Photo credit: Kinessa Johnson and True Activist
Editor’s Note: DGR does not endorse Kinessa Johnson or VETPAW, and views significant parts of their work as problematic (e.g. pervasive use of nationalistic propaganda, an implicit white saviour narrative, and echoes of imperialism). However, this phenomenon is interesting and worth discussing.
by Liam Campbell
Kinessa Johnson is a heavily tattooed U.S. military veteran, she is also an experienced firearms instructor and mechanic. After completing one tour in Afghanistan she joined VETPAW, an NGO that focuses on providing training and resources for park rangers and anti-poaching groups that protect endangered species. According to Johnson, park rangers in Africa face extreme danger “they lost about 187 guys last year over trying to save rhinos and elephants.” VETPAW’s response is to send U.S. combat veterans to provide specialist training, in hopes that they can help park rangers reduce both poaching and their own casualties.
According to Johnson “after the first obvious priority of enforcing existing poaching laws, educating the locals on protecting their country’s natural resources is most important overall.” Although this perspective has an implicitly patronising tone, there is also some validity in it — park rangers are often under resourced, which results in poor training and inadequate equipment. Sending rangers highly-trained specialists makes sense, as does sending them better equipment. What gives me pause about a group like VETPAW is how they’ve framed their mission:
“VETPAW is a group of post 9/11 US veterans with combat skills who are committed to protecting and training Park Rangers to combat poaching on the ground in Africa.
We employ veterans to help fight the increasing unemployment rate of this group in the US but also, and most importantly, because their skills learned on the frontlines in Afghanistan is unrivaled. These highly trained service men and women lead the war against brutality and oppression, for both human beings and the animal kingdom.”
What stands out to me is the combination of nationalistic buzzwords and the patronising framing. Why specify “post 9/11 US veterans?” Because those are all trigger words for American nationalism. It’s also problematic that their mission frames U.S. veterans as champions who opposed “brutality and oppression.” Last, but not least, is their use of the phrase “animal kingdom” which is a subconscious frame implying an inherent hierarchy (where, presumably, either humans or a christian god presides at the top).
To me, this phenomenon is reminiscent of proto ecofascism, the first seed of a new form of fascist movement that wraps itself in nationalistic flags and hides behind the morality of environmentalism. It’s also concerning that groups like VETPAW would have an obvious appeal to combat veterans who are interested in hunting economically desperate Africans, under the guise of charity.
From the a Deep Green Resistance analysis perspective, this is a complex issue. It would obviously be better to quietly and respectfully provide resources to indigenously-led groups but, on the other hand, if organisations like this end up resulting in tangible reductions in poaching, that may be better than nothing. What do you think about this issue? Let us know in the comments.