09/09/2010 04:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Smear Job

The media got it all wrong in its description of James Lee, the deranged individual who police shot dead after he broke into the Discovery Channel building in Silver Spring, Md., and threatened to kill hostages. He was identified by just about every news source as an "environmental" extremist because of his bizarre demands and irrational rant against humanity's ecological impact on the planet. Lee had warned that if the Discovery Channel did not agree to televise programs promoting the halt of population growth and civilization itself, he would start shooting. That even led some conservative observers to suggest that environmental teachings had influenced Lee to commit his act of violence.

Well, here is a news flash. Lee was not, I repeat not, an environmentalist. Environmentalism isn't about curtailment of life, violence or otherwise; it is about preserving and enhancing the quality of life. Mainstream environmentalism pins its hopes on human genius' capability to create an ecologically sustainable society in a peaceful fashion. It is no partner to the despair that consumed Lee's tortured psyche.

Newscasters ought to know better than to automatically characterize an individual as an "environmentalist," simply because he or she condemns pollution. Actions speak louder than words.

This decoupling of the environmental movement from Lee's demented behavior is not what some Right Wing news sources and bloggers want to hear. They aren't interested in anything that contradicts their contention that the environmental movement was the driving force behind Lee's rampage. Several broadcasters on Fox News proceeded to cite Lee's reference to Al Gore's global warming film, Inconvenient Truth, as evidence that the former vice president's rhetoric was the catalyst for the nut case's siege of terror.

This demagogic, ludicrous tactic of smearing environmentalists through guilt by association is old hat. Witness two Libertarian college professors who in 1993, wrote a book in which they asserted that ecological concern was a major element of Hitler's Third Reich, making it "the first government to be dominated by radical environmentalists." Hint, hint, Brown Shirts equal Green.

Another ideologically driven academician wrote a tract in which a big deal was made of the fact that prominent Hitler henchmen Rudolph Hess and Heinrich Himmler were keen on organic farming. Also, the Nazi storm trooper training regimen conveyed a respect for animal life near "Buddhist proportions".

Is this supposed to mean that organic farming and animal rights activism are philosophical petri dishes for Nazi-type brutality?

The smear merchants don't stop there. They assert that the environmental movement is anti-people despite standing shoulder to shoulder with the downtrodden in the battle for social justice. Environmentalists are maligned for being anti-God when in fact, spirituality pervades the movement as manifested by the outspoken reverence of all major religions for the sanctity of nature

Why do some Right Wingers feel compelled to demonize the environmental movement and its core policies? It's not hard to figure. These conservatives regard environmentalists' advocacy of government regulatory restraints on corporate activity as a threat to the freedom to earn a profit in a capitalist system. It doesn't gibe with their plutocratic vision of how American society should operate. Conservatives believe the marketplace has a self-policing mechanism that will ultimately curb any excesses. It's a naive ideological pipe dream in which conservatives maintain that the private sector will voluntarily forego profits--its raison d'etre--for the benefit of the public good.

Yes, the marketplace is a cornerstone of freedom to innovate and make a profit, but not at the expense of the earth's natural resource base that is indispensable to future generations' survival as well as our own.

Edward Flattau is an environmental columnist residing in Washington, D.C. and the author of the forthcoming book, Green Morality, now available for pre-order.