Mapping my research: I’ve been writing a lot about the elves

I began an academic interest in the Earth Liberation Front, Animal Liberation Front and contemporary direct action networks at large around 2009.  In the seven years prior, I had done most of my research on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and before that, Jamaica’s Rastafarian communities (see #1, #2, #3) and its connections to revolutionary ideology.  I did field work in Jamaica (Kingston & Negril), Mexico (the EZLN-controlled Chiapas region), and the Palestinian West Bank.  In 2007, I attempted to return to the  West Bank for the purpose joining in popular struggle and a bit of research, but was denied entry, temporarily jailed, and then deported.


I was so disheartened with my inability to return to the hills of Nablus and the bustling streets of Ramallah that I never put these thoughts to paper.  Years of research about the intricacies of the Palestinian nationalist movement slipped through my mental fingers and never made it to the page.  Seeing the reams of paper growing moldy in folders with hastily scribbled notes, photocopies and clipping of the intifada gave me pause to rethink the future of my study.  After my deportation and the subsequnt result-less followu up with the Israeli State and US consltae/embassy, I realized that the future I had imagined of living, working and researching in Palestine was unlikely at best.

This gave the trajectory of my research a sudden off course bump.

In the two years between the end of my research focused on Palestinian armed/non-violent movements (see #1, #2), and female fighters specifically (see #1, #2, #3) I found myself in Scotland in the early stages of a masters degree.  I enrolled in the Peace & Conflict Studies MLitt (School of International Relations, University of St Andrews), but was turned off by its State-centric discourse.  I felt like my study (and subsequent action) was being channeled: if you want to solve ‘development issues’ use the World Bank, IMF or IADB.  If you want to solve ‘security’ or stabilization’ issues use NATO, the UN Security Council…. This was not my cup of tea.

It was at this point that I had a realization.  Throughout my undergraduate study at American University, I always found myself trying to squeeze square pegs through round holes.  In this case the square peg was my interest in violent non-State actors (at the time Hamas/Fatah/PFLP/PIJ, the EZLN and iraqi insurgency) and the round holes were my degrees in “International Peace and Conflict Resolution” and “Gender Studies.”  You know how it goes if you’re still in school.  You’re given an assignment on X and you make sure that you find some way to continue writing about whatever the hell you had wanted to write about before beginning the course.  That was me.

So when I found myself in Scotland and not liking the Peace & Conflict Studies program I decided to stop fighting my academic inclinations and go to the one program that encourages study of the violent non-State actors that so fascinated me.  In this shift, I became a ‘scholar’ in Terrorism Studies at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism & Political violence.  Now while I realized that I would probably be in the anarchist affiliated, septum-ring wearing, non-meat eating minority in this field, I went for it.


…for more Scottish graffiti, stickers and sights of resistance check out 

Walls of Fife, Scotland — Walls of Shanwell Station — Walls of abandoned school

Walls of Glasgow — Walls of Edinburgh …and down South Walls of London/Essex and London’s May Day

My classmates in the Terrorism Studies program were soldiers, those who sought work in the intelligence/security/military field and a few stragglers.  Then there was me.

I was the only one with involvement with the objects of our study. When we spoke of anarchist extremists, Palestinian terrorists, animal rights militants and affiliated “eco-terrorists” my classmates imaged abstractions and I imagined the faces and names of friends.  it was a bit of a positional impasse.

One day in class we were discussing industrial sabotage and the field of Terrorism Studies’ understandings of so-called “eco-terrorism.”  I found myself playing the role of the apologist, discussing what tree spiking was and its safety record.  I talked about the movement’s use of arson and quickly saw myself painted by my classmates.   It was at that time, the fall of 2009, that I found myself at the bottom of a giant hill of writing.  I had papers due for all of my Terrorism Studies classes (see #1. #2, #3, #4)

  • Advanced qualitative methods
  • critical infrastructure protection
  • fundamental issues and structures of terrorism
  • international law and terrorism
  • processes and responses to terrorism
  • radicalization and conflict resolution in the UK
  • research methods
  • terrorism and the internet
  • terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa

For nearly all of these classes I wrote on social movements, mostly the ELF.  I certainly knew about the ELF and would follow their actions throughout the years.  I was vocal against the Green Scare and engaged in some support work for prisoners .  When writing about these movements,  I was careful to assert my politics but act with measured meticulousness in my research; I made sure to always focus on transparency and triangulation to pass the strict scrutiny that should accompany advanced study.


I wrote, I read, and most importantly I thought about the tactics and strategies of these movements, that of the State and my role in the conflict.  In the end I wrote a long dissertation quantifying “eco-terrorism” through a 27,000+ incident, 22 variable dataset in order to argue that these groups did not deserve the terrorist label being pushed on them.  This unpublished study, to the best of my knowledge, is the most complete quantitative study of these movements to date.

