!, and who had repeatedly criticised tree spiking as ineffective and dangerous, did not rule out violence. In a 1993 interview, after the second major wave of movement debate about violence, she said that she agreed with those in the movement who believe that the movement should divide along strategic lines based on attitudes toward violence: 'I think we need a split, like the Weather Underground and SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] so those who want to do such tactics can do so without any official connection to Earth First! (Taylor 1998: 12)

Taylor also notes that '[a] small number of movement activists…privately suggest that violence may sometime be necessary' (1998:7).

Summing up all environmentally oriented political violence committed globally, Nagtzaam and Lentini conclude, 'From 1985 [through 2006], nearly half a dozen organizations have conducted 72 attacks. They have injured 42 people and killed 3' (2007: 117). These figures of course exclude Kaczynski's actions, for the reasons described earlier. All three deaths included here, however, were caused by one organisation: the so-called Peace Conquerors, who in 1985 'claimed responsibility for a bombing attack on a Bayer factory in Brussels, as well as an airport in Frankfurt that killed three people' (2007: 117) in the name of combatting 'global pollution.' The group no longer exists.

All available evidence, in short, supports Taylor's early assertion that 'the martial symbolism and apocalyptic worldviews found within radical environmental subcultures has not and probably will not yield widespread or proliferating terrorist violence' (1998:5). Far more common than violence by environmental activists, in fact, has been interpersonal violence employed against such activists themselves. This indeed has quite a long history. In 1988, Chico Mendez was infamously assassinated for his activism in defense of small-scale Brazilian rubber tappers, while many activists maintain that an explosion in 1990 that crippled EF! activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, which the FBI claimed to have resulted from a bomb the activists had constructed detonating prematurely, was in fact perpetrated by the FBI themselves (see Rosebraugh 2004). More recently, a 2014 report by Global Witness claims that:

between 2002 and 2013, we have been able to verify that 908 citizens were killed protecting rights to their land and environment. Three times as many people were killed in 2012 than 10 years previously, with the death rate rising in the past four years to an average of two activists a week... The death rate also points to a much greater level of non-lethal violence and intimidation, which are not documented in this report. (2014: 4)

According to this report, 'Many of those facing threats are ordinary people opposing land grabs, mining operations and the industrial timber trade, often forced from their homes and severely threatened by environmental devastation. Indigenous communities are particularly hard hit' (2014: 4). It claims that '[o]ften, defenders face threats from the very people supposed to protect them – a number of cases involve state security forces, often in collaboration with corporations and private landowners' (2014: 4).

Despite this reality, images of eco-terrorists as dangerous criminals with potential for rapidly-escalating violence are rampant (Arnold 1997; Ackerman 2003; Joosse 2012; Hirsch-Hoefler and Mudde 2014). Mass media, such as the 1995 film Twelve Monkeys, dramatise the possibility that individuals or organisations may at some point consider the mass killing of humans justified by the rampant damage humans are inflicting on the rest of the planet, a scenario that researchers have entertained as well (Ackerman 2003). Despite their common distain for interpersonal violence, in their 'eco-terrorist' actions most radical environmentalists do explicitly present themselves as operating outside, or even against, state law, at times describing their actions as upholding principles that in their view the state should itself be enforcing. Several organisations position themselves as directly anti-state in general, often grounded in anarchist ideology (Leader and Probst 2003). This is particularly true of ELF, whose representatives have commonly framed the organisation's mission as opposed to a nation-state system of political organization as well as the capitalist economic system this is seen to support.

As a result, most states have condemned destructive actions by environmental activists, considering them terrorists or at least vigilantes who merit punishment for their lawless behaviour (Joosse 2012; Hirsch-Hoefler and Mudde 2014). ELF and ALF, indeed, have been called 'the most active criminal extremist elements in the United States' by the FBI (Hirsch-Hoefler and Mudde 2014: 587). In some cases, however, states have reacted ambivalently to or even displayed limited support for vigilante environmental action. Nagtzaam and Lentini relate:

Individual state governments and the international community appear reluctant to prosecute either the Sea Shepherds or the Japanese for their violations of various laws. For example, both Australia and New Zealand have appeared to be conciliatory towards the Sea Shepherds. Australian Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull clearly opposes whaling and while speaking on ABC Radio declared that: ''We do not believe that you can undertake whaling humanely,'' and that ''We do not believe whaling is required in the modern world.'' Perhaps this may partially explain why he rebuked the Sea Shepherds' activities as it concerned issues of human safety, rather than violations of anti-terrorism or other forms of legislation: ''The type of action... —such as ramming vessels—could result in tragedy.'' Indeed, the sharpness of his criticism was confined to viewing the Sea Shepherds as performing ''dangerously and irresponsibly.'' (2007: 125)

