Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise

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Group.png Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise   Powerbase Sourcewatch WebsiteRdf-icon.png
HeadquartersBellevue, WA, United States
Typethink tank

The Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise (CDFE) has been at the very heart of the backlash against the environmental movement. Although it has not had an especial focus on the GM debate, the aggressive PR tactics that CDFE has promoted, as a means of attacking and seeking to discredit those raising environmental concerns, have had an enormous influence.


Since the late 1980's, CDFE has been at the center of the Wise Use Movement.

Alan Gottlieb, a former tax felon,[1] founded CDFE in 1974 along with two gun groups: Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, and the Second Amendment Foundation. Other Gottlieb ventures include the Free Enterprise Press (book publisher), American Press Syndicate, and American Broadcasting Network. CDFE's Free Enterprise Press has published several books by CDFE executive vice president Ron Arnold, including Ecology Wars (1987) which includes a chapter "Defeating Environmentalism" and Ecoterror: The Violent Agenda to Save Nature, the World of the Unabomber (1997).[2]

In 1984 Gottlieb was joined by the man who became CDFE's Executive Vice President, Ron Arnold. Arnold has also been a consultant for Dow Chemical, as well as Head of the Washington State chapter of the American Freedom Coalition, the political arm of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church (1989-91). Alan Gottlieb also connects to the American Freedom Coalition which has also shared offices with CDFE. (Profile: Ron Arnold/The Wise Use Movement/Merchant of Fear)

Ron Arnold is considered originator of the term "Wise Use," and Arnold has credited himself with starting the back-lash campaign against environmentalists. In 1991 Arnold told the New York Times:

We [CDFE] created a sector of public opinion that didn't use to exist. ... No one was aware that environmentalism was a problem until we came along.[3]

Arnold, a former Dow Chemical consultant, was also head of Washington State chapter of the American Freedom Coalition, the political arm of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church from 1989-91 (Western States Center fact sheet).

CDFE's previous main focus had been opposing gun controls, with Gottlieb establishing two pro-gun foundations. According to the New York Times, Gottlieb shifted the Center's focus when he realized the fundraising potential of opposing environmentalism:

For conservative fundraisers like Mr. Gottlieb, the enemies were Senator Edward M. Kennedy and the threat of gun control. But now Mr. Gottlieb has found a better target. "For us" said Mr. Gottlieb... "the environmental movement has become the perfect bogeyman."[4]

CDFE organized the first Multiple Use Strategy Conference (now Wise Use Leadership Conference) in Reno, NV in 1988 which led to the twenty-five point "Wise Use Agenda." Included in the agenda was "Immediate wise development of the petroleum resources of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge" and "Passage of the Global Warming Prevention Act to convert in a systematic manner all decaying and oxygen using forest growth on the National Forests into young stands of oxygen producing, carbon dioxide-absorbing trees to help ameliorate the rate of global warming." CDFE executive vice president Ron Arnold has since been quoted saying "There isn't any such thing" as global warming (CLEAR fact sheet).

The CDFE website features categories such as "EPA-probe" and "co-imperialism" and the latest headlines from the bastion of right-wing journalism, Fox News. CDFE runs two other websites: Undue Influence - "racking the environmental movement, money, power, and harm" (, and the anti-Rainforest Action Network site "RANamuck" where they talk about Rainforest Action Network's ties to other radical groups and "their anti-capitalist ideology, and their lawless and dangerous activities." Among other things, the site features a link to send email to the Turner Foundation asking it to stop funding RAN.

