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The Terrible, Troubling Tribulations of Being Called an Eco-terrorist

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"Yesterday I did not know what an eco-terrorist was. Now it appears that I am one?"
- Sea Shepherd Deckhand Amanda Caldwell

When Japanese whalers, Canadian sealers, Costa Rican shark poachers, and Libyan bluefin tuna poachers call Sea Shepherd an "eco-terrorist" organization, I always have the same response: "Okay already, arrest us, or shut the hell up!" This constant, misguided yammering about alleged terrorism every time someone tries to nonviolently stop some thug from clubbing seals, harpooning whales, or finning sharks is downright ignorant, and just plain silly.

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 Sea Shepherd has never burned anything. There's bomb making, planting, throwing, and conspiring about bombing, but we don't do anything like that either. Kidnapping? Nope. Physical assault is also not a part of our modus operandi.

Sea Shepherd is to terrorism what Groucho was to Marxism. Our brand of so-called "terrorism" is 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's simply a matter of confusion or an underhanded plot to depict earth defenders as evil threats to humanity.

Sea Shepherd hasn't rammed a single Japanese whaling ship in the seven years we've voyaged to the Southern Ocean, but the Steve Irwin has been rammed twice, the Bob Barker once, and the Ady Gil was not only intentionally rammed, it was destroyed. We have had concussion grenades thrown at us, and I was once shot in the chest, but despite all this, the whalers and others accuse us of violence.

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 doesn't matter what's true, it only matters what people believe is true.

Last week, the Japanese Foreign Minister called the Netherlands, Australian, and New Zealand Ambassadors to publicly scold them for allowing Sea Shepherd to fly their flags and use their ports. The ambassadors must have been mystified to what Japan wants them to do. If a crime has been committed, what is the nature of the offense? Is there a warrant for anyone's arrest? Does Japan seriously expect democratic nations like New Zealand, Australia, and the Netherlands to arrest, detain, and deny entry to people who haven't been charged with any crime?

It's interesting that Japan demands that Australia and New Zealand ban Sea Shepherd ships from entering their ports, yet the Japanese whaling ships are unwelcome in these ports because they're engaged in illegal activity. Whereas killing whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is considered a crime by Australia and New Zealand, nonviolently saving whales is not.

Japan tried to talk a U.S. bureaucrat into removing Sea Shepherd's tax-deductible status in the United States, and she agreed that it wouldn't be a problem, or so she said to her Japanese whaling buddies, BUT she forgot that it's actually a crime to unleash the IRS onto an American nonprofit at the bequest of a foreign government. Needless to say, we haven't lost our tax-deductible status, because we are still doing today what we did back in 1981 when we were granted this status -- nonviolently working to protect our oceans from unlawful activity.

Perhaps we should just embrace and proudly proclaim ourselves as "eco-terrorists." Eco-terrorism isn't legally defined as a crime, but it does have a certain cutting edge, action-noir quality to it. Yes, that's it, we'll 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.

So what we have here is a false perception of violence and terrorism spun by public relations people and politicians, without any basis in fact or substance. Today, calling someone a terrorist is simply a way of attempting to demonize someone you disagree with. The word itself is beginning to lose its meaning.

If Japan considers Sea Shepherd to be a terrorist organization, then why can Sea Shepherds enter Japan? 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 reputable scientists, engineers, artists, writers, and entertainers?

Sea Shepherd cannot be categorized as a terrorist organization, because we are something completely different. We aren't your old-school greenies. We don't hold banners, bear witness, collect petitions, and lobby politicians. What we do is get in the faces of those who are illegally -- and violently -- destroying our oceans. We practice aggressive, nonviolent direct action. We don't hurt people, but we have no hesitation in taking machinery out of commission that's used for illegal killing.

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 person, nor had a felony conviction. Making accusations and falsely labeling us as eco-terrorists is nothing more than political posturing and meaningless rhetoric.

Our concern is with respecting, operating within, and enforcing the law, 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 true terrorist, one must actually set forth with the intent to commit violent crimes, and we most certainly do not meet those criteria.

As for my crew and myself 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 my message to Japan: "Arrest us, or shut the hell up already!"

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