North America is a land of intense contrasts. Home to some of the most vile manifestations of the global industrial economy (from biotechnology and mining industries to the Pentagon) both Canada and the United States reek of an inflated 'standard of living' so far out of touch with natural limits that millions of naive citizens think the rest of the world is badly in need of assistance to keep up with us. Such a vacancy of consciousness in the populace seems surreal when contrasted with the sprawling magnificent wildlands and pockets of unmolested biodiversity. Huge, tourist-oriented National Parks help maintain the delusion that industrial society and wilderness are compatible, while the consumptive plague of modern society chomps away at the wild and uncolonized everywhere else...
Although together the US and Canada are comparable in size to mainland Europe, they almost completely lack its distinct regional identities. Homogeneity and monocultures are epidemic here, and quite effective in distracting the populace from developing a real political analysis of anything. Chances are if you haven't been here you haven't ever seen anything like it. In some ways the spectacular images portrayed in movies are accurate reflections of some of the social pathologies in the US and Canada that seem to worsen with time. An increasing concentration of media control coupled with an obsessive fixation on the 'miracles' of high technology and progress makes for an ugly situation. Fighting the propaganda war is almost as much to grapple with as mobilizing the masses - both of which tend to distract activists from taking 'real' direct action to confront the architects of the brave new world in a way that actually poses a threat.
Reform Or Revolution?
End Corporate Dominance, an active cross-movement alliance, falls short of radical opposition, setting as its main goal the revocation of 'bad' corporations' charters. But a growing eco-anarchist movement is looking to more fundamental causes and using organizing strategies that reflect an anarchist, rather than leftist, analysis of power, production and civilization itself.
Earth First!, the Earth Liberation Front and assorted green anarchists are doing their bit here to subvert the 'protest as usual' epidemic that has infected our cities and wilderness for decades. Popularized by the squatting communities of New York City in the 1980s, the integration of mutual aid projects with confrontational occupation-style tactics has been one of the most subversive and inspiring strategies among anarchists. A growing interest among anarchists in ecological resistance, owing partly to the anarcho-primitivist critiques brought forth by Fifth Estate and Anarchy magazines (see page 343 for their contact details) in the early 1990s, has helped along the evolution of the short-sighted philosophy of Deep Ecology, and brought punks and urban anarcho-syndicalists alike into involvement with ecological direct action campaigns.
As it was founded by such ideologues, hardcore Deep Ecologists and even a few misanthropes still linger in Earth First! circles here in the US. But more and more, activists on the ground, in the trees and on the frontlines are also active in lefty social movements and eco-anarchist networks, and are applying an anarchist and/or primitivist critique to everyday life. At the anti-logging Red Cloud Thunder tree village in Oregon in the Northwest, autonomous organizing has developed an overtly anarchistic community committed to protecting a rare old-growth forest from industrial incursion.
Coalition and alliance work is fairly integral here as reform-oriented 'single issue' activism is all too common in the US. Bourgeois environmentalism protecting itself against a conservative political climate and a worsening police state practically forces activists to compete with each others' campaigns for media and political attention. Bridging these gaps has been a hallmark of the late 1990s, but not without growing pains. The endless debates about compromises in coalitions with reformist groups are quite paralyzing. Anarchists have struggled with formal and informal heirarchies in the infamous Headwaters forest campaign and liberal politicking in the campaigns at Minnehaha Free State in Minnesota, and at Vail, Colorado, where the ELF inflicted $12 million worth of damage on a ski resort playground for the rich in endangered lynx habitat (see Fanning The Flames! article that follows this).
