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Radical Environmentalist on Death Row

by JOSHUA FRANK

 

The government drops bombs on kids in the Middle East, while a hand full of activists torch some yuppie ski resort in Colorado: Bush gets reelected and the radical environmentalists are issued warrants.

Where the hell is the justice?

On Friday January 20, eleven environmentalists accused of acting on behalf of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), were named in a 65-count Federal indictment that included numerous charges of arson and destruction of an energy facility. The events described in the indictments took place in Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, California and Colorado. The FBI had infiltrated them.

“The indictment tells a story of four-and-a-half years of arson, vandalism, violence and destruction claimed to have been executed on behalf of the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front — extremist movements known to support acts of domestic terrorism,” Attorney General Alberto said in a news conference.

There you have it: Environmentalists willing to embrace such direct action tactics to combat the destruction of the wild are now labeled domestic terrorists by the US government, even though no humans were targeted or injured in any of the aforementioned arsons. There were only economic casualties covered in ash, ranging upwards of $100 million according to the Justice Department.

One could argue the strength of such illegal direct action. Maybe it’s effective. Maybe it’s not. But according to those who defend such acts, it’s all about confronting violence with violence while inflicting as much economic damage as one can along the way. Such goals, as loose as they may be (ELF doesn’t have any formal organization), have helped propel the obscure group up to numero uno on the domestic terror list here in the US.

The most notorious of the suspected eco-terrorists, Tre Arrow, formerly Michael James Scarpitti, currently resides in a Vancouver Island Correction Center in Canada where he is fighting extradition to the United States. Tre stands accused of orchestrating two arson attacks that took place in Oregon in 2001 — one involving a cement mixer and another concerning the firebombing of two logging vehicles. Arrow claims he is innocent on both counts.

In an interview with Portland, Oregon’s weekly alternative, Willamette Week, in January 2005, Tre was asked if he had ever been involved with the ELF, to which he responded:

“I emphatically express that I am not involved in the ELF and never have been. And at the same time, I don’t condemn the activists that are involved in the ELF for the actions they engage in. … [People who know me] know I don’t burn anything. The ELF, it has its place. I recognize it does have an impact. It’s very telling that the FBI regards the ELF as a bigger threat than the white supremacist groups.”

I am not so certain Arrow is innocent of all the charges brought against him. I went to college with the three individuals who turned on Arrow, claiming the ex-Green Party candidate for US Congress (Arrow was only a slightly better candidate than David Cobb), was the brains behind the attack on logging equipment near Eagle Creek, Oregon in June, 2001. One of those activists, Jake Sherman, who is still in prison for the arson, worked side by side with me on the Ralph Nader for President campaign back in 2000.

I can say without a doubt that Jake would have done most anything Tre Arrow told him to. Like so many other dim-witted environmentalists in Oregon during the late 1990s, Sherman looked to Tre as a modern day prophet. But Tre was no messiah — he was just a media hungry environmentalist who longed for the heat of the spotlight. Not too unlike Julia “Butterfly” Hill who made her nest for two years in that giant redwood in California.

Undoubtedly, Arrow has done some good. In July of 2000, the agile Tre scaled the wall of a U.S. Forest Service Regional Headquarters in downtown Portland, Oregon where he remained perched for 11 straight days in protest of the forest service sales that were taking place in Eagle Creek, which is home to several endangered species and provides drinking water for tens of thousands of Oregonians. Two years later the Forest Service cancelled the sale, saving almost 70% of the proposed cuts. Tre had helped cast Eagle Creek in the national news.

But is Tre Arrow still an eco-warrior? I am not convinced. Although he half-heartedly defends the actions of the ELF, he is quite careful to distance himself from their tactics. Like “Butterfly” did when she left her beloved Luna, Tre too descended from his lofty ledge on the Federal building straight into enviro sainthood. Rolling Stone Magazine later dubbed him an “Environmental Rock Star.” He received fan mail from all over the world. Radio interviews and indy-media praise. But Tre Arrow is no Mick Jagger. He’s now just one more touchy-feely green who taints the radical environmental movement with his spiritual longing to be one with nature. As if the face of a Grizzly Bear and the Grey Wolf weren’t enough to motive us. Now we have Tre Arrow’s mug shot to guide us onward.

There was a moment when Tre and others seemed to understand that environmentalism was more than petitioning, changing by-laws and running losing campaigns for Congress. He seemed to understand that in order to protect the wild, forest activists must be willing to take risks. Spike trees. Block logging roads and lie down for the cause. But as Tre proclaims his innocence, he has simultaneously turned his back on the spirit of Ed Abbey and Henry David Thoreau.

Tre could have been a martyr, defending such actions as a just retaliation to the destruction of nature. He could have told us all why he did what he did.

Let’s just hope one of the eleven activists recently named in the eco-sabotage ring do just such a thing. Then maybe, just maybe, I’d be willing to believe militant environmentalism isn’t yet dead.

JOSHUA FRANK is the author of Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, just published by Common Courage Press. You can order a copy at a discounted through Josh’s blog at www.BrickBurner.org. Josh can be reached at BrickBurner@gmail.com.

 

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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