Ghosts in Lee’s green manifesto?

For some reason, it does not surprise me that a Google News search for the phrase “disgusting religious-cultural roots” currently yields little or nothing in terms of information or commentary from reporters in the mainstream press.

Will that be the case in another 24 hours?

How about a week from now?

This phrase is part of the radical environmentalist manifesto that was posted online — the original URL is still working as I write — by James J. Lee. This is the man who was, of course, shot and killed at the end of yesterday’s hostage standoff at the Discovery Communications headquarters that dominated media life inside the DC Beltway for several hours.

A search for “James,” “Lee” and “Darwinist” doesn’t yield much of interest, either, unless one frames that issue somewhat differently by searching for “James,” “Lee” and “Darwin Awards.”

In other words, the mainstream press is still trying to decide what to make of this tragic story, which may be haunted by the ghosts of religion and mental illness, or both at the same time.

The manifesto is extremely radical in a classic, Unabomber sense of that word. It is in that context that Lee wrote in his fourth demand (here is another link for that):

4. Civilization must be exposed for the filth it is. That, and all its disgusting religious-cultural roots and greed. Broadcast this message until the pollution in the planet is reversed and the human population goes down! This is your obligation. If you think it isn’t, then get hell off the planet! Breathe Oil! It is the moral obligation of everyone living otherwise what good are they?

The key, for me, is whether his hatred of religion is aimed at any specific religion or at organized religion in general. In particular, journalists need to find out of there are religious ideas or motives linked to his amazing hatred of children, born and unborn.

There was no way around that language in the primary press reports, of which the local paper — The Washington Post — is clearly the most important. Thus, the lede contained a stunning turn of phrase:

James J. Lee divided the world into good and bad. According to his writings on a Web site he created, people were bad, especially “parasitic” babies.

Animals and bugs were good, Lee wrote. But war was bad, along with global warming, pollution and international trade.

As for civilization? The environmental militant who was killed Wednesday at the end of a tense hostage standoff at Discovery Communications headquarters in downtown Silver Spring, termed it “filth.”

After recounting the details of the tense and fatal showdown, the Post team added:

Lee, who once listed a Silver Spring homeless center as his address but who had inherited property in Hawaii that he sold for $90,000, held extreme views about the environment. According to writings on the Internet, he believed that humanity had polluted the planet and that human reproduction was the worst pollutant.

“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,” he wrote in an 11-point Internet communique that authorities said was similar to demands he made Wednesday. He seemed to target Discovery for its role in communicating views he disliked and saw it as a potential vehicle for promoting ideas he approved.

That is a frank and clear statement of some of the obvious issues raised in this story. So, where do journalists go from here?

Well, I wonder what Lee thought of the Catholic Church and its doctrines (and other traditional forms of religion in Western culture)? How about those telegenic large-family evangelicals? I wonder the degree to which the books in his personal library point toward environmentalism as an alternative religion in and of itself?

Over at the Huffington Post, ecologist Michael Zimmerman is already digging, with the help of Bron Taylor of the University of Florida. Check this out:

After hearing about the incident in Maryland yesterday where a protester was shot and killed by police after threatening employees at the Discovery Channel’s headquarters claiming the channel was not doing enough to save the planet, I thought of Taylor as someone who might help us make sense of the situation. My hunch was quickly confirmed when I learned that Lee had been influenced by the novels written by Daniel Quinn, for I knew Taylor had written about Quinn’s influence on environmentalists in his new book, Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future.

I dare not try to summarize the dialogue that follows this, but there is much to ponder.

Meanwhile, please help your GetReligionistas look for mainstream coverage that takes these religious themes seriously. I sense there is a large ghost in this tragedy.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The one thing I noticed is how the media treats a person who has gone bezerk on left-wing ideologies like Lee (environmental liberal-leftist) and the woman professor (Obama supporter,liberal- leftist) who went bezerker killing colleagues in her school. Not once in the media have I seen a claim that liberal- left talk in the media set them off and that liberals and those on the left ought to shut up.
    But look at the other side. The liberals in the media are doing everything possible to frighten people about an alleged potential for violence caused by religious or conservative ideas and principles being embraced and promoted. Main target: The Tea Party movement which is very sympathetic to religious values and religious believers. You’d think Glen Beck had a fascist rally on the Mall and violence is sure to follow to read and hear some in the media.
    In fact, our Mass. liberal Democrat governor, when asked about Beck’s rally actually said that freedom for such rallies should be done away with. (He is now furiously back pedalling). Shades of Bella Pelosi wanting to investigate people that don’t toe the liberal party line on religious issues like the mosque.

  • Jerry

    For those that don’t know this, “Darwin Award” is a sardonic expression for people who improve the gene pool and aid evolution by removing themselves from it. It’s typically applied to people who kill themselves accidentally specifically at that site puts it: “The candidate must exhibit an astounding misapplication of judgment.”

  • tmatt


    I hoped people would click the URL in curiosity and find that out.

  • Crimson Wife

    Good question whether Lee targeted Discovery in part because of all the positive press they give the Duggars and other mega-families, many of whom identify as Christian. How many of Americans first heard of the “Quiverfull” movement within Protestant Christianity through the Duggars’ TV specials and show?

  • Bron Taylor

    More details about and examples of the kind of views and spirituality with which Lee, apparently, had affinity, can be found in Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future. The book examines both the positive and perilous possibilities of such nature-based worldviews and practices.