Delegitimizing Animal Rights And Environmental Activism: A Critical Discourse Analysis Of “Eco-Terrorism” In Congress And The Federal Courts

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

First Advisor

Emily Hauptmann, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jacinda Swanson, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Denise Keele, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Vincent Lyon-Callo, Ph.D.


Animal rights, congress, critical discourse analysis, eco-terrorism, federal courts, terrorism


Research on eco-terrorism has focused attention on many areas, from the analysis of the language used in specific pieces of legislation targeting animal rights and environmental activists, like the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, and the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, to the appropriateness of labeling individuals and groups eco-terrorist and/or terrorist given their non-violent stance and direct action campaigns which target property not people, and to law enforcement responses to those labeled eco-terrorist (Del Gandio and Nocella II 2014; Lovitz 2007; Carson, LaFree, and Dugan 2012; Loadenthal 2013b, 2014). The eco-terrorist discourse produces images of animal rights and environmental activists as barbaric, irrational, and a civilizational threat. The discourse also reproduces and legitimizes corporate social positions, while also insulating multinational corporations involved in resource extraction and animal use industries from scrutiny. The eco-terrorist discourse provides justification for targeted legislation and prosecution of activists as terrorists in federal trials. All discourse inherently defines and demarcates social reality, constructing an identity for both those inside the boundaries of the discourse and those who lie outside. Critical Discourse Analysis concerns itself largely with a social theory basis of “knowledge” production, describing the shared production of knowledge by varied social actors embedded in social orders of knowledge. By employing a Critical Discourse Analysis approach to the discourse of “eco-terrorism” in Congressional hearings and federal trials, I demonstrate that the discourse of eco-terrorism controls and regulates dissent through a process of demonization and delegitimization so that any discussion of the justification of the actions taken by those labeled as “eco-terrorists” is closed off. Animal rights and environmental activists, who are often so labeled, target multinational corporations involved in factory farms, bio-medical research, and natural resource extraction. They justify their targeting based on moral and ethical duties to non-harm and non-violence, and to ending systemic structures of exploitation and marginalization on behalf of both human and non-human animals. The discourse of “eco-terrorism” reinforces images of corporate actors as essential to both economic and civilizational progress.

My analysis of the eco-terrorist discourse reveals why the federal government understands avowed anti-violence animal rights and environmental activists to be dangerous domestic terrorist threats, demonstrating that the eco-terrorist discourse is based on protecting corporations as a national security interest, as essential to civilization and individual freedom. Eco-terrorist legislation diminishes democratic values which promote vigorous debate, discussion, and deliberation by shielding corporate behavior by making protests, activism, and civil disobedience based on animal rights and environmentalism illegal. The effect is to silence activists so as to insulate corporate actors from scrutiny, ensuring that they cannot be held responsible for behaviors that activists describe as environmentally destructive as well as exploitative and dangerous to both non-human animals and humans. As such, the eco-terrorist discourse provides both space for and justification of legislation targeting eco- terrorists, and law enforcement scrutiny, making prosecution in federal trials possible and acts to limit the space of public and democratic deliberation by limiting the ability of citizens and activists to monitor, report on, and hold corporations responsible for both harmful and illegal behavior.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

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