A 43 year old man invaded the offices of Discovery Channel this week, holding hostages until killed by police snipers. Environmental groups have been quick to distance themselves from the hostage taker, James Lee -- painting the misanthropic bomb maker as "disturbed." In point of fact Mr. Lee's notions, embracing a philosophical ideology that suggests that eco-justice can only be achieved through war on humanity is the standard rhetoric terrorist groups like the Earth Liberation Front and the allied Animal Liberation Front. Mr. Lee through the years suggested that mass human death wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Mr Lee's sentiments aren't really all that far removed from those of PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk who once stated that the use of even one lab animal in the successful development of a cure for AIDS or cancers wouldn't be worth it. Extremism is extremism.
There's some small irony to all of this. Discovery Channel itself cheers on the "heroics" of animal liberation extremists taking on Japanese whalers. But evidently Mr. Lee wanted dead whalers. A far cry from the notions of Edward Abbey, often cited as the father of environmental extremism. Cactus Ed was a libertarian who just wanted progress to leave him alone. Dave Foreman who founded Earth First! was a meat eating Nixon Republican, not a vegan bomb maker. Likewise early animal welfare advocates, or even Animal Liberation philosopher Peter Singer are far removed from the notions of the Animal Liberation Front, or their enablers in PETA.
Turn back the clock fifty years and "progressive" environmentalists and conservations touted the work of zoos and circuses is serving as "arks" preserving species endangered in the wild. Today the wild is all that much more threatened, and defending the "ark" against haters who see extinction as better than domesticity has become a long, weary battle.
But allowing extremism to define and frame the debate is defeatism, and owe the planet something better than the mania of James Lee.