Truth about Trade?

The recent high-profile anti-WTO and anti-World Bank/IMF demonstrations in Seattle and Washington, D.C. have stimulated a flurry of anti-environmental, eco-extremist-baiting that is targeting environmental groups and especially key funders.

The most excessive comments have come from David Horowitz, former lefty turned right-winger and head of the conservative Center for the Study of Popular Culture. Following the Seattle demonstrations, he played the "red menace" card, telling Fox News that "these people [Seattle demonstrators] are communists who have obviously been sleepwalking through the twentieth century."

In addition to fanciful red-baiting have come denunciations cloaked in quasi-journalistic garb.

Truth about Trade, a Des Moines, Iowa-based organization, recently released "Who Props Up the Protesters" <www.truthabouttrade.com/TruthResearch.asp>, a 342-page report which provides readers with "an outline of the history, goals, financial strength and level of activism for each of the groups listed in the Turning Point Project's recent New York Times full-page advertisement on global warming and organizations involved in the anti-trade protests in Seattle."

Truth about Trade warns that opposition to global trade deals is helping forge a coalition of the "more established and larger environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Earth Island Institute and the Suzuki Foundation that have a very broad issue agenda," and smaller single issue groups like Rainforest Action Network, RESTORE, Forest Guardians, Ozone Action and Project Underground.

"Empowered by a sympathetic Clinton administration and a zealous Environmental Protection Agency, these groups are becoming more bold in their activism," Truth about Trade claims. The group's report contains short profiles of more than 50 "environmental groups actively opposing trade," and the "foundations funding environmental anti-trade activities," including the Ruckus Society, Direct Action Network, Earth Island Institute, Friends of the Earth, Global Exchange and National Wildlife Federation. The book also notes if and details how a profiled group participated in the Seattle protests.

The thrust of the report seems to be to spotlight "grantmakers [which] are funneling large sums of money to environmental groups." Among the foundations highlighted are the Bullitt Foundation, HKH Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Pew Charitable Trust, Rockefeller Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, Turner Foundation, W. Alton Jones Foundation and C.S. Mott Foundation.

In its profile of the Berkeley, California-based Ruckus Society, Truth about Trade claims that Ruckus uses its trainings on non-violent civil disobedience as a cover for its real agenda: "violent lawbreaking [by] leaders [who] are no stranger to violence themselves, [and who] might actually have expected the vandalism by the anarchist members of their protest." The report emphasizes the Turner Foundation's support for the group.

(Ruckus, the subject of numerous newspaper feature stories and television pieces in the swirl of interest surrounding the Seattle and Washington, D.C. protests, is becoming a favorite target of the right. Environment & Climate News, published by the conservative Heartland Institute, opines that "when it comes to orchestrating events, such as the riots in Seattle and Washington, much of the heavy lifting is done by the Ruckus Society." In the June 19 edition of the John Birch Society's The New American magazine, senior editor William F. Jasper takes this charge one step farther, linking Ruckus leaders to Greenpeace, which is then linked to the Baader-Meinhoff gang, "a Marxist-Leninist terrorist group based in West Germany," the Dutch Communist Party and finally to spying for the Soviet Union.)

Other sections of the Truth about Trade report examine: foundation grants to environmental groups actively opposing trade; total environmental giving, listed by foundation; government grants to environmental groups; a collection of articles on "the protest-turned riot in Seattle, Washington during the recent WTO meeting;" and a "junk science primer & resources."

Other conservative enterprises are focusing on foundations because they believe that these institutions are providing the lifeblood for the environmental movement.

The Washington, D.C.-based Capital Research Center is one of the rising stars in the crowded universe of right-wing think tanks.

Established in 1984, the Capital Research Center, through its seven periodicals, reports on how "those organizations with tax-exempt, tax-deductible [donations] -- and sometimes tax dollars -- mix advocacy and 'direct action' to promote their own vision of the public interest."

The Center also looks at how closely individuals in the corporate and foundation sectors are sticking to the "donor intent" of the founders of these corporations and foundations.  

Many conservatives become apoplectic when they discover that a significant amount of money earmarked for environmental groups comes from foundations established by free-market entrepreneurs who had accumulated enormous wealth based on decidedly anti-environmental activities.

"The source of wealth for the Pew Trusts comes from energy exploration and development," Capital Research Center Executive Vice President Robert Huberty told the House of Representatives Resource Committee at a May hearing.

Complaining of Pew support for a forest protection campaign, he said that the original intent of the founders of the foundation was to "acquaint the American people [with] the evils of bureaucracy, the values of a free market and the paralyzing effects of government controls on the lives and activities of people."   

Frustrated, Huberty asked, "How do the Pew Trusts honor the intentions of their donor by supporting a campaign to permanently end logging in a large portion of the national forests?"

For now, at least, such questions and the concerted right-wing criticism of environmental funders seems to be having little effect.

-- Bill Berkowitz

Bill Berkowitz is the editor of CultureWatch <www.igc.org/culturewatch>, a monthly publication tracking the Religious Right and related conservative movements, published by the DataCenter in Oakland, California.