November 3, 1998
by Woody Justice
Several elements came together recently that together raise the question, "Are Truth, Justice and The American Way mutually exclusive concepts?"
A federal judge pre-empted his own trial continuance and threw out a lawsuit brought by forest advocates. The suit stemmed from separate incidents in California where police and deputies applied pepper spray directly to the eyes of activists opposing logging in the Headwaters Forest, and one occurrence prompted public outrage when the video was broadcast on CNN last year. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that police used "reasonable force" to end the nonviolent sit-ins, and dismissed the case outright.
Half the jurors in the previous trial concluded that the pepper spray was excessive force despite its having since been sanctioned by a state agency responsible for police standards. Humboldt County Sheriff's Department (HCSD) officials insist that pain compliance is an essential tool in battling protesters when they "actively resist arrest." (Strange terminology for passive civil disobedience.) Critics wonder what further measures will be allowed to stop protests. Perhaps they'll bring back German Shepherds and fire hoses?
Other developments relate to the death of Earth First!er David "Gypsy" Chain who was struck by a falling tree in September. At the time, activists were in the Headwaters grove trying to stall the logging until state forestry officials, who they believed were soon to arrive, halted operations in the steep ravine. Pacific Lumber (PL) loggers were incensed at the interference, and an EF! video captured employee Arlington Ammons spouting curses and threats to "make sure I got a tree coming this way!" and "I wish I had my f* pistol! I guess I'm gonna just start packing that motherf* in here!" Within the hour, Ammons dropped the fatal tree into the area where the activists had retreated to let the loggers cool off.
Steve Schectman, attorney for Chain's family, contends that local authorities are incapable of conducting an impartial investigation into the death because of PL's dominant role in the county economy. He criticized investigators for testing the deceased's blood for drug and alcohol -- and releasing to the press findings of marijuana use -- but failing to take a sample from Ammons. PL had a sample taken from him and tested at a private lab, but the results were not supplied to investigators. Schectman also claimed that HCSD and PL denied access to the accident site for private investigators retained by him, and fears that resumption of logging will destroy any pertinent evidence.
Earth First! vowed to protect the area until an independent investigation into Chain's death could be conducted. In a pre-dawn raid on the EF! encampment five of the activists were arrested on suspicion of trespassing and resisting arrest. The protesters were rousted while sleeping, and most had no chance to lock-down at designated blockade positions. The next day at a demonstration where activists were chained across the access road that leads to the site, California Highway Patrol officers and county deputies made eight more arrests. Protesters claimed to be preserving the integrity for independent investigators, suggesting that PL collusion with HCSD would make any evidence suspect. Officers first removed comfort items used by the protesters and later liberally applied pepper spray to their eyes before cutting the locks. After arresting and removing the demonstrators, officers declared unlawful assembly and arrested three more bystanders for standing by.
The state Attorney General's office twice rejected calls to intervene in the Humboldt County authorities' investigation. U.S. attorneys in San Francisco said that they have also received a formal request from attorneys representing Chain's family, asking for an independent investigation. A spokesman said the request will be reviewed, but a decision isn't likely to be made for weeks.
In a press conference, the slain activist's mother revealed that the lead investigator for the HCSD told her that he would recommend prosecuting the activists who were onsite for manslaughter, and that the logger is not facing any charges. Cindy Allsbrooks, quoted in the 10/23 Santa Rosa Press Democrat, called it one of many "red flags" that convinced her that the ongoing inquiry was biased and unfair. "I've learned Humboldt County is a company town." When asked if Chain was partly to blame for trespassing on private property, Allsbrooks responded that "trespassing is not punishable by death." (For more background on these two events, see The Harbinger 10/6-10/19/98, "A Violent Streak")
In a similar but unrelated story - another one unable to compete with the prurience press and sexual investigations - a Rainforest Action Network protest in downtown Houston had questionable judicial results. In September, four activists hung a five-story banner reading "Houston We Have a Problem -- Stop New Oil Exploration!" from a construction crane next to the convention center where the Congress of the World Energy Council was in session. The action coincided with the release of a report indicating that oil exploration impacts indigenous populations and endangers natural areas, including old-growth forests, mangroves, and coral reefs. RAN revealed that the oil and gas industry spends over $150 billion annually on new exploration, but invests little in developing renewable energy alternatives.
