THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: ECO-TERRORISM? THERE’S NO SUCH THING

Property Rights Extremists Equate McMansions to 9/11 Victims

The United States should not build housing. Whole neighborhoods in places like Chicago and Dayton and Oakland and Newark and Memphis are dominated by abandoned houses and apartment buildings. Ten percent of our national housing stock–more than 13 million homes, enough to put roofs over the homeless three times over–are vacant year-round. So why do we let developers bulldoze fields and forests to put up soulless monstrosities?

Several “model houses” at a development bearing the typically atrocious name of “Quinn’s Crossing at Yarrowbay Communities” at the edge of Seattle’s creeping suburban sprawl went up in flames, apparently torched by radical environmentalists. I had two reactions. First, I was reminded of my wonder that such things happen so infrequently.

Then I laughed. I wasn’t alone. Time magazine bemoaned “a notable lack of sympathy for the fate of the homes” among residents of Washington state.

Quinn’s Crossing, says its website, was “dedicated to the ethos of putting the earth first.” In this case, putting Mother Earth “first” led the developers to construct “energy efficient” 4,500-square-feet McMansions. “The houses are out in the middle of nowhere, on land that used to be occupied by beaver dams and environmentally sensitive wetlands; the site sits at the headwaters of Bear Creek, where endangered chinook salmon spawn,” reported Erica C. Barnett for the Seattle weekly newspaper The Stranger. “The houses, and their polluting septic systems, also sit atop an aquifer, which provides drinking water for the area’s Cross Valley Water District.”

4,500 square feet? My last Manhattan apartment had 725. Visitors (New Yorkers, most of whom live in even tighter quarters) cooed over how big it was. The house in which I grew up had 1,000; it was designed for a nuclear family of four.

What galled ELF was the developers’ attempt to pass off self-indulgent, gargantuan McMansions as ecologically friendly. “The builders heavily promoted the ‘built green’ concept and pointed out that the homes were smaller than the 10,000-square-foot houses on previous Street of Dreams tours,” reported The Los Angeles Times.

Barnett’s story asked: “Were the Terrorists Right?” She noted: “An energy-efficient mansion will never use less energy than even a large urban apartment.”

Right or wrong, they’re not terrorists.

The feds say they are. They call Earth Liberation Front, the loose-knit “group” that took responsibility for the blazes in unincorporated Snohomish County, the biggest threat to mom, freedom, apple pie and three-minute pop songs since the Soviet Union closed shop. Six months before 9/11, shortly before the famous “Bin Laden Wants to Kick Our Ass Six Ways to Sunday” memo, the FBI went so far as to list the ELF as a federally designated terrorist organization. Like Al Qaeda.

Terrorism–you can look it up–involves killing people. Hijacking a plane and flying it into a building is terrorism. Destroying property–property that, for the most part, made the world a worse place–is not.

ELF’s goal of “inflict[ing] maximum economic damage on those profiting from the destruction and exploitation of the natural environment” has inspired people to set fire to SUVs at a New Mexico car dealership, Hummers in California, and a Vail ski lodge whose construction threatened the lynx, an endangered species. Damage to the Colorado ski project amounted to $12 million.

ELF members are vandals. They’re arsonists. But they aren’t terrorists.

ELF demands that its adherents “take all necessary precautions against harming any animal–human and non-human.” Although it could happen someday, no one has ever been killed or hurt in an ELF action. Equating the burning of a Hummer to blowing up a child exposes our society’s grotesque overemphasis on the “right” of property owners to do whatever they want. The word “eco-terrorism” is an insult to the human victims of real terrorism, including those of 9/11.

The closest ELF’s critics come to landing a punch is pointing out that fires send crud into the atmosphere. “This is releasing more carbon into the air than they ever would have by building the houses,” the listing agent for one of the destroyed “rural cluster development” houses told The New York Times. Newsweek asked: “If their cause is to save the environment, how does burning houses, and thereby releasing carbon and toxins into the atmosphere, help achieve that goal?”

Eye-roll alert: A house fire releases air pollution once. A family living in a house does it day after day for decades. Anyway, why are builders making houses out of toxins?

Property rights extremists raised the same point after ELF set fire to 20 Hummer H2s at a California car dealership in 2004. “There’s a lot more pollutants from the fire than the vehicles would pollute during their lifetime,” said the West Covina fire marshal. Even if that were true, he forgot where those gas guzzlers would have eventually ended up: in landfills, their nasty chemicals seeping into the ground.

