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EARTH FIRST! EXPOSED

OVERVIEW

"It could have killed someone," said San Diego fire captain Jeff Carle. Three workers sleeping at a construction site were able to escape after the terrorist Earth Liberation Front (ELF) set fire to an unfinished, 200-unit condominium development late one night in August, 2003.

A newspaper reported: "Flames leapt 200 feet into the air and could be seen for miles. Grapefruit-sized fireballs landed in courtyards and patios of adjacent buildings, and burning embers swirled in the night." Nearby residents were evacuated and returned home to find their window blinds had melted from the heat. A 500-gallon fuel tank exploded. Damages were estimated at $50 million.

One local resident described the event for San Diego's NBC affiliate: "Smoke was just coming straight at you. The flames were just all over. It was just terror." A construction worker remarked: "I'm out of work now. Thank you, arsonist."

A twelve-foot sign next to the arson site read: "If you build it -- we will burn it -- the E.L.F.'s are mad." The Earth Liberation Front, along with its sister group, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), have taken responsibility for more than 600 crimes since 1996, totaling more than $100 million in damages.

The Earth Liberation Front sprung from -- and in many ways is still an arm of -- Earth First!.

Earth First! (EF!) is a "warrior society" that takes a "by any means necessary" approach to "defending mother earth." The group declines to participate in the democratic process, preferring instead to damage, disable, and destroy the property of its ever-growing list of enemies. EF! targets include, but are by no means limited to, loggers, ranchers, and farmers -- especially those who grow genetically modified crops. Earth First!ers' crimes include assault, arson, and untold acts of sabotage.

Before he quit in the late 1980s, the driving force behind EF! was a man named Dave Foreman. His book Ecodefense: A Field Guide To Monkeywrenching is a how-to for environmental saboteurs. It includes nine chapters of instructions on subjects ranging from tree spiking to destroying roads, from disabling equipment to making smoke bombs. Rodney Coronado, an Earth First! zealot who was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison following a string of arsons, calls the book "our bible."

A "Mainstream" Spin-off?

The legend of EF!'s founding involves five friends hanging out in the desert, drunk and high. They were inspired by Edward Abbey's book The Monkeywrench Gang, which chronicles a gang of environmental zealots who sabotage oil, mining, and farming interests. A different story, one that doesn't get told as often or as gleefully, was outlined by author Ron Arnold in Trashing the Economy:

Defectors from the environmental movement have told us that Earth First! founder Dave Foreman was approached by the Sierra Club and his employer, the Wilderness Society, in 1979 with an offer to fund a new extremist point group for the movement. It would serve the function of making their own demands look more reasonable … Defectors say that Foreman made the deal by himself in a comfortable Wilderness Society office, and accepted the offer on the condition that funding would be steady and adequate, and that his participation was a limited 10-year deal.

While this story is almost impossible to confirm, there is evidence for its veracity. Dave Foreman did quit EF! after about ten years. And comments from Foreman himself are revealing. Smithsonian magazine writes:

"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."

In his own book, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, Foreman brags: "A major accomplishment of Earth First! … has been to expand the environmental spectrum to where the Sierra Club and other groups are perceived as moderates." Foreman made the same point to Audubon magazine in 1982: "When I call the Sierra Club 'namby pamby,' that is done consciously to negate what [Secretary of the Interior James] Watt says when he calls them extremists."

In the same Audubon article, long-time Sierra Club executive director and Foreman mentor David Brower argued: "The people that are easily named extreme make the people who were extreme seem suddenly reasonable." Brower told E magazine:

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.

The Earth First! Journal

Every industry has its trade rags, and the leading magazine for the environmental fringe is the Earth First! Journal. Unsuspecting magazine browsers in mainstream bookstores might stumble across the Journal, which provides tactical information and motivation to saboteurs -- while singing the praises of Earth First!ers who destroy fishing boats, genetically modified crops, and logging equipment.

The Journal features articles by some of America's most violent eco-terrorists. One issue, for example, included an essay by convicted arsonist Jeffrey Luers about "Why I set a fire at [Eugene, Oregon's] Romania Chevrolet." The same issue included a treatise titled "The Non-violent Use of Gunpowder."