Political alliances among direct action groups have been inspiring but also controversial, especially around the primitivist/syndicalist and pacifist/militant debates. A newly formed EF! alliance with the United Steelworkers of America has provoked criticism from some anarchists who see danger in the radical eco movement's collaboration with such a puppet of government. Alternately, forest activists, at the Headwaters campaign especially, have come under scrutiny by some syndicalists for provoking anger and hostility amongst loggers. What has come to be known as 'The Cult of Non-Violence' has recently come under sharp criticism in the wake of the Vail PR debacle. The debate continues to reverberate around the question of the representation of the movement in the Earth First! Journal and alignment with Unabomber Ted Kaczinski and alternately, Julia 'love your enemy' Butterfly (who's been spreading the message from a redwood tree sit for almost two years). Kaczinski himself suggested the militant wing of EF! 'break off' to form a new faction, and an informal 'green anarchist' network is slowly surfacing. The first American edition of Green Anarchist newspaper was recently printed in the States, and a rash of eco-anarchist/primitivist zines are circulating.
Native resistance and eco direct action campaigns have merged and cross-pollinated in both the US and Canada, maintaining encampments and organizing together. The American Indian Movement (AIM) has actively campaigned alongside Earth First! in a number of places, including Minnehaha Free State in Minnesota, Northwest forest defense camps, as well as on Mount Graham in Arizona, where the Vatican has contracted a University to build a telescope to detect extraterrestrial life for potential religious conversion. A coalition of conservationists, eco direct actionists and Native groups in Montana has organized to stop the slaughter of the last wild bison herd in Yellowstone National Park. In Canada's Coast Salish territory (also known as British Columbia, BC), the ongoing treaty process, seeking to sign present day treaties to legitimize and continue the genocide of Native people and the theft of land, is catalysing a reaction. An inspiring, militant youth group in Vancouver called the Native Youth Movement has been busy educating, reaching out to reservation youth, and participating in cross-movement gatherings and demonstrations, from Mumia to the MAI. Native resistance to colonization has been a major focus of solidarity for white eco-activists. Support for Wolverine, the Shushwap farmer who was jailed Peltier-style in the largest military and police mobilization in Canadian history in 1995, has been continuous in radical activist networks, largely coordinated by Victoria's Settlers in Support of Native Sovereignty (SISIS). Militant Native groups, alongside black nationalists, leftists and anarchists, hold a march and rally in Plymouth, Massachusetts, every Thanksgiving during an annual 'Pilgrims Pride' march to challenge the glorification of the Pilgrim contributions to Indian communities.
A coalition led by AIM on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation in South Dakota recently held militant, spiritual marches just outside the reservation boundary to protest unsolved Indian murders and exploitative alcohol sales to Indians by white merchants. (Alcohol is banned on the reservation, thus the placement of the businesses just outside the boundary.) One liquor store was trashed during the first march, prompting a heightened police presence at the others, but Lakota activists managed to set up an encampment in the town called 'Camp Justice.' When President Clinton came to Pine Ridge in early July to encourage 'development' on the reservations, he was booed and heckled for ignoring the constant violations of an 1868 treaty and his failure to issue clemency for political prisoner Leonard Peltier.
Pockets of EF!ers are active all around the continent. In the Southeast US, eco-activists opposing the infestation of high-tech wood chip mills in the region have blockaded and locked down to cranes, gates and machinery, and hung banners on massive export docks. Activists organize with local Native groups against nuclear power, white supremacists and police brutality, and have recently started a regional Resistance Against Genetic Engineering (RAGE) network. In the Northeast, EF! has taken direct action at pulp and paper mills where dioxin levels threaten water supplies and community health, as well as networking with local native communities. A regional anti-biotech network has pulled off several high-profile actions against Monsanto and the US Department of Agriculture, and the Northeast branch of the Biotic Baking Brigade (BBB) pied an animal geneticist this past spring. Many eco-activists are actively campaigning against police brutality and in support of political prisoners, especially Mumia Abu-Jamal, and an excellent green anarchist zine called Treeflesh is out and about. Activist gardeners in New York City have mobilized against the city's aggressive 'urban renewal' agenda that has resulted in a near-constant threat to community gardens.