Known funders have included the Coors Foundation, Georgia Pacific, Louisiana-Pacific, MacMillan Bloedel, Pacific Lumber, ExxonMobil Education Foundation, DuPont, Agricultural Products Division, Boise Cascade, Seneca Sawmills, Sun Studs, Burkland Lumber and the F.M. Kirby Foundation. (From

LaRouche Connections

A year before Arnold joined CDFE, he had written a report for Reason magazine on EcoTerrorism. Lyndon LaRouche, the American former-Marxist leader turned far right anti-semite, had been one of the first people to use the term 'terrorist' in relation to environmentalists. As early as 1977 LaRouche's supporters had tried to halt a peaceful demonstration against a nuclear power plant in New Hampshire by contacting the police and claiming that acts of violence were being planned. A subsequent FBI memorandum stated the information had been 'fabricated' by LaRouchians. (LaRouche and Wise Use)

LaRouche's tactic of creating friction with environmentalists by painting them as violent and dangerous, as well as his terrorist terminology, were picked up by Arnold, who has been called the 'Father of the Wise Use Movement'. That movement was launched in 1988 by Gottlieb and Arnold. The Wise Use Agenda was published by CDFE the following year. Among the organisations attending or supporting the 1988 conference that set the Agenda were DuPont, Exxon, the National Rifle Association, Consumer Alert and the Moonie-linked American Freedom Coalition. CDFE's advisors have included Richard Ichord of the American Freedom Coalition, Barbara Keating of Consumer Alert, and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.

The aim of Wise Use was to counter the environmental movement with a broad-ranging, loose-knit coalition of interest groups, including industry-funded front groups and 'grassroots groups', often organised by PR consultants on behalf of corporations or trade associations.

Gottlieb, who describes himself as 'the premiere anti-communist, free-enterprise, laissez-faire capitalist' and who has spent time in prison for tax-evasion, has had a long history of direct mail fundraising. Gottlieb and his wife own Merril Mail Marketing, a direct mail company. Gottlieb has claimed that CDFE mails more than 20 million items a year (The Wise Use Movement). Fear, hate, and revenge 'are the oldest tricks in the direct mail handbook', according to Arnold, who has also said, 'Facts don't really matter. In politics, perception is reality.' (Profile: Ron Arnold/Anti-environmentalism)

Gottlieb and Arnold paint environmentalists as self-serving communists or Nazis who seek to broaden the power of big government, impose restraints on individual liberty, and destroy civilization. Arnold, who has described himself as the 'Darth Vader for the capitalist revolution', has openly stated that his aim is 'to destroy the environmental movement'. He told the Boston Globe, 'We are sick to death of environmentalism and so we will destroy it. We will not allow our right to own property and use nature's resources for the benefit of mankind to be stripped from us by a bunch of eco-fascists.' (Boston Globe , January 13, 1992) 'We're mad as hell. We're dead serious. We're going to destroy them,' he told the Portland Oregonian.

In an interview with CNN he stated that part of his purpose was to 'kill the bastards' . In the same interview, when asked what message he wished to be seen as conveying, he said, 'People in industry, I'm going to do my best for you. Environmentalists, I'm coming to get you.' (Interview, CNN, May 30, 1993)

Militia links

There are links between the Wise Use movement and some of America's right-wing militias. In some cases the scapegoating and demonising of environmentalists appears to have contributed to their becoming the targets of physical assults, arson and even bomb attacks. (Green Backlash, Andrew Rowell, 1996)

Ron Arnold has contributed to and written around a dozen or more books including At the Eye of the Storm: James Watt and the Environmentalists -the authorized biography of Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior. Watt once commented, 'If the troubles from environmentalists cannot be solved in the jury box or at the ballot box, perhaps the cartridge box should be used'.

Many of Arnold's books are published by CDFE's publishing arm, The Free Enterprise Press, which works in tandem with Gottlieb's for-profit Merril Press. The Free Enterprise Press was founded by Arnold in 1987 'to create an outlet for important free enterprise authors' - authors like Paul Driessen. Driessen is a Senior Fellow at CDFE as well as principal of Global-Comm Partners, a Northern Virginia public relations firm specializing in environmental public policy issues. He is also a senior fellow for the far right Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

