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Big Timber Seeks To Silence Critics

by Molly Ivins

about attack on RAN
Now here's an interesting development: The Boise Cascade Corp. is targeting Rainforest Action Network (RAN), the environmental group that has gotten Home Depot, Lowe's and other major companies to stop buying wood from the remaining old-growth forests.

Since the RAN folks have been targeting Boise Cascade to get the company to stop logging in old-growth forests, this may seem to be a case of turnabout- is- fair- play. Actually, it's another corporate campaign -- like SLAPP suits (strategic lawsuits against public participation) -- designed to silence critics of corporate practice. Boise Cascade is working with two industry-supported front groups, trying to get the IRS to cancel Rainforest's tax-exempt status and to pressure its funders to cut off the group's money.

Some hilarity attaches to the letter of complaint to the IRS from something called the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, a property rights outfit headed by former Wyoming Sen. Malcolm Wallop. According to Frontiers of Freedom (why do they all have names like that?), "RAN devotes most of its $3 million-plus annual war chest (you understand $3 million is peanuts to Boise Cascade) to pressure campaigns aimed at forcing corporations to change the way they do business. GASP. No! Not that!

Well! Such lese majeste convinced the Frontiers of Freedom, which seems to have awfully constricted frontiers, that freedom does not include tax-exempt status for RAN. Its specific claims are that RAN conducted several peaceful protests, wrote letters, produced street theater and supported civil disobedience.

On RAN's bad-egg side are several protesters who have gotten arrested for trespassing after climbing tall buildings to put up large protest banners. These bear such subversive messages as 'Stop Selling Old-Growth Wood," "Do Your Children Know You're Buying Old-Growth Wood?" and "Human Rights Before Drilling Rights."

The complaint huffs, "RAN's objectives are hardly limited to its tax-exempt purpose -- education." By way of illustration, the group cites this chilling act of eco-terrorism: "On Oct. 24, 2000, RAN activists taunted Boise Cascade by floating over the company's headquarters a 120-foot inflatable balloon shaped like a dinosaur and bearing a sign reading, 'Boise Cascade: I love logging old-growth.'"

I think we can argue that's quite educational, in the broader sense. RAN has negotiated and settled agreements with other major lumber companies, such as Weyerhauser, Canadian Forest Products, etc. RAN is opposed to all forms of violence and to property destruction.

Boise Cascade has written directly to foundations and other groups that support RAN, claiming, "Reckless, unlawful and untruthful attacks," "false and defamatory statements," "harassment and intimidation" (especially a mean and vicious campaign of Christmas-wish letters from children to Boise's CEO asking him to stop logging old-growth forests).

Again, this may strike you as a case of "You harass me, and I'll harass you," but then we all lose sight of the main point, don't we? That logging old-growth forests does irreparable damage. There's a wonderful Battle of Quotes going on: By associating RAN with violent, militant eco-terrorists, Boise can quote all kinds of splendidly nutty statements.

On the other hand, RAN found these gems from Ron Arnold, vice president of yet another property-rights group working against RAN -- this one bearing the title Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise -- who told the Boston Globe in 1992, "We are sick to death of environmentalism, and so we will destroy it." And he told The New York Times in 1991, "We want to destroy the environmentalists by taking away their money and their members."

As we watch RAN's struggle with Boise Cascade and watch corporations in general develop new weapons against their critics, it is useful to take a step back. The Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (which leaves them with the unfortunate acronym POCLAD) does just that. The group's thought-provoking work on the questions of corporate power in a democracy go beyond redressing a specific wrong to ask what we can do about it in a larger sense.

As FDR said, "The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any controlling private power."

I find POCLAD most useful for the questions it asks: "What is property? Who decides what is public and private? What is liberty? Who is it for? Should a business corporation be regarded as a citizen? Why does the General Motors Corp. have more rights than the United Auto Workers Union? ... Thousands of groups know how to stop an incinerator, organize a union, block a timber harvest sale, decrease a toxic emission, orchestrate a referendum or initiative, enact new permitting and disclosure regulations. (But) people spend years getting regulatory agencies to lessen a single corporate harm."

I'm rooting for RAN against Boise Cascade and for an end to logging in old-growth forests, but I think we need to look at some larger questions, too.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor June 28, 2001 (

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