Hell Is for Senators

Derrick Jensen

Before you can commit any mass atrocity, you must convince yourself and others that what you are doing is not in fact atrocious, but instead beneficial. You must have what Robert Jay Lifton called a “claim to virtue.” Thus the Nazis weren’t committing genocide and mass murder against Jews and others, but instead were “purifying the Aryan Race.” Whites in the United States haven’t committed genocide and mass murder and land theft against the indigenous, but instead have manifested their destiny. Members of the dominant culture aren’t murdering the planet, but are developing natural resources.
     This culture wages war against wolves. It creates claims to virtue, declares wolves an enemy, declares humans the victims of wolves as it drives wolves from their homes, tortures them, kills them, wipes out families, wipes out entire populations.
And feels good about doing so.
     But we need to not lose sight of the general in the face of the horrors of this particular. This culture wages war not only against wolves, but against nature. It wages or has waged war against seals, great auks, passenger pigeons, whales, bison, coyotes, prairie dogs, cod, mussels, heart pine, white pine, insects, prairies, forests, rivers, oceans, indigenous cultures, women, children, and on and on and on.
     But we need also to not lose sight of the particular in the face of the horrors of the general. Right now this wolf is pulling desperately with broken leg and torn skin against the jaws of a leghold trap. And right now this wolf is being machine-gunned from a helicopter. And right now every muscle in this wolf is spasming continuously from strychnine poisoning, her backbone arched, her brain seizing, and seizing again, and seizing again. And right now this four-week-old pup is being pulled from his den, then held crying so that when his parents come to help they can be killed, after which he, too, will be shot in the head.
     I want to tell three stories about this culture’s hatred of wolves.
     As soon as members of this culture arrived in North America, they started slaughtering wolves (and polar bears, and cod, and whales, and indigenous humans, and on and on). The humans who already lived here noticed the pattern, and gathered a meeting to try to understand why the whites hated wolves so much, and why the whites were so hell-bent on killing them all. They discussed this for days, and finally came up with their best answer: the whites are completely insane.
     The second story happened in the early 1990s, when I lived in eastern Washington, just across the border from North Idaho. Jim McClure, a Senator from Idaho, was pushing hard to reintroduce wolves to that state. It was clear something was rotten in the state of Idaho, since Jim McClure was one of the most evil people who ever stalked the halls of Congress (which is obviously saying a lot). One of the proudest moments of the early days of my activist life was when at a public meeting I promised him that one day I would see him in the docket for crimes against the natural world (proud as I was, this accomplished nothing except getting security called on me: he died a couple of years ago, never having been arrested, much less charged for the harm he caused to the planet).
     Why would McClure do something seemingly good? And why would all the corporate newspapers support this reintroduction, when they routinely opposed even the most benign measures which might help wild nature? A few environmentalists signed on as well, calling this a “huge victory for nature” and a “win-win situation.” Of course any time an environmentalist a) allies with someone like McClure; and b) calls anything that emerges from that alliance a “victory for nature” and “win-win,” you know there’s something wrong with that environmentalist. But things got even more suspicious. Although I was a part of the regional activist community, I’d never heard of any of these so-called environmentalists.
     I made a few phone calls to people who love wolves. The scheme became clear. Wolves had already made their way back into Idaho and western Montana on their own. These wolves would be fully protected under the Endangered Species Act. This would be wonderful for the natural world, but not so good for the logging, mining, and grazing industries, which would now have to at least nominally take wolves into account when they wanted to log, mine, or graze on public lands. If wolves were reintroduced, however, the entire population, including those wolves who were already there, would be declared “experimental and non-essential.” This would mean that clearcutting, mining, and grazing could continue more or less as usual. As one activist said to me after the reintroduction, “Right now I could take you to clearcuts and mines and grazing allotments that would never have happened if it weren’t for McClure and those phony environmentalists.”
     It’s a safe bet also that current wolf slaughters in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming would not be happening if it weren’t for the reintroduction.
     McClure is now long dead, but the Republican Senator from Hell continues to massacre wolves from the grave.
     The third story is of a recent massacre of wolves in Washington, preceded by the lies and ridiculous claims to virtue that so often precede atrocities. I first became aware of this when an AP story entitled “Wash. State simmers over gray wolves” was sent out and published by scores of papers across the country. The article stated that the McIrvin father and son ranchers at the Diamond M Ranch in Washington suffered a “grueling summer of losses.” The son declared, “We just can’t operate with the kind of losses we’re seeing.” They claimed to have lost twelve cattle “killed or injured” by wolves, although we also learned that outside experts don’t believe their number.
     Of course when corporate newspapers or ranchers mention wolves, you can presume they’re lying. When corporate newspapers or ranchers say ranchers are being victimized by wolves, you can presume they’re laying the groundwork for a mass killing.
     It took me only five minutes to discover a few of the article’s lies.
     First, there was no financial loss. Washington State pays ranchers for cattle killed by wolves: ranchers get compensated twice market value for every confirmed wolf kill, and market value for every probable wolf kill. So the McIrvins would actually have profited from this. But McIrvin hates the real world, and specifically hates wolves. He had ada­mantly refused to accept this money, stating the only compensation that ever interests him is dead wolves.
     And what did the article mean by “killed or injured”? It ends up, not much. Some of the injuries were minor enough that they could have been caused by barbed wire.
     The article stated the McIrvin family runs cattle on public and private land, but failed to mention that members of this particular herd all graze on public lands. It also failed to mention that grazing on federal lands is subsidized by the American public, as grazing fees are a fraction of what they are on private lands.
     But here’s the real whopper: the article was supposed to make us feel sorry for the McIrvins’ financial losses, which were so “grueling” as to make it so they “can’t operate.” But two minutes of research revealed this to be nonsense. While the local herd is 300 head, a 2003 Cascade Horseman article revealed that in total the McIrvins run more than 5000 cattle: “Annually, they calve 2,500 cows and lease out another 700 to 800 head.” Unless they’ve contracted dramatically in a decade, at most their losses (for which they’d be compensated if they didn’t hate wolves) would have been 0.2 percent: completely trivial. Any business that can’t survive 0.2 percent losses doesn’t deserve to continue.
But as we all know, truth in these situations doesn’t matter. What matters is hatred, and hatred fulfilled. In this case, a sniper for Washington State Fish and Wildlife murdered the pack.
     Another day in Western Civilization.
     Although nothing came of my promise so many years ago to Jim McClure, Senator from Hell, I still think I was on to something. This culture hates wolves. This culture hates the natural world. This culture is murdering the natural world. This culture is murdering wolves. The murderers won’t generally stop because they have epiphanies. McClure didn’t push wolf reintroduction because he suddenly gained a soul or stopped being a sociopath. He pushed it because it was an avenue for his hatred, a hatred that finds manifestations all through this society. Likewise the state murder of the wolves to serve McIrvin did not sate his hatred of wolves, and he continues to advocate for their murder wherever they are found. He continues to make his ridiculous claims to virtue, and the corporate press continues to broadcast them.
     When I was younger, I was foolish enough to believe that somehow McClure would be put into a docket. He obviously wasn’t. McIrvin won’t be either. But that doesn’t mean people like them can never be stopped, nor that they can never be held accountable.
     Neither those who hate wolves nor those who hate nature will ever stop until they are stopped. The state won’t do it. The culture at large won’t do it. It is up to those of us who care about the living planet to stop them.