The Unabomber Scare: How Pack Journalism Hounded the US Environmental Movement
By Gar Smith / The-Edge
November 28, 2004

"The Unabomber: An Environmental Zealot" -- That 1995 headline (and others like it) set the phones ringing at environmental offices across the country after the FBI released a letter from "Unabomber" and drew attention to the madmad's penchant for enclosing twigs in his letter-bombs.

It came as a shock when the Unabomber -- a 17-year stain on the eschutcheon of frustrated FBI investigators-- was suddenly transformed into the "Ecobomber." In that moment, environmentalists got a small taste of what our Muslim brothers and sisters had experienced only a week earlier when the press attributed the Oklahoma City federal building bombing to "Islamic terrorists."

Hate-talk radio hosts would eventually suffer a case of moral whiplash when the Oklahoma bombers turned out to hail from the Midwest, not the Middle East. But before the Oklahoma bomber was identified as Timothy McVeigh, a decorated US war hero, one Sacramento-based talk-show was deluged with calls from listeners demanding that the Muslim perpetrators should be hung in public. One caller proposed that the evil-doers should be shot to death by the winner of a $10-a-pop national lottery -- "and we could balance the budget at the same time!" To which the talk-show host huffed: "I'm behind you 100 percent on that."

Another caller, obviously pumped full of AM adrenalin, wanted to see the bombers "tortured slowly over a week until they die." To which the host responded in all seriousness: "But don't you think that would diminish us as a nation?" "Well," the chastened caller stammered, "I mean, just this one time...."

The arrest of Tim McVeigh was a momumental cultural embarrassment for US conservatives. Suddenly it was the US military and the "superpatriot" militias that were cast in the role of "evil-doers." This threatened to raise some troubling national questions. A distraction was desperately needed and it came in the form of the FBI's announcement that the Unabomber just might be a "radical environmentalist."

If you were white, paranoid, armed to the teeth and a dues-paying member of a local militia, it must have been comforting to see the media's searchlights veer from the rightwing shadow-lands back toward a more commonly demonized social target -- i.e. radical environmentalists.

The April 27 Washington Post pushed a new angle on its front page. Pointing to a March 10, 1992 letter from Timothy McVeigh, the Post opined that McVeigh's sentiments "read like an odd screed, parts of which read like a brochure for the animal rights movement, making a strong statement about the way humans harvest cattle to satisfy their hunger for meat." Simultaneously, the Washington Times ran a similar story drawing attention to McVeigh's "animal rights sympathies."

The Parts of the 'Unabomber' Story the Media Censored
For all the attention that was triggered by my short article in Terrain, the Berkeley Ecology Center magazine, the media remained totally disinterested in reporting the actual content of the article. Here are some of the excerpts from the Terrain article that the press presumably read but refused to pass along:

"Did anybody else notice how the floor plan of the bombed-out building paralleled US social hierarchy? Services for women, children, the elderly and the poor on the bottom floors; offices for the Secret Service, ATF and FBI on top; in the middle, the Army and Marine Corps....

"Here are three sure-fire ways to improve security and discourage future car-bombings.

  • Put the FBI, ATF and SS offices on the ground floor where they'd be the first to go.
  • Ban automobiles from city streets (many blocks adjacent to Federal Buildings have already become de facto car-free eco-zones);
  • Abolish ammonium nitrate bomb-fuel by banning chemical fertilizers and returning to organic farming practices....

    "The [radical right] militias are only half-wrong. There really are black helicopters. The government really does harbor people that are trained and equipped to kill civilians. The militias' mistake is targeting everyone in government as a threat to freedom. Most government employees are harmless. A good number of federal workers are really quite helpful. It is only a small number of people that are a threat to life and liberty. Ironically, these are the ones that have the most in common with the average miltiaman -- small groups of paranoid, self-righteous, white guys with an obsessive love of weapons and an authority complex."


    Solar Living Institute Founder John Schaeffer (at podium) thanks his red-shirted wonders who helped produce SolFest '04 -- two days, 148 exhibitors, more than 50 workshops, Thom Hartman, Amy Goodman, Bruce Cockburn and Daryl Hannah. Who could ask for more? Credit: Edge photo by Gar Smith
    Soaking Up the Vibes at SolFest '04
    HOPLAND, CA -- Having just authored a cover story on solar power ("The Sun Rises in the West," Common Ground Magazine), I felt duty-bound to attend the Solar Living Center's tenth SolFest gathering up in Hopland, over the weekend. It was a jam-packed, high-spirited, "no-waste event" (you had to bring your own plates and water bottles). The tickets were printed on recycled and hemp paper stock with soy-based vegatable inks.

    I got to meet Daryl Hannah and caught her debut as a "bio-rap" artist. It wasn't a scheduled event. When one of SolFest's keynote speakers, Indian activist Vandana Shiva, had to cancel just before she boarded her plane, SolFest needed to come up with a replacement to fill a prime-time slot.

    So Daryl (who drives a biodiesel-fueled El Camino) hopped up on stage with Charris Ford, a young cowboy-hatted farmer who writes "eco-rap" under the name "The Granola Ayatollah of Canola." They paired on a rap about biodiesel that went by far too fast to transcribe, but the memorable first line went: "Old Rudolph Diesel, he wasn't no weasel...."

