>Published Sunday, November 1, 1998, in the San Jose Mercury News
>Evolution of a movement
>Environmental terrorism contrasts with maturing radicals
>Mercury News Staff Writer
>Climbing to the top of a redwood in the far reaches of Northern California
>last year, Julia ``Butterfly'' Hill defied the lumber company intent upon
>sawing the tree down. Today, nearly 11 months later, she still hasn't
>touched ground.
>The tranquil 24-year-old woman and the 200-foot tree she named ``Luna''
>have become symbols of a new generation of Earth First!, the radical
>environmental group once best known for pounding railroad spikes into trees
>to break logging saws and pouring sand into bulldozer gas tanks, also known
>as ``monkeywrenching.''
>And while Earth First! has claimed in recent years to be shifting its
>tactics away from sabotage to civil disobedience such as tree-sitting --
>perhaps as a move toward the mainstream -- there are obviously people on
>the fringes of environmental activism who have been unwilling to change
>their methods.
>Two weeks ago arsonists billing themselves as the Earth Liberation Front
>ignited seven fires at the renowned Vail ski resort in Colorado. The
>daring, middle-of-the-night fires, set along the 11,220-foot mountaintop,
>caused $12 million in damage, including the destruction of the landmark Two
>Elk Lodge.
>As tactics go, it stands to reason that the move from sabotage to arson is
>not that distant. But the evolution of the radical environmental movement
>-- and whether or not the fringes are linked to a moving center -- is
>shrouded, as if by North Coast fog. With the Vail culprits still on the
>loose, Colorado Gov. Roy Romer quickly branded the fires environmental
>Maybe so, said Earth First!, but it wasn't them.
>However, Ron Arnold, director of the Center for the Defense of Free
>Enterprise, a property rights activist group in Bellevue, Wash., claims
>Earth First! and the Earth Liberation Front are one and the same.
>``The `innocent' mainstreamers very likely are the same people going out
>and doing the crime,'' Arnold said in an interview.
>Earth First! dismissed Arnold's view as ``delusional.''
>Over the past two decades, Earth First! has transformed itself, said Lacey
>Phillabaum, a 23-year-old editor of the Earth First! Journal in Eugene,
>``In the '80s, a lot of Earth Firsters were engaged in sabotage as a sort
>of last resort,'' she said. ``In the 1990s, the trend has been much more .
>.. to engage in non-violent civil disobedience. Monkeywrenching was the
>tactic that people thought worked then, and this is the tactic that people
>see as working now.''
>Past incidents
>Even so, the current decade has witnessed plenty of destruction in the name
>of the environment, including some spectacular examples in this region.
>On Earth Day, 1990, an organization calling itself the Earth Night Action
>Group toppled high-voltage transmission lines coming from the Pacific Gas &
>Electric plant at Moss Landing and knocked out power to most of Santa Cruz
>County for two days.
>Two years ago, a hotel under construction that blocked ocean views near
>Half Moon Bay was torched. Neighbors cheered, sipped champagne and watched
>it burn.
>Neither attack was blamed on Earth First!.
>But since the earliest days of Earth First!, the group has been divided
>over the value of sabotage, Phillabaum said. And while monkeywrenching got
>the most publicity, Earth First! has always been engaged in theatrical acts
>of civil disobedience.
>Peg Millett, who at age 44 is one of the oldest Earth Firsters still
>involved in the movement, has done both. It was her act of sabotage on a
>summer night in 1989 that caused the first major rift in Earth First! and
>brought a forced re-examination by the group.
>Her activism started rather mildly in 1987 when she dressed up in a raccoon
>suit and blocked a roadway into the north rim of the Grand Canyon. At age
>35, she was a disciple of Earth First! founder Dave Foreman, who wrote
>``Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching.''
>Once she got out of the raccoon suit, Millett said in an interview last
>week, ``We wanted to do something that went bump in the night.''
>New recruit
>By 1989, she was cutting bolts on ski-lift pylons in northern Arizona and
>power lines that led to a uranium mine. A new recruit joined her ranks -- a
>tall, handsome cowboy named Mike Davis who wore boots and an endearing
>Arizona feed cap.