Driessen's book Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death is published by the CDFE's Free Enterprise Press. According to a review on the CDFE's website by Paul Caruba, 'an adjunct scholar of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise', the book helps the reader 'to understand why the environmental movement is engaged in the most appalling example of genocide the world has ever known!' Among the heinous crimes the book lays at the door of the movement is 'the hunger and suffering of millions of the world's poor who are denied the benefits of genetically engineered food'. According to the reviewer, the book takes our attention from 'the war a relative handful of fanatical Islamists are waging on the world' to 'the larger war being waged' by the environmental movement against 'much of the world's population'. (Killing Millions to "Save" the Earth)

CORE links

Driessen's book has an introduction by Niger Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), saying it is long overdue. According to Innis, 'The time has come to hold these radicals to civilized standards of behavior, end the tolerance for their lethal policies, and demand that they be held accountable for their excesses, and the poverty, disease and death they have perpetrated on the poor and powerless. Eco-Imperialism is an excellent start... The world's destitute masses will love it.'

The book's editorial reviews, include one from Prof CS Prakash, who enthuses, 'Great book!' This despite the fact that Driessen, in order to give 'environmentalists' the necessary reach and influence for the crimes he lays at their door, has to subsume into their number the World Health Organisation and even USAID. Ironically, Prakash has been an adviser to USAID.

Other supportive comments for Driessen's book have come from Dennis Avery, Thomas R. DeGregori and Patrick Moore, who says, 'This book is the first one I've seen that tells the truth and lays it on the line'.

In late January 2004 Driessen helped CORE to organise a 'Teach-In' in New York entitled, 'Eco-Imperialism: The global green movement's war on the developing world's poor'. He was also one of the contributors along with Patrick Moore, CS Prakash, and Roger Bate. In a press release CORE's Niger Innis, another contributor, said that after the Teach-In 'eco-imperialism' would be a household word, adding, 'We intend to stop this callous eco-manslaughter'.

On February 4, 2004 Driessen appeared on Capital Hill before the House Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. His affiliation was given as Director, Economic Human Rights Project. The latter was described as 'an initiative of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, in cooperation with the Congress of Racial Equality. Reflecting its belief that "Economic rights are human rights" the growing coalition is dedicated to correcting prevalent environmental myths and misguided policies that help perpetuate poverty, misery, disease and early death in developing countries."'


Paul Driessen also served as editor of another book published by CDFE's Free Enterprise Press, Rules for Corporate Warriors: How to fight and survive attack group shakedowns, by Nick Nichols, Chairman & CEO of PR firm Nichols-Dezenhall. Nichols approach to PR is that of CDFE. In a leaked presentation to pork-producers he quoted Al Capone, 'You can get more with a smile, a kind word and a gun than with a smile and a kind word', and George Carlin, 'If you can't beat them, arrange to have them beaten!' Nicholls advised the pork-producers they should, 'Fight like guerrillas' and 'Take no prisoners'.

With the assistance of corporations, PR firms and various right-wing groups, Wise Use tactics and rhetoric have spread around the globe. As early as 1986, the chemical industry sponsored a tour of New Zealand by Ron Arnold. Wise Use groups have sprung up in Australia sporting bumper stickers such as, 'Fertilize the forest, kill a greenie!'

The Wise Use perspective has been strongly promoted in the UK by the Living Marxism (LM) network, which like Lyndon Larouche back-flipped from extreme left to extreme right. Wise Users were significant contributors to the LM-connected Channel 4 TV series Against Nature , in which environmentalists were portrayed as Nazis and the bringers of death and suffering to the Third World.

Ron Arnold was also among the contributors to LM magazine, penning an article in the March, 1998 issue. According to the article, 'the anti-technology Unabomber who terrorised the USA for two decades, killing 3 and injuring 29 others' took his cue from the anti-technology philosophy of environmentalism which was operating like a self-consuming sickness at the heart of American society. According to the LM archive: 'Ron Arnold, author of "Ecoterror: The violent agenda to save Nature", suggests that society today suffers from a "Unabomber syndrome" - it "seems willing to entertain the notion of abolishing civilisation"...'. A picture caption for Arnold's article read, 'For Unabomber Ted Kaczynski environmentalism was the theory and assassination the practice'.