    Perhaps the day's best piece of showmanship came when David Blume, the author of Alcohol Can Be a Gas, held up a bottle of home-made alcohol and said, "I will now demonstrate the toxicity of this fuel!" He then put the bottle to his lips and took a deep drink. The audience (a crowd of about 100 gathered under a canvas tent) applauded.

    Then, from out of nowhere, a guy roared up on a motorcycle and stopped in front of the stage. Blume passed the bottle to the bearded biker who proceeded to pour the contents into his gas tank. Then he drove off to even wilder applause. Blume saluted his departure with a wave of the bottle and took another swig. I checked back at the end of the day and Blume was still standing.

    A Marin Publisher's Act of Courage
    For the past decade, Origin Press, a small publishing house in Marin County, has specialized in books on religion, spirituality, psychology and the paranormal. But in 2004, Origin plunged headlong into the world of conspiracy publishing -- and the back story reads like a Hollywood screenplay. The tale begins with publishing giant HarperCollins' decision to publish Inside Job: Unmasking the 9/11 Conspiracies, the latest book by prizewinning journalist Jim Marrs.

    Inside Job was scheduled to appear in 2003. It would have been the first book by a major publisher to address the many unanswered questions surrounding the 9/11 terror attacks. But something odd happened. With the book set to roll off the presses, HarperCollins suddenly decided to back out. Marrs was told that be book was history and he was told he could keep his six-figure advance -- no questions asked.

    This wasn't a first for HarperCollins. In September 2001, the publisher refused to release thousands of copies of Michael Moore's book, Stupid White Men. Because Moore identified members of the Bush Administration as title characters, the tome was deemed unsuitable for post-9/11publication. When Moore went public, the public went ballistic and, instead of being ground to pulp, Stupid White Men became a publishing sensation.

    Marrs was not so fortunate. Perhaps it was because his investigations clearly pointed to a political conspiracy at the highest levels of government. After Ruppert Murdock-owned HarperCollins dropped the project, Marrs couldn't get his manuscript through the door of any other mainstream publisher. In desperation, he finally mailed it to Marin's Origin Press.

    "I found the manuscript stunning," recalls Origin publisher Byron Belitsos. "At first I tried to ignore it as being peripheral to my concerns [but] this grim subject wouldn't leave me alone. The need to see Marr's book published was tugging hard at me, but I didn't think I had the courage."

    The tipping point came when Belitsos dropped by San Francisco's Metreon theater to see Tom Cruise swinging steel as The Last Samurai. Belitsos recalls how the film's focus on "spiritual warriorship" struck him "like a lightening bolt. I suddenly understood that I simply couldn't turn my back on the opportunity to publish Marr's exposé. I couldn't forgo it and still call myself an American."

    Stunned and shaken, Belitsos he left the theater and began to wander until his footsteps brought him to the nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Torrents of cleansing waters rushed endlessly across the back-lit photos and engraved watchwords of the slain civil rights prophet. "Gazing at the legacy of this great warrior for love, justice, and forgiveness," Belitsos recalls, "I knew in what spirit I should bring this book into being."

    He decided to create a companion book entitled Planetary Democracy: Moving Toward a Governed World. "I saw in an instant that these two books go together. One stating the problem in stark terms; the other offering a visionary but achievable solution to the war system."

    In the course of producing Inside Job, Belitsos would suffer a nervous breakdown triggered by the troubling implications of the book's disclosures. Belitsos regained his footing after a spiritual rebirth that has since lead him to become a major player in the citizen-based 9/11 Truth movement. Thanks to Jim Marrs, Byron Belitsos, and Tom Cruise, Marin County now appears proudly on the world map of courageous publishing.

    Both books are available from Origin Press [(415) 453-4023,

    Fight Back. Wear Black
    From Warren County, Ohio, to Fallujah, the news is unbearably grim. Under increasing scrutiny, the numbers surrounding the November elections don't add up. Meanwhile, the arithmetic of the Pentagon's presence in Iraq is all too clear: every bomb lobbed into Fallujah has only multiplied the problems that continue to confront our troops.

    According to The Lancet, an estimated 100,000 civilians have been killed since Mr. Bush declared an end to "major combat activities." The Lancet concludes that 84 percent of these civilians were killed by US forces. Half the dead were women and children. Thirty-eight percent of the death were Iraqi children.

    The 100,000 number doesn't include the civilians killed in the attacks on Fallujah in April and in November. Iraq has a population of 25 million. If a foreign occupation army had waged a similar assault inside the US, this would have translated into the deaths of 1.2 million Americans. And our own sons and daughters continue to die.

    To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: "It is time for mourning in America."

    In the past, when great crimes have been committed by a government, citizens have responded by dressing in black. From Israel to Argentina -- from Women in Black to the Mothers of the Disappeared -- citizens have stood in weekly silent vigils to draw attention to the crimes against their kin and their neighbors.

    Crimes against democracy may or may not have been committed in America. But there can be no question that US officials have sanctioned war crimes in Iraq. Denying water and power to a city under siege is a war crime. Targeting hospitals, ambulances and medical personal are war crimes.

    I am joining a growing number of Americans who have made the decision to wear black as a public statement of opposition to the crimes of this administration. If enough Americans start wearing black, the color Black could become as politically potent as the colors Red and Blue.

    I look forward to the day when the color Black becomes so clearly associated with opposition to pro-war, pro-deficit, pro-colonial policies that pro-Bush Republicans will be forced to attend GOP fund-raisers wearing red bow-ties and crimson tuxedoes.

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