"By every means necessary we will bring this and every other empire down! Mutiny and sabotage in defense of Mother Earth!" screamed another recent article condemning the war in Iraq. Elsewhere in that same issue: "A snitch is no longer entitled to basic expectations of safety. As such, it is righteous to hurt them, burn down their house or do similarly naughty things to them."

In 2000, the 20th Anniversary issue of the Earth First! Journal bragged: "The simple idea of putting the earth first had drawn expanding crowds of hippies, anarchists, animal rights activists and all sorts of riffraff." The kind of people who "riff" alphabet songs like this one:

I is incendiary, like burning 'dozers
J is for jail time, and other enclosures
K is for kill, what they'll do if they catch you.

In 2002, the Earth First! Journal published a two-page spread called "Most-Wanted Eco-terrorists: the Biotechnology Industry." Claiming that "everyone at Monsanto is an eco-terrorist," it opened with a line that has become emblematic of green radicals everywhere: "The Earth is not dying, it is being killed by corporations such as the biotechnology industries, and the people who are killing it have names and addresses." The article then went on to list names and addresses.

"The Earth First! Journal Collective" wrote an open letter appearing in the Spring 2003 issue of the rag for Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). One of the most violent groups of animal-rights zealots, SHAC has incubated the technique of harassing, threatening, and in some cases physically harming people who happen to work for a company they don't like. The open letter read:

SHAC's tactics and strategies need to be analyzed and implemented by the environmental movement. The results generated by SHAC's actions are awe-inspiring, and the environmental movement needs to start paying attention.

The letter went on to describe how Earth First!ers have begun harassing "an ecoterrorist in our eyes" whose job it is to remove tree sitters safely from their perch:

In recent months, activists haven't waited for Climber Eric to show up in the forest. They have visited his home, business and insurance company. At home, Climber Eric was not the same confident, controlled person that he is in the woods, where he is usually protected by his crew and local police. In fact, he was visibly distraught. For Climber Eric, this is just the beginning.

Several newspapers reported Rodney Coronado boasting that he "was no pacifist hippie, my actions speak louder than my words." What the papers didn't report was that those words were directed at "Climber Eric," and, according to his employer, Coronado continued: "I'm coming to your door. Hey, do you got any food in your house? Don't worry, I'll go to your house and ask your wife."

"Earth First! is a verb, not a noun."

EF! works very hard to convince the public that its activities are not governed by any formal institution. "Earth First! is not an organization, but a movement" is the constant refrain. "There are no members of Earth First!, only Earth First!ers."

There are practical as well as romantic reasons to downplay any organizational structure. According to the Earth First! Journal: "To avoid co-option, we feel it is necessary to avoid the corporate organizational structure so readily embraced by many environmental groups." Of course, most green groups engage in legal activities -- and therefore don't fear "co-option."

While there is no primary EF! office, there are numerous incorporated Earth First! organizations, each with its own specific function. These include Daily Planet Publishing (which publishes the Earth First! Journal), the Fund for Wild Nature (formerly the Earth First! Foundation), the Trees Foundation, and the Earth First! Direct Action Fund.

For the benefit of anyone who doubts that these are genuine, legal "organizations," consider that the website of the Fund for Wild Nature once read: "The Fund relies on invididual [sic] contributors like yourself, and your friends. We accept donations of cash, stock or other financial assets." Here is a tax-exempt foundation making a plea for corporate securities, on behalf of a group that claims to exist without any structure.

This non-organization, which preaches "no compromise in defense of mother earth," is very much aware of who pays the bills. The Washington Times reports that Atlanta media mogul Ted Turner, who has personally contributed to radical environmental groups, gets a free pass from EF! militants:

While a timber-cutting operation was under way on one of his [Turner's] ranches in 1998, members of the radical environmental group Earth First! instead protested timber cutting on a nearby ranch owned by Zachary Taylor, said private investigator Barry R. Clausen, who spent a year undercover at EarthFirst.

He asked a protester why the group did not include take on [sic] Mr. Turner, Mr. Clausen said, and was told: "We cannot. That's where our money comes from."

Mr. Clausen, author of "Burning Rage," an investigation of domestic terrorism, said environmental groups' nickname for Mr. Turner is "Daddy Greenbucks."

"Ted Turner has canned hunts where you can shoot a buffalo ... and drilling ... in New Mexico and clear-cutting trees and he never gets protested. And when you ask why, it's because he is one of the biggest contributors to extremist groups," Mr. Clausen said.