>Millett had a thing for cowboys. He took her two-stepping. She took him
>And on June 1, 1989, Millett, Davis and two cohorts put on their black knit
>caps and drove west of Phoenix to Alamo Lake to cut a power line to a pump
>As Millett played lookout, an FBI flare illuminated the night sky.
>``Oh my God, there's someone else here,'' she said. She ran 16 miles
>through the night and turned herself in the next day.
>Mike Davis was no cowboy. He was an undercover FBI agent.
>The sting also netted Foreman, who had given Millett's group $200 for gas
>and supplies for the Alamo operation. Millett served two years in prison.
>Foreman pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy and received a
>delayed sentence. But it was a turning point for Earth First!
>``It became foolhardy to be identified as an Earth Firster,'' said Susan
>Zakin, who wrote ``Coyotes and Town Dogs: Earth First! and the
>Environmental Movement.''
>Under pressure from the FBI, ``Earth First! has splintered into different
>grandchildren, different pieces,'' Zakin said. ``Some of them have become
>much more radical, some have become much more practical.''
>Still protesting
>On the practical side, Foreman founded a wilderness conservation group. And
>another early member, Peter Galvin, co-founded a public policy group in
>Tucson that uses lawsuits to try to stop environmental degradation. And in
>the tradition of civil disobedience, Earth Firsters are still linking arms
>to block roadways. But these days, they bind themselves together with metal
>sleeves or bike locks to make it more difficult for authorities to pull
>them apart and haul them away.
>However, protesters who were chained together at a protest at Pacific
>Lumber Co. headquarters in Scotia last fall were swabbed in the eyes with
>pepper spray, and one 24-year-old forest activist was killed in September
>when a logger felled a tree that struck him in the head, also in Humboldt
>At the extreme is Earth Liberation Front, which took responsibility for
>five earlier arsons against federal buildings in Washington State and
>Oregon, as well as the Vail fires. Its members have not identified
>themselves, but the group has apparently aligned itself with the Animal
>Liberation Front, best known for throwing paint on fur coats and freeing
>animals from research laboratories.
>According to an Animal Liberation Front newsletter, Earth Liberation Front
>(ELF) got its start after a 1992 Earth First! meeting in England.
>Frustrated that Earth First! was going too mainstream, more radical
>activists proposed an underground wing to keep up the sabotage.
>``Sadly, this never really happened, as some sections of the movement were
>trying to link up with the mainstream and saw the elves (ELF) as an
>embarrassment,'' the undated newsletter said. Undeterred, the more radical
>group broke off to form Earth Liberation Front as a separate entity, the
>newsletter version goes.
>Anonymous members
>Craig Rosebraugh, who is a member of a group called Liberation Collective
>in Portland, Ore., said that he doesn't knows a single member of the Earth
>Liberation Front. But he is their spokesmen, nonetheless.
>He only hears from them through ``anonymous communiques,'' he said. ``They
>trust us to put the message out and we do.''
>The saboteurs set fire to the lodge, the ski patrol headquarters and four
>ski lifts at Vail -- one of the country's premier ski resorts -- after a
>federal judge threw out a lawsuit seeking to block Vail's expansion into
>885-acres of national forest land that was also seen as potential habitat
>for the reintroduction of the lynx.
>``What else was there to do?'' Rosebraugh asked. ``People who engage in
>these actions feel they're taking up where the law left off. If the law is
>not protecting something you believe is important, very near and dear,
>there is disillusionment that happens and you find these kinds of things
>going on.''
>Millett no longer holds that view. ``My monkeywrenching days are over,''
>she said. Now living in a yurt, Millett said her voice is her latest
>weapon. ``I sing environmental songs.''
>And from a platform in the top of a redwood, Julia ``Butterfly'' Hill
>continues her vigil. She said she'll come down when the lumber company
>agrees to spare the tree. In the meantime, she spends her days talking by
>cellular phone to reporters, writing poetry and -- when the weather permits
>-- climbing around on Luna.
David M. Walsh
P.O. Box 903
Redway, CA 95560
Office and Fax(707) 923-3015
Home (707) 986-1644

Return to Home