With a gun and four explosive devices strapped to his body, James J. Lee entered Discovery Communications headquarters, where, at the time, about nineteen hundred people worked.
Lee had made his grievances clear in a document he posted on the Internet: “Humans are the most destructive, filthy, pollutive creatures around and are wrecking what’s left of the planet with their false morals and breeding culture.” His proposed solution? “All human procreation and farming must cease.” In other words, his ultimate goal was the extinction of the human race. As he put it: “The planet does not need humans.”
Lee targeted the Discovery Channel because, as he put it, “We are running out of time to save this planet and the Discovery Channel is a big part of the problem.” How so? Lee explained: “Instead of showing successful solutions”—such as ways to put an end to human procreation and farming—“their broadcast programs seem to be doing the opposite.” Although the Discovery Channel gave occasional lip service to environmentalist ideology, it did not advocate the extinction of the human race. And among the programs they aired were many that showed how humans use science to understand the world, create values, enjoy nature, and flourish. (Ecoheresy!)
Lee had come to demand consistency on the environmentalist front. If, as environmentalism holds, nature has intrinsic value—value in and of itself, value apart from and irrespective of the requirements of human life—then everything man does that affects nature is evil. Lee demanded an end to “Automotive pollution, International Trade, factory pollution, and the whole blasted human economy.” And he had come to take action.
Lee took three men hostage and forced them to lie face down on the floor. The police soon arrived, and, after some negotiation efforts, Lee pulled out a gun and pointed it at a hostage . . . Fortunately, before he killed anyone or blew up the building, the police shot him dead.
We don’t know what Lee would have done if the police had not killed him. But we can take an educated guess.
As you might recall, that near-catastrophe happened in 2010.1 Up to that point, the environmentalist movement had been fueled by almost a century of antihuman vitriol and calls for human destruction. In 1916, John Muir, a founder of the Sierra Club, wrote: “I have precious little sympathy for the selfish propriety of civilized man, and if a war of races should occur between the wild beasts and Lord Man, I would be tempted to sympathize with the bears.”2 This biocentric view—the idea that the rights and needs of humans are not more important than those of other animals or nature in general—picked up steam throughout the 20th century and, by the 1980s, it was embraced by many intellectuals on the left. “Animal-rights philosophers” such as Patrick Corbett regularly issued statements such as, it is not perverse “to prefer the lives of mice and guinea pigs to the lives of men and women” because “if we stand back from the scientific and technological rat race for a moment, we realize that [such] animals are in many respects superior to ourselves.”3 Other environmentalists, such as David M. Graber, used even more direct language:
Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn’t true. Somewhere along the line—at about a billion [sic] years ago, maybe half that—we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth. . . . Until such time as Homo Sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.4
David Foreman, a leader of the environmentalist group Earth First!, put it equally bluntly: “It may well take our extinction to set things straight.”5
So, by the time James J. Lee marched into the offices of the Discovery Channel to commit mass murder on behalf of “nature,” leftist “philosophers” and “intellectuals” had been encouraging such assaults for decades. Lee didn’t himself come up with the idea that the human race should be wiped out. He got it from professors and writers who would never strap bombs to their own bodies and blow up nineteen hundred people—but were openly suggesting that such attacks are warranted.
Such “intellectuals” are what Ayn Rand called “Witch Doctors” or “mystics of spirit.” Witch Doctors are idea guys who instruct or inspire action guys—the “Attilas” or “mystics of muscle”—to carry out their marching orders.6 Lee had simply taken the Witch Doctors’ marching orders and set out to enact them.
Fortunately, he was stopped. But it was close.
Fast-forward to December 2018:
The New York Times published an opinion piece this month by philosophy professor Todd May titled, “Would Human Extinction Be a Tragedy?” As the title suggests, May wonders whether the world might be better off without human beings. His view, in essence, is that although the end of the human race might be a “tragedy” of sorts, it also “might just be a good thing.” May’s “justifications” are nothing new: Humans are “destroying large parts of the inhabitable earth”; we’re “causing unimaginable suffering to many of the animals that inhabit it”; and so on. Nor are his scarcely veiled marching orders new: “It may well be, then, that the extinction of humanity would make the world better off . . .”7
Might an Attila take these marching orders in the coming weeks or years? I’d say it’s likely.
If and when the next eco-Attila strikes, will May and the New York Times acknowledge their part in the attack? Of course not.
But stay tuned. The Witch Doctors’ marching orders have been issued afresh. The nihilists’ gears are in motion.
Correction: This article originally stated that Rand used the phrase “mystics of mind.” I’ve corrected that to “mystics of spirit.” —CB
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1. Dan Morse, Theresa Vargas, and Michael E. Ruane, “James J. Lee, Environmental Militant, Slain at Discovery Building after Taking Hostages,” Washington Post, September 2, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/01/AR2010090103911.html.
2. John Muir, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1916), 122.
3. E. Calvin Beisner, Where Garden Meets Wilderness: Evangelical Entry into the Environmental Debate (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 136.
4. David M. Graber, “Mother Nature as a Hothouse Flower: ’The End of Nature’ by Bill McKibben,” Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1989, http://articles.latimes.com/1989-10-22/books/bk-726_1_bill-mckibben/.
5. Ron Arnold and Alan M. Gottlieb, Trashing the Economy: How Runaway Environmentalism Is Wrecking America (Bellevue, WA: Free Enterprise Press, 1994), 569.
6. Ayn Rand, “For the New Intellectual,” in For the New Intellectual (New York: Signet, 1961), 10–57.
7. Todd May, “Would Human Extinction Be a Tragedy?,” New York Times, December 17, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/17/opinion/human-extinction-climate-change.html.