The Terrible Troubling Tribulations of Being Called an (shudder) Eco-terrorist
Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
“Yesterday I did not know what an eco-terrorist was. Now it appears that I am one?”
- Sea Shepherd Deckhand Amanda Caldwell, 20, Atlanta, Georgia
When Japanese whalers, Canadian sealers, Costa Rican shark poachers, and Libyan blue fin tuna poachers call Sea Shepherd an “eco-terrorist” organization, I always have the same response, “Okay already, arrest us, or shut the hell up!”
Being called a terrorist by a Libyan poacher is somewhat less than flattering I admit, but it does serve to illustrate the silliness of the accusation. This constant, pathetic, and misguided yammering about alleged terrorism every time someone tries to non-violently stop some thug from clubbing a seal, harpooning a whale, or finning a shark is tedious, downright ignorant, and just plain silly.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society does not ever attempt to injure or kill people; to the contrary, we go out of our way not to cause any harm. We do not plant bombs or fly airplanes into buildings or assassinate people, nor do we riot in the streets.
In fact, Sea Shepherd is so non-violent that no meat, fish, or anything else that was once sentient or in animal form is served in the mess rooms onboard a Sea Shepherd ship.
Ironically, the very fact that one does not eat meat is now apparently taken by some FOX wing nut fanatics as a clear indicator of terrorism. “My God, you don’t eat dead flesh? How utterly uncivilized can you be? You must be a terrorist.”
What exactly is an eco-terrorist?
There is no known law defining the alleged crime of eco-terrorism. And what kind of crimes would an eco-terrorist commit? There’s arson, but no Sea Shepherd operation has ever burnt anything. Hell, we don’t even allow smoking on our ships. There’s bomb making, bomb planting, bomb throwing, and conspiracy to do anything that involves a bomb, but we don’t do anything like that either. Well, except for stink bombs, but they certainly don’t explode and are, in fact, non-lethal, non-toxic, and biodegradable; they just smell very badly. Kidnapping? Nope, we have not done that and do not intend to. Physical assault is also not a part of our modus operandi.
“But you threw a stink bomb at a Japanese whaling vessel!” someone silently screams hysterically on one of the many social network sites that are obsessed with labeling Sea Shepherd a so-called terrorist organization. Yes, we did. I confess, I started tossing stink bombs when I was in the fifth grade. I am a self confessed stink-bomber. However, I just can’t imagine Osama Bin Laden tossing a stink bomb at a tour bus, and if Timothy McVeigh had used rotten butter instead of nitrate fertilizer, lots of people would not have died.
Down in the Southern Ocean, the whalers have harpoon cannons, concussion grenades, rifles, bamboo spears, long-range acoustic devices (LRADs), and water cannons. Sea Shepherd has cameras, rotten butter stink bombs, paint balls, water balloon launchers, harmless laser pointers, and well, yes, we have our own water cannon, but nobody gets hurt when trading frigid water shots with Japanese whalers from one large vessel to another.
“Holy cow, water balloons, now that’s high-class eco-terrorism gone utterly mad!”
Sea Shepherd is to terrorism what Groucho was to Marxism! Our brand of so-called “terrorism” is fun, effective, and most importantly, perfectly legal and harmless.
Actually, it should be called “eco-terraism” from “terra,” meaning earth, and “ism,” meaning of or for the earth. As defenders of the earth (and sea), this makes us more “terraists” than “terrorists,” so perhaps it is simply a matter of confusion or an underhanded earth-raper plot to depict earth defenders as evil threats to humanity.
“But what about the acid you throw at the whaling ships?”
Ahhhh, the “acid;” the very word uttered in feigned fits of faux fright suggests steel-melting hydrochloric acid and visions of screaming men whose faces have been horribly disfigured. Yea, well, we do use acid in our stink bombs. It’s organic, non-toxic, biodegradable butyric acid. Ohhh it stinks, but it is less acidic than beer. But why let the truth get in the way of an “acid”-splashing eco-terrorist horror story?
It’s not like we splash messy lactic acid or citric acid or Coke, all of which have a pH less than butyric acid. Rotten butter acid is not as acidic as milk, orange juice, or cola, but it sure does smell bad. It can’t be that bad, because the human body actually produces it. You can find it in vomit. Disgusting, yes, but also quite harmless.