At other times, states have actually employed non-state actors to exercise green violence in their name. Clynes (2003) describes a case in which the government of the Central African Republic allowed a paramilitary force, financed by US environmental activists with ties to Earth First!, to assume control over a sizable PA and institute a shoot-to-kill policy enforced by heavily armed mercenaries to protect it from wildlife poaching. This endeavour was inspired by the organisers' previous environmental activism but challenged its previous limits. Clynes relates:

In the Western U.S., the conservation activists had spiked trees and organized rallies; they had blocked loggers from spotted owl habitats and embarrassed scores of companies and politicians. But none had ever considered the prospect of confronting murderous soldiers in an unstable African country. (2003: 138)

The group quickly adapted their tactics to their sense of what this new situation required, however. As one of its leaders stated, 'If we were going to save this place, people would have to be killed' (in Clynes 2003: 138).

   Contesting Green Violence Top

In dynamics such as those described above, it is apparent that civil society actors often justify their advocacy and (limited) exercise of green violence in quintessential biopolitical terms. EF!'s longstanding motto, indeed, is 'No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth,' while Rosebraugh similarly explains his motivation as arising from a desire to 'protect all life on this planet' (2006: 325). In this way, radical environmentalists have adopted a discourse of biopower as legitimation for actions that at times directly challenge the monopoly on violence claimed by nation-states. It is for this reason, of course, that their reactions have so often been condemned by state forces, leading to their branding as eco-terrorists.

A number of states, meanwhile, have begun to endorse and exercise levels of violence beyond anything all but the very most radical activists have thus far invoked. Lunstrum relates,

National armies...have played important roles in instituting conservation measures, often by force, from Guatemala and Colombia, to Nepal and Indonesia, to various countries across Africa, with the protection of Botswana's national parks one of its Defense Force's primary responsibilities… In Cameroon, the Congo, and the Central African Republic (CAR), national soldiers—along with foreign mercenaries and French troops in the CAR—are deployed to fight increasingly militarized elephant poachers. (2014: 817)

Such militarisation has become increasingly lethal in some places. South Africa, for instance, has seen 'the unprecedented killing of several hundred suspected rhino poachers by rangers and soldiers since 2008' (Lunstrum 2017: 136). In India, state agents have recently killed more than fifty suspected poachers threatening endangered tiger populations (BBC 2017). This increase in direct violence has been accompanied by increasingly incendiary rhetoric by state representatives justifying this violence. Perhaps the most dramatic examples of this is the oft-repeated statement by Tshekedi Khama, Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism of Botswana, a country well-known for its particularly lethal anti-poaching efforts (Lunstrum 2017): 'God will punish a poacher; it is up to us to arrange the meeting' (Lehihi 2013). Offered once again in a plenary session at the IUCN's 2016 World Parks Congress in Sydney Australia, a version of this statement received widespread applause from an audience of several thousand, as I observed in my own research during the conference.

In this current context, moreover, the very boundary between state-endorsed (hence ‘legal’) and extra-state (hence ‘illegal’) forms of violence may be blurring, as in the case in the Central African Republic previously mentioned, in which formally non-state actors who committed ‘vigilante’ acts in the past are now able to operate under the auspice of state authority to some degree, thereby occluding the line between 'eco-terrorism' and the type of institutionalised green violence legitimated by states. In such slippage between state-based defense of human populations and non-state support of life as a whole, as well as the various hybrid combinations these different perspectives assume, the very nature of biopower appears to be fundamentally contested. For the most part, historical violence exercised in support of PAs (see Peluso 1993; Neumann 1998) was grounded in the state's traditional right to set and enforce rules within the territory it controlled – an exercise of Foucault's (2003) ‘sovereign’ power rather than biopower per se. Violence exercised against encroachers, in other words, was justified in terms of the latter's infringement on national sovereignty rather than the defense of nonhuman life as it is increasingly framed at present.

Contemporary green violence may entail, therefore, a qualitative transformation in the nature of state's involvement in environmental action. If the object of biopower is a national population, then the violent killing of perceived threats can be legitimated on the argument that these threats are not themselves part of the population being protected. When the object of biopower becomes life as a whole, on the other hand, killing must indeed be justified by invoking an extraordinary ‘exception’ (Agamben 1998) to normal biopolitical governance, as Lunstrum (2017) contends.

States' increasing adoption and advocacy of green violence may thus draw the phenomenon back into the terms of conventional biopower in a way that has not been part of the modern environmental movement to this point. At the same time, however, non-state actors' invocation of biopower as legitimation for their own actions challenges this move, claiming a space for biopower beyond the nation-state as well. All of this, then, points to the potential that debates concerning green violence may signal a significant transformation in the role of environmentalism within the contemporary geopolitical order in general. This is a dynamic that demands further interrogation.