Thanks to Wise Use, the PR tactic of mobilizing independent-seeming 'third parties' to advocate corporate causes gained a new momentum and a far more aggressive edge. The influence of Arnold and CDFE on the GM debate is all too apparent - from the aggressive use of PR tactics that include the use of fake citizens, fake organisations and fake public protest, to the designation of critics of GM as 'terrorists' and 'eco-imperialists'.

The fake Center for Food and Agricultural Research (CFFAR), for instance, sought to portray mainstream environmental organisations as engaging in, or linked to, violence and 'terrorism' - a message reinforced through the multiple internet postings of the e-mail fronts Andura Smetacek and Mary Murphy. Smetacek, Murphy and CFFAR have all been traced back to Monsanto and its Internet PR company Bivings Group.

CFFAR and Smetacek then used the concerns generated by their smears against organisations like Greenpeace to encourage scientists and others to lobby those organisations' funders to stop their financial backing. It is a tactic that comes straight out of the CDFE 'handbook'. To quote Arnold, 'We want to destroy environmentalists by taking away their money and their members.' (New York Times, Dec 19, 1991, emphasis added)

PR firm Nichols-Dezenhall set up a website called StopEcoViolence - very much along the lines of CFFAR's - which claimed to be the grassroots' initiative of a citizens' group. On its links page it lists CFFAR and, as well as the Internet front sites of PR firm Berman & Co. ActivistCash and the Center for Consumer Freedom. The page also has links to CDFE, which it describes as 'a non-partisan education and research organization', and to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). In March 2002 Nichols-Dezenhall linked up with CEI to sponsor a conference for journalists and corporate executives on 'eco-extremism'. (You too might be a terrorist. The war on the greens)

Like Nichols-Dezenhall, many of those at the forefront of attacks on critics of GM make use of CDFE's rhetoric. Patrick Moore, for instance, talks of environmentalists as 'ultraleftists and extremists' who 'use Gestapo tactics'. Moore claims issues like the GM debate are being influenced by 'pagan beliefs and junk science'. This directly echoes Ron Arnold's attacks on environmentalists as 'eco-fascists' and communists, as well as his call for a 'holy war against the new pagans who worship trees and sacrifice people'.

Such claims have been picked up and repeated by GM sympathetic scientists. For instance, Prof Joe Perry, the chief statistician on the UK government's GM farm-scale evaluations, repeated Moore's claims about 'pagan beliefs' in a lecture on GM given as part of a series by and for Christians interested in science. He also quoted a claim of Moore's that the agendas of most environmentalists were principally about 'class warfare'. He also drew on Moore in a letter to The Guardian, in which he said Moore had 'pointed to the Trotskyists and anti-capitalists who ditched socialism for the environmentalist bandwagon when the iron curtain fell, and became influential within Greenpeace and similar pressure groups.' (see also responses to Perry)

In May 2003, speaking at the Natural History Museum in London, the world renowned scientist Peter Raven also attacked Greenpeace over its opposition to GMOs, telling his audience, 'Last month, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of America's most venerable and respected civil rights groups, confronted Greenpeace at a public event and accused it of "eco-manslaughter" through its support of international policies limiting development and the expansion of technology to the developing world's poor'. (for the truth about CORE)

The British pro-GM lobby group Sense About Science, whose director and assistant director are both part of the LM network, has also adopted the Wise Use tactic of portraying critics of GM as violent extremists. Its Chairman, Lord Taverne claimed in an article in The Times that farmers and researchers were being intimidated by 'anti-GM campaigners' adopting 'the tactics of animal welfare terrorists'. The headline was, When crops burn, the truth goes up in smoke. Taverne admitted that environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth 'may condemn violence', but concluded, none the less, 'The anti-GM campaign has become a crusade. Its champions... have become eco-fundamentalists, followers of a new kind of religion... when campaigns become crusades, crusaders are more likely to turn to violence.'