Most of what I wrote remains in fragments.  Most of it is written with a voice, and for an audience, I rather detract (not add) from.

In the past week and a half  have found myself with an unusual amount of quiet, down time as my family is out of State.  With this time, I took some of these thoughts, and got some of it down on paper.  So I am happy to announce that two pieces of text are off my plate and in someone else’s inbox in the back and fourth that is peer-review and publishing.

The first is an article entitled “The Earth Liberation Front: A Social Movement Analysis” to be published in the next issue of the  Journal of Radical Criminology.  This article  originally written from a more Security Studies-centric purpose is meant to provide a nuanced, accurate and clear account of the decentralized network of eco-saboteurs.  This pursuit seeks to combine centrist academic and State sources to paint a picture of the ELF not for purpose of disrupting this network (i.e. domestic counter-terrorism), but rather to further understand the politics, tactics and strategy being adopted yet not accounted for in the aged social movement literature.  It’s time for a new era of social movement theory that can talk about the clandestine  decentralized fighters of today.  To that end, I have dusted off this beast, kept the facts and added some analysis.  It’s ELF 101 which is what people most often ask me to send them.  It will be out soon and I’ll post a link then.  The abstract is:

The Earth Liberation Front is a radical environmental movement that developed from the ideological factionalization of the British Earth First! movement of the 1990s. Its ideological underpinnings are based in deep ecology, anti-authoritarian anarchism highlighting a critique of capitalism, a commitment to non-violence, a collective defense of the Earth, and a warranted feeling of persecution by State forces. In its current form, the Earth Liberation Front is a transnational, decentralized network of clandestine, autonomous, cells that utilize illegal methods of protest by sabotaging and vandalizing property. The small unit cells are self-contained entities that can operate without the support of external entities such as financiers or weapons procurers. Tactical and operational knowledge is developed and shared through commercially available books written by the broader environmental movement throughout the last four decades, as well as inter-movement publications produced by the cells and distributed through numerous sympathetic websites. Membership can be understood as occurring on two levels, the covert cell level and the public support level, both of which operate in tandem to produce and publicize acts of property destruction. At the cell level, individuals conduct pre-operational reconnaissance and surveillance, develop and construct weapons systems, carry out orchestrated attacks, and announce their actions to support groups and media while maintaining internal security and anonymity. At the aboveground level, support entities help to publicize attacks carried out by cells, respond to media inquiries and other public engagements, identify and coordinate aid to imprisoned cell members, and develop and distribute sympathetic propaganda produced by, and in support of affiliated individuals. This case study uses the history of the Earth Liberation Front’s United States attacks as its unit of analysis, and seeks to outline the ideology, structure, context and membership factors that constitute the movement.

The second project is more to my liking in that it seeks to apply theory to these movement, not simply a descriptive account and interpretation.  The second paper sent of to the presses today is entitled  “Under the Blade of the Eco-Guillotine: The “Green Scare” as Monarchical Power.” and will appear as part of the  Environmental Humanities Series.  The paper was presnted as a talk at Under Western Skies 2. held at Mount Royal University in 2012.  Robert Boschman and Mario Trono, along with Wilfrid Laurier University Press, are putting together some of these papers for a book and so I had the opportunity to write an origional paper from the ideas I began exploring in the talk.  I drew from my love of critical/post-structuralist theory and used the work of Michael Foucault to examine the Green Scare and the statecraft of repression in general.  This chapter is 1/3 of a larger paper I wrote which applies this Foucaultian Green Scare model to Monarchial, Panopticonal and other forms of diciplinary power.  The final third of the study adopts the framework of a iciplinary socaiety to analyze and inerpet the State’s use of sexual infiltration.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The chaapter to be published frames this larger discussion within the rhetoric of terorism where it origionaltes. The chapter abstract at present reads:

This paper explores the relationship between economic sabotage, State capitalism, the “Green Scare,” and public forms of political repression. Through a quantitative analysis of direct action activism highlighting the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front, the larger discourse surrounding mechanisms of social change and their impact on State power and capitalist accumulation will be examined. The analyses examines the earth and animal liberation movements, utilizing a Marxist-anarchist lens to illustrate how these non-State actors provide powerful critiques of capital and the State. Specifically, the discussion examines how State-sanctioned violence against these movements represents a return to Foucaultian Monarchical power.   A quantitative history will be used to argue that the movements’ actions fail to qualify as “terrorism” and to examine the performance of power between the radical left and the State. State repression represents not only the capitalist allegiances between government and industry, but also a sense of capital desperation hoping to counter an activist movement that has produced demonstrable victories by the means of bankrupting and isolating corporations.  The government is taking such unconstitutional measures as a ‘talk back’ between the revolutionary potential of these movements’ ideology as well as the challenge they present to State capitalism.  

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


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