Environmental Extremists

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This is a partial transcript from Hannity & Colmes, August, 26 2003 that has been edited for clarity.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: So are radical environmentalists (search) who vandalize SUV's actually hurting their cause?

The Earth Liberation Front (search) is now taking credit for striking three car dealerships in California last Friday. They set fire and caused about $1 million in damage to one Chevrolet dealership that sold Hummers and SUV's. They say they wanted to take the profit motive away from those causing pollution.

Joining us now in Gainesville, Florida, Bron Taylor, professor of Religion and Environmental Ethics at the University of Florida. Sir, I want to know whether or not you support what these radicals have done here? Do you support them? Will you condemn them?

BRON TAYLOR, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: I think before I tell you what I think about these groups, you need to understand where they're coming from and what's motivating them. It's not a simple yes or no answer to that.

HANNITY: Wait a minute, wait a minute. I don't mind if you want to go into that. But this is a simple yes or no question, with all due respect to you. I think our audience needs to know.

TAYLOR: I'm not sure why it needs to be up front, but I'm happy to tell you...

HANNITY: These people attacked somebody else's property.

TAYLOR: Right.

HANNITY: They are terrorists. They bombed a car dealership and put it on fire. And took credit for it. And my question to you, do you support that or not? Yes or no? That's a yes or no question.

TAYLOR: I do not support…Well, this is not a court of law and you're not a prosecutor, I hope. But I do not support tactics, illegal tactics that risk life and limb and threaten great bodily harm and I count arson as something that does that. Now, if we can move forward to try to understand where these...

HANNITY: Because you told one of our producers something else. Did you not say earlier today that I can't really say yes or no?

TAYLOR: No, I said that I would rather come to your show as an analyst of these movements. I've been studying them for 15 years and I would like to try to illuminate where they're coming from for the audience.

HANNITY: Go right ahead.

TAYLOR: Understand more about where these folks are coming from.

HANNITY: But I'll let you say uninterrupted, but I want our audience to be aware of something. It's going to sound like, I'm suspecting here, and you go ahead, that you're rationalizing terror. Because this is terrorism, and you ought to condemn it. And there is no justification for what they did. But you take the floor.

TAYLOR: Well, I'm certainly not going to justify or rationalize terrorism.

What I would like to do is to talk about where these people are coming from and what's motivating them and what their strategies are like. And I think I can do that in a short manner.

First these folks are motivated by a philosophy that all life is valuable and has the right to flourish here on earth.

The second major point they're trying to get across is that humans are precipitating an extinction crisis, and obviously if they are, then there's a big gap between what ought to be, namely the flourishing of all species, and what is.

And the third part that leads to the radical tactics is a judgment that politics as usual is not going to be able to arrest that extinction crisis, and that's a political analysis that they use to try to justify their tactic and say that illegal tactics are justifiable.

ALAN COLMESM, CO-HOST: I understand your position. You're not endorsing it. I condemn it. I think it's horrible. As an ethicist, you certainly must condemn it. I mean, there's certainly a lack of ethics when you take other people's property and destroy it in whatever cause you're espousing, isn't there?

TAYLOR: I think as an ethicist, what I try to do is look at difficult moral choices and often times there are lots of different dimensions to them.

COLMES: But isn't this the worse choice? To go after somebody's personal property and cause millions of dollars of damage to get your point across?

TAYLOR: Again, one of the reasons I went to study these groups is often times outsider voices, even when we disapprove of the tactics that they employ, they sometimes have important ethical insights that the mass society, or the mainstream society should consider. That was certainly the case in the civil rights (search) era.

In this case, if we look at the reverence for life ethic that animates most of these people and their ecological analysis, which by and large is backed up by credible and indeed consensus environmental silence, then you see that there's more to it than just the tactic itself if you're going to evaluate...

HANNITY: There's no important ethical insight from these moron terrorist. None. We can't learn anything from morons like this.

COLMES: I just want to be clear here; you say that they have reverence for life, these eco-terrorists. But yet what they did in San Diego, they had a banner saying, "If you build it, we'll burn it." And didn't they burn down some construction, and there were some 3 construction workers sleeping on the San Diego site.

So by burning things down, don't they risk killing people?

TAYLOR: Well, I think there very well could be some consistency problems here, and I think that's one reason arson is not a tactic and it's inconsistent with what we might call the best moral intuitions of some of these folks.

COLMES: They're cowards. They won't identify themselves. They're a loosely knit group. There's no umbrella organization, there's no phone number, not a…nobody you can talk to. Nobody will come out and say I did this. Nobody will say we'll take personal responsibility.

TAYLOR: Right. Well, these folks, generally speaking, have despaired of the political process, and they look at resource regimes in the United States and they find a lot of corruption.

In deed, they can cite you any number of cases where the federal government and timber industries, for example, have been found to be acting illegally.

So if we want to have enforceable laws of all sorts, they need to be seen as legitimate.

HANNITY: Hey, Bron.

TAYLOR: I'm actually somebody who loves the law, and thinks…I'm a former peace officer. I think we want enforceable, just, environmental law, as well as penal law.

HANNITY: Hey, Bron, you mentioned they have important ethical insights. Reverence of life, they look at different moral choices.

You know something, Bron with all due respect, they're terrorists. They're extremists, they're criminals. They don't respect life, and frankly, they put other people's lives in jeopardy and they don't respect their property. They don't have any insight into anything except their own political selfishness.

TAYLOR: You know, whether it's people on the left or right, I'm often saying to people, you know, it just isn't that simple. If we look at the term terrorism, I would personally rather reserve that term for people who intend to kill or maim...

HANNITY: Ron, if you burn SUV's because the environment, you're a terrorist. It's that simple. You don't respect life, you don't respect other people's property. You're a criminal.

TAYLOR: I encourage us…I would urge us to not engage in rhetoric inflation because that only…that can lead to more environment-related conflict in my judgment.

COLMES: Mr. Taylor, we're out of time. We thank you for your time tonight.

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