Though the region is internationally infamous as a cultural wasteland (well, should be), activist culture in the Midwest is suprisingly vibrant. Some Midwest eco-activists have focused on pro-democracy, End Corporate Dominance-style campaigns, as well as forest defense in Northern Minnesota and opposing an EXXON mine in Wisconsin. This past spring, Chicago EF! disrupted business at the largest merchant of old-growth wood products, Home Depot, by locking down to shelving in the store and pirating the store intercom for hours. The Animal Liberation Front struck in April at the University of Minnesota, releasing 116 animals vandalizing offices, taking files and video documenting the animal abuse. The Minnehaha Free State still stands in the way of a hotly contested highway re-route project designed to cut minutes off commuters' driving time to the suburbs and the huge Mall of America complex. The encampment protects one of the last urban green strips along the Mississippi River and a cold water spring considered sacred to the Mendota Indians. AIM and EF! teamed up to stop the re-route, along with liberal preservationists and university students. After a raid by over 600 police last winter the free state was evicted. Though the abandoned homes were demolished, people promptly returned and have squatted the site with tree-sits and a barrack-style dwelling ever since. Tensions between liberals and anarchists flared this spring when a Biotic Baking Brigadier tossed a pie at an anti-Indian state senator. Agent Pecan was recently sentenced to 60 days in jail.
The Twilight Zone (Montana and Idaho)
Unlike the Midwesterners, the Wild Rockies activists really are as loony as the home-grown rednecks - damn effective though. In the Northern Rockies, wild buffalo protection efforts and forest defense campaigns are challenging a fervent pro-cattle, private property and timber industry climate. Buffalo Nations has succeeded in greatly reducing the numbers of wild buffalo slaughtered to 'protect' the livestock industry in Montana. One activist hurled a bucket of buffalo guts on the governor, a senator and the US Secretary of Agriculture, and miraculously got off with only a slap on the wrist. The defense of the largest contiguous unprotected wilderness in the lower 48 states has been ongoing for eight years now and has temporarily halted logging while appeals to the Forest Service are heard. Opponents of logging on publicly owned forest land have been pushing a 'zero cut on public lands' agenda for a few years, hoping to save the few unroaded national forests and restore the heavily logged ones. While somewhat reformist, and only a fragment of the solution to deforestation, the zero cut campaign has opened many average Americans' eyes to the fact that national forests are essentially a government crop leased to the timber industry and replanted as tree farms.
[IMAGE] Police use cotton buds to daub pepper spray on the eyes of locked-down activists.
The Left Coast
Twenty years on the West Coast is still the well spring of most of the energy in the US movement, or so we like to say. They have big wild in the Rockies, but we've got the big trees. In the Western US and Canada, activist defence of the temperate rainforest ecosystem has been constant. From the California redwoods to Alaska's Copper River delta, tree sitting, road blockading, and urban demonstrations have brought immense public attention to the crisis of deforestation, soil erosion, salmon decline, and the loss of biodiversity, not to mention stolen native land. The Chugach roadless area in Alaska saw its first ever EF!-style campaign in 1998. In the pristine rainforest of British Columbia, the Forest Action Network (FAN) and local Nuxalk people have blockaded and occupied traditional Nuxalk territory now claimed by International Forest Products. Several ships were blockaded in the Vancouver harbour last fall and spring by People's Action for Threatened Habitat (PATH) and FAN to stop raw log exports of old growth. As well as continuously organizing around BC's forest policies and in support of First Nations sovereignty struggles, urban activists in Vancouver and Victoria mobilized in 1997 against the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings and in 1998 against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, two more trade organizations with serious implications for activists of every stripe.
In Oregon and Washington, old-growth logging on public lands has provoked near-constant direct action campaigns over the past five years, as the last pockets of wilderness are attacked by desperate corporations and their government buddies in the Forest Service. In Oregon's Cascade Mountains, the defense of Fall Creek is in its 16th month. The Enchanted Forest Free State has grown to seven sits, ranging from 150 to 200 feet high in the canopy of the Clark timber sale of the Willamette National Forest. The 1999 logging season began on May Day, and crusty trolls have been hard at work wrecking the roads, digging tunnels and erecting blockades all spring. But, alas! The evil machinery of earth destruction came in late June and levelled the beautiful troll-y handiwork, filling tunnels and plucking howling goblins from monopods with their vile cranes. Currently, there is a road closure, presumably to preserve the precious gravel ribbon running through OUR forest from further creative outbursts. Spirits are high, and many faces, old and new, are floating through this summer. The Enchanted Forest attracts a new breed of activist...the daring, the devilish, the stout of heart. Crusty anarcho-imps and raging mamas are invited to join the fun! Basecamp is ongoing. Does treesitting work? Ask the baffled Forest Service.