Interlocking, Interrelated Radicals

If you want to contribute money to EF! and get a tax break on your donation, send your check to the Fund for Wild Nature (FWN). Formerly named the Earth First! Foundation, FWN serves as a tax-exempt pass-through for money to reach Earth First!ers. It has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to EF! organizations.

FWN has doled out money to the Earth First! Journal, Mendocino Earth First! and North Coast Earth First! (California), Elaho Earth First! (Canada), Wild Rockies Earth First!, Arizona Earth First!, and many others. More often, though, the Fund gives to EF! groups that don't have the words "Earth First!" in their names -- like the Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters (BACH). BACH's leader is Karen Pickett, whose arrest record hasn't prevented her from holding the purse strings for the Earth First! Direct Action Fund.

Another FWN beneficiary is the Cascadia Forest Alliance (CFA). According to Bear Deluxe magazine, "Former Earth First! members conceived the CFA as a fresh organization for combating Salvage Rider cutting in Oregon. Since then, hundreds of people -- including Portland's Tre Arrow, who gained local fame when he spent 11 days protesting the sale from a second story ledge at the Forest Service headquarters in Portland -- have occupied the tree-sits at Eagle Creek."

"Tre Arrow," whose real name is Michael Scarpitti, graces the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in October, 2002 for a string of arsons, including the torching of three cement trucks. The government has offered $25,000 for information leading to his arrest. Although Scarpitti is still on the loose, law enforcement officers spotted him in 2003 near Arcadia, California -- accompanied by none other than Rodney Coronado.

Coronado argues that EF! is part of one big happy family, along with the FBI's most feared domestic terrorist groups, the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front: "Whether a member of a Headwaters nonviolent affinity group, Cascadia Forest Defenders or the Earth Liberation Front," Coronado wrote in a 2001 essay, "all Earth First!ers should recognize the positive value of each other's contributions and exploit the leverage they create against our common opponent."

FWN provided the initial support for EF! spin-offs like the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and the Ruckus Society, both of which were started by Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle. Indeed, FWN thinks of itself as the venture capitalist of radical environmental groups.

The Fund for Wild Nature is by no means Earth First!'s only source of revenue. For example, the Dogwood Alliance, which claims to believe in "peaceful" tactics, has funneled money to Katuah Earth First! and other groups that work with Earth First!.

Earth First! founders Dave Foreman, Bart Koehler, and Howie Wolke are now board members, officers and/or founders of other environmental organizations. Those include: the Alliance for the Wild Rockies (Wolke); the Ecology Center, Inc. (Wolke); the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (Foreman); the Wilderness Society's Wilderness Support Center (Koehler); and the Wildlands Project, a.k.a. North American Wilderness Recovery, which recently merged with the Cenozoic Society (Foreman).

"Direct Action" on Your Dinner Plate

In 1999 FWN began to bankroll "direct action" against biotech crops (although Earth First!ers began targeting them as early as 1987). The now defunct Bioengineering Action Network (BAN) received FWN money. When it was functioning, BAN served as a press-outreach service for the FBI-certified domestic-terrorist Earth Liberation Front (ELF), another Earth First! spin-off. BAN's website featured a how-to guide for tearing out biotech crops (they call it "nighttime gardening") and instructed saboteurs on how to "research your target."

1999 was also the year that Al H. Jacobson, founder of the avowedly anti-biotech crops organic food line Garden of Eatin', gave FWN $54,500. Jacobson's Naturganic Foundation kicked in $200,000 to FWN for 2000. In those years, Jacobson was by far FWN's biggest donor.

Earth First! makes your dinner more expensive by practicing economic sabotage on cattle ranchers as well as farmers who raise genetically enhanced crops. The EF!-founded and FWN-funded Buffalo Field Campaign, for example, uses "direct action" to block government officials from keeping buffalo in and around Yellowstone Park from passing on the contagious disease brucellosis to nearby cattle. As of December 2002, at least 21 Buffalo Field Campaign activists have been arrested -- quite a rap sheet for a tax-exempt group.

