Monday, October 03, 2005

Extremists and the ESA

When the House voted 229-193 to gut the Endangered Species Act this week (as predicted,) it didn't simply represent an anti-environmental movement run amok in the halls of power -- though that visage was plenty visible.

If you scratch very far beneath the surface, you'll also recognize the fine hand of right-wing extremism. Indeed, the House approval for Rep. Richard Pombo's disingenuously titled "Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005" [PDF file] actually represents a major advancement in the extremist Patriot movement's agenda within the mainstream.

Even though they now have managed to cloak themselves in the rhetoric of mainstream conservatism, the actors (including Pombo) who have been promoting this agenda have a long history of dalliances with the American far right. Indeed, most of the components of their agenda first were promoted on far-right talk circuits. Watching their transformation, in fact, and the evolution of the anti-environmental agenda is very instructive when it comes to understanding the nature of the relationship between the mainstream right and its extremist cohort.

The extremism, really, is front and center stage in Pombo's legislation. What else can you call its provisions to repeal entirely the Endangered Species Act's sections on critical habitat? As the AP piece put it:
The critical habitat designation is at the very heart of the Endangered Species Act, said Clark, who headed the Fish and Wildlife Service for four years during the Clinton administration.

"It weakens Section 7 Consultation provisions (talks between the Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies, calling for an as-yet undefined set of alternative procedures, and it completely eliminates safeguards to protect species from pesticides," she said. "The proposed revisions undermine the scientific process and say one kind of science is better," she continued, explaining that the bill as passed by the House would give political appointees too much clout over decisions that should, by law, be based on the best available studies.

Let's put it simply: This section alone completely eviscerates the Endangered Species Act.

There is no species recovery without habitat protection. Period. It won't happen.

The remaining "reforms" in Pombo's bill are nearly as noxious: requiring compensation for property owners whose developments are forestalled by environmental regulations; shortening the government response time on ESA findings to 90 days; politicizing the enforcement process; and a menu of similar policies designed to give developers carte blanche on environmental issues.

It's now up to the Senate to stop this train wreck. The bill now goes to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where hearings have already begun.

The utter silence of Democrats on this bill's progress indicates that they are counting on the Senate to bring it to a halt. There are fairly good reasons for this: Sen. Lincoln Chaffee, the Rhode Island Republican who chairs the subcommittee in charge of the law, has a well-deserved reputation for a strong environmental voting record.

However, that strategy may prove to be a weak one. The rest of the subcommittee is stacked with rabid anti-environmentalists like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, not to mention Joseph Lieberman, the Democrat who helped bring us Mike Brown.

Perhaps the biggest threat to moving this bill out to the Senate floor for a vote in more or less in its current state this fall comes from Inhofe, since he chairs the larger committee and wields considerable influence in what proceeds out. Inhofe has indicated he intends to push for a vote this fall, while Chaffee says he wants a 2006 vote.

Inhofe's extremism when it comes to the ESA is already well established. He offered the following infamous remarks in 1997 regarding the ESA:
America has adopted an attitude that places more value on the life of a critter that on a human being. We want to protect the Spotted Owl, yet we care little for the men and women who lost jobs in the Northwest when the timber industry was virtually shut down. We want to protect the Arkansas River Shiner, a bait fish in Oklahoma, yet we will allow unborn babies to have their brains sucked out in a partial birth abortion. Mr. Chairman, we need to do something.

Inhofe, though, has nothing on Pombo when it comes to extremism.

Since his election to Congress in 1994, Pombo has been on the leading edge of the right-wing assault on environmental law, and in the process has aligned himself with some of the right's most radical elements. Besides constantly attacking the ESA and "radical environmentalists," he has also been a leading proponent of "takings legislation," a strategy favored by some property-rights advocates that argues for compensation for landowners affected by environmental laws.

Tarso Ramos explained the upshot of this activism for Public Eye:
Proponents of takings legislation argue that it will provide relief to small property owners who, they say, are increasingly restricted by wetlands ordinances, growth management laws, and other environmental statutes. Such arguments can be persuasive, since government bureaucracy does sometimes generate burdensome, irrational, and even harmful regulations, and as the relationship between, for example, wetlands protection and the public health is somewhat technical, as well as indirect. However, under regulatory takings doctrine, in order to prohibit industrial polluters from fouling air, land, and water, the public would be required to pay the cost of pollution prevention. This quite direct relationship between regulatory takings law, environmental protections, and the public health is either ignored by proponents or is resolved in the manner suggested by Ron Arnold: if a citizen can show a violation of rights by a corporate polluter or anyone else, let her or him sue.

