Pet(a) abuse

"Greenscammers" lend new urgency to the term "environmental protection."


Todd Woody
January 31, 1997 1:00AM (UTC)

Like other public interest groups, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has turned to the World Wide Web to get its message out to the masses. So the animal rights organization long known by its acronym, PETA, was none too amused to find People Eating Tasty Animals proselytizing at www.peta.org.

Billed as "a resource for those who enjoy eating meat, wearing fur and leather, hunting and the fruits of scientific research," the carnivorous PETA site offers dozens of links sure to raise the hackles of any critter lover. Among them, Cattlemen on The Web, Fur Online and Putting People First.

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The real PETA is but the latest victim of "greenscamming," a practice perpetuated by anti-environmentalist groups -- or pranksters -- who assume the identities of environmental organizations that neglect to incorporate, keep their state charters current or reserve Internet domain names.

"It really created havoc," says Laird Lucas, an attorney for one greenscammed ecology group, the Committee for Idaho's High Desert (CIHD). "The people at government agencies would ask, 'Which group are you with, the cowboys or the environmentalists?' No one knew who was speaking for the group anymore."

The Idaho group's problems began in 1993 during an endangered species fight over the Bruneau snail.

Rancher Ted Hoffman and two farm bureau friends, who had been battling CIHD in federal court, noticed one day that the Boise environmentalists had let their state charter lapse. Within hours, Hoffman and company incorporated their own group. Its name: the Committee for Idaho's High Desert.

Hoffman quickly moved to disqualify the real CIHD from the snail suit, arguing that the environmentalists had lost their right to sue. Soon he was showing up at public hearings, identifying himself as the president of CIHD and supporting a plan to convert public lands into an Air Force bombing range.

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Meanwhile, up in Wyoming, local greens nearly choked on their coffee one morning when they opened the newspaper to find a full-page ad from "Friends of the Bow," a Laramie group that fights timber harvesting in the Medicine Bow National Forest, advocating clear-cutting.

They, too, had been greenscammed by officials from Wyoming farm, ranch and mining organizations who had plunked down $10 and incorporated as "Friends of the Bow." The group's name began appearing on pro-property-rights pamphlets, alongside such groups as the Petroleum Association of Wyoming and the AMAX Coal company. At a government hearing, the fake Friends of the Bow campaigned against the reintroduction of the gray wolf to the Rockies.

Donations dropped and chaos reigned at the original "Friends," recalls Leila Stanfield, a co-founder of the environmental group. "They basically shut you up. We have had to re-establish our identity."

The eco-rustlers' days may be numbered, however. Last August, a federal appellate court in San Francisco ruled that the Idaho Wise Use group deliberately appropriated CIHD's name to "cause confusion" and "obstruct pursuit of its environmental agenda." The court gave CIHD its name back and attorneys' fees to boot. The Wise Users, including a farm bureau executive now working for Idaho Gov. Philip Batt, subsequently settled with the environmentalists for $45,000.

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Friends of the Bow is contemplating a similar suit against the Wyoming impostors.

Meanwhile, PETA vs. PETA continues to rage on the Internet.

"This site is not a 'front for the meat industry!'" proclaims People Eating Tasty Animals creator Mike Doughney, whose intentions may be more satirical than destructive. But that hasn't mollified People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The group has filed a complaint with InterNIC, the domain name arbitrator, and Doughney's use of peta.org is on hold until the dispute is resolved.

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Some of the less restrained PETA partisans have engaged in a nasty flame war with Doughney.

As one friend of the furry wrote, "Be prepared for enemies, asshole."


Quote of the day

ER in the UK

"For many years the health system has been the envy of the world. In the United States, if you fall over, they frisk you for your Blue Cross card before they take you to hospital, but here, everybody gets treated, even the scruffiest drunk."

-- Dr. John Thurston, director of the accident and emergency department at Queen Mary's Hospital in Roehampton, London, on the growing crisis in Britain's nationalized health-care system. (From "For British Health System, Bleak Prognosis," in Thursday's New York Times.)


Todd Woody

Todd Woody is a regular contributor to Salon. He is a senior writer at The Recorder, a San Francisco legal daily, where a different version of this story first appeared.

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