The forest movement further south in the redwoods has built an interesting alliance with striking workers at Kaiser Aluminum Co., owned by Maxxam, the same company that is logging Headwaters forest. Last winter, the Industrial Workers of the World, EF! and steelworkers pulled off a dramatic Kaiser ship occupation in Tacoma, Washington, and then marched together in the Maxxam timber town of Scotia, near Headwaters forest. More recently, the two factions teamed up at the Maxxam shareholders' meeting in Texas, where the steelworkers attempted to vote labor activists onto the company's board of directors. Steelworker darling Julia Butterfly is approaching her second year in the giant redwood tree, Luna. Tree sits are also being maintained on Gypsy mountain, near the site where activist David 'Gypsy' Chain was killed by a logger.
Desert Rats - the Southwest
After sending most of the public lands cattle ranchers and logging companies to where the sun don't shine, Southwest activists now focus on a variety of issues. Native-white alliances have been central to direct action campaigning, where environmental racism, nuclear colonialism, and the brutal enforcement of an illegitimate national border runs rampant. Although some reactionary forces in the environmental movement have rallied against immigration as an environmental threat, radicals and anarchists have acknowledged who the real immigrants are (that would be us) by supporting Mexican workers' strikes at Hyundai's Tijuana factory and Asarco's Cananea smelter, and organizing with indigenous and Chicano groups (and winning!) against proposed nuclear waste dumps in West Texas and Southern California. Eco-activists continue to support the Natives resisting the federal government's persistent efforts to forcibly relocate Dine traditionalists at Big Mountain, on Arizona's Navajo reservation, to make way for an expansion of Peabody Coal Company's mining operations. At the Nevada nuclear test site, the Western Shoshone elders and anti-nuclear activists continue their annual mass arrest actions, seeking a shut-down of the test site and restoration of traditional Shoshone lands.
In Southern Colorado, Ancient Forest Rescue and EF! have teamed up with local Chicano subsistence farmers against Zachary Taylor III, a wealthy landowner and descendent of a US president. Logging operations on La Sierra, a nearby mountain which Taylor claims to own, threaten the self-regulated flow of water to the agrarian community of San Luis, where traditional irrigation methods have maintained 'la gente' (the people) through generations. In June 1999, following the EF! Round River Rendezvous, activists descended on the streets of San Luis with a puppet performance, and the following day around 40 people marched en masse onto La Sierra to stop logging operations. Three people locked down to two hauling trucks on Taylor's property, while at the front gate 75 people erected a tripod. When infamous EF! wannabe infiltrator Barry Clausen showed up at the gate, he was quickly exposed and followed to town where he was pied while reporting back to his employers (the timber industry) on a payphone!
The Biotic Baking Brigade (BBB) has spread throughout the continent flinging pies right and left, literally. Robert Shapiro (CEO of Monsanto), an animal geneticist in New Hampshire, the director of the Sierra Club and biotech spin doctor Dennis Avery have all been pied in the last year. An anti-Indian senator in Minnesota, the attorney general of British Columbia (for prosecuting First Nations resisters at Gustafson Lake in 1995), the mayor of San Fransisco (for anti-homeless policies), Barry Clausen (an Earth First! py), and Chevron CEO Kenneth Derr were also the subjects of delicious mischief.
Genetic Engineering: Digging for the Roots of Resistance
Resistance to genetic engineering (GE) has finally begun to take shape in the US and Canada. Networking and action-group forming has been constant for the past year, and the mainstream media is beginning to cover the issues. Those of us who see the need for a radical action movement in the United States find ourselves in the middle of a hibernating and mild political scene. US activists have slowly been gathering momentum with actions in grocery stores, press conferences, the streets, and a couple of field actions, but even average anarchists and radicals are uninformed on the issue.
