How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental "Terrorist"
That Tre Arrow, a tree-hugging vegan who espouses non-violence and lives by the airy and some nebulous philosophy of Gaia, would top the FBI’s Most Wanted list, only reaffirms the notion that the Bureau’s energy is being exerted in specious directions.
On August 12, 2008, after a tumultuous seven-year investigation, Arrow was sentenced in Federal court to six-and-a-half years for lighting three cement haulers ablaze at the notorious Ross Island Sand and Gravel in Portland, Oregon, as well as firebombing two trucks and one front loader owned by Ray Schoppert Logging Company near the timber town of Estacada, Oregon. The acts were in protest of the Eagle Creek timber sale in Mt. Hood National Forest in the late 1990s.
Located in a roadless area within Oregon’s Clackamas River watershed, the streams that snake through the old growth groves of Eagle Creek provide drinking water for over 185,000 people in the greater Portland area. Critics of the plan to log Eagle Creek argued that the forest’s steep slopes were in the “transient snow zone” and would likely lead to future landslides and mass flooding, which would ultimately spoil water quality during the region’s frequent rain-on-snow events. Arrow was one of the most creative and articulate activists opposing the sale.
A grim-faced, 34-year-old Arrow listened warily as Judge James Redden read his sentence. At the behest of his lawyers, Bruce Ellison and Paul Loney, Arrow earlier signed off on a plea deal with the U.S. Department of Justice and accepted responsibility for his role in the arsons, even though for years he denied any involvement.
“[I’m] true to a higher power … I don’t feel I need to be rehabilitated,” Arrow stated in a verbose speech to the court upon hearing the ruling. "Corporations have usurped much of the governmental power. Corporations seem to be able to get away with poisoning the very entity we rely on for our well-being with no punishment, or very little punishment," he declared.
"I don’t know what happened to you but they were very serious crimes, and you know it,” responded a disgruntled Judge Redden.
The closing of the case was seen as a major victory by the FBI, which had long promoted Arrow as America’s most notorious and dangerous eco-terrorist.
"Now we know the truth, and we know he has to pay the price," Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer brayed to reporters. "It sends a clear message that society doesn’t tolerate it, that these cases are solved and these people are brought to justice."
Tre Arrow, born Michael James Scarpitti, was raised in Jensen Beach, Florida in a suburban community on the ritzy outskirts of sun-drenched Palm Beach, where grandiose mansions line the streets and luxury automobiles occupy the driveways. His mother was a real estate agent and his father owned a plumbing and air conditioning business. Arrow was seemingly your average middle-class kid who scored good grades in school and steered clear of trouble. As a young teen he was a star wrestler but later abandoned the sport to pursue his love for music, hoping to one day make it a fulltime career.
"My brother was always someone who had deep feelings and could express them very well," his older sister, Shawna, told Rolling Stone in 2006. "He was way mature for a teenage boy. If something moved him, he would cry about it without any shame at all."
Arrow’s parents supported their Tre’s aspirations but pushed him to enroll at Florida State University upon graduation. It wasn’t long before he began dabbling in environmentalism, from initiating a recycling program at his dormitory to embracing veganism and speaking out against animal cruelty. Music, however, was still the young activist’s passion, and his college band, Soya Bean Fields, played at coffeehouses and other venues in and around Tallahassee.
After completing an associate’s degree at FSU, Arrow headed up to Cincinnati, Ohio where he fathered a child with a band-mate before heading off to Sedona, Arizona and then Boulder, Colorado. Arrow was in search of a place to call home, and that home would soon come in the form of the rain-soaked and tree-lined streets of Portland, Oregon.
“He just fell in love with the Northwest,” said Arrow’s father Jim Scarpitti. “Whenever [he] would write to us, he’d include all these drawings of the scenery, the white-capped mountains and the dark-green forests. He’s a gifted artist, and his letters were like illustrated novels.”
Arrow left behind a life he was trying hard to forget. He changed his name, disconnected from old friends and altered his lifestyle so as to be in more direct contact with the natural world. While still pursuing music, Arrow became more and more involved in environmental causes. He ditched his shoes, rarely showered and only ate raw, uncooked food. He embraced a new kind of religion, what some may call Deep Ecology — or that the living environment as a whole has the same rights as humans. But Arrow’s beliefs were all his own, shaped by what he was witnessing first hand in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest — the ruin left in the wake of President Clinton’s brutish Northwest timber plan, Option 9, which restarted the logging of ancient forests throughout the West.
