Clearly believing that the best defense is a good offense, logging
giant Boise Cascade and its right-wing allies have launched a coordinated
assault on Rainforest Action Network's
funding and reputation. RAN initiated a high-profile campaign last
fall to pressure Boise Cascade to stop logging old-growth forests
and to implement sustainable forest-management practices.
Although public opinion runs strongly against continued destruction
of the dwindling old-growth stands, Boise Cascade remains undeterred.
The company logs old-growth on public lands, and, according to RAN,
is one of the largest purchasers of old-growth timber from national
forests. Boise Cascade also was the leading industry opponent of
the Forest Service rule that
would have preserved 58.5 million acres of wilderness by banning
new road construction.
The anti-RAN campaign has included letters to the group's individual
donors from Boise Cascade that brand RAN as "reckless, lawless radical
activists lashing out against modern society." At the same time, Frontiers
of Freedom, a right-wing think tank founded by former U.S. Sen. Malcolm
Wallop (R-Wyoming), is attacking RAN's charitable tax status. And
an anti-RAN Web site (ranamuck.org)
published by Ron Arnold of the wise-use Center for the Defense of
Free Enterprise (CDFE), accuses the group of "pursuing an anti-capitalist
'social change' agenda to disempower every kind of business and industry
that supports the modern world."
Bonnie Rait and other protesters
are arrested at Boise Cascade's
Boise Cascade, Frontiers of Freedom and CDFE all accuse RAN of
having links to the Earth Liberation Front, a radical monkeywrenching
group. ELF claimed responsibility for burning down Boise Cascade's
Monmouth, Oregon office in December 1999. RAN, however, explicitly
disavows property destruction and violence. "We think it's a smear
campaign, pure and simple," says RAN campaign director Michael Brune.
"Boise Cascade is quite defensive and becoming desperate to defend
the status quo, so they need to resort to dirty tricks to discredit
Besides meeting with Boise Cascade executives, RAN's tactics have
included a public information campaign and nonviolent civil disobedience.
On March 29, a couple of RAN activists dropped a banner declaring
"Boise Cascade: An American Disgrace" across the street from the
corporation's Boise, Idaho headquarters. Supporters of RAN also
protested outside the Boise Cascade Office Products building in
the Chicago suburb of Itasca on July 25. Twenty people--including
singer Bonnie Raitt, activist Julia Butterfly Hill and former Doors
drummer John Densmore--were arrested for trespassing.
RAN's civil disobedience is cited in a June 18 letter from Frontiers
of Freedom director George Landrith to the Internal Revenue Service.
In an effort reminiscent of the Reagan-era "defund the left" campaign
and Richard Nixon's use of the IRS against his political enemies,
Frontiers of Freedom calls on the IRS to investigate RAN and revoke
its 501(c)3 nonprofit tax status. Under U.S. tax law, such nonprofits
are exempt from corporate income tax and eligible to solicit tax-deductible
contributions. In return, they accept strict limitations on legislative
lobbying and are prohibited from participating in elections.
"No one should think for a moment that this is anything other than
an attempt to put RAN out of business," says Jim Wheaton, founder
and senior counsel for First Amendment Project, which is providing
legal support to the group. He notes that loss of 501(c)3 status
would severely curtail RAN's ability to secure foundation grants.
A Frontiers of Freedom press release describes their RAN complaint
as a "test case." If successful, the strategy could be applied against
other "radical environmental groups that are skirting our nation's
tax laws." "It's really pretty simple," says Frontiers of Freedom
spokesman Jason Wright. "If you take taxpayer dollars, you ought
not to get involved in controversial issues."
Nonsense, says John Simon, who teaches nonprofit tax law at Yale
University: "Merely the fact that you are attacking the policies
of corporations or any other institutions in our society--government,
foundations, newspapers, whatever--is not a ground for disqualification."
Boise Cascade spokesman Michael Moser denies the company is part
of a coordinated offensive to shut down RAN, although he does acknowledge
that the company sent letters denouncing RAN to the group's funders.
If the IRS chooses to investigate the tax complaint, the process
is closed. RAN may only participate by responding to IRS requests
for information. RAN Executive Director Chris Hatch describes it
as "having a sword hanging over us for the indefinite future."
Still, Hatch says the anti-RAN campaign will not cause the group
to back off. "It has reinforced our commitment to civil disobedience
when it's appropriate," Hatch says. "Should there be civil disobedience,
and does the destruction of the forests warrant civil disobedience?
We quite openly say yes, and we support folks who want to