   Institutionalising Green Violence? Top

In addition to signaling a need to reconsider our understanding of biopower, this analysis has implications for our understanding of other aspects of the contemporary exercise of green violence. One of these concerns the dramatic rise of public reactions, mostly projected through online social media, supporting, even praising, this violence (Büscher 2016; Büscher and Ramutsindela 2016; Lunstrum 2017). Many of these reactions are quite shocking and disturbing, demanding forms of execution and even torture beyond anything currently carried out by states themselves. Such reactions are significant on several levels. For one, they appear to give states a popular mandate for green violence, reinforcing the idea that the mythical social contract ostensibly underlying national sovereignty extends into this arena as well (Lunstrum 2017). Yet this public endorsement of green violence can also be seen as a consequence, in part, of states' endorsement of green violence itself. When states mostly condemned the green violence exercised by non-state actors, advocating such violence could have negative consequences for those so doing. Rosebraugh (2004), for instance, was repeatedly summoned to court and even forced to testify before US Congress due to his support of ELF direct action, and as previously noted, many activists believe that the FBI intentionally maimed, perhaps even tried to kill, Judi Bari for her work with EF! Fear of such consequences may help to explain the vague endorsement of violence that activists including Rosebraugh and Jensen offer in their public writing, shielding them from legal repercussions. When lethal green violence is directly endorsed and exercised by states themselves, on the other hand, this legitimation also legitimates public support for this dynamic. While Büscher points to the role of the medium itself in spurring the intensely violent rhetoric evident in public discussions of state-sponsored green violence, contending that 'social media spaces appear to encourage more extreme or exaggerated behaviour' (2016: 5) than would likely occur in other venues, it may be the very state-sponsorship of this violence that also encourages such reactions.

A second significant implication concerns the relationship of green violence with larger issues of political economy. Violence advocated by most radical environmentalists in the past was intended to challenge not only a state-based geopolitical order but often also the capitalist economic system that was itself considered a major cause of the ecological violence these actors sought to counter (Rosebraugh 2004; Jensen 2006). Green violence exercised by state forces today, by contrast, is usually intended to support the status quo of the capitalist order itself (Büscher and Ramutsindela 2016), even at times itself serving as an additional mode of capital accumulation in its own right (Marijnen and Verweijen 2016; Massé and Lunstrum 2016). Appropriation of green violence as a widespread technique of state governance thus deprives this violence of its potential to function as the sort of radical structural critique that it was intended to invoke in its employment by environmental activists. If, as Tyner (2016) among others, reinforcing activists' own argument, contends, the capitalist system – and particularly its contemporary neoliberal form (Springer 2016) – is fundamentally predicated on deeply troubling forms of violence, then this new dynamic may end up implicating the forces exercising green violence in the very logics giving rise to this violence. From this perspective, institutionalised green violence can be seen to conform to the essentially self-defeating logic of 'neoliberal conservation' in general, which as Büscher asserts tend to posit 'the paradoxical idea that capitalist markets are the answer to their own ecological contradictions' (2012: 29). In this way, the potentially radical edge of a critique of the political economic structures underlying both state-sponsored green violence and the ecologically-destructive forces this opposes may be blunted by the state's appropriation of some of the tools formally claimed by radical critics themselves.

   Conclusion Top

More than any coherent conclusion, this analysis leaves us with a set of important questions for future investigation concerning the escalating 'green wars' that green violence seems to be precipitating at present. When states explicitly advocate green violence, can they stand opposed to the exercise of such violence by non-state actors espousing similar motivations? Or does this endorsement (inadvertently) legitimate the latter as well? How is this situation further complicated when states, moreover, contract both civil society and private sector actors to exercise green violence in their name? How does public perception of green violence change when its endorsement comes not from a few radical environmentalists widely viewed as marginal deviants but from state agents themselves? And what, finally, does all of this portend concerning our prospects for cultivating the types of nonviolent, grassroots, and post- capitalist processes that are ultimately needed to address the various thorny issues that state-sponsored green violence highlights? These and related questions warrant sustained investigation as part of a renewed research agenda addressing the rise of 'green wars' more generally.

   Notes Top

  1. The authors qualify that green violence also encompasses 'ideas and aspirations related to nature conservation,' including 'non-material aspects of violence and the manner in which violence takes social and linguistic form' (2016: 10), dynamics addressed further later in this article.
  2. My analysis emphasises direct, physical violence, leaving aside other dimensions (structural, symbolic, etc.) of an expanded understanding of violence (see Tyner 2016) that, while equally important, are peripheral to my focus here on the endorsement of property destruction and/or killing in relation to conservation.
  3. This is a future-oriented focus that Büscher (2017), drawing on Massumi (2015), deems an invocation of ‘ontopower’ as well in his own contribution to this special issue.

   References Top

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