It was hypocrisies and compromises such Clinton’s that invigorated a new breed of radical, direct-action oriented environmentalism throughout the region. "If the federal forest agencies don’t follow the plan, they’ll end up in court. Or, if they ignore new scientific information demonstrating the need to revise the present plan, they’ll end up in court,” explained Andy Kerr of the Oregon Natural Resources Council at the time. But when legal tactics weren’t successful, activists flung their bodies in front of bulldozers and set up canopies high in the giant Douglas Firs as a warning to loggers of their potential self-sacrifice to save the forest. It was an all out environmental war zone.
Forest activists and environmental lawyers viewed the Clinton plan as undermining the well-being of the Northern Spotted Owl and endangered salmon and steelhead trout. In retrospect, Option 9 was nearly as bad as proposals sought during the first and second Bush administrations. Some claimed, with justification, that it was actually worse. Portions of the plan were deemed illegal by federal courts, and scientists predicted that the policy would not halt the spotted owl’s slide toward extinction. Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt pushed their plan forward despite these concerns, steamrolling their former allies in big green groups. By 1994, new timber sales in old growth forests were being offered for sale to timber companies for the first time in six years – a feat that eluded Bush the Elder. These were Clinton-created clearcuts, and the administration boasted proudly of what they wrought.
The fight to save the wild forests of the Pacific Northwest was well underway by the time Tre Arrow arrived in Portland with his guitar strapped to his back. But it was in the midst of these worthy struggles that he became radicalized, witnessing first hand the unharnessed pillage of our national forests.
On the afternoon of July 7, 2000, Tre Arrow, perhaps unwittingly, became the idol of a reinvigorated environmental movement: one that was radically creative, action oriented, non-violent and boldly uncompromising. Passion for the wild drove the agile Arrow, barefoot in shorts and a t-shirt, to scale the wall of a U.S. Forest Service Regional Headquarters in downtown Portland, where he would remain perched on a small window ledge for 11 consecutive days.
Earlier that morning, in what the government saw as a huge victory against a batch of dangerous environmentalists who were fighting timber sales in the Mt. Hood National Forest — federal agents razed a camp and road barricades set up by Cascadia Forest Alliance to stop the logging of Eagle Creek. In the pre-dawn hours, Forest Service henchmen donned in camouflage and bearing assault rifles charged in on ATVs to bust up the blockades.
High above the forest floor, activists constructed an intricate swinging platform made up of rope and plywood that swayed back and forth between two large conifer trees. Thirteen people swung from oversized hammocks supported by the makeshift web. If the trees or ropes were cut, these forest defenders would have fallen to their deaths. Many activists surrendered immediately upon the feds’ arrival. But not all. Emma Murphy Ellis, who called herself “Pitch”, wrapped a noose around her neck and threatened to commit suicide if the armed agents moved any closer. Ellis’s tactic held the officers off for more than seven hours.
In response to the feds’ interruption, thousands of protestors began to amass thirty miles away in Portland in front of the Forest Service’s regional headquarters building. Tre Arrow was more than sympathetic to the Eagle Creek cause, gathering supplies and rallying support around the city. He often visited the resistance site, helping to build the structures that hung between two large conifer trees. Many activists deemed the site to be the spiritual nucleus of their movement. Like so many, Arrow was galvanized by the experience and joined the rally outside Forest Service headquarters to carry on the struggle against the logging of Eagle Creek. But the stagnant protest seemed to be going nowhere.
"Tre was saying, ‘Man, something else has to happen,’" said Arrow’s friend and fellow forest activist Samantha Waters. "I nodded my head, then turned away for a moment, and when I turned back, Tre was already halfway up the wall."
Perched on his ledge, Arrow became an immediate media sensation. News broadcasts and papers across the country told of his act, and the Forest Service was forced to make the next move. The agency had to decide how best to pursue the government’s tenuous plan to reintroduce logging in the Mt. Hood forest.
“They raided our camps–the pods we had set up–and that’s one reason I went on the building when I did, to protest the way they handled our activists out there,” Arrow explained.
Comrades on the ground set up shop and passed a bullhorn and banners to Arrow who hung the signs below his feet for the world to see. From above the crowded sidewalk, Arrow articulated the concerns of many who opposed the logging. With every word, it seemed, more support flooded to the cause. Arrow spent hours on a cell phone talking to reporters, telling them what was happening to the forests he had grown to love.