After displaying their message, the non-violent, non-destructive climbing team descended and surrendered to local police. They were politely escorted to jail along with one ground-support member who was first invited onto the property to help negotiate and then arrested as well. The Harris County District Attorney ended all congeniality by charging the five with felony criminal mischief and setting their bail at $200,000 each. One million dollars! The average bail for a murder suspect in the county is $20,000 and the team's defense attorney questioned why "five people exercising their freedom of speech and harming no one and damaging nothing" had amounts set ten times higher than someone suspected of taking another's life. Bail was finally reduced to $125,000 and after three days and the gathering of forty character references, the suspects were released. Originally the five faced sentences of two to twenty years incarceration with a possible escalation to 5-99 years, but the felony charges were eventually reduced to misdemeanors. Ultimately, each was fined $1,000 plus $224 for court costs, plus a total of $5,197 for "unintentional damage and delays" to Brown & Root, the company that owns the crane. Original estimates by the company set damages at over $200,000.
Which brings us to a news story that did get broad circulation: In mid-October, a radical environmental group claimed responsibility for a series of fires that caused $12 million in damage to facilities at the nation's busiest ski resort. The Earth Liberation Front claimed that it started the fires in protest of Vail Associates' moving forward with its controversial 885-acre ski expansion, a project that was unsuccessfully challenged in court by other environmentalists the previous week. "On behalf of the lynx, five buildings and four ski lifts at Vail were reduced to ashes on the night of Sunday, October 18th. Vail Inc. is already the largest ski operation in North America and now wants to expand even further. Putting profits ahead of Colorado's wildlife will not be tolerated," the group's message said.
Alpine ecosystems are some of the most fragile of all threatened ecosystems - not quite as delicate as Arctic tundra, perhaps, but much easier to invade and ruin. Policies seem intent on promoting destruction of natural areas despite all logic that indicates a different path. Permitting processes ignore scientific evidence in favor of moneyed interests, and environmental victories for the last remaining natural areas are very few indeed. Given the above examples of how the "system" works against non-violent civil disobedience, how eco-activists are targeted for increased violence and aggression, how court intolerance and extreme sentences are reserved for "enviro- whackos," it makes sense that some individuals are encouraged to work outside of society's accepted procedures. (And what makes them "whacko?" Just because their motives can't be reduced to a dollar-figure?) The admitted eco-terrorists responsible for arson at the Vail, Colorado, properties feel that they have only one option to halt further development in an already overdeveloped territory.
Fine so far, but then the story adds a couple of gratuitous quotes from the same talking heads who make a living -- and advance their "wise-use" agenda -- by blaming all acts of sabotage on Earth First! The real travesty is the continued reliance by news repeaters (not reporters) on the usual sources of questionable integrity and unfounded previous claims. The AP story noted that "Barry Clausen of North American Research, a group that tracks eco-terrorism, based in Eureka, Calif., said his group has documented more than 1,500 eco-terrorism crimes in the past decade, including arsons and bombings." Come on, 150 a year? One every two and a half days?
Clausen's own checkered past includes narcotics trafficking, a grand-theft auto conviction, and an indictment on felony theft charges. He gained national attention in 1996 when ABC broadcast his claim of the link between Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Earth First!, an accusation that was quickly repeated by authoritative news sources and then forgotten when no supporting evidence was forthcoming. The government agencies with which he claims to have a close relationship consider him unreliable, and private security firms have rejected his interference. Clausen sells his book, Walking On the Edge: How I Infiltrated Earth First! published by the Washington Contract Loggers Association, his newsletter, "Ecoterrorism Watch" coedited with Lyndon LaRouche follower Rogelio Maduro, and his consulting services to any groups and businesses he can scare with his apocalyptic allegations. His business ventures are all caught up with those of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise (CDFE) and other anti-government, anti-gun-control, property-rights organizations. Unhappily for the truth, he and CDFE executive vice president Ron Arnold are given great credibility in Washington and were asked to testify at last June's House Subcommittee on Crime In the Matter of Ecoterrorism. Arnold's unsubstantiated testimony to Congress that the Earth Liberation Front was created "in order to create deniability for Earth Firster [sic] crimes" was also repeated in the AP Vail story.
CDFE, set up by gun-nut and convicted tax-felon Alan Gottlieb, teaches "victims" to fight back against "nature worshippers" who are national security risks intent on eliminating free enterprise. A large part of CDFE's membership is made up of the "false greens" -- industry-backed groups with fuzzy-sounding names such as People for the West, Global Climate Coalition, Alliance for Environment and Resources, and the National Wetlands Coalition. CDFE sponsored and organized the Multiple Use Strategy Conference, held in 1988 in Reno, from which sprang their official Wise Use Agenda that includes "We All Live Upstream" (how about that for a self-centered, screw-everyone-else outlook?), opening up public property to resource extraction and resistance to any form of regulation on the use of personal property. Another side-effect of that event was the documented increase in arson and vandalism to public property and threats and violence against federal employees and county zoning officials in the west, and especially in Nevada.