But even EF! draws a line between the kind of illegal activities that can be funded with tax-exempt money, and those that are too violent for the Fund for Wild Nature to touch. Cash for these endeavors comes from the Earth First! Direct Action Fund. Bragging that "thousands of EF!ers have been arrested around the world," the EF! Direct Action Fund's website appeals for donations:

Direct action requires courage, commitment, training and the ability to focus on an urgent issue. Unfortunately, it also requires money. Since 1985, The Earth First! Direct Action Fund (DAF) has assisted in planning, coordinating, and funding activists on the front lines. These people are the backbone, indeed the heart and soul, of the Earth First! movement.

Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle registered the Earth First! Action Fund as a California business in 1990, with the Action Fund's address listed as "C/O Rainforest Action Network," another Roselle creation. He lost control of the checkbook in settling his divorce from fellow Earth First!er Karen Pickett. But that hasn't stopped Rainforest Action Network from supporting Earth First! groups. On one occasion, RAN donated "$10,000 of general support to Luna Media in their work with North Coast Earth First!."

Yet another Roselle group, the Ecology Center in Montana, is also active in funding Earth First! activities. In the 1990s the Ecology Center poured more than $20,000 into Earth First!'s Cove Mallard anti-logging campaign in Idaho. The Ecology Center also supports the Buffalo Field Campaign, the Earth First! Journal, and the legal defenses of Rodney Coronado and something called the Buffalo Action Project, or BAP!

BAP! appears to be little more than a support system for a woman named Delyla Wilson. Wilson gained fame in 1997 after she dumped a five-gallon bucket of rotting bison innards on a panel of senior government officials who were discussing how best to manage Yellowstone Park's buffalo herd. Her victims included Dan Glickman, then President Clinton's Secretary of Agriculture, Marc Racicot, then Governor of Montana, and Montana Senators Max Baucus and Conrad Burns.

Another Fund for Wild Nature grantee is New West Research, a New Mexico anti-ranching group that produced the "Animal Damage Control Hall of Shame." A more appropriate name would have been the "New Mexico Hit List."

New West Research sued the federal government under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the names and addresses of all New Mexicans who had petitioned the Wildlife Service to help control predators on their property. New West proceeded to post this information -- 25 pages in all -- on its website. At the top of this "Hall of Shame" was the familiar line: "The earth is not dying -- it is being killed. And the people killing it have names and addresses."

When criticized for inciting violence against ranchers and farmers, New West responded: "That's the same kind of whining we hear from pedophiles and crack dealers who don't want their identities known to the public."

The Earth First! Octopus

There are several hundred Earth First! organizations in America, and at least 50 in other nations. Most of them use the words "Earth First" in their title, but a cheat-sheet might be helpful for those Earth First! entities that go by other names. Bear in mind that many Earth First! organizations rapidly form around a cause, and then disappear. As a result, a complete list of Earth First! organizations is impossible to compile. However, when you see the following names, think Earth First!

Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project
Cascadia Forest Defenders
Coastwatch
Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers
Cove Mallard Coalition
Daily Planet Publishing, Inc.
Direct Action Fund
Earth Defense Education Project
End Corporate Dominance
Environmentally Sound Promotions
Friends of the Wolf
League of Wilderness Defenders
Redwood Action Team
Warrior Poets Society
Zero Xtract from Public Lands

The Earth First! Journal includes a section called "EF! Campaigns and Projects." The following organizations have graced that list in recent years:

Bioengineering Action Network
Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers Video Project
Earth Liberation Prisoners
EF! Action Update
North American ALF Press Office
ELF Press Office
Earth Liberation Front
North American Earth Liberation Support Network

The Earth First! Journal has listed the following groups as "contacts":

Arizona Wildlands Museum
Autonomous Zone
Biodiversity Liberation Front
Blue Mtns. Biodiversity Project
Boxcar Books and Community Center
The Brokedowns/Elgin Food Not Bombs
Cascadia Forest Alliance
Cascadia Forest Defenders
Church of Deep Ecology
Confluence/St. Louis IMC
Direct Action Network
Environmental Resource Center
Fairfax Action Team
Flagstaff Activist Network
Foghorn
Forest Ecosystems Action Group
Green Vigilance
Lawrence Grassroots Initiative
Liberated Zone Infoshop
Lost Cause Collective
Mass Direct Action
Mountain Eco-Collective
New Mexico Direct Action
Oceandream Media Foundation
Pink Planarians
Popular Power
Project Harmony
Rustic Revolt
Shuksan Direct Action
Slingshot
Solidarity Books
Stone Soup Collective
Tornado Alley Resistance
Unci Maka Uonihanpo (Honor Mother Earth)
Wild Wasatch Front
Wilderness Defense