At the Biodevastation III conference in Seattle, Washington, in May it was clear that we've got a ways to go before bringing the real problems to common consciousness. People came with a wide variety of tactics - labelling is a popular one, as is generating lots of basic educational material about the 'potential effects of genetically modified foods.' Many US activists are convinced that as soon as 'the public' finds out what is going on they will demand labelling, thus pressuring food producers to stop using genetically modified organisms. Wrong. Those of us concerned about the impact of biotechnology beyond the moral indignation of middle class yuppie consumers who have access to organic food are busy educating people about the crisis in agriculture in the Third World, and the myths of scarcity that provoke the ever-popular question, "How will we feed the world?" Many radical activists have criticized this type of mentality, and the global food system itself for creating dependencies through development schemes - the extension of colonialism. A growing number of people are beginning to look at the roots of biotechnology beyond single-issue politics, but it is only the first step. The revolution we envision is not going to come one morning with a big bang and snap of the shades, a crumbling of all the skyscrapers and rusting out of all the petrol-powered engines. It is a developmental process, and we must be capable of generating projects that will move us there from where we are now.
During hearings about the USDA's organic standards, 250,000 people in the US wrote letters, spoke at public hearings, and constructed direct action campaigns, and all they said was - we want quality organic standards. That this phrase is obscenely open to interpretation is beside the point; what sense does it make to request rules from a centralized hierarchy, when the very values at the root of this hierarchy caused the problems of irradiation, chemical agriculture, and genetic engineering? After workshops on the history of agriculture, colonialism, and global trade, the solution most people offer is to support organic standards and buy organic food. As of yet, a philosophical critique and vocabulary to discuss other modes of resistance aren't a significant part of the discourse. But some of us are aiming to bring it there.
The rest of the world has been organizing against genetic engineering far longer than the US, but looking to others' tactics is not the solution. Inspiring news from the UK and India about crop uprootings and burnings are difficult to replicate here for several reasons. The US already grows genetically modified organisms commercially, 20 million acres in fact, and the test plots of new crops are not registered with specific location information. And because the fields marked as genetically modified are commercial, destroying crops polarizes activists against farmers who, after experiencing a dramatic crunch economically through the 1980s and '90s, depend on those crops for their precarious livelihoods. Just north of the Vermont border in southern Quebec, cornfields hug the roadside for a solid half hour, flagrantly displaying signs for NK (Novartis), Roundup Ready, Yield Guard, and Pioneer, a challenge that by sheer volume, radical activists cannot imagine meeting.
There are so many industry and government targets we could campaign against and many angles from which different movements can approach the issues. But because many activists have diverted their energy into counterproductive, reformist endeavors, and because the discourse has not evolved past consumer-choice strategies, we thus far lack the critical mass necessary for real resistance. Once a few direct actions happen though, activists will start paying attention, absorbing the implications of this new mode of technology and all the economic and ecological threats behind it, and hopefully the infrastructure we are currently building through the North American Bioengineering Action Network and its associated regional action networks will support a coordinated effort.
Resistance To Globalisation
Following the lead of European and Canadian activists, globalisation is becoming a hot topic in the US. Canada mobilized a strong opposition to the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) last year, especially in Montreal during the month of May, at the end of which 100 activists were arrested blockading a posh hotel where global financiers and right-wing politicians attempted to wine and dine.
Zapatista support is spirited but erratic in both countries, with a good deal of technical support coming from various collectives. Non-profit organizations like the Rainforest Action Network and Project Underground have pulled off high-profile media stunts against Shell, Occidental Petroleum, Unocal, and Chevron, among others, for ecological and social devastation in the Third World. Labor rights campaigns against sweatshop abuses by Nike, The Gap, Van Heusen and other multinationals have provoked a major PR readjustment from most companies.
