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The Republican-dominated Senate passed an amendment this spring that would allow states to “reclaim” public lands, which include National Forests and wildlife refuges, and sell them to the highest bidder.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R, AK) introduced Amendment SA 838 as one that “will support and fund state efforts to take possession of federal public lands.”
Though still not officially a law, the amendment points to a larger, unnerving trend in the overexploitation of natural resources by our own U.S. legislators.
Disrupting a decades-long, bipartisan effort to protect what’s left of the nation’s natural heritage, Republican senators are riling their constituents up over the issue of states’ rights, and the freedom for local governments to “facilitate economic development and improve our conservation systems.”
The concern about who best to oversee and maintain conservation efforts is certainly very real—and hasn’t been this palpable since the “Sagebrush Rebellion” of the 1970s and 80s. It was revealed, shockingly, that the National Parks System was neglected in the Obama Administration’s “Grow America” plan for improving infrastructure.
But the intention behind this attempt to “take back” land from federal oversight seems more nefarious than the issue of state sovereignty. Considering special interest groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (Exxon-Mobile) and Americans for Prosperity (Koch Brothers) are the ones behind such legislation, it doesn’t take a political genius to postulate these lands would inevitably be sold off to billionaires and corporations in devastating industries like fracking, oil drilling, and mining.
With the blatant disregard for precious resources like water, e.g. Nestlé’s profiteering during a record California drought, and the fact that development firms are fixing to give the Grand Canyon its own mall, it’s hard to keep from wondering if everyone’s going crazy. Or if that line in J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey was hauntingly prophetic: “Yes, I have an ulcer, for Chrissake. This is Kaliyuga, buddy, the Iron Age. Anybody over sixteen without an ulcer’s a goddam spy.” And if this is the Kali Yuga—the cyclical dark era of human history in Hindu traditions when all succumbs to degeneration—it is told that truth and virtue would come from the least likely of places.
By now you’re probably wondering what natural preservation has to do with a convicted killer and national pariah. As disturbing as these recent developments are, what’s even more disturbing is the fact that one could argue the majority of Congress is officially crazier than Charles Manson.
That sounds hyperbolic, but consider this: From behind the bars of his solitary cell, Manson has—in between cryptic and howling rants—advocated for land conservation and protection of resources from the exploitative hands of crony capitalism for the last four decades.
“Your water’s dying,” Manson told a cool-headed Charlie Rose in 1986. “Your life is in that cup. Your water’s dying. Your trees are dying. Your wildlife’s locked up in zoos. You’re in a zoo, man. How do you feel about it?”
He went into more erudite detail during a 1989 interview with Penny Daniels. “I’m trying to redeem life on the planet earth from the people that destroy it.”
“Who’s destroying the earth?” Penny asked, “And why?”
“Things we do as humans that were accepted and called ‘right’ 100 years ago have changed. Years ago we could cut down trees and we could afford an exuberant lifestyle. We can’t afford that anymore. We’re running out of atmosphere, we’re running out of water. Our water has become so poisoned and so polluted we’re not going to be able to drink. The United States is owned by foreign corporations, Nixon opened it up for foreign trade. And the people of Europe, and the common market, they don’t care about the United States’ forests. The U.S. has been sold out by people who really don’t care for anything but money.”
In recent years, Manson has been using his celebrity, or rather his infamy, to shed light on environmental crises (while half the country still kicks and screams over whether such crises even exist). His organization ATWA stands for Air Trees Water Animals, whose website is about as maintained as any ascetic, non-profit outfit, and whose mission, contrary to popular assumption, does not involve recruiting teenagers to murder socialites, incite race wars, or bring about the all-too-famously rendered Helter Skelter.
ATWA’s aims instead lie in “redirecting human efforts of war [already being waged on all life] towards the problem, war on the problem, war on pollution—not war on life.”