The following EF!-named groups have been listed by the Earth First! Journal as contacts:

Alachua EF!
Allegheny EF!
Bay Area EF!
Big Bend EF!
Boundary Waters EF!
Buffalo Trace EF!
Croatan EF!
Dallas EF!
East Texas EF!
EF! Austin
French Broad EF!
Gainesville/Ichetucknee EF!
Houston EF!
Kalmiopsis EF!
Katúah EF!/River Faction
Katúah EF!/Tennessee Valley Faction
Katúah Foothills EF!
Kekionga EF!
Lake Erie EF!
Lake Worthless EF!
Loon Antics EF!
Love Canal EF!
Madison EF!
Maine EF!
OFF!
Olympia EF!/Cascadia Defense Network
Peninsular Ranges EF!
Phoenix EF!
Red Gate EF!
San Juan EF!
Santa Cruz EF!/EF! Radio
Seattle EF!
Shawnee EF!
Sonoma County EF!
Teewinot EF!
Tucson EF!
Two Rivers EF!
Uwharrie Earth First!
Wild Rockies EF!/Wild Rockies Review
Yellowstone EF!

MOTIVATION

Bomb-throwers have a funny way of making even the most radical spokespersons seem reasonable, and one of Earth First!'s main goals is to make green groups like the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth appear mainstream by comparison. Mission accomplished.

EF! also claims some success at its other practical goal: inflicting economic damage on the industries that it opposes. In Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman brags that "ecotage [economic sabotage] in the National Forests alone in the United States is costing industry and government $20-25 million annually." Putting companies out of business through sabotage, Earth First!ers believe, will ultimately protect the earth from human beings.

Which is really the point. Earth First!ers seek to destroy industrial civilization, if not humanity itself. Writing in the May 1987 issue of the Earth First! Journal under the pseudonym "Miss Ann Thropy," Earth First! theorist Christopher Manes suggested that "if radical environmentalists were to invent a disease to bring human population back to ecological sanity, it would probably be something like AIDS."

The author of an article in the November-December 2001 Earth First! Journal proclaimed that he was jealous of Osama bin Laden, and that the al Queda mastermind "is riding an unstoppable current of history." A speaker at Earth First!'s annual "Rendezvous" meeting once said that the "optimal human population" is zero.

Dave Foreman describes the philosophy that motivates Earth First! in Confessions of an Eco-Warrior:

  • "An individual human life has no more intrinsic value than does an individual Grizzly Bear life. Human suffering resulting from drought and famine in Ethiopia is tragic, yes, but the destruction there of other creatures and habitat is even more tragic."
  • "Ours is an ecological perspective that views Earth as a community and recognizes such apparent enemies as 'disease' (e.g., malaria) and 'pests' (e.g., mosquitoes) not as manifestations of evil to be overcome but rather as vital and necessary components of a complex and vibrant biosphere."
  • "An antipathy to 'progress' and 'technology.' We can accept the pejoratives of 'Luddite' and 'Neanderthal' with pride."
  • "There is no hope for reform of industrial empire."
  • "We humans have become a disease -- the Humanpox."
These are not just Foreman's own idiosyncratic views, but the first principles of the EF! movement. The National Chamber of Commerce quotes John Davis, then editor of the Earth First! Journal, summing it up: "Human beings, as a species, have no more value than slugs." And Earth First!ers reportedly sit around a camp fire, chanting, trancelike, for hours: "Billions are living that should be dead. Billions are living that should be dead. Billions are living that should be dead."

The Washington Post describes the Earth First! approach to earth worship:

In another clearing, a different group sat in a circle seeking other forms of magic. It was an exercise called a Council of All Beings, originated by Australian activist John Seed. At a Council of All Beings, you choose a nonhuman form of life and meditate upon that form -- mouse or tree or stem of grass -- until you seem to be that stem or mouse and then you tell the others in the circle about lawn mowers or traps and how it feels to be oppressed by humans.