Several North Amerikan cities participated in the June 18th day of action in financial centers. Large protest parades took place in San Fransisco, Toronto, Boston, New York and Los Angeles, and a riotous anti-capitalist 'rampage' held the streets for hours in the sleepy college town turned eco-activist hotbed of Eugene, Oregon. This coming November should heat up in Toronto and Seattle, where global trade conferences are scheduled by the Free Trade of the Americas and World Trade Organization (WTO) ministers respectively. Another Global Day of Action against globalization has been called for November 30th, to coincide with the WTO ministerial. Activists are planning a festival of resistance, roadshows and an action training camp to prepare to confront the WTO.
As well as this never forget the Earth First! Journal - reporting on the spectrum of global direct action. See page 343 [the contacts page] for their contact details.
To contact Buffalo Nations in Montana, see: http://www.wildrockies.org/buffalo/
"We're environmentalists, we're treehuggers and we're armed to the goddamn teeth."
The Environmental Rangers (ER) were formed in the mid-1980s and are best described as an eco-militia. Staunch anti-racists and 'heartfelt environmentalists' they are mainly Vietnam War veterans who feel they owe their sanity to the healing influence of wild areas.
They started off by patrolling the mountains and forest of Montana and Idaho; "rescuing wounded wild animals, threatening people who shot coyotes and mountain lions, and keeping track of the latest industrial encroachments into wilderness areas." They later engaged in monkeywrenching, cutting fences, ripping up survey stakes and disabling bulldozers. In the mid-1990s they had involvement in the Cove Mallard anti-logging campaign. As Ric says; "this was my first real look at the whole non-violence passive resistance deal. These redneck loggers were just strollin' upto the blockades and beatin' the shit out of these hippies...A lot of those protesters never came back. So I decided to give the loggers an attitude ajustment." In Potlatch, Idaho, he walked into a meeting of 200 loggers, miners and ranchers announcing that they had "...better stop beating up on those hippies...[and]...pick on someone who's gonna fight back. I'm challenging every man in this room because I think you're all a bunch of no-good chickenshit cowards and bullies. So throw down, boys, or get the fuck out of my face." Apparently nobody took up the challenge.
Since then they have been active in anti-mining campaigns in Montana, taking on Pegasus Gold Inc., a company whose mines leak cyanide into the surrounding areas. Exhausting all legal and non-violent methods, Ric reckons that "non-violence is ultimately a cop-out, a lack of commitment." Armed, and seemingly willing to have confrontations with the state and corporations over the destruction of wilderness areas, maybe we'll be hearing more from the Environmental Rangers. As Ric is fond of saying: "I've got eight gallons of mad, and four quarts of whup-ass for these no-good, landrapin' cocksuckers! I'm ready to rip some heads off and shit down some necks!" Hmmm...
(Reliable [!] sources: The Daily Telegraph, Thursday April 18th 1996 and Arena magazine, November 1997.)
Fanning The Flames!
During the night of October 18th 1998, cloaked in the dark of an almost new moon, two or more people crept along a Colorado ridgeline leaving plastic milk jugs filled with gasoline as fiery calling cards at five buildings and four chairlifts.The 33,000 square-foot, 550 seat Two Elks Lodge was totalled, resulting in minimum damages of $12 million to Vail Associates (VA). In addition, a 2,500-square-foot picnic shelter,a ski patrol building and one of the chairlifts were ruined, pushing the total amount of damages much higher than the widely reported $12 million and making this the single most expensive act of ecological sabotage in US history.
Only five days earlier, a court had ruled that Vail Resorts could proceed with its Category III expansion into the Two Elks Roadless Area, despite the objections of local environmentalists. The Colorado-based group Ancient Forest Rescue (AFR) has led that opposition, noting that the development of 2,200 acres of additional skiable terrain on public land is but a prelude to VA's real plans for building luxury condominiums, a new base area and village to village gondolas on as much as 3,000 additional acres.
The new ski area alone, without the condos, would include four new chair lifts, 12 miles of road and ski ways and a 350 seat restaurant spanning Two Elk Creek. Ben Doon of AFR noted in the May/June issue of the Earth First! Journal that,"Twelve-hundred logging trucks would be needed to haul away six million board feet of virgin spruce and fir. In return for the destruction of this pristine roadless area, the public would get back a pitiful 1.5 cents on every dollar made by Vail Inc. on this expansion, or less than $1 for every $56 lift ticket." Vail's net revenues last year were $291 million, garnered from Vail Mountain and five other ski resorts, consisting of six hotels, 72 restaurants, 40 retail and rental outlets and over 1,300 condominiums. Altogether, Vail Resorts already controls almost half of the Colorado ski market.
