Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller held a press conference today announcing indictments of a group of people for crimes described by Mueller as “ecoterrorism.”
There’s no question that these people should be prosecuted for their specific criminal acts – arson, sabotage, etc. – and if found guilty, jailed for the length of time that the law allows. But I have a problem with government officials using “terrorism” as a root word to describe this type of crime, because it dilutes the meaning of the word, and conflates the most critical threat to the United States – radical Islamic terrorism, intended to kill thousands or millions – with criminal acts that, from the perspective of national security, are relatively minor.
If these people had killed or injured, then yes, call it terrorism. But property crimes with no personal harm are better described as “eco-sabotage,” or simply described in terms of the underlying criminal charges of arson, vandalism, etc.
By no means am I trying to minimize or excuse these crimes. Lock ’em up if they’re found guilty. But we should think carefully about whether ecoterrorism deserves its root word, and how this conflation affects public perception of America’s major terrorism threats.