12500 NE 10th Place.Liberty Park.Bellevue, WA 98005 Phone: 425-455-5038 Fax: 425-451-3959

Key quotes

"We are sick to death of environmentalism and so we will destroy it. We will not allow our right to own property and use nature's resources for the benefit of mankind to be stripped from us by a bunch of eco-facists."--Ron Arnold, "New, militant antienvironmentalists fight to return nature to a back seat." Boston Globe, January 13, 1992

"Facts don't really matter. In politics, perception is reality." — Ron Arnold, Outside Magazine, December 1991

"We want to destroy environmentalists by taking away their money and their members." --Ron Arnold, "Fund Raisers Tap Anti- Environmentalism." The New York Times, December 19, 1991.

Key deeds

  • 7 June, 2002

Senior Fellow Paul Driessen signed a letter to President Bush, asking him to withdraw the "Climate Action Report 2002" and demand that it be rewritten based on "sound science". The letter also recommends that Bush "dismiss or re-assign all administration employees who are not pursuing your agenda, just as you have done in several similar instances." Source: Joint Letter To President Bush On The EPA's Climate Action Report 6/7/02

  • 4 February, 2004

Paul Driessen, CDFE Senior Fellow, testified before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources, along with representatives of the Congress of Racial Equality. Driessen argued that environmentalists' opposition to fossil fuels were contributing to poverty in third world countries. Source: Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise website 4/04

  • 9 June, 1998

Ron Arnold, who has being trying to make coterrorist and environmentalist synonymous since the mid1990s, testified before a congressional committee in 1998 on the subject of "eco-terrorism." He defined "eco-terror" explicitly to include civil disobedience. In his testimony, Arnold argued: "For the past five years, our members have routinely contacted our headquarters to report crimes committed against them of a type we've come to call eco-terrorism, that is a crime committed to save nature. These crimes generally take the form of equipment vandalism, but may include package bombs, blockades using physical force to obstruct workers from going where they have a right to go, and invasions of private or government offices to commit the crime of civil disobedience" Source: House Crime Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, June 9, 1998


Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise has received $230,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998.

2003 $40,000 ExxonMobil Foundation Global Climate Change Issues Source: ExxonMobil 2003 Corporate Giving Report

2004 $130000 ExxonMobil Foundation Global Climate Change Issues Source: Exxon Giving Report 2004

2005 $60,000 ExxonMobil Foundation Source: ExxonMobil 2005 DIMENSIONS Report (Corporate Giving)

late 80s, early 90s? $unknown Exxon Corporation Source: Greenpeace Guide

Key people

Source: Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise website 4/04

Source: Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise website 4/04

President Source: Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise website 4/04

Source: Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise website 4/04

Source: Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise website 4/04

Source: Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise website 4/04

Source: Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise website 4/04

Source: Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise website 4/04

Source: Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise website 4/04


Greenpeace Guide

ExxonMobil 2003 Corporate Giving Report

Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise website 4/04

Joint Letter To President Bush On The EPA's Climate Action Report 6/7/02,03051.cfm

"Fund Raisers Tap Anti- Environmentalism." The New York Times, December 19, 1991.

"New, militant antienvironmentalists fight to return nature to a back seat." Boston Globe, January 13, 1992 Boston Globe interview

Outside Magazine, December 1991

House Crime Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, June 9, 1998 ecoterror hearings

Exxon Giving Report 2004 Exxon's published report on annual giving

ExxonMobil 2005 DIMENSIONS Report (Corporate Giving) XOM Foundation and Corporation donations in 2005 to worldwide organizations.


  1. Gottlieb's conviction for tax evasion has been widely reported. For example, see "Putting Guns Back Into Criminals' Hands", Violence Policy Center website, accessed March 25 2009
  2. "Factsheet: Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise",, accessed March 25 2009
  3. Timothy Egan, Fund-Raisers Tap Anti-Environmentalism, New York Times, 19 Dec 1991, acc 25 Apr 2010
  4. Timothy Egan, Fund-Raisers Tap Anti-Environmentalism, New York Times, 19 Dec 1991, acc 25 Apr 2010