After agreeing to abide by a court order, a weary Arrow finally rappelled down from his lofty post, telling the mob of supporters and passer-bys, “This is not over by a long shot. Everyone get on buildings! Everyone get to the woods! I love you!”
Arrow’s spontaneous act of resistance was not only passionate, but articulate. He got his point across and brought more attention to the plight of Eagle Creek than all previous actions combined. He didn’t have the luxury of media access or the backing of a big environmental group. He did not own a law degree or hire a public relations team craft his message. Arrow had only his rage against a corporate machine he saw destroying, not only the fragile ecosystem of Eagle Creek, but the vitality of the entire planet.
“There [are] just not enough activists, not enough public involvement to stop this yet. Even though we might save an area here or there, they’re cutting everywhere. The result is there’s less than 4% of our native forests remaining in national forests,” Arrow said in an interview with Miriam Green not long after he came down from his ledge sit. “And on state land it’s even worse. There’s about 1% of native old growth forest left in Oregon. Everything has been slaughtered. The ecosystems are severely devastated and they give us these wicked clearcuts with stumps and debris.”
Almost overnight Tre Arrow became the Mick Jagger of the radical environmental movement. And he reveled in it.
The campus of Portland State University was bustling with left-wing co-eds in the fall of 2000. Many cut their teeth as young activists a year earlier when they hopped on buses and jammed into cars to race up the I-5 corridor to protest the World Trade Organization in Seattle. Some choked on pepper spray for the first time while others were arrested and brutalized by violent cops dressed in black stormtrooper gear. The smell of rebellion was still fresh in the air.
At the same time, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) was dispatching regular communiqués through its unofficial spokesman, Craig Rosebraugh, who lived in Portland. Since 1997, the secret members of the ELF took credit for virtually all of the eco-arsons throughout the country. Typically, one or two days after ELF activists tagged the group’s initials near one of their alleged firebombings, Rosebraugh would receive an anonymous statement that he, in turn, would submit as a press release to the local and national media outlets. Needless to say, Rosebraugh drew a lot of attention.
"While innocent life will never be harmed in any action we undertake, where it is necessary we will no longer hesitate to pick up the gun to implement justice and provide the needed protection for our planet that decades of legal battles, pleading, protest and economic sabotage have failed so drastically to achieve,” one incendiary press release read after an arson in Pennsylvania. “The diverse efforts of this revolutionary force cannot be contained, and will only continue to intensify as we are brought face to face with the oppressor in inevitable, violent confrontation."
The aftershocks of the ELF’s frequent attacks actions reverberated throughout the Northwest, and the amorphous band of rebel enviros soon won many sympathizers up and down the west coast. Rosebraugh was their collective voice. With his wire-rimmed glasses, shaved head and punk rock persona, the scrawny vegan with a tattoo wrapped around his arm gave the ELF underground legitimacy — and more importantly, sex appeal. He was quoted frequently in the press defending the group’s numerous actions. Aside from Tre Arrow, the sharp-tongued Rosebraugh was perhaps the most revered militant environmentalist on the West coast. And like Arrow, he was getting addicted to the spotlight.
“It seems that the ELF was formed to provide what some individuals considered to be a needed addition to the US environmental movement,” writes Rosebraugh in his book, Burning Rage of a Dying Planet. “Using elements of guerrilla warfare, limited to property destruction, the first individuals conducting ELF actions in the United States had a most definite mission – to start a movement that could not be stopped.”
If Rosebraugh and the fire-starters at ELF represented the militant wing of the radical environmental movement in the Northwest, Arrow and the Cascadia Forest Alliance were viewed as the acceptable alternative by many radicals. The philosophy Arrow espoused publicly was that of peace and non-violence and finding harmony with nature. He disavowed property damage and arson. Arrow’s antics largely deemed legitimate in the public eye, especially when they were compared against the ELF’s long rap sheet of burned buildings.
It was also a presidential election year and Ralph Nader’s campaign for president was filling arenas across the country. Eddie Vedder, Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore and a host of celebrities were supporting Nader’s campaign. So too was Tre Arrow. The Pacific Green Party (PGP) got word and approached Arrow to entice him to run for US Congress from the state’s Third District against incumbent Democratic Representative, Earl Blumenauer. Arrow agreed, and from his stage the wild-eyed Green lambasted the Clinton administration for passing Option 9 and was quoted in the Oregonian as calling Al Gore’s Portland stump speech on the environment, “A total lie.”