“Think of all the resources those fires wasted,” moaned Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large. He explained that lawful means–petitions, politely worded letters to the editor, speaking at public hearings–are the proper way to take a stand against the destruction of the environment. “The development where this latest arson took place, situated atop the area’s water supply, has been challenged by other groups, using negotiation and the law,” he says approvingly. That’s true. The local zoning board heard from hundreds of opponents of Quinn’s Crossing before voting, 4 to 1, in favor.

Challenged, yes. But not successfully.

COPYRIGHT 2008 TED RALL

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31 Responses to “”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Note also, not just fields and trees, but farmland is converted into McMansion space. Usually, the yuppies build at the edge of the farmland and move a few ‘families’ in that are mostly lock stock and barrel in with the developers. While the farmers work dawn to dusk and more to try to keep barely ahead of regulation and tariff free imported food from the “Republico Del Worthlessia” the yuppies are in city hall filing complaints to get him fines like candy. “Animal smells”, “Equipment Noises”, “Piles of Compost”… Usually US$1000 a piece. This is to convince him to sell at “Farmland” prices what they intend to turn into residential. If he resists, they mount up the fines until he can’t pay back property taxes and they are waiting to buy it up.

    And, btw, though I won’t rule out that E.L.F. likely did it, let’s also consider “Arson” but not by extremists…

    Look at it this way, what if you started building a property development 2 years ago? You’d of course make it as grand as possible for all the upper middle class wage slaves to beg to pay “Interest only” loans hoping it will be even more valuable so they can re-sell out of such a fool’s bargain. But, fast forward to today; The housing market is bursting like the internet bubble, but doing far more damage. And, even if your property is good, people are afraid, afraid they’ll lose that ‘dream job’ they drive 3 hours both ways to get to in their Hummer.

    So, all the owner has to do is burn it down and write “E.L.F.” with a magic marker on some cardboard, then he screams for his insurance.

    Kind of like 9/11… The towers were a similar investment. They stood to make a Billionaire a multi-billionaire, but the 70’s had both an economic downturn and new laws against asbestos. The guy’s creditors were about to eat him alive and the towers would have cost more to tear down legally than they did to build. People rave about the “Jew” issue, but more importantly, no one really important was in the towers that day, and not the owner who lived there. Dubya was raving that Osama had invested in the stock market to “Sell short” stock based on the attacks. However, no connection was found -but- trading the day before had 10,000 to 1 odds against and the betters tended to be the elites who were absent that day, leaving their toadies to choke and continue to sell things short as the firemen dragged them out.

  2. T-_Bone Says:

    I wish these terrorist would burn down Barbara Streisand’s house, or maybe Al Gore’s mansion. Sure these McMansions were not what they were billed to be, but if the global warming elite want to be taken seriously, then Babs and the gang have to start living like the rest of us,

  3. Anonymous Says:

    The fact that part of our economy is based on the housing market is infuriating. Ted is so right to point out the waste of unused space in dead or dying cities. My town recently culled the local deer population to make way for development which included a church. Hmmmm. I’m not a tree-hugging-hippie, but some one needs to point out how trees make oxygen. That’s a good thing right?? I mean if we don’t have strategic control over our source of oxygen,who will?? The Russkies?? Al-Qaeda?? Hugo Chavez?? Fidel Castro??? Pot smoking Hippies who just burned down my MULTI MILLION DOLLAR INVESTMENT?? RELEASE THE KRAKEN!!!! WATERBOARDING ALL AROUND!!! Oops,sorry, just got carried away with the reckless abandon of Hawk-like thinking. Anyway, just remember, when suicide becomes legal,you get to see that scene from “Soylent Green” again. Walle,dorme bene.

  4. Edward Says:

    I looked up terrorism as you suggested:

    The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons. – The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

    violent or destructive acts (as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands – Merriam-Webster

    violence or the threat of violence, especially bombing, kidnapping, and assassination, carried out for political purposes – msn encarta

  5. Anonymous Says:

    So, if I understand correctly, the Constitutionally mandated process shopuld be obeyed only when we win. When we don’t then we light a match?

    So, in that sense, burning down McMansions and blowing up abortion clinics are roughly comparable morally?

  6. John Madziarczyk Says:

    Upper Middle Class wage slave….hmm…considering that upper middle class is a U.S. euphemism for filthy rich that phrase strikes me as really funny.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    This post proves that Ted Rall supports terrorism.