So-called "Wise Use" groups were especially active on this front -- and one of the foremost of these activists, Chuck Cushman of Battle Ground, Wash., has in the ensuing decade become one of Pombo's closest associates. His American Land Rights Association remains one of the most visible and potent of the "Wise Use" property-rights group.

People in Washington state were first exposed to Cushman's activism back in the early 1990s, when he was first rounding up the troops to support his cause. In those days, the troops included a lot of militia types.

Paul DeArmond documented much of this at his Northwest Citizen site, and you can find the details in his exhaustive report, "Wise Use in Northern Puget Sound." As he explains, Cushman was showing up as the keynote speaker at public meetings in Whatcom County, much of it aimed at derailing an environmentalist proposal to create an international ecological preserve out of the North Cascades area. The first of these was March 23, 1994:
Skip Richards and CLUE hosted Wise Use leader Chuck Cushman at the Rome Grange on the Mt. Baker Highway, approximately 10 miles east of Bellingham, Washington. The meeting was run by Mr. Richards. Cushman's purpose was to organize support for a protest at a University of Washington conference, "Nature Has No Borders," on proposed administrative changes in the National Forests and National Parks in the North Cascades region. The first speaker at the meeting was Ben Hinkle, who promoted the "Ultimatum Resolution," a Christian Patriot proposal to abolish the federal government. At this same meeting, Hinkle distributed copies of John Trochmann's Militia of Montana flyer, "Executive Orders for the New World Order." On Hinkle's copies, all reference to the Militia of Montana has been replaced with the name of his Populist Party splinter group, Citizens for Liberty.

Cushman's presentation focused on the impending seizure of lands by an international group which included the United States and Canadian governments and environmentalists -- whom Mr. Cushman terms "preservationists." Cushman's style of speaking suggested that the seizure would be forcible and would involve the destruction of local homes.

This was part of Cushman's approach to recruitment back then, the ugly rhetoric fitting in neatly with the paranoid conspiracy theories that were being floated about on the far right regarding the North Cascades Park proposal. Immediately after Cushman appeared at these meetings, other figures from the far right began recruiting around these issues, as DeArmond explains in an appendix:
Chuck Cushman provided the rallying issue for the militia organizers when he toured northern Washington in early 1994 to organize opposition to the North Cascades Park proposal. The resulting furor over a mythical "UN invasion" has vastly exceeded the similar uproar around a hoax about "encephalitis carrying mosquitoes" at the Stone Lakes wildlife refuge in California. In both instances, Cushman has denied responsibility and attempted to distance himself.

Cushman has a history of using violent language and threatening tactics. In an interview on "60 Minutes", Cushman related how he encouraged things like video-taping environmentalists, disrupting meetings with noisy livestock or heavy equipment, and other methods of harassment and intimidation. Asked why he did such things, he compared his tactics to "Indians shooting flaming arrows over the wagon trains... to keep them awake at night."

At the Rome Grange, Cushman made over thirty references to violent acts in a half-hour speech. In every case, he associated the violence with his opponents. "They want to strangle you," was his most frequent remark. Cushman's set-speech emphasizes violent acts, theft, and arson. These themes repeat themselves over and over, creating the impression that these type of actions define the rules under which he and his supporters must operate.

... Cushman's selection of the North Cascades Park as an issue marked the beginning of a new phase in Wise Use activities in Washington State. The so-called "Park Conspiracy" was used as the main recruiting issue in Washington State by white supremacists and other anti-government extremists who have been forming paramilitary "militias." In October 1994, Skip Richards, Kathy Sutter and Shirley Hardy hosted a group of militia promoters, white supremacists, Constitutionalists and other conspiracy cranks at the Laurel Grange. Ostensibly, the meeting was to discuss the North Cascades Park, but the presentations focussed on conspiracy theories. The initial flyer for the meeting has a subhead that reads, "North Cascades International Ecosystem boundaries will be controlled by electronic fortifications and supervised by the CIA." (emphasis in original.)

Several of the speakers -- Ben Sams, Don Kehoe, David Montgomery, Robert Crittenden -- were later involved in sponsoring Bob Fletcher, Randy and David Trochmann of the Militia of Montana at a militia forum held in Maltby, Wash. on February 11, 1995. At Maltby, CLUE member Ben Hinkle spoke about the Citizens for Liberty's recruiting efforts that targeted Whatcom County police.

