The Sierra Club is one of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups. Its campaigns against livestock agriculture, modern crop farming, and even vineyards have been devastating to farmers across America. While the Sierra Club uses aggressive tactics, its activities aren’t against the law.

But in April, the Sierra Club elected “Captain” Paul Watson — one of the fathers of environmental terrorism — to its Board of Directors. Watson’s methods of environmental and animal-rights activism include ramming fishing boats and firing shotguns at fisherman in a way that is “not defensive.” And he has hatched a plan to wrest control of the Sierra Club. At the Animal Rights 2003 conference in Los Angeles, Watson explained his strategy:

One of the reasons that I’m on the, um, the Sierra Club board of directors right now is to try and change it … we’re only three directors away from controlling that board. We control one-third of it right now. And, uh, once we get three more directors elected, the Sierra Club will not, no longer be pro-hunting and pro-trapping and we can use the resources of the $95-million-a-year budget to address some of these issues. And the heartening thing about it is that, in the last election, of the 750,000 members of the Sierra Club, only 8 percent of them voted. So, you know, a few hundred, or a few thousand people from the animal rights movement joining the Sierra Club — and making it a point to vote — will change the entire agenda of that organization. (click for video)

With a slate of directors under his control, will Watson stop once the Sierra Club comes out against fishing? Unlikely. At last year’s animal-rights conference, he argued “we should never feel like we’re going too far in breaking the law.” Watson also declared “there’s nothing wrong with being a terrorist, as long as you win.” And, most chillingly, he stated:

If you do not intend to kill anybody, if you make every effort to not kill and injure anybody, that’s all you really can do. You can’t stop somebody from walking into a situation, and we really can’t be too overly preoccupied with this.

At the more recent Los Angeles convention, Watson said that he “owed no allegiance to humanity.” Instead: “I have done everything I can to fight for his kind [whales] not our kind.” (click for video) He noted that his niche is “ramming ships and pissing people off.” (click for video) He called fishermen “the biggest bunch of sadistic bastards in the world.” (click for video) Finally, Watson suggested that it would be appropriate for environmentalists to “rise up and rip those loggers limb from limb.” (click here for video)

The Sierra Club has flirted with Watson-style radicalism before. The founder of the militant Earth First! group, Dave Foreman, hinted in the April 1990 issue of Smithsonian magazine that his organization may be “secretly controlled” by groups like the Sierra Club:

“We thought it would have been useful to have a group to take a tougher position than the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society,” Foreman remembers. “It could be sort of secretly controlled by the mainstream and trotted out at hearings to make the Sierra Club or Wilderness Society look moderate.”

Long-time Sierra Club executive director David Brower once argued that Earth First! helped the Sierra Club accomplish its goals:

The Sierra Club made the Nature Conservancy look reasonable. I founded Friends of the Earth to make the Sierra Club look reasonable. Then I founded Earth Island Institute to make Friends of the Earth look reasonable. Earth First! now makes us look reasonable. We’re still waiting for someone else to come along and make Earth First! look reasonable.

Paul Watson claimed in the pages of the Earth First! Journal that he invented tree spiking, the sabotage technique Earth First! made famous. Watson described his relationship with Earth First! this way:

“Right now we’re in the early stages of World War III,” says Paul Watson, director of Sea Shepherd. “We are the navy to Earth First!’s army,” says Watson. “It’s the war to save the planet. This kind of action will be getting stronger. The environmental movement doesn’t have many deserters and has a high level of recruitment. Eventually there will be open war.”