The Council of All Beings reminded me of a form of religious worship that had taken place at the [Earth First!] Montana rendezvous I had also visited. There, the worshipers had evoked the presence of Gaia, a name for Earth as a being or a goddess, which is taken from the more scientific theory known as the Gaia hypothesis, in which Earth is described as an organism. The ceremony had been self-consciously pagan. "If you're going to talk about Christianity," a Montana worshiper had said, "please leave."

When I asked Dave Foreman, still in vest and camouflage hat, what the Council of All Beings and Gaia-worship role was in Earth First!, he grinned. "That's the woo-woo stuff," he said. "It's beyond me. But the diversity's good."

Earth First!ers, like their hero Dave Foreman, generally believe that "Mother Earth" is in some sense spiritual, and that monkey-wrenching is (in his words) "very much a sacrament."

BLACK EYE

Theodore "the Unabomber" Kaczynski is the radical environmental movement's biggest black eye. Conventional wisdom dictates that Kaczynski was merely an intellectual serial-killer, but his connection to Earth First! and the broader eco-terror movement is undeniable.

When FBI agents raided Kaczynski's Montana cabin in April 1996, they found copies of the Earth First! Journal, as well as an Earth First! affiliated publication called Live Wild or Die. This broadsheet, funded by Mike Roselle, included a now-famous "Eco-F*cker Hit List."

At the top of the Hit List was the California Forestry Association. In the middle was a prominent cartoon about the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Kaczynski sent dozens of mail bombs; three were fatal. He killed an employee of the California Forestry Association, and a Burson-Marsteller PR executive named Thomas Mosser. Kaczynski (mistakenly) believed that Burson-Marsteller was responsible for rehabilitating Exxon's public image after the 1989 Valdez oil spill.

The source of that mistake? An essay in the Earth First! Journal, which the FBI says was one of Kaczynski's "favorite" periodicals. A letter found in Kaczynski's cabin -- titled "Suggestion for Earth First!ers from FC" ["FC" was the Unabomber's pseudonym] -- read in part: "As for the Mosser bombing, our attention was called to Burston-Marsteller [sic] by an article that appeared in the Earth First! Litha." The reference to "Litha" is in keeping with the Journal's habit of naming its issues after (pagan) lunar-calendar months.

According to ABC News and other media outlets, the FBI also believes that Kaczynski attended an Earth First! gathering just one month before murdering Mosser.

Ted Kaczynski did little more than follow what Earth First! openly advocates. The September 1989 Journal included an article instructing:

While Eco defenders are quick to point out that life is sacred and is not a target of Eco-Defense, many doubt that multinational takeover artists who liquidate old growth forests to pay off junk bonds qualify as Life-forms. Such Robotoids, they aver, should be classed with damns, dozers and drillers. A "Hit List" is available upon discreet inquiry.

For Earth First!, this kind of advice is (sadly) not a one-time thing. A cartoon in the 20th Anniversary issue of the Journal noted: "Trees are for hanging. Kill a developer." And the Unabomber could easily have read Dave Foreman's words: "The blood of timber executives is my natural drink, and the wail of dying forest supervisors is music to my ears."

Less Than Lethal, but Still Illegal

Aside from the Unabomber's victims, we know of no one else who has died at the hands of Earth First!ers. But these zealots have come awfully close. The following is from an interview with Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle in the April 1993 issue of Playboy:

When I asked Mike Roselle to tell me about his favorite action, or ecodefense, he didn't hesitate.

A band of desert saboteurs from Earth First! resolved in 1989 to put an end to the desert motorcycle race called the Barstow to Vegas, which ran through the East Mojave scenic area, a prospective national park and habitat of the desert tortoise, kangaroo rat and other creatures.

"The night before the race, we took a trailerload of railroad ties and four-by-eights down to the track," remembers Roselle, a former oil- field roughneck and one of the five men who cooked up the idea for Earth First! on a camping trip to Mexico's Sonora Desert in 1980. "See they had to go under Interstate Fifteen. There was this tunnel about six feet wide, eight feet high and one hundred fifty feet long that was made for water to go through. We built this cube to the size of the culvert, and at night we set it up in the middle of the tunnel."

I want you to picture this," snaps Rick Sieman, senior editor of Dirt Bike magazine and head of the Sahara Club, a race sponsor. "Here are top expert riders going a hundred and ten miles per hour down a sand wash at eleven o'clock, sun directly overhead, coalblack shadows, dust on their goggles, and they're going to dart through this shadow, assumedly, and go to the other side. If our people hadn't spotted that, they would have killed a half-dozen riders."

