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Jewish World Review Oct. 22, 2003 / 26 Tishrei, 5764

James Lileks

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Let's make Greenpeace pay


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Imagine this scenario: Two antiabortion activists drive up to a Planned Parenthood clinic, jump out of the car, run hard for the front door and burst into the office shouting, "Abortion is murder!" While the protesters are upstairs attempting to string a banner out the windows, the receptionist dials 911. Cops come; the intruders are removed. Not the first time and probably not the last.

Now add this twist: The government files charges against the prolife group that sent the activists. You might be thinking, "About time! Hit 'em with that RICO stick again, G-men." Intimidation and violence have no place in civil society. Someone wants to protest, he can stand on the other side of the street; if someone wants to play Tony Soprano and send his goons into a private business, well, he should hardly be exempt from prosecution.

Back to the real world. Last year Greenpeace members invaded a cargo ship. They sped alongside in a dinghy, clambered up a ladder, jumped on deck and unfurled the all-important banner, the text of which demanded that President Bush do something about illegal mahogany imports.

(Remember how some said Iraq would be a distraction from the war on Al-Qaida? Imagine how it's hurt the war on international cellulose-smuggling syndicates.)

The protesters spent a weekend in jail. And now federal prosecutors are charging the people who approved the boarding: Greenpeace itself.

Will the same people who cheered the first example support the second?

The First Amendment will survive. Greenpeace can go door-to-door, run Web sites, organize marches and do all the other things we associate with peaceable protest. But if the board of directors instructs the troops to start heaving bricks through store windows, it ought to pay.

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Granted, boarding a ship is not necessarily a violent act. Neither is driving your car into your neighbor's garage, running into his house and chanting pro-recycling slogans. It would, however, be illegal. Yes, yes, a small and inconvenient fact when compared to the moral gravity of recycling, but some diehards still cling to the sanctity of private property.

Remember: Feeling passionate about your cause does not make you exude a special chemical that renders you immune to all laws.

In fact, willingness to accept the consequences of your dissent actually gives your dissent more moral weight. It's one thing to stage a lunch-counter sit-in at a Woolworth's in a liberal Northern town, and quite another thing to try it in the heart of Jim Crow land.

No one else will go to jail if Greenpeace is convicted. The organization could be placed on double-secret probation, and could lose its tax-exempt status.

Chances of that happening are just about zero; the PR cost to the administration would be horrid. As is, Greenpeace has been handed a marvelous fundraising tool. By the time this all plays out, a good portion of the faithful will be convinced John Ashcroft has decamped to the Amazon with a chainsaw in one hand and a shotgun in the other, felling old trees and shooting rare marmosets whose tears hold the cure to cancer.

But it's the principle! Dissent is being squashed like an Amazonian clusterbug!

Perhaps not. The charge, after all, is a misdemeanor. This isn't a jackboot on the face of the brave. It's not even a slipper. More like a silk sock pressed on Greenpeace's Birkenstock, a gentle reminder: In a time of suicide bombings, in the post-USS Cole era, perhaps speeding up to cargo ships in small boats and scaling the sides isn't a good idea, and might actually earn you a headful of lead.

Nonsense, the activists insist — they had "GREENPEACE" written on the boat and on their clothing. No terrorist or pirate would ever do that; it would be wrong! It would violate the Pirates' Code!

Uh-huh. Note to Greenpeace: We're sure you mean well, but in a world of pain and suffering, aren't there more important causes? Even the PETA guys probably look at you askance. Chickens suffer by the billions every day, and Greenpeace is worried about wood?


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JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.

Up

09/29/03: Ah-nold & Clark may be on different sides of the aisles, but their supporters are cut from the same cloth
09/19/03: All Hail the Ninth Circuit Court of Surreal
08/26/03: This time, the record industry doesn't stand a chance!
08/18/03: Assessing the Schwarzenegger Factor in Republicanism
08/08/03: No wonder Howard ‘Two Covers’ Dean gets all the buzz
08/04/03: Expect bad news for the foreseeable future
07/28/03: Despot's Deserts
07/21/03: No winners in this game of gotcha
07/14/03: Doing the right thing in Liberia may not be the right thing to do
06/27/03: On feet in Democratic mouths
06/16/03: The real story behind Hillary's book
06/09/03:America's new mission was and remains: Extirpating the flaming nutballs and the societies that nurture them
06/03/03: The Constitution as gag order
05/23/03: Sometimes the theme of world events is chaos itself
05/16/03: Newspapers are only human, after all
05/13/03: What McCarthy messed up
05/06/03: Still think the International Criminal Court was a good idea?
04/03/03: The world is ending, the world is ending! Doesn't anybody care!? Why won't anybody listen!?
03/14/03: Kerry and the Dems are banking on American electorate's tendancy to forget history
02/28/03: Roadmap to peace?
02/13/03: We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob
02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
01/30/03: The US can go to war whenever it likes for its own reasons, and all the UN can do is pass more worthless paper
01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
12/27/02: Whistleblowers?
01/06/02: The second year of this jangled millennium
11/16/01: Attack of the 'Patriotism police' and other Hollywood fare
11/12/01: From the bleats of dismay
10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
11/04/01: America, loathe or it leave it
09/25/01: Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America?
08/27/01: If the economy is in a funk, why aren't we dancing?
08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
08/10/01: Hail to our co-chiefs?
08/03/01: Constitution: George the Uniter picked a doozy to unify detractors
07/25/01: The real reason why we need missile defense (What those uppity policy wonks won't tell you!)
06/18/01: Paining the egalitarian soul
06/01/01: One of the stranger indexes you'll ever hear about
05/21/01: One man's toke is another man's snort
05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
04/06/01: Pity the anti-American Left, they're gonna have a hard time on this one
03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
02/23/01: Will the Jeb Bush administration attack Saddam in 2011?
02/09/01: In search of the the first ashtray thrown by a member of the First Family
02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2003, James Lileks