It’s a commonplace of the mainstream media that climate scientists and environmentalists are operating in a “climate of fear” under a barrage of death threats from hardline skeptics, determined to get their way using violence and intimidation. The fact that the threats mentioned turn out to be largely non-existent almost seems neither here nor there for the media. The story is never followed up. But the fact remains that there is a climate of fear. There is a campaign of terror being waged against scientists and technicians. The difference is that this campaign is being waged by environmental extremists and unlike the sceptic “campaign” it is very, very real.
Earlier this week, Roberto Adinolfi, the head of Ansaldo Nucleare an Italian nuclear engineering company, was shot in the leg by gunmen on a motorbike in a commando style “hit”. He was, in other words, literally kneecapped in the street. The Guardian reported:
A source told Reuters two people on a motorbike wearing helmets fired three shots, hitting Adinolfi in the leg. The bullet fractured his right knee.
The article notes that this style of attack is reminiscent of the tactics used by the Red Brigade, a left-wing guerilla movement active in the 1970s, but beyond that doesn’t have much to say about who might be responsible for this act of terrorism. However, other less visible news outlets were less coy:
GENOA, May 8 — Police believe the gunmen who wounded the head of a nuclear engineering company in Italy yesterday could be members of a radical Marxist-Leninist group or anarchists involved in eco-extremism, investigative sources said.
Local media said the attack could also be linked to Ansaldo Nucleare’s dealings in eastern Europe, where the company is selling its know-how on managing toxic waste after a national referendum rejected the use of nuclear power in Italy for the second time last year.
Nor is this at all unlikely. There is a substantial history in Italy of eco-extremist terrorism. As The Independent reported in 2010, when Italian police just managed to foil a terrorist bomb attack by environmental activists on a science facility:
On the night of 15 April  local officers pulled over a car on one of the town’s quiet streets. Inside the vehicle they found a large cache of explosives, primed and ready to detonate. The three people in the car are alleged to have been members of the murky Italian anarchist group Il Silvestre, who were reportedly on a mission to blow up the nearby unfinished £55m IBM nanotechnology facility.
The apparent attack is believed to be part of a new co-ordinated wave of eco-terror on the continent. The IBM site is due to be opened next year and will be the most advanced centre for nano- and biological scientific research in Europe. According to reports, the eco anarchists Il Silvestre are opposed to all forms of nanotechnology. The group was formed in Tuscany and is considered by some to be one of the rising “eco-terror” groups in Europe, with a rigid cell structure, access to explosives, and a membership that supposedly has no qualms about killing to achieve its goals.
Notice that the target is a scientific institution and is targeted for that very reason. The threat here was not imaginary. It wasn’t alluded to in emails, or the result of overheated discussion in internet chat rooms. It was real and it was vicious. This was a planned, deliberate attempt to blow up a scientific institution for which environmental activists with links to international environmental groups like the Earth Liberation Front have been found guilty in a court of law.
In the Americas, similar terrorist attacks by environmental extremists have been carried out, largely unreported in the English-speaking media. Letterbombs have been sent to the science departments of Mexican universities engaged in research into nanotechnology, a technology which has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of cancer and other illnesses. The report on the Earth First! website quotes the perpetrator’s communique arguing an environmental justification for the attacks on scientists:
But what’s wrong with creating solar energy through modified nanoparticles? some will say. ITS answer: When these modified viruses affect the way we develop as the result of a nanobacteriological war, by some laboratory error, or by the explosion of nanocontamination that compromises the air, food, transportation, water, in short, the entire world . . . It is logical we will continue with these acts, and other scientists and the rest of technoswillology [sic] must pay the consequences of their actions.
If there was any doubt remaining that the real danger to scientists and the public at large comes not from irked sceptics, but from eco-extremists, the FBI themselves have declared that eco-terrorism and animal rights activism are the “number one threat”. Nothing else, according to the FBI’s top man on domestic terrorism, compares to the threat posed by eco-extremism:
“The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement,” said John Lewis, an FBI deputy assistant director and top official in charge of domestic terrorism
There is nothing else going on in this country, over the last several years, that is racking up the high number of violent crimes and terrorist actions, arsons, etc, that this particular area of domestic terrorism has caused,” Lewis testified to a Senate committee earlier this year.
Lewis said that from January 1990 to June 2004, “animal and environmental rights extremists have claimed credit for more than 1,200 [attacks], resulting in millions of dollars of damages and monetary loss.
So the question “Is there a climate of fear? Is there a campaign of intimidation against scientists?” has one clear, unequivocal, unarguable answer: Yes, but it’s not coming from sceptics but from the fringes of the environmental movement. A handful of annoyed emails from global warming sceptics is not even comparable in scale or concern with the literally thousands of documented terrorist attacks by extreme environmental activists. Not that you’d know from reading the mainstream media.