"Though illegal, this strategic monkeywrenching can be safe, easy, and fun," Foreman quips. Is this what he meant?

In 1987, a 23-year-old mill worker was severely injured when his saw blade shattered after hitting a redwood tree that had been "spiked" with a long steel nail, following the standard Earth First! recipe. In 1990, Earth First!er Lyn Georges Dessaux was convicted of assault after stabbing two men with a ski pole in a save-the-buffaloes protest. Earth First!ers have set fire to a livestock auction. They've also torched logging equipment.

Dave Foreman himself pled guilty in 1991 to conspiring to blow up electrical lines leading to an Arizona nuclear power plant (he wrote a check to pay for 50 grenades). While Foreman somehow got off with probation, his four co-conspirators landed in jail. And hundreds of other Earth First!ers have spent time behind bars.

ALF and ELF

"Earth First! has provided a vehicle for establishing a new generation of environmental leadership in this country," EF! activist Darryl Cherney told interviewer Lori Rizzo. "Many Earth First!ers have actually gone on to start new organizations with much stronger 'no compromise' positions."

The FBI considers the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and its sister group the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) to be America's most prolific and dangerous domestic terrorist organizations. And the ELF, it turns out, is just another Earth First! spin-off. The Earth First! Journal notes that "ELF solidified in 1992 at the first UK Earth First! gathering." In 1994, Earth First! activist Judi Bari wrote:

England Earth First! has been taking some necessary steps to separate above ground and clandestine activities. Earth First!, the public group, has a non-violence code and does civil disobedience blockades. Monkeywrenching is done by Earth Liberation Front (ELF). Although Earth First! may sympathize with the activities of ELF, they do not engage in them.

If we are serious about our movement in the US, we will do the same. Earth First! is already an above ground group. We have above-ground publications, public events, and a yearly Rendezvous with open attendance. Civil disobedience and sabotage are both powerful tactics in our movement. For the survival of both, it's time to leave the night work to the elves in the woods.

When longtime Journal editor Jim Flynn was asked by the Medford, Oregon Mail Tribune for his thoughts on ELF claiming credit for a 2001 fire that caused $400,000 in damage, Flynn responded: "I hope they aren't caught. I applaud them for standing up and taking action." Asked if he knew who belongs to ELF, Flynn said "I am clueless. It could be the person sitting next to me." Flynn, it should be noted, is no stranger to criminal behavior. His rap sheet winds from New York to Oregon.

In October 1998, ELF torched a Vail, Colorado ski resort, causing an estimated $12 million in damage. Predictably, the "above ground" counterpart to this arson consisted of an Earth First!-run "Coalition to Stop Vail Expansion."

After the Vail construction was burned to the ground, the London Times reported:

When members of the Earth Liberation Front burnt down $12 million-worth of mountaintop property belonging to the Vail ski resort in Colorado, ["Unabomber" Ted] Kaczynski applauded from prison -- as did Theresa Kintz, the editor of the widely read Earth First! Journal. "It's war," she wrote.

Kintz knows Kaczynski well. As of March she was still the editor of Earth First! but when I tried to contact her the magazine claimed to be unable to reach her. This is unsurprising: like al-Qaeda, America's hardcore environmentalists mistrust the mainstream press and operate in cells to evade detection.

The Journal regularly publishes articles by Earth Liberation Front criminals, and makes common cause with the Animal Liberation Front as well. In 1994 it ran a letter from ALF "spokesman" David Barbarash, who wrote from prison after being denied bail in connection with an "animal liberation" action. Addressed to "fellow Earth First!ers," it read: "Prison sucks, no doubt about it, but you can live through it. The thought of spending time in a pit like this should not deter anyone from taking the action that this planet needs for its survival."

A 1999 Journal article was headlined "Feds Escalate Hunt For ALF." It was written by Rodney Coronado, a convicted ALF/Earth First! criminal who knows a thing or two about being hunted by federal law enforcement. Coronado wrote:

Whether a member of a Headwaters nonviolent affinity group, Cascadia Forest Defenders or the Earth Liberation Front, all Earth First!ers should recognize the positive value of each other's contributions and exploit the leverage they create against our common opponent.