  8. Anders Says:

    Yes, as Edward points out, crimes against property is also defined as ‘terrorism’.
    English is not my 1st language, but I think there’s this thing called “power of definition”, like for example defining who’s a terrorist and what terrorism is;
    When They do it to Us.
    (‘The Blitz’ to the holocaust of Dresden or Hamburg should probably be the least controversial comparison…)

  9. Anonymous Says:

    dear ted rall: eat a dick and burn down your own home.

  10. Ryan Says:

    I think “saboteur” is a perfectly good word that isn’t used often enough.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    I used to live in Dayton. I moved 20 miles south and now live in a 2 story house on what was a former soybean field. I don’t lock my doors, I don’t have to call the cops on the neighbors, and no one breaks into my car while it’s parked in my driveway. I miss being able to walk places, but you couldn’t get me to live in Dayton again without using force.

  12. Eric Xodik Says:

    …”can’t use the pump ’cause the vandals took the handle”

    …also this is the same linguistic-nuance challenged Guv-mint has labeled Marc Emmery an “international drug cartel kingpin” for selling cannabis seeds online (these seeds contain no THC and ya gotta actually GROW to produce THC) Idiots Rule!!!!

  13. Angelo Says:

    A definition which clumps together the US, Hitler, the ELF, and the guy who bashed in my window for parking in fromt of his house last month, is a meaningless definition.

  14. Sean C. Ledig Says:

    Hey Ted,

    You know I’m a huge fan and I generally say a big AMEN to your weekly columns.

    I’ll be the first to admit that developers are ruining what’s left of our unspoiled wilderness. I’ve seen it happen so much in my 43 years that I don’t recognize places I knew from my youth in Connecticut, New Jersey, California and Florida.

    I would probably agree more than disagree with the average ELF.

    But nearly two years ago, their members threatened a U.S. Forest Service research facility in Placerville, CA.

    My father works at that facility. I used to live and work there and I have friends who LIVE and work there.

    Destroying some blight on the landscape is one thing. I won’t shed any tears for developers.

    But endangering my family and friends, well, that’s another.

  15. Angelo Says:

    So, in that sense, burning down McMansions and blowing up abortion clinics are roughly comparable morally?

    yes, if you leave popular support out of the equation completely. Having the will of the people on your side can make a big difference, Mr Anonymouse.

  16. Angelo Says:

    But endangering my family and friends, well, that’s another.

    ELF is not people. An act can be considered an ELF action if and only if it meets certain criteria. One of those criteria is that no creature should be harmed. If someone is harmed, it is not an ELF action.

    ELF is not a group, it is an adjective.

  17. Russell Says:

    Re: anonymous 3

    The “eco-terrorists” take pains not to harm anyone.

    The abortion clinic bombers have no such scruples.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    “The “eco-terrorists” take pains not to harm anyone.

    The abortion clinic bombers have no such scruples.”

    You hit the nail on the head…if anytyhing, ELF and Earth First! should be seen a saboteurs, not terrorists. To be honest, I think a lot of the ELF “actions” were done for insurance fraud or as revenge, and are thus “false flag” incidents. However, you have a HSA and an FBI who love the idea of “eco-terrorism” because it increases their funding “fighting” what are mostly random acts. So it’s an idiot version of COINTELPRO.

    – Strelnikov

  19. Alan Says:

    Rall, you haven’t explained why the buildings in Newark and Oakland and Detroit and Camden, NJ are vacant. Surely if someone wanted to live in them, they would have rented or bought those apartments? Even getting a very low rent must be better for the landowners of those buildings than earning nothing at all.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    The Boston Tea Party was an act of terrorism.

  21. JerBer Says:

    The real culprit is air conditioning (and TV, of course). I live in a lovely Victorian home in a neighborhood full of vacant houses. All of these homes were hand built with no plumbing or electric. These houses were built around the front porch. Before air conditioning, people would congregate on their porches in the evening. When you consider how closely the houses were built, it must have made for a sense of community.
    TV and AC killed my neighborhood.

