Across the nation, protesters outraged by recent grand jury decisions in police officer-involved deaths have taken to the streets to voice their outrage.
These protests, ranging from peaceful vigils, to motorist-inconveniencing blockades, to looting and setting cars on fire have ignited a public conversation about effective protest methods.
Most of us can agree that hostile and destructive protests do more to hurt a cause than help it — unfortunately, “most of us” doesn’t include a host of activist groups.
Green radicals, union-backed left-wing anti-capitalists, and animal liberation activists have all, in their own ways, crossed the line and sought to subvert the political process with intimidation that can easily lead to violence.
In Spain last month, radical activists with Greenpeace attempted to storm an offshore oil rig using a small craft. This attack provoked a confrontation with the Spanish Navy, tasked with defending longstanding laws of maritime traffic.
It’s certainly not the first time Greenpeace has taken extreme measures to promote its agenda — the activist group has a long history of radicalism, including destroying fields of genetically improved crops in Australia, garnering felony breaking and entering charges for hanging a banner from Procter & Gamble’s building in Cincinnati, and earning piracy charges for scaling a Russian oil platform in the Arctic.
But sometimes it isn’t enough to trespass on sensitive and potentially dangerous installations. For National People’s Action (NPA), a radical anti-capitalist group with ties to labor unions and the “Occupy movement,” there’s no place to protest like someone’s own home. In 2010, a joint Service Employees International Union/NPA protest took place at the home of a Bank of America lawyer.
The protestors apparently didn’t confirm that the object of their scorn was even there. The only person at home was the attorney’s teenage son, who has no impact on anything the company does.
NPA continues to use the homes of businessmen and government officials as central to its intimidation tactics. The group has even made an invasive protest visit to then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s home. Apparently mob rule is acceptable when it comes to banking and loan policy.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and its allies in the animal liberation movement are also notorious for harboring violent fantasies. Former PETA campaign director and Vice President Bruce Friedrich expressed that “blowing stuff up and smashing windows [is] a great way to bring about animal liberation” when with the organization. PETA also provided a grant to the Earth Liberation Front — an FBI-designated eco-terrorist group — in 2001.
Whether activists are disrupting civilian lives, provoking confrontation with the civil authorities, intimidating powerless teenagers, or funding terrorists, one thing is clear. Whatever the merits of their message — some are far less meritorious than others — these activists no longer believe that they can win on ideas, and they’ve chosen to use tactics that reputable people consider out-of-bounds to intimidate, harass, and humiliate their opponents.
It’s past time that the public demand a better kind of debate from these unjustly respected groups. Get out of the harassment business and into the ideas business, or get out of the way of normal people.
Will Coggin is a senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.