We have heard a lot about “fake news” and “alternate facts” in recent months. The sense of relativism that is driving the ideological schism in the Western world has reached such a level that one must question whether media objectivity actually exists anymore. To point, Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2016 was “surreal,” defined as being “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.” And Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” as its word of the year, defined as “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
A “post-truth” environment is ideal for those who would manipulate a populace’s emotions for their own gain. This is the preferred public relations tactic many anti-forestry environmentalists use to further their agendas because, as we have noted, real data supports sustainably-managed working forests. But in this post-truth world, there is also a growing, concerted effort taking shape in many corners to push back and challenge those who have historically used a dishonest appeal to emotion to further their own causes in the public square.
Using emotional messaging within the bounds of free speech is one thing; it’s quite another to broadcast lies about a company or industry just because you don’t like what it does or how it operates. Radical environmental organizations like Greenpeace take this approach a step further by raising money through appeals based on lies and, as Greenpeace recently learned, it’s a tough lesson when the shoe is on the other foot.
Greenpeace Declares War
As Suz-Anne Kinney noted in a comprehensive backstory on this subject in 2013, Greenpeace unfairly targeted Quebec-based Resolute Forest Products in a campaign designed to publicly shame the company and harass its customers while the environmental group filled its own coffers with donations to its “Forest Defense Fund.” In short, Greenpeace claimed that Resolute was logging in areas that were off limits in the Canadian boreal forests, was displacing endangered animals and indigenous peoples, and contributing to climate change.
While these accusations were false, the cumulative damage Greenpeace had inflicted on Resolute was profound; after an intimidation campaign, retail giant Best Buy dropped the company as its paper supplier. Based on these utter fabrications, Greenpeace estimated that it did CAD $100 million in damage to Resolute's bottom line by, as the suit alleges, aggressively targeting “Resolute’s customers with extortive threats and other illegal conduct.”
Not only was this an assault on Resolute and its customers, but it was also an assault on the forest products industry as a whole, its employees and families, and the communities that serve the forest industry. And this coalition wasn’t having any more of it; union workers and government officials from the forest region have since pushed back against Greenpeace and other organizations that have traditionally made outlandish, false claims against the industry. Roger Sigouin, the mayor of Hearst, Ontario, told Greenpeace that if its misinformation campaign is successful, “the aftermath will be whole communities dying and I can tell you right now, that’s irresponsible and we will not stand for that.”
The Tables Turn
In 2013, Greenpeace apologized for falsely accusing Resolute of logging on a caribou habitat in Quebec, but much of the damage to Resolute’s reputation was already done. The company pushed back and swiftly filed a $7-million lawsuit against Greenpeace Canada in Ontario. The suit (which is still before the courts) alleges that Greenpeace purposefully slandered the company by publishing false and misleading information. (It is worth noting that the Canadian government does not recognize Greenpeace as a tax-exempt charitable organization because its activities “have no public benefit.”)
For environmental groups like Greenpeace, shaping public opinion is the only way to win. When Resolute turned the tables and sued Greenpeace—calling the organization a “global fraud” that has “duped” donors while “maximizing donations, not saving the environment”—Greenpeace reacted not with facts, but with yet another emotional appeal.
In response to the filings, Greenpeace continues to argue that the case is ultimately about defamation and constitutionally-protected free speech, and should be thrown out of court. It warned other activist organizations that they could also be sued, claiming the suit was an attack on their own “free speech.” Greenpeace even printed a full-page ad in the New York Times which read, “Free speech is not a crime.”
But the First Amendment in the US protects free speech, not slander. Last May, Resolute also sued Greenpeace in the US District Court for Southern Georgia under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). While the Act’s original use in the 1970s was to prosecute organized crime syndicates, its later application has been more widespread. (Beginning in 1972, 33 states adopted RICO laws to prosecute similar conduct.) The suit names Greenpeace, a separate environmental group (STAND) and a number of associates of the organizations. Both the criminal and civil components of a RICO suit allow for the recovery of treble damages, which could be devastating for the environmental groups.
As for the venue for the RICO suit (Georgia), section 50 in the Preliminary Statement of the Complaint provides further background:
“The Greenpeace Enterprise’s campaign against Resolute has entailed significant contacts with and effects in the State of Georgia where Resolute operates a newsprint mill and where numerous Resolute customers are located. As set forth in detail below (see infra § C), in furtherance of the criminal scheme against Resolute, the Greenpeace Enterprise disseminated false and misleading statements about Resolute to key Resolute customers located in Georgia via email and telephone communications. The Greenpeace Enterprise has also employed on-the-ground tactics in Georgia aimed at harming Resolute’s relationships with key constituents, including traveling to Augusta, Georgia in May 2015 to disseminate the Greenpeace Enterprise’s lies to shareholders, customers, journalists, and others at the Resolute annual meeting via direct communications and broadcasts outside the event. These wrongful acts have caused Resolute to suffer substantial damages in Georgia, including lost customers, lost revenues, cutbacks and layoffs at Resolute’s Augusta facility.”
Despite Resolute’s numerous awards for upholding environmental transparency and responding to environmentalists’ concerns, Greenpeace maintains that its campaign against Resolute is a free-speech, fact-based issue. The organization says on its website that “Greenpeace stands by its campaign as accurate and truthful and defends its campaign as fair comment based on true facts concerning important matters of public interest: the environmental, social and economic impact of Canada’s largest forestry company operating in the Boreal forest.”
That said, Resolute has set a new standard for corporations that are unfairly on the receiving end of this type of bullying, especially forest products companies—and the forest products industry in general—that advocate for sustainable forest management.
Infographic Source: Resolute Forest Products
Resolute notes that the company “has planted well over a billion trees in the Boreal—which is a billion more than Greenpeace—and is responsible for virtually no permanent lost forest acreage. The complaint also demonstrates that Resolute also has not impaired the Boreal’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases, and, instead, has improved that ability through harvesting and forestation as recognized and encouraged by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Nor has Resolute abandoned, exploited or impoverished First Nations or other communities within the Boreal forest, but instead—and again unlike Greenpeace—has created and sustained substantial benefits for these peoples through shared economic participation in the forestry business.”
Should the Georgia court find that Greenpeace is indeed guilty under the RICO Act, it would go a long way in setting a valuable precedent to protect the forest industry, its trade unions and employees and the many communities that are dependent on forest resources for jobs. Even in a surreal environment, organizations like Greenpeace should be held accountable for their dishonest tactics that ultimately hurt the forest industry and these communities.
Detailed information about the suit is available at http://www.resolutevgreenpeace.com/