  22. Angelo Says:

    No one likes land being wasted. When I was 8, I saw earthmovers and bulldozers parked in the hills near my tree house. Little marker tags started appearing on trees. A week into grating, me and some friends went in with our rambo knives and cut holes in the tractor tires, and let out all the water. I stuffed a bunch of marker stakes and mud in a temporary drain pipe, flooding the grating zone. A friend started up a tracktor, put it into gear, and sent it into a creek. When they started framing, we put freshly dead animals, wood and dust in the ducts. Broke all of the street lights and drew large penises and mammaries in the wet cement. We stole lumber, tools, nails and anything else we wanted.

    If any of us knew about ELF, we would have written it somewhere, and today, it would have been considered terrorism. That is lame.

  23. Anonymous Says:

    ELF is a handy way to divert attention from the true culprits. I live next to the Warren PA (Allegheny National Forest) NFS site that was alleged to have been damaged by ELF. Funny thing was, the note was written in a local patois that isn’t found anywhere else.

    Methinks 90-99% of “ELF actions” are actually insurance fraud/arson. The ELFers I know would rather monkeywrench than burn.

    Mold

  24. Anonymous Says:

    Mentioning that you know ELF members is like letting people know you got Jews in the attic. Walle, dorme bene.

  25. John McGowan Says:

    Ted states in his column that terrorism involves the killing of people and he invites us to look it up.

    I took him up on that invitation. I think he needs to take his own advice. The definition of terrorism is not limited to “killing people”. Only a columnist would provide such a simplistic definition and ask us to accept it without question.

    According to Random House Webster’s College Dictionary (1996 edition) (look it up Ted), terrorism is “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for polical purposes.”

    According to Black’s Law Dictionary (6th ed., 1990), terrorism is an activity that involves a violent act (for example, arson) or an act dangerous to human life (for example, arson) that is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any state (for example, arson), which appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population,or influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, among other things.

    Regardless of what you think about McMansions, what these people did is the textbook definition of terrorism.

    I guess, based on Ted’s definition, if the World Trade Center buildings were empty on
    9/11, their destruction would not have been a terrorist act.

    Also, I guess, it aint terrorism if you agree with the terrorists’ goals. That’s a fine standard to apply!

    Apply some of those famous BS detection skills to your own column.

  26. Angelo Says:

    …According to Random House Webster’s College Dictionary…

    Where in Ted’s column did he say to use a dictionary? There are many better ways to look up the meaning of terrorism than using a dictionary. I learned that terrorism defies dictionary definition in the third grade.

  27. Anonymous Says:

    I don’t like developers, either, considering they ruined a wetland next to the house that I grew up in. However, the whole thing with ELF is simple. If they are the ones that caused the fires in Snohomish, and other various incidents around the Northwest (and it seems they are responsible, since they have taken credit for a lot of these incidents), then they have broken the law. Their actions are terroristic because they use these actions for a political agenda and according to the definition of terrorism, they should be considered a terrorist organization. I certainly concur they are nothing like Al-Qaida and the Taliban, but their actions do hurt people, even though not physically. It’s as simple as that.

  28. Anonymous Says:

    i liked your stats on the amount of empty houses that could/should be used instead of bulldozing fields and forests. “developers” are natural enemy #1. crooked city councils even encourage urban blight, specifically to get citizens to move into subdivisions built on their county properties… it’s so twisted.
    -P0S1t

  29. Angelo Says:

    “…since they have taken credit for a lot of these incidents”

    please link me to one example where “the ELF” took responsibility for anything.

    there is no ELF, it is a way to describe an action which, among other things is non-violent, if destructive.

    there is no organization.

  30. John McGowan Says:

    “. . .Where in Ted’s column did he say to use a dictionary? . . . I learned that terrorism defies dictionary definition in the third grade”

    He actually challenged us to “look it up”. Where were we supposed to look it up? In a recipe book?

    I am curious. What great lesson did you experience in the third grade (at 9 years old?!?) that led you to conclude that terrorism defies dictionary definition? That’s a pretty sophisticated 9 yr old.

    This is the kind of silly argument that gets people nowhere – when a basic assumption is challenged (terrorism requires the killing of people) based upon an objective standard (the dictionary) – the response is to summarily dismiss the objective standard and to imply the intellectual inferiority of the individual challenging the assumption (“I learned that . . . in the third grade”) without responding to its merits.

    This is relativism in the extreme – “my definition of terrorism is whatever I say it is and you’re unsophisticated and ignorant if you disagree.”

    It sounds like you’re stuck in the third grade.

  31. Angelo Says:

    A dictionary does not even begin to approach the degree of specificity required by law. period.

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