Sea Shepherd has not rammed a single Japanese whaling ship in the seven years we have voyaged down to the Southern Ocean. Of our vessels, the Steve Irwin has been rammed twice, the Bob Barker has been rammed once, and the Ady Gil was not only intentionally rammed, it was cut in two and destroyed, all by Japanese whaling boats. We have had concussion grenades thrown at us, and I was once shot in the chest, but despite all this, the whalers and some other people accuse us of violence. The logic is simple really: if your business is poaching whales by cowardly driving explosive harpoons into their defenseless cetacean backsides and spilling their hot innocent blood into the frigid sea, then any actions taken on behalf of your ruthlessness is justified in your minds as non-violent, and you will, of course, label any activity that attempts to non-violently intervene against your ruthlessness as violent.
I mean, after all, that’s what public relations firms are for. The foundation for most public relations businesses is to spin truth into lies and lies into truth with the understanding that it does not matter what is true, it only matters what people believe is true.
This last week, the Japanese Foreign Minister called in the ambassadors of the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand to publicly scold them for allowing Sea Shepherd to fly their flags and to use their ports. Never mind that Japan has not laid a single criminal or civil charge against Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, our ships, or even myself.
The ambassadors must have been mystified as to what it is that Japan wants them to do. If a crime or crimes have been committed, what is the nature of the offenses? Is there a warrant for anyone’s arrest that has been issued? No. Does Japan seriously expect democratic nations like New Zealand, Australia, and the Netherlands to arrest, detain, harass, and deny entry to people who have not been charged with any crimes?
Apparently so! Is there a green blacklist with names of people who are suspected of having sympathies with whales, seals, albatrosses, turtles, and tuna fish?
Two years ago, I was giving a talk to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia when one of the special agents said, “Sea Shepherd walks a very fine line with the law.” And my response was, “What difference does it make how fine the line is if that line is not crossed?” He had to agree with the logic, and I went on to explain how Sea Shepherd targets poachers. We are not a protest group. We are not an animal rights group. We are an international marine wildlife conservation organization specializing in non-violent interventions against illegal activities.
In that respect, it is interesting that Japan is demanding that Australia and New Zealand ban Sea Shepherd ships from Australian and New Zealand ports, yet the fact is that the Japanese whaling ships are not welcome in these ports because they are engaged in an illegal activity. Japan is clearly frustrated with the fact that these ports that ban their ships allow Sea Shepherd ships to enter and depart freely. The difference is that Japanese ships kill whales, and Sea Shepherd ships save whales. Whereas killing whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is considered a crime by Australia and New Zealand, non-violently saving whales is not considered a criminal activity.
More than 20 years ago, our critics were calling us pirates. I decided, well, let’s be pirates then—we’ll be the good pirates of compassion in pursuit of the evil pirates driven by greed and profit—and we designed our own pirate flag. The kids love it. Pirates are “in” these days, and far more popular now than they were in the 17th Century—especially the good pirates.
Perhaps we should just embrace the label of “eco-terrorist” and proudly proclaim ourselves as such. Ecoterrorism is not actually a legally defined crime, but it does have a certain cutting edge, action-noir quality to it. Yes, that’s it, we can embrace the so-called “eco-terrorist” inside of each of us, that little green pagan devil that is fed up with watching our planet being carved up and marketed to the highest bidder.
“Hey, you guys are eco-terrorists,” some whaler or sealer can say, and we can reply, “Yea, we are, you got a problem with that?”
It’s hard to keep calling someone a name if they don’t get upset about being called that name. The gay movement did just that when they took control of the word “queer” and established “queer nation.”
You see, if we were real terrorists, no one would dare call us as such. Calling a real terrorist names, even if he is a real terrorist and the name fits, is not considered to be a healthy approach to interacting with terrorists. The only people you can get away with calling terrorists are the people who would not retaliate in a violent manner. People like us for example. Call me a terrorist, and nothing bad happens to you. Call a real terrorist a terrorist, and pushing up daisies could be your next occupation.
I don’t seem to have a problem getting on an airplane or traveling to other countries, both of which seem to present problems to real bona fide terrorists. Yes, Japan tried to talk some low-level U.S. bureaucrat into removing Sea Shepherd’s tax-deductible status in the United States, and she agreed that it would not be a problem, or so she said to her Japanese whaling buddies, BUT she forgot that it is actually a crime to unleash the IRS onto an American non-profit at the bequest of a foreign government. I think the last
American administration to have done that was the Nixon presidency, but let’s not go there, in the interest of not opening up old political scandals.
Needless to say, we have not lost our tax-deductible status, because we are still doing today what we did back in 1981 when we were granted this status—in other words, non-violently working to protect our oceans from unlawful activity.
A few years ago, a U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service officer called me up to say he had received complaints that we were confiscating longlines in the Pacific in international waters. I confirmed that we were. He said, “You can’t do that.” I replied, “Why not? Is it against the law?” He hesitated and said, “Well, of course it must be against the law, that’s private property.” “What laws are we violating?” I answered. “I don’t know, but I’ll be getting back to you when I find out,” he said. We never did hear back from him.