I attended the Maltby meeting, which was concerned almost solely with alarming the audience about the nefarious purposes planned for the park, including the construction of concentration camps and preparing for troop movement -- of United Nations soldiers, naturally -- over the Canadian border.

There was an array of tables set up inside the meeting hall promoting all kinds of militia materials, including a range of different tomes about the "New World Order", as well as multiple copies of The Clinton Chronicles. (You can see the latter in the stacks directly in front of the man seated nearest the camera on the left in the photo below.)

Some of the booksellers objected to having their picture taken, as you can see. One of these included the man on the far right of this photo. His name is David Trochmann.

Trochmann is the cofounder (with his brother John) of the Militia of Montana. He also has some historical notoriety as well: It was Randy Weaver's refusal to participate in an ATF investigation of Trochmann as an informant (for allegedly running guns over the Canadian border with another noted white supremacist, Chuck Howarth) that led to Weaver being charged with gun tampering, which led in turn to the ugly Ruby Ridge incident.

Trochmann approached me shortly after I took this picture and wanted to know who I was. It was a friendly enough approach, and I wound up stepping outside and sharing a smoke with him and his son, Randy, during which we chatted. I described this in Chapter 4 of my first book, In God's Country:
On my own, I'd found other evidence suggesting the whole Trochmann clan comprised Identity believers. I'd heard in early 1995 from friends in the Sandpoint area that Trochmann had at one time organized Identity Bible studies in the Panhandle. So I decided at the next opportunity to ask the Trochmanns about it.

The chance came at a militia meeting in Maltby, Washington, that February. The meeting was at a little barn-red town hall in the semi-rural village, the kind of town where edge dwellers proliferate. Bob Fletcher was the MOM representative that day, but Randy and Dave Trochmann were operating the book-and-video tables where they hawked their wares. They saw me taking pictures of the table and came over and asked who I was. I gave them a card, and we stepped outside for a smoke.

Dave Trochmann has the same kind of intense demeanor as his brother, but there's something vaguely unsettling about him. I've known men like him, that hard-eyed working-class kind of man, and they are not people you want to mess with. If you do, they'll fix you and anybody close to you. It's hard to believe that Randy is his son. Randy, a skinny, dark-haired twentysomething, is doe-eyed and easygoing, a little jittery like all the Trochmanns, but you get the feeling he'd find it possible to like you even if you were a liberal.

I asked Dave about the Identity Bible studies. Any truth to that?

"Well," he said, looking about before answering, "you know, we're not white supremacists. We just think the races should be separate."

I'd heard the distinction made before.

"We just don't believe in race mixing," Trochmann said. "It's the laws of Nature. You don't see robins and sparrows mating, do you? We don't have a bunch of spobbins flying around."

I started explaining the genetic distinction between race and species, but realized it was a useless argument here.

"We don't hate other races," Randy said. "We just don't think they should mix. That's all Identity means to us." I let it go at that, and we wandered off to other topics, and eventually back into the meeting hall.

Since those beginnings, however, Wise Use advocates like Cushman have learned to adapt their strategy. Having gotten up and running with help of true extremists, they've gradually shifted their tone to one palatable inside the Beltway, giving themselves more of a moderate guise while carrying forward the same radical agenda.

Along the way, of course, they've shed many of their old supporters and colleagues, including those from the Patriot movement and from the hard-core property-rights movement. You can see this, for instance, in a recent piece by property-rights activist Carol LaGrasse describing Cushman and Pombo's strategy:
Mr. Wigley's e-mail criticized the way I communicated about the Endangered Species Act. He was apparently remarking about either my white paper on the Act, where I pointed to the need to protect private property rights, or, more likely, my recent discussions with American Land Rights Association President Chuck Cushman, where I disagreed with adopting a public strategy directed at "strengthening" the Act while leaving out the need to protect property rights. He admonished me, "We can be as pure and right as we wish -- and we'll lose again! I'm in this battle to win and so is Chairman Pombo."

"As for ESA, I'm first in line in conservative views and a desire to pay for property takings, etc. But Carol, don't mistake the language we use to sell the public on the need for change -- with language which will appear in the bill," said his e-mail to my confidential personal address.

Indeed, Cushman has managed to largely reinvent himself as a mini-Karl Rove to the power circle that Pombo has cultivated. But if you dig beneath the surface very far, you'll find the same agenda they were promoting in 1994 at those militia meetings.

It's just that now, they have a lot more real power, and the capacity to actually carry it off.