The focus of the environmental opposition, however, was not the unwieldy size of the corporation but the unforgivable destruction of the last of the potential lynx habitat in Colorado. Since 1935, only four lynx sightings have been documented in the state, and three of those sightings were in the immediate vicinity of the proposed expansion. Even the Colorado Division of Wildlife has stated, "If there is any critical lynx habitat in the state, this is it!" VA moved into the area immediately after the court hearing because a listing of the lynx on the Endangered Species Act is pending, and its listing will necessitate the largest endangered species recovery effort ever, encompasing 53 national forests and 24 Bureau of Land Management districts.
A widely held suspicion that the fires were set in protest of the Vail expansion was confirmed two days after the fire, when the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) issued a communique claiming responsibility. Suddenly, the ELF, an entirely underground group with no spokespeople or office, was centre stage in the theatre of national media.
For information the media turned to what they perceived as the next best thing, the Earth First! Journal and the Animal Liberation Front press office in Minnesota (what the heck, EF!, ALF, ELF, the names are similar!).
The story quickly turned from the Vail arson and its motives, to eco-terrorism and its perpetrators. The spark of interest was whipped into a full-blown conflagration by longtime anti-environmentalists Ron Arnold and Barry Clausen. They immediately put themselves forward as experts on 'eco-terrorism', and contacted every major media outlet to put their spin on the story. Lazy reporters failed to disclose Arnold and Clausen's ties to the timber industry. Arnold has even gone as far as to say, "We are out to kill the fuckers. We're simply trying to eliminate them. Our goal is to destroy environmetalism once and for all." In service of that agenda, Clausen and Arnold have dedicated their lives to portraying frontline activists as violent terrorists.
The Rocky Mountain News ran with the story, quoting Clausen saying, "The Earth First! Journal put out the call for action. They read the literature and then they go out and commit acts of sabotage." Clausen continues to say, "the ecoterrorism movement has spawned 'serial arsonists, no telling how many, who are going around the West.'" Ron Arnold said in the national newspaper USA Today that "the fires have 'upped the ante' to the tactics used by terrorists in Europe and the Middle East."
While Clausen and Arnold were creating chaos nationally, internal philosophical tensions were fanned into full-fury by the arson. Because the local activists in AFR align themselves with Earth First! but denounce sabotage, the wider movement was effectively split between camps supporting AFR's non-violent civil disobedience and the ELF's sabotage. (AFR had been in the woods establishing a blockade to stop the logging trucks the night of the arson and was forced to retreat by the overwhelming law enforcement heat brought down by the fire.) In many ways, the scenario created a perfect forum in which to march out the never-ending theories about the relative merits of civil disobedience and sabotage.
And march we did, forming ourselves into columns, flying the flags of our ideological predecessors (Judi Bari here, Ned Ludd over there) and attacking each other with the bloodlust and enmity perhaps better reserved for...well...our enemies.
With the notable exception of a few descents to name calling, back stabbing and politicking, the debate flushed out the incredible breadth of diversity camped out under the Earth First! banner in the States. Underlying much of the tension was the assumption that Earth First!ers need to agree about the role of sabotage, an assumption lent credence by the existence of a 'voice' for the movement, the Earth First! Journal (which bravely but very foolishly tried to voice the spectrum of perspectives and was soundly spanked by the dogmatic.)
It's tempting to say that although no consensus was reached about the effectiveness of the Vail action, a healthy mutual understanding was. But there is an ultimate judge of the goings on, and even now the last of her kind steals through the wooded valleys of the last of the big wild on magnificent, incongruously large white paws, hunting hares in the snow and listening to the rumbling encroachment of the dozer...
To read the intricacies of the debate, contact:
Earth First! Journal
Tel: +1 541 344 8004
(Most of this article was swiped from there.)