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Political protests and political violence are not rare in the world nowadays. Various groups and organizations protesting against the current state of things in the economical, social, or political arena of their areas or the world, in general, occur in different countries every day. The story of Daniel McGowan is a detailed demonstration of what happens within various protesting organizations during their working process.
Earth Liberation Front (ELF) Daniel McGowan used to be a part of was a very active organization involved in multiple environmental protests on the territory of the United States of America concerning the government’s treatment of the country’s ecology, flora, and fauna. Peaceful protests and strikes used to bring public and political attention to various subjects were mainly ineffective or took too long to achieve any success.
Besides, active protesting tactics such as blocking various geographical objects of buildings often caused violent reactions from the side of the police and security workers and resulted in aggressive and painful confrontations where the unarmed protestors were victimized and badly hurt for following their principles and attempting to move their point across. Logically, some of the members of the Earth Liberation Front lost their temper and decided to turn to more effective measures of protest. Since the members of the movement were unprofessional, judgmental, and subjective, they tended to choose their target facilities relying on rumor or old data (Katonafull, 2014).
This is how they ended up burning down the buildings that had nothing to do with environmental damage. Besides, the lack of control or clear leadership in the organization combined with its active encouragement of the society to join their protests resulted in the occurrence of various uncontrolled and non-democratic branches of ELF working through private property attacks and arsons. The behavior of such groups remains unregulated and this is why no guarantee that ELF members will not harm humans or other living beings can be given.
I agree that the anonymity of the Earth Liberation Front enforces anarchy and the absence of the inner structure of the organization. As a result, small uncontrolled groups of individuals such as the one Daniel McGowan belonged to tend to separate from the organization and work according to their own policy and judgment. Such small groups of people normally consist of individuals sharing ways of thinking and ideas.
It is only natural for people to become aggressive after witnessing cruelty towards nature or animals. The desire to take revenge or punish the people that are viewed as perpetrators of violence and cruelty often takes over good intentions and logical thinking of such groups of individuals and they start taking action based on a lot of ruination which is perceived by the government as domestic terrorism.
Social movements start dividing into various aggressive groups of individuals pursuing slightly different goals or working towards the initial goals by means of terrorism in cases when an organization unites many goal-oriented people that become very passionate about certain beliefs and ideas and then the organization cannot work out a strategy or tactic leading to conflict resolution or goal achievement. As a result, all the passionate and energetic participants of the protests spend years trying to draw the public and political attention to some subjects, protect and preserve some areas, save some people or animals, and experience failure after failure.
The government and the police, armed with pepper spray, rubber bullets, shields, and all kinds of other instruments to get rid of protesting crowds of unarmed people, always win. Being defeated by the protestors often means going to jail for a short amount of time, being arrested, and physically hurt in many ways. Such incidents make passionate protest participants angrier, more aggressive, and more impatient about achieving their goals and finally making things the way they want them to be, making government listen and hear them. The more the protesters lose, the more powerless they start to feel, and depowered communities and social groups are the easiest to provoke into aggressive behaviors.
Some of the experts researching social movements and the dynamics within the state that the individuals involved in participation in various protests tend to turn to aggressive measures once they feel like all other ways of interaction with the government are exhausted or ineffective. Besides, violent social protests are not rare in the world nowadays, so society is aware that they are much more efficient than spending years gathering crowds, arranging public hunger strikes, and shouting out slogans in the streets. This is why some organizations such as anarchist groups tend to work through the application of black bloc tactics and then gradually switch to open violence, disorders, and riots.
Groups such as the Earth Liberation Front are organized according to the principle of leaderless resistance that rejects the traditional organizational structure with the leader at the top and the executors at the bottom. Instead, leaderless resistance consists of individual blocks and groups of people acting on their own, without answering to any kind of superiors (Joosse, 2007). Such an approach is the best way to prevent governmental infiltration of the organization and entrapment.
The complete absence of central headquarters provides flexibility and invisibility for the organization. Leaderless resistance groups recruit new participants by means of such tactics are polarization, consciousness-raising, and collective empowerment (Hirsch, 1990). They address the masses through these techniques during the public protests, through various motivational speeches and promotional actions. In order to accept new agents, such organizations require the people to have the deep motivation and be very devoted to their ideas because the work of such organizations is mainly based on people’s intentional sacrifice of personal goods and profits for the sake of some goals.
All of these tactics are currently successfully employed by multiple terrorist organizations all around the world. For example, al Qaeda effectively uses polarization based on framing and propaganda to create an idea demonizing the United States and its influences on the Middle Eastern world (Libicki et al., 2007). As a result, many new participants of terrorist movements of the Middle East are motivated to sacrifice everything including their own lives to save their countries from the perceived enemies.
Activists of social movements such as the Earth Liberation Front sincerely believe that they are doing a lot of good for nature, saving it through burning down harmful facilities. Terrorists also are convinced that their opposition is an ultimate enemy and that they are doing a great deed putting their lives to save their country and prevent the penetration of the demonized enemy there.
The success of recruitment mainly depends on the ideology and its strength within the groups of a leaderless organization. In order to maintain a strong ideology and recruit only devoted individuals that can be in use, the organization needs to address people that are apt to become good members of the movement.
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Social portraits of such individuals should include some social connections and interactions, sharing of the basic ideas of the organization, desire and ability to take the initiative, passion, and devotion to the group and its interests. Daniel McGowan is a person of that kind, a motivational film about pollution of the planet affected him so deeply that he started to recycle every single piece of trash, constantly caring about the harmful influences he can cause to the environment.
Leaderless resistance is definitely one of the most effective methods of multidirectional confrontation, but this method is only effective and works in the best way possible under the circumstances of a total absence of control and leadership of any kind. The absence of leadership provides ultimate invisibility for the members of the movement. Besides, it makes the actions of the agents of the organization absolutely unpredictable and unexpected, which helps them maintain their practice for years without being caught.
In the case of Daniel McGowan, he and his crime partners were found and arrested only because Jacob Ferguson decided to co-operate with the investigators and inform them about all the plans and members of his movement he knew about. Without Ferguson’s co-operation, the group members would have remained unknown and would have never challenged to answer for their actions that had openly criminal and destructive character. This shows the effectiveness of the leaderless resistance that motivates and enforces separate groups of people driven by the basic ideology to occur and act according to their personal judgment punishing persons they perceive as enemies.
Joosse, P. (2007). Leaderless Resistance and Ideological Inclusion: The Case of the Earth Liberation Front. Terrorism and Political Violence, 19, 351-368.
Hirsch, E. L. (1990) Sacrifice for the Cause: Group Processes, Recruitment, and Commitment in a Student Social Movement. American Sociological Review, 55(2), 243-254.
Katonafull. (2014). If a Tree Falls (Ha egy fa kidől teljes film) A story of the Earth Liberation Front. Web.
Libicki, M., Chalk, P. & Sisson, M. (2007) Exploring Terrorist Targeting Preferences. Santa Monica, California: RAND Corporation.