Arrow was a star activist and fast became the public face of the PGP – an image not all members were willing to embrace. “When Tre Arrow ran for congress, the PGP was eagerly searching for candidates willing to run for public office. There was not, at that time, a thorough vetting process for examining the background and campaign strategy of individual candidates, nor was the party endowed with any significant financial resources,” said Lloyd Marbet, a local Green Party activist, who himself has run for office several times. “Tre raised important forest issues that resonated with party members but he lacked political experience and I do not think he ran a well organized political campaign.”
"So he climbed up on a ledge and crapped in a bucket,” exclaimed another critic, “my 2-year-old can do that, but does that mean she’s qualified to run for Congress?"
Yes, responded Portland-based lawyer and devoted Nader supporter, Greg Kafoury. “What Tre Arrow did was to risk his life (by climbing the Forest Service building) over a rather extended period of time for an issue he believed in. That’s a pretty serious message, and in an age where politicians are processed like cheese, someone who is real carries a lot of weight,” Kafoury told Willamette Week in an interview during Arrow’s election bid. “If he was at any risk of winning, then you’d evaluate him differently. I’m saying this: When the party is in a position where its candidates are not just raising issues but need to be taken seriously as potential elected officials, then you go from dreamers to more practical and technically knowledgeable people.”
He may not have been politically knowledgeable candidate but the only progressive that seemed as popular as Nader around Portland that year was Tre Arrow. Arrow’s congressional campaign was run a lot like his Eagle Creek protests. He became a frequent agitator at local Democratic campaign events. When the band Everclear rocked a rally in support of Al Gore at PSU, there was Arrow swinging high above it all, gripping on to scaffolding with one hand and brandishing a bullhorn with the other, criticizing the Democrat’s damaging environmental policies.
In the end, Arrow’s run for Congress garnered more votes throughout Portland than did Ralph Nader’s. He continued to make frequent visits to speak to local campuses and became an icon at PSU among the school’s activist cliques, where he spoke at meetings put on by Students for Unity, among others. One of the PSU coeds Arrow befriended at the time, Jacob Sherman, would later prove to be an unfortunate acquaintance.
Sherman, a Portland native, was not unlike many of his cohorts. The shadows of the great forests he grew up beneath were dwindling, and the young college freshman knew exactly who the culprit was: corporations and their political allies. As the FBI would later argue, it was under the spell of one Tre Arrow that Jacob Sherman was seduced into radical environmentalism.
In the fall of 2000, Jacob Sherman became intensely involved in Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign and was active in several progressive organizations on campus. Over the course of Sherman’s first term at Portland State, he was drawn to issues ranging from a living-wage to the independence struggle of the Zapatistas in Chiapas. Sherman and Arrow became close. By winter quarter Sherman not only adopted a few of Arrow’s granola routines, such as refusing to bathe and going barefoot, he also began mimicking his forms of protest.
In the Portland suburb of Clackamas, Sherman helped to lead a protest in February of 2001 against an old growth timber sale that was to take place in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Like the action Tre Arrow had carried out almost a year earlier, Sherman climbed to the top of the logging company’s building and rallied the crowd that amassed below. "Sherman initially refused to come down from the roof," the FBI later wrote in a court affidavit, "but later agreed to cooperate with authorities in lieu of being arrested."
As the FBI and media outlets would later tell it, Sherman was under the persuasive sway of Tre Arrow. He was seen as an obedient pawn who followed Arrow into battle, which was ignited two months later at Ross Island Sand & Gravel in Southeast Portland. On the night of April 15, 2001, three of the company’s rigs were destroyed by fires sparked from gas-filled milk jug bombs. Investigators later learned that Sherman sent Craig Rosebraugh an anonymous note a week later claiming responsibility, and blamed the company for “stealing soil from the earth.” Rosebraugh released a press statement, claiming members of the ELF had been responsible.
In the fall of 2001, Tre Arrow and the Cascadia Forest Alliance turned their focus from Mt. Hood to the mossy rain forests of the Oregon coast, where the Acey Line timber sale, consisting of over 120 acres of some of the oldest trees in Oregon, was slated to be cut in what known as Gods Valley, nestled in the heart of the Tillamook State Forest.
