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Journalism Studies | Mass Communication | Rhetoric


What does the term “terrorism” mean? Is it accurate to lump illegal acts that destroy property but carefully avoid harming people into the same category as acts clearly intended to kill? Is this a difference of kind or just of degree? While we (the authors) don't generally endorse the destruction of property as a method of generating social change, we believe that the destruction of property is fundamentally different from the intentional killing of people; therefore, to label acts of obstruction, trespassing, vandalism, sabotage, or arson as “terrorism” is inaccurate and has the potential to damage one's understanding of real acts of terrorism, thereby reducing the potency of the term.

We started this project with a hunch. In recent years, we have observed frequent use of the term “eco-terrorism,” in the news media and in conversations, in reference to the acts of environmentalists. Our observations were anecdotal, and we wanted to be sure they were accurate. We found no literature analyzing cultural acceptance of the term “eco-terrorism”; therefore, before embarking on an ethical analysis of this phenomenon, we set out to confirm our casual observation that the term was widely used in the United States.

We conducted an analysis of the use of the term in US newspapers across a period of nearly 11 years. Our analysis indicates broad acceptance of the term among both journalists and their sources, making it all the more important to understand both the history and the implications of labeling obstruction, trespassing, vandalism, sabotage, and arson as “eco-terrorism.”

Document Type

Accepted Version


This article is the author-created version that incorporates referee comments. It is the accepted-for-publication version. The content of this version may be identical to the published version (the version of record) save for value-added elements provided by the publisher (e.g., copy editing, layout changes, or branding consistent with the rest of the publication).


This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, volume 20, issue 3, pages 1-22, 2013, is available online at: doi:10.1093/isle/ist086.

Original Citation

David Thomas Sumner and Lisa M. Weidman
Eco-terrorism or eco-tage: an argument for the proper frame.
ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, 2013, volume 20, issue 3, pages 1-22



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