Vigilante Sinking of the Skarbakk
Agenda 21 is the name of a environmental document passed seventeen years ago by the United Nations Earth Summit in Brazil. Agenda 21 is also the name of a Norwegian monkeywrenching gang that wrecked a Norwegian whaling ship last week.
Members of the Agent 21 group, called “conservation commandos” by some, boarded the Skarbakk a few days ago, and opened up the ship so that sea water began to flow in (news in English – news in Norwegian). The ship did not sink fully, but the water wrecked the electrical and mechanical systems on the ship.
Sea Shepherd’s Captain Paul Watson, in his typically bombastic manner, declared, “These laws must be enforced and Norwegian whalers are in blatant violation of the worldwide ban on commercial whaling. We are happy that Agenda 21 took over this task back in 1996 with the scuttling of the Elin-Toril. If I knew who they were, I’d give them a medal.”
Must laws be enforced? Well, yes, they must, or else there is no point in having law at all. The thing that Captain Watson failed to consider, though, is that destruction of other people’s property, as conducted by Agenda 21, is against the law. Watson also didn’t stop to think that when the law is enforced, there are special government forces authorized to do so. They’re called the police and the courts.
When a citizen group commits a crime in response to another crime it believes has taken place, that’s not law enforcement. It’s vigilantism. If the crew of the Skarbakk violated international whaling law, then it’s up to international courts to deal with the matter. For Agenda 21 to seize power of judge, jury and punisher is an assault not just upon the Skarbakk, but upon the principles of civilized justice.
Can such an act be ethically justified? Perhaps, if it is performed as an act of civil disobedience in which the participants operate openly, and offer themselves up into police custody, to be punished for their crimes. That’s not what the “commandos” of Agenda 21 did. They performed their crime under the cover of darkness, and ran away before they could be discovered. They didn’t accept the consequences of their action. While justifying their acts as a response to a crime, they failed to acknowledge the criminality of their own behavior.
If activism is to be effective in making commercial enterprises accountable to the law, it must not itself attempt to operate outside of the system of law. That leaves open the possibility of violations of the law, but only if the legal debt incurred as a result of those violations is paid. The activists of Agenda 21 don’t deserve a medal. They deserve a jail cell.