In 1986, after we sank half of Iceland’s whaling fleet—in port, and without harming or risking harming a single person—I flew to Iceland to demand that they lay charges against me because they were going on and on in the media about how we were terrorists. I landed in Reykjavik, and I was taken to the police station, where I gave them a full confession. The next day, I was escorted to the airport and put on a plane back to the States. The Icelandic Minister of Justice spoke to parliament that morning and said, “Who the hell does he think he is, coming into our country and demanding to be arrested? Get him out of here!” They knew that to put me on trial would be putting Iceland itself on trial, and the government lawyers thought it wise not to do so.
So what we have here is a false perception of violence and terrorism spun by public relations people and politicians, but without any basis in fact or substance. Today, calling someone a terrorist is simply a way of attempting to demonize someone with whom you disagree. The word itself is beginning to lose its meaning. If throwing a cream pie into a politician’s face is now a terrorist act, it seems to trivialize the victims of real terrorism and those who survive them.
Contemplate, if you will, the absurdity of the following hypothetical scenario:
Congressman Joe Schmuck today condemned the pie-throwing student who stained his American flag tie with banana cream. “This kind of outrageous terrorist attack by extremist pie throwers will not be tolerated. They desecrated the flag and my best suit today, and they need to be sent a strong message that America will not tolerate such unpatriotic viciousness against American interests like British Petroleum, Monsanto, and Mitsubishi. These earth-loving pie throwers can run, but they can’t hide from the righteous anger of the American people.”
If Japan considers Sea Shepherd to be a terrorist organization, then why are Sea Shepherd members openly allowed to enter Japan?
What kind of terrorist organization has James Bond, MacGyver, Captain Jack O’Neil, Captain Kirk, Batman, and Avatar helicopter pilot Trudy Chacon as supporting members?
And what kind of terrorist organization has a Board of Advisors that has included a former Australian Minister of the Environment, a former British Columbian Minister of the Environment, and a former vice chair of the International Whaling Commission in addition to a plethora of reputable scientists, engineers, artists, writers, and entertainers?
The fact is that Sea Shepherd Conservation Society cannot be categorized as a “terrorist” organization, because we are something completely different. We are not your old school greenies. We don’t hold banners, bear witness, sit in trees, hold picket signs, collect petitions, and write to politicians. What we do is get in the faces of those who are illegally—and violently—destroying our oceans. We practice aggressive non-violent direct action. We don’t hurt people, but we have no hesitation about taking out of commission the instruments of death that are used to illegally kill living beings.
Back in 1987, a Tibetan monk gave me a little wooden statue. It was a horse-headed dragon sort of thing, and I was asked to put it on our foremast for protection. Out of respect for the monk’s request, I put it there. In 1989, I had the very great pleasure of meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C. and found out that he had sent it to us.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It is called Hayagriva,” he replied.
“But what does it mean,” I asked?
“It is the symbol for the compassionate aspect of the wrath of the Buddha,” he said with a smile.
“And what does that mean?” I asked.
“It means that one should never cause harm to another, but when people fail to see enlightenment, you can sometimes scare the hell out of them until they do.”
And thus we have our black ships and our own Jolly Roger flag, in-your-face activism, and non-toxic stink bombs, but since I established Sea Shepherd in 1977, we have never caused a single injury to a single person and we have never had a felony conviction. That is something I am most proud of. So people making accusations, calling us names, and falsely labeling us as eco-terrorists is nothing more than political posturing and meaningless rhetoric.
We are however, not interested in people’s opinions. Our concern is with the law, respecting and enforcing it, operating within it, and sometimes even walking a fine line with regard to it. Our concern is with the animals we aggressively, but non-violently defend, often at the risk of our own lives and personal safety.
To be a real terrorist, one needs to be a violent criminal, as in actually committing a violent criminal act and intending to cause harm to another living being. It is not enough to be merely investigated on suspicion of committing a criminal act, arrested on suspicion of committing a criminal act, tried in a court of law on charges of committing a criminal act, or even to be convicted of a criminal act—none of which have happened to Sea Shepherd, I might add. To be a true terrorist, one must actually set forth with the intent to commit violent crimes, and we most certainly do not meet that criteria.
As for my crew and myself, we do not skulk and hide in caves like Osama Bin Laden, and officials could arrest us anytime IF there were cause to do so. To the contrary, we remain free to travel and go about our business, because we are not wanted or suspected of criminal activity—and certainly not of terrorist activity.
So as usual, it all comes down to this as my message to Japan: “Arrest us, or shut the hell up already!”