A recent High Country News profile of Pombo also makes clear that the appearance of moderation these folks are presenting is all for show. At the heart of it is the same determination to eviscerate the nation's environmental laws:
As Resources Committee boss, Richard Pombo has roared. In his first two years as chairman, Pombo spent $105,000 on official mailings, almost seven times more than any other House committee spent in the same period. Many of them were partisan tirades against environmental laws.

Pombo has targeted not only the Endangered Species Act, but the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, fishing and logging regulations and other environmental laws. In one committee press release in 2004, he attacked the Clinton-era protection of roadless forests in national forests as a "mindless edict" that only benefits "the environmental scare-peddling and fundraising industry."

The committee's official Web site offers a taste of Pombo’s view of the world. It defends President Bush's policies on national parks, and it applauds the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision not to list the greater sage grouse as endangered — a decision that generated great controversy when it emerged that a high-level political appointee doctored a scientific report on the grouse (HCN, 12/20/04: Rulings keep the West open for business). And though Pombo constantly demands "sound science" in environmental debates, it is in short supply on the Web site. In one report, Pombo advocates oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, claiming it will benefit migrating caribou.

"He runs the Resources Committee like his own personal propaganda machine," says Wes Rolley, a Morgan Hill, Calif., activist who runs the "Pombo Watch" Internet blog. "I think 'sound science' is anything that supports what he wants to do."

With his party in control of both Congress and the White House, Pombo should be poised to make good on a career’s worth of threats — a possibility that frightens his critics.

"The long-range implications of following the path that Pombo is leading us on really haven't gotten the publicity they ought to have," says Jim DiPeso, policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection. "His priorities in the areas of energy, public lands and wildlife conservation are completely at odds with the best interests of our nation. I cannot think of a worse person to be chairman of the Resources Committee."

The story also notes that, like most figures on the far right, his own mythology is actually predicated on bullshit:
Pombo has often said that his rage against environmentalists was sparked by a battle with the East Bay Regional Park District in the 1980s. The park district planned to open a hiking trail on an old railroad right-of-way that crossed the Pombo family ranch in the Diablo Range south of Altamont Pass.

"The park district sought this abandoned railroad right of way as a recreational trail through the property of two dozen local ranchers and that of my family," he wrote in his 1996 book This Land is Our Land, a brash credo on property rights and the evils of environmentalism. "We were very concerned that it would interfere with our ability to conduct business on our own property."

Pombo claimed the park district refused to fence the trail, police it or pick up trash, and that "viewshed" rules would have kept the ranchers from building new structures on their own land. All this, he wrote, and the park district refused to pay the ranchers a dime.

But none of this actually happened. The park district did propose a trail on the old rail line, but on a segment some 20 miles away, near San Francisco Bay. At that time, park district boundaries did not include the Pombo family land, Altamont Pass, or anything near it.

"The facts have been reported wrong," says Bob Doyle, the district’s assistant general manager, "and it's become part of the robust history."

Pombo's co-author on the book, Joseph Farah, says he cannot remember details of the trail story, adding that "I certainly have no interest in researching this." Farah is former editor of the now-defunct Sacramento Union newspaper, and founded, a news Web site with a conservative bent, based in Grants Pass, Ore.

Pombo also claimed, in testimony before a Senate subcommittee in 1994, that his family land was stripped of its value when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared it "critical habitat" for the endangered San Joaquin kit fox in 1986. In fact, the agency has never designated critical habitat for the fox -- not on Pombo land or anywhere else. Questioned later on the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, Pombo admitted he has never been directly affected by a critical habitat designation.

Pombo's long association with Joseph Farah underscores the extremist threads that run throughout this power claque. Farah, as I've explained previously, is one of the premier transmitters of right-wing extremism into mainstream conservatism of the past decade. In the late 1990s, he was making a pretty penny for his operations by promoting Y2K-related apocalyptic theories and warning everyone to go into survivalist mode -- just like the militiamen who constituted much of his audience.

As Max Blumenthal recently pointed out, Pombo's extremist opportunism isn't just relegated to the ESA; he's also using the recent Gulf Coast hurricanes as yet another excuse to gut even more environmental laws.

Chris Mooney's work on the Klamath River fiasco also lays bare how Pombo and the Republicans are twisting science to promote their agenda -- even as the policies produced thereby wreak real havoc on wildlife. (See also Mooney's excellent book, The Republican War on Science, for even more.)

And, wouldn't you know? The Klamath Falls scene was also a major recruitment ground for militias. Funny how that works.

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