CDFE's website lists an "eco-terrorism" area that tracks "arson, attempted murder, criminal trespass, death threats, malicious destruction of property, murder, and vandalism, usually against farmers, ranchers, miners, loggers, manufacturers and homeowners." It claims that civil disobedience "while not classified by law enforcement as 'terrorism,' in fact terrorizes its victims, who are disregarded... While supposedly 'non-violent', environmentalist civil disobedience protesters use force (blockades, site occupations, sabotage) to coerce workers and intimidate them from working at the point of production (mining, ranching, logging, fishing or farming sites) to further the protesters' political and social objectives." Using this logic, one could argue that CD during the '60s "victimized" segregationists and professional bigots.
The list of eco-terrorist crimes and convictions includes many charges of criminal trespass (for violating Federal "closure" rules enacted to keep protesters off disputed public lands), disorderly conduct and obstruction. "Vandalism" includes depositing tree-stumps, wood-chips and sawdust in public forest officials' offices. These are the types of nonviolent direct action that Earth First! activists admit to and usually end up sticking around to get arrested for. Acts of sabotage, on the other hand, are anonymous, except the examples for which the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), making no apologies for property destruction on behalf of defenseless species, and the newer ELF take credit. Only an idiot would perform tens of thousands of dollars in property damage and then lock- down and await incarceration.
So where is the proof? The majority of CDFE's catalogued crimes could just as easily be pinned on nearby property owners disgusted with the corporate rape of adjacent land, or even wise users trying to build local resentment and further aggression toward environmentalists. Some forest fires have been set in order for loggers to harvest timber under the Salvage Rider. Claiming that all EF!ers monkeywrench is like saying that all Christians bomb abortion clinics. Remember that the worst tragedy of terrorism in the U.S. was against the federal building in Oklahoma, and right-wing fanatics were charged with it.
These examples make up the gist of CDFE's list of eco-terrorism, and all environmentalists are grouped together in their mind. Their website link to "ecoterrorist websites" provides only one, EnviroLink, because it provides a space for ALF among thousands of other groups. (EnviroLink is a non-profit organization that unites hundreds of organizations and volunteers around the world, providing the most comprehensive, up-to-date environmental information resources available. In their words: "Our organization does not take any positions on any environmental issues, it exists solely to act as a clearinghouse on the Internet for the environmental community, which is incredibly diverse in its views.") In short, CDFE provides little substance to their fears of a Green Menace that replaced the Red Menace of the '50 and '60s.
In the midst of this comes a McCarthyite tactic by Representative Don Young (R-AK), chair of the House Resources Committee. He wants the names of all USFS employees in the Southwest Region who are members of, or who have contact with environmental groups. ("Are you now or have you ever been..." all over again?) Young claims concern that the USFS may have become a "captive agency." Columnist Molly Ivins points out: "[I]t would be pretty strange if the Forest Service didn't care about the environment; has Young considered starting files on anyone in the Forest Service who talks to a timber industry employee? The real captive agency here is the House Resource Committee, and it's been captured by big ranching, big timber and big mining."
It seems apparent that there is a concerted smear campaign that is meant to discredit environmental activists and encourage aggression against them and disregard for their safety and civil rights. This would lend credence to environmentalists' claims that they are making headway with the general public. When they are given full consideration and allowed to be heard, public support moves away from continued devastation and toward protection for the last remaining wild places. The planet-rapers can only respond with covert tactics and outright lies, and the truth isn't the only casualty.
http://www.igc.org/cascadia/ is an Earth First! website that provides another side to some of the eco-crimes attributed to EF! and it includes an overview on Clausen's documented unreliability.
Rainforest Action Network provides action updates and issue background at their website http://www.ran.org/
The EnviroLink Network lists resources and links to diverse environmental groups at http://www.envirolink.org/
http://www.ewg.org/pub/home/clear/clear.html the website of the Clearinghouse on Environmental Research and Advocacy monitors the anti-environmental wise use movement and makes a wealth of information available about these groups' activities, funding, allies and personnel.
For an article disclosing the suspect and subversive relations involved in the Unabomber/Earth First! smear, see High Times Aug 96, online at http://www.hightimes.com/Magazine/1996/9608/unabumm.tpl
Read what the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise is all about at http://www.cdfe.org/. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat continues their coverage of the investigation of David Chain's death at http://www.pressdemo.com/