To a flummoxed, undone Geraldo Rivera in 1988, Manson expressed, “Since the Europeans came to this country, they’ve cut all the trees, they’ve butchered all the lakes, they’ve destroyed all the creeks, everything’s turned into cement, they’re tearing all the rainforests down, there’ll be no wildlife left on the planet…The desert’s dying, the bees are dying, the birds can’t live, and smog is killing everything. I say, ‘Wow, where’s my life on this planet? Can I survive on this planet earth?’ That’s what I’m working for.”
ATWA’s ethos is partly rooted in the early resistance to the industrial development proposed by the Tennessee Valley Authority, established in 1933 as part of the New Deal, and witnessed by Manson as a child. It mandated rural residents to adopt the utility company’s power grid and network of dams. The other part aligns itself with the conservative efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), also established as part of the New Deal and was the most popular of Roosevelt’s experimental programs.
Parallels in objectives between the CCC and ATWA can be seen in the militaristic language used to describe both. In the former, FDR proposed to “recruit thousands of unemployed young men, enroll them in a peacetime army, and send them into battle against destruction and erosion of our natural resources.”
In the latter, Manson puts it not quite as elegantly, “The Savior Project [which repurposes paintball guns into seed guns as to efficiently seed bomb degraded land areas] puts everyone in the army. Everyone’s in the conservation corps, everyone’s a civilian soldier. Civilian-soldiers in a civilian-soldier book…You must close land with something growing on it. There’s got to be no space that’s not growing something.”
Diverting attention, though, from Charles Manson the man to the state of the environment has proven futile. ATWA updates and proclamations continue to be heard solely by the regular choir of some 87K Facebook followers.
It’s easy to pass Manson’s jive off as echoes of a hippie life hangover, something typical and self-righteous to spit at journalists who dare enter his domain.
But in a 2011 interview for Vanity Fair (Spain), Manson remains steadfast in his activist aims: “The air that we breathe is order. We need to save our air. The trees that give us the air and all the green things from the bottom of the ocean to the tops of the mountains—that give us air—we must protect. That’s PHU [Protective Housing Unit]. You can do more in prison to change the world than you can in the bureaucrat, and what they call the United States of Wall Street. It’s just about money, and they feed on other countries with their war games to take the money. That’s all they want. They live and die by their God money.”
Recently, the public and media have been entirely preoccupied with the nature of Manson’s engagement to 26 year-old Afton Elaine ‘Star’ Burton aka Star Manson.
“Your perspectives are off-base,” he posted in November 2013, “This marriage is far less important than Air, Trees, Water, and Animals. We’re running out of water. We’re polluting the air that we breathe. We’re destroying the very thing our life is dependent upon. All life is one life. The marriage of true minds – like Shakespeare said. We’re marrying in ATWA. The Air and the Water is our spirit, the Trees and the Animals are our flesh and blood.”
The talk of war is always abroad, but the biggest American struggle right now is more internal, one of ideology. In major cities, micro-farming, seed bombing (aerial reforestation), and dumpster diving are becoming not so fringe, while some courts are ruling off-grid living as illegal. As governor Jerry Brown looks to curb California’s water crisis by gouging citizens and burrowing enormous tunnels to siphon water from the Sacramento River (no matter what the financial or environmental cost), protestors are shutting down Nestlé bottling plants by barricading entrances.
Sure, Manson’s “crazy,” but that’s a given. What stings is that he’s not wrong—not when it comes to his tenacious reverence for the natural world. With the circus of recently announced POTUS contenders underway, and the Senate pulling stunts like its open letter to Iran during nuclear negotiations, it’s hard to know where to draw the “crazy” line.
And since I doubt any of these congressmen/congresswomen or senators who are complicit with such exploitative legislation grew up in reform schools, prisons, or had a mother who once sold them for a pitcher of beer, I ask them: So what’s your excuse?
“How serious is California drought? Check out these before & after pictures, taken only 3 years apart.”
Someone Good Ran for Congress.
Author: Brent L. Smith
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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