“It is part of what little remains, on the coast, of an actually intact forest. Even though it was logged more than a century ago, it has naturally reseeded itself,” Arrow explained at the time. “It is lush, it is biologically diverse and full of life, it’s perfect habitat for wildlife. This is a rain forest. The forest floor is like a sponge … The U.S. Forest Service and ODF (Oregon Department of Forestry) figure that most citizens don’t care much if it’s just trees being cut from public lands. Unfortunately, they’re right, most people are too busy to pay attention to the complexities of forest management.”
Over 2.5 million board feet of timber was purchased by Christian Futures Inc. of Springfield, Oregon for the meager sum of $400,000. Several conservation groups earlier in the year contested the plan, arguing that logging trees in Gods Valley would further endanger marbled murrelets (a seabird that nests only in old-growth forests) and northern spotted owls, both of which are federally listed as threatened species. Activists, including Arrow, descended on the area in hope of disrupting the logging operations.
Forest management on state lands in Oregon leaves little room for the public to weigh in and voice objections. The public is not allowed to comment on sales of state land to timber companies and there is no way to appeal them once they are in place. The Endangered Species Act, however, does apply to state land in Oregon, and most fights against such land deals challenged in the courts stem from these federal protections. But when those battles in the legal world fall short, forest activists take it upon themselves to stand up and defend what they rightly see as an environmental injustice.
On the morning of October 4, Arrow and his fellow members of Cascadia Forest Alliance and Hard Rain Alliance, came head to head with forest officials in Gods Valley to protest the Acey Line sale. In typical Arrow fashion, Tre taunted loggers and the ODF, leading them on a wild chase through the forest, climbing 80-feet up a tree to escape being caught. The reaction became a defining moment to save Gods Valley. Arrow remained high in the hemlock fir for two days where he was exposed to physical, emotional and physiological torment. “We’re not sleepin’, so you’re not sleepin,” yelled the men below. When fellow activists attempted to pass up food and water they were arrested immediately. The plan was to cut Arrow out of the tree or keep him awake so long that he would end up collapsing, plummeting to his death.
“A logger began to cut the lower branches of the tree I was in, working his way up the tree as he cut. I became seriously concerned about my ability to stay in the tree safely. When the logger was right below me with his chainsaw and I jumped to the next tree over. Once I was in that tree, the logger proceeded to cut the first tree into three sections, taking it completely to the ground,” Arrow told Alternatives magazine shortly after the incident.
“They then made an announcement over their bullhorn that they were going to cut all the trees around me. I jumped into a third tree, the largest in that group of three, to try to protect it. At that point, the loggers proceeded to cut every tree within a thirty-foot radius around me, including trees only a few feet away from me. It was dangerous,” he said. “That night, I tried to sleep but the activities of the men on the ground made it impossible. They’d call out ‘Knock knock! Wake up! Wake up!’ on their bullhorn and do the siren thing, and smash things against the tree … What resulted was exhaustion and sleep deprivation due to their deliberate tactics of keeping us activists awake day and night. Finally, at 2:00 a.m. on the morning of October 6th, I fell out of the tree I was in from roughly 100 feet height.”
Arrow barely survived the fall. He suffered a fractured shoulder, severed pelvis, torn knee ligaments and broken ribs. His brain and internal organs were bleeding. His lung was pierced and collapsed. The forest officials did their best to kill Arrow, most likely in an attempt to teach his fellow activists a lesson, forcing them to retreat from Gods Valley. "We don’t know where he started his fall," says Clatsop County Sheriff John Raichl, "but they heard the crashing. Even with the floodlights, it was dark. One of the deputies is an emergency medical technician and started working on him. He is very, very lucky to be alive."
While they threatened a sleep-deprived, malnourished tree-hugger with the threat of violence, Arrow and his friends reciprocated only with defiance, not aggression. At one point during the tree-sit, a logger climbed up to coax him down when Arrow noticed that another official on the ground was pointing a rifle at him. He knew if he were to come down he was not going to be embraced with open arms.
"I am totally confident we did the right thing,” Sheriff Raichl told The Oregonian. Oregon Governor Kitzhaber wasn’t so sure, and ordered an investigation into the matter while the logging continued. Arrow was charged with trespassing on public land and interfering with a forestry operation. After his weak body smashed on the ground, Arrow was rushed to the emergency room where he was put critical care.