In other words: EF!, ALF and ELF are all part of the same clan of violent vandals.

Rodney Coronado

Committed Earth First!er and Earth First! Journal editor Rodney Coronado has replaced Dave Foreman as the radical environmental and animal-rights movement's most sought-after speaker. A convicted arsonist who has caused millions in damage to fishing ships, farms, and medical research labs, Coronado instructs his listeners on the fine points of firebombing.

Celebrating "the sixty-eighth raid on fur farms since 1995," in the 20th anniversary issue of the Earth First! Journal, Coronado wrote: "There have been nearly that many raids on genetically-engineered crops. All the federal agents in the United States will not stop more actions of this sort."

"No tactic that prevents environmental destruction -- without loss of life -- should be ruled out. Be it fire or an action at the homes of a corporate ecoterrorist," Coronado wrote in a September, 2003 article for the Earth First! Journal. "Monkeywrenching is more than a tactic or strategy," another Coronado article reads. "It's the way of warriors. A way of life." Coronado would know about that. He began spiking trees with Earth First! as early as 1987. And Earth First! has held him up as an example ever since.

In Confessions of an Eco Warrior, Dave Foreman praised Coronado's sabotage of the Icelandic whaling fleet as an example of effective property destruction. Paul Watson, who gave the young radical his blessing for the Iceland raid, described in lurid details Coronado's handiwork for the Journal. Coronado himself wrote:

Co-founder Dave Foreman hoisted Icelandic saboteur David Howitt and myself up on stage to salute our [Iceland] raid, welcoming the new generation of eco-warrior, the young anarchistic animal liberationists who also embraced Deep Ecology.

In the spring and early summer of 1999, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) made three payments to the Earth First! Journal ($2,616.64 on March 23; $2,970.24 on May 18; and $1,485.12 on June 22). PETA records show no previous or subsequent grants to the Journal. So what piqued PETA's sudden interest in radical environmental journalism? The Journal itself gave a plausible answer in its May-June 2001 issue:

Those familiar with our movement’s history will know that convicted monkeywrencher Rod Coronado was a catalyst, once released from prison, in getting the Journal moved to Arizona. Within days of his release from federal prison, Coronado became a short-term editor in Oregon, where he spent the spring and summer of 1999 ... Following his return to Arizona, Coronado became active once again with Arizona Earth First!, while also traveling and lecturing about direct action in defense of the Earth and sharing stories of life in the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).

As recently as the spring of 2003, Coronado was working with Earth First! organizers Darryl Cherney and Karen Pickett to prevent logging in Northern California. The press reported Coronado threatening that he "was no pacifist hippie, my actions speak louder than my words." Around the same time, Coronado was seen in Northern California with Michael Scarpitti, who is on the FBI's most wanted list.

Breakin' the Law

Law enforcement has always kept a careful watch on Earth First! and the violent groups surrounding it. A Department of Homeland Security panel, chaired by former Virginia governor James Gilmore, took special notice of this threat in early 2003. Agence France Presse reported that the "most dangerous" domestic groups mentioned in the report are "Earth First, the Animal Liberation Front, and the Earth Liberation Front."

The report notes (page 36):

The loose confederacy created is comprised of coalitions between socialists, environmentalists and anarchists. Earth First! -- the radical environmental group founded by David Broder [sic] -- has been particularly active collaborating with anti-globalists. Similar concerns emanate from other environmentalist special interest groups such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), who have committed over 600 criminal acts in the United States since 1996 ...

Speculating on who vandalized 65 sport-utility vehicles in April 2003, Santa Cruz Police Lieutenant Joe Haebe told the San Francisco Chronicle:

It may have been ELF, but then, I sometimes get them confused with ALF, the Animal Liberation Front. And then there's Earth First! and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). There's a lot of cross-pollination between them, and some people here are probably members of two of those groups, or more.

If the Gilmore commission observations seem extreme, and Lt. Haebe sounds uninformed, remember that the Earth First! Journal includes convicted cop-killer Leonard Peltier among its list of prisoners who deserve "support" (they insist he was framed). Until recently, the Journal also included Unabomber Ted Kazcynski on the same list. "They are in there for us," the Journal notes.

On September 6, 2003 the Chronicle quoted Earth First!er Tim Ream saying: "There is every indication that we will see more political violence."