I reviewed Will Potter’s Green Is The New Red—a book not about fashion, but perceived terrorism as the new communism kind of fear-inducing threat—for an environmental publication around 12 months ago.
At the time, although the Queensland government was reaping horrors, the federal changeover was yet to happen.
The dystopian American society Potter describes in his book in which activists rather than factory farmers perpetrating stomach-churning cruelty were punished was, though increasingly something I could almost imagine, wasn’t something I could entirely grasp.
Fast forward a year and with a federal government happily condemning the Barrier Reef and the Tasmanian national heritage old-growth forests and just about everything in between to certain death and, well, let’s just say that dystopian near-reality has become an uncanny, terrifyingly realistic one to which I can relate.
Potter was just in Australia courtesy of Voiceless, giving talks about the terrifying US-proposed ag-gag laws his book documents (hence the re-piquing of my interest in his book). Those laws essentially prosecute not those who perpetrate shocking cruelty on animals in factory farm or abattoir settings, but those who expose it. Say, for example, if you or I were to film someone beating a dog to death in a puppy farm, we—rather than the puppy farm—could see ourselves up on charges.
It would be easy to mistake Green Is The New Red for a conspiracy-theory manifesto (as I did) or fashion bible (as my friend did), but that’s to do it a disservice. Though left leaning, former Chicago Tribune reporter Potter is far from off-the-grid radical, and he approaches the book with investigative objectivity and vigour.
Potter is reportedly being monitored by the US Counter-Terrorism unit and is, simultaneously (and somewhat cognitive dissonancely), a 2014 TED Fellow. It’s that tension and head-scratching puzzlement that makes him and his book intriguing.
Potter’s motivation is getting to the fact-based heart of a matter. It just happens that the facts don’t show agriculturalists, their governing bodies, and those who make and implement policies to be behaving in a particularly ethical, conscionable way.
We enter Green Is The New Red mid-story, on the eve of environmental activist Daniel McGowan’s sentencing for ‘eco-terrorist’ crimes (and yes, I use those inverted commas deliberately). Potter then outlines his own brush with the law, having been paid a threat-filled visit and been added to a watch list by the FBI for—wait for it—handing out leaflets.
His thesis is laws are being wrangled for not good (ag-gag laws, anyone?) and largely non-violent activists are being rebranded and sullied through language use as ‘militants’, ‘extremists’, and ‘domestic terrorists’. Switch ‘terrorist’ for ‘communist’, ‘Green Scare’ for ‘Red Scare’, he writes, and you have post-9/11 terrorism laws being applied liberally and aggressively to silence environmental and animal activists.
The temptation with the things Potter outlines is to dismiss them as being only in America. The issue is they’re fast also in Australia—one of our own politicians said environmental activists were ‘akin to terrorists’. While the world despairs and expresses its dismay (and B Corporation Ben & Jerry’s takes one of its most popular, aquatic-themed ice creams off the shelf in protest), Queensland Premier Campbell Newman essentially signed the Barrier Reef’s death warrant by greenlighting destructive mining projects and declaring Queensland ‘open for [coal] business’.
Green Is The New Red contains contentious subject matter, yes, but it’s delivered in means that are straightforwardly readable and not without some gallows humour about smuggling files into prison via vegan cinnamon buns. During his Voiceless talk, Potter also showed a flawed anti-activist ad the opposition came up with that depicts an animal rights activists wearing a, er, leather jacket.
Potter’s dystopian present and its attendant legislative horrors might be a little much to take in—I know it was for me then and somewhat continues to be now—but it at the very least warrants further research.
He wrapped up his presentation with a quote I’m paraphrasing here but that has continued to stick with me: ‘The reason activists are a threat isn’t because they’re breaking windows. It’s because they’re creating them.’ With the Australian federal government handing down a big-business-wins-no-one-else-does budget last night, something tells me that quote will continue to come the fore.