Green is the New Red: Will Potter Hits the Mark

by Sasha

Out of the brilliant stores of City Lights Books has come a great piece of work that fills in all the blanks on the Green Scare. Pieced together with precision and care by diligent journalist, Will Potter, Green is the New Red reads like a novel, but hits hard.

Part narrative, part history, Potter’s book Green is the New Red (published 2011, and he runs an online blog by the same name) personalizes the data and historicizes the lived experience, collecting in one crunch “an insider’s account of a social movement under siege”.

When we read Green is the New Red, we are confronted immediately with the first problem of state repression: that is, why do we want to hear about it?

It is so completely depressing! But Potter brings the characters, many of them his personal friends, to life; he opens “the scene” to the casual reader, showing us that the Green Scare is not something that could happen, or something that is happening somewhere else to someone else; it is, instead, a near-invisible part of our everyday life. The Green Scare is something that permeates modern life, and if we do not understand its fundamental role as such, then we will understand neither ourselves, nor our crucial position in history. “Like the Red Scare, with its hysteria against ‘godless communists’ threatening the American capitalist way of life,” says Potter, “this Green Scare is a culture war, a war of values.”

Potter includes curiously few references to Craig Rosebraugh, former press officer of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and author of Burning Rage of a Dying Planet (BRDP), which distinguishes his own reporting from other accounts that have come before his. Another essential silent partner to Green is the New Red is Green Backlash (GB), written by Andrew Rowell and published in 1996 during the advent of the Warner Creek Free State. To its credit, GB analyzes the subtle, populist tactics used by the right wing to cloud the discourse around green issues and activists. While Potter picks up on this key history of the Wise Use movement in the 1980s and ’90s, noting the tactics of entrapment and defamation, he also ups the ante, extending his research into the evolution of FBI surveillance of activists, the advent of ALEC, and the criminalization of the environmental movement in more recent times. Although Green is the New Red does not bring a staggering amount of new historical data to the table, it relies on extensive primary source research to draw some of the most important elements of BRDY and GB together to conduct an accurate and concise investigation of the Green Scare’s past in terms of current developments and the future of the environmental movement.

However, Potter appears most comfortable outside of the historical archive, as he retells his own stories of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty protests and appearing before Congress to go on record as a warrior in the struggle against the Green Scare (specifically, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act). Much of Potter’s own personal experiences come out of the animal rights movement; however, Green is the New Red also delves into a deep and detailed retelling of the action and drama surrounding the Pacific Northwest ELF cell that faced the brunt of the Green Scare’s Operation Backfire in 2005. Describing the development of Communications Management Units, and the attempts of industry, the FBI and US Congress to silence environmental and animal rights activists, Potter’s own follow-up stories about Grand Juries and prison visitations bring color and life to the desperate stories of solitude and courage. One gets the idea from reading his work that Potter is a dedicated journalist with refined skills, but he is also a person of the kind of caring and compassion that jumps off the page and mingles with the spirit of the reader.

Finally, throughout Green is the New Red are sprinkled dazzling points of analytical clarity. We find how the security complex of the US has developed out of the Green Scare, as Potter tracks key Green Scare officials like Charles McKenna, who has gone from prosecution in the SHAC 7 case to head of New Jersey Homeland Security, where he maintains that “Jihad, Crips, extreme animal-rights activists, it’s all the same.” But Potter also tracks key concepts, showing how state repression hinges on the complicated subjectivity of innocence and guilt, wherein “the rhetoric of terrorism has been institutionalized within law enforcement and large segments of the public to the point that even if activists clearly are not responsible, they are still considered guilty.” Chillingly, this observation has appeared on the horizon of the repression of the Occupy movement through the attack on independent journalists, and the unwarranted detention and abuse of live streamers.

It is difficult to take away a conclusive strategic direction from Green is the New Red. Much like the environmental movement today, the book ultimately finds itself almost stale-mated with the system. Potter moves beyond the repression by taking credible positions, positing distinct perceptions, that dismantle the ideological structure of the Green Scare, but his style is particular, individualized, and analytical; readers won’t find a light at the end of the tunnel, a strategy to lead them out of the bonds of cruel repression, but they will find themselves in the midst of a significant realism at times visionary and prophetic, that will prove very useful in the planning and execution of actions in the future.

2 Responses to “Green is the New Red: Will Potter Hits the Mark”

  1. Ranko July 23, 2012 at 2:55 am #

    Green is the New Red is a must read. It’s hard to put this book down once you start. It’s very eye-opening. I can’t wait for Will’s next book.


  1. Earth First Journal Review: “significant realism at times visionary and prophetic” - July 22, 2012

    […] and publications I respect. The Earth First! Journal has a great review of the book, which you can read online. Here’s an excerpt from Sasha: [Potter] opens “the scene” to the casual reader, showing […]

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