As Arrow was nursing his injuries in a hospital bed, FBI agents were investigating an arson that took place six months prior. On the night of May 31, 2001, Jacob Sherman borrowed his mom’s truck, told her he was going to run some errands and picked up Arrow along with two other fellow PSU students, Angie Cesario and Jeremy Rosenbloom. They headed to the timber town of Estacada, where the Eagle Creek logging contractor, Ray Schoppert, kept the company’s logging trucks.
"Jake (Sherman) told [his girlfriend] that, on that same night, Jake, Jeremy and Angie went with Tre to a place where logging trucks were parked," government investigators would later assert. "Jake kept saying he didn’t want to do it. Tre said they were here to do this and that’s what they were going to do."
Sherman was boastful and told several girlfriends in brutal detail his version of the events that took place that night. As he told it, Cesario was the lookout and stayed in the truck, while Rosenbloom, Arrow and Sherman took eight gasoline-filled jugs and positioned them under the logging trucks. As Sherman lit one jug it flared up dramatically and scorched his eyebrows, hair and clothing. They then immediately left the scene, leaving four of the incendiary jugs unlit. The other four milk jugs ended up burning two trucks and one frontloader, causing a total of $100,000 in damage.
Sherman had not been especially careful saboteur. The truck smelled of gasoline and he dumped his clothes in the trash bin when he returned that night at 2:00 am, asking his brother to tell his parents that he had returned home at 10:30 pm.
Sherman’s father, Tim Sherman, who did not live with the family, contacted the FBI telling them he believed his son was involved in the arson. To this day it is unclear as to what prompted Tim to believe his son was involved. The day after his father phoned FBI, agents interviewed Sherman’s parents and friends. But it is still uncertain if the FBI was also looking into Arrow’s involvement at this time. Arrow wasn’t hard to find during most of the investigation, from October to November he was essentially captive in Emanuel Hospital in Portland, healing his battle wounds from his fall in Gods Valley.
During FBI questioning, Sherman buckled and pegged Arrow as the ringleader, who along with Sherman allegedly burned the Ross Island Gravel trucks. In July 2002, Arrow, Sherman, Rosenbloom and Cesario where indicted for their alleged participation in the firebombing in Estacada. But Arrow somehow escaped the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force dragnet, despite the fact that his lawyer Stu Sugarman was helping Arrow with civil lawsuits in challenging the Gods Valley incident and was arranging to have his client appear in court at the same time.
A trial and conviction could have meant 30 years in prison. The defendants were strong-armed into striking plea deals, all eventually pointing the finger at Tre Arrow to reduce their sentences. This was a departure from earlier testimonies, when both Cesario and Rosenbloom did not name Arrow as the instigator, but Jake Sherman.
Rumors floated through activist circles that Arrow was in fact an agent provocateur who infiltrated the group and passed back information to the feds. This, some claimed, was why he was not been captured early on. But Arrow fled across the country. The FBI believed Arrow might have been involved in many ELF actions from Colorado to Pennsylvania. But his friends at Cascadia Forest Alliance didn’t buy it. All of the activists who were called before the Grand Jury to indict Arrow pled the Fifth Amendment, refusing to turn on their friend and fellow activist.
In the end, the Schoppert fire in Estacada proved to be a huge boost for the plight of Eagle Creek. Timber sales in the forest began to unravel immediately after the flames torched the logging trucks, with several timber outfits pulling out of their deals. The arsons seemed to have forced the companies to reconsider logging in an area that was so contentious, exactly the outcome many active in the struggle were hoping for.
Radical environmentalism had been successful, at least for the moment, a fact not many people inside or outside of the movement were willing to admit. While the media may portray radical activists that turn to violence to defend the Earth as deranged psychopaths, there is an underlying ethic that drives their actions. Radical environmentalists believe the culture and economic system are inherently exploitative and corrupt. They believe we are making far too many intrusions on the natural world and must stop at once. Focusing their efforts to stop logging on public lands is only one tactic in the greater struggle to bring human existence back into balance with the natural order.
Now Tre was no longer dangling from a limb to save a tree; he was on the lam to avoid being imprisoned. On October 18, 2002, Jake Sherman was indicted on four counts, including the fires at Ross Island Sand & Gravel. Since Sherman claimed Arrow was involved, the charges against the AWOL environmentalist immediately doubled. Arrow’s parents hadn’t heard from him in months, few friends admitted to having correspondence. It was clear Arrow, now a fugitive, was trying to avoid arrest. His story appeared on American’s Most Wanted and the FBI was confident their man would come out of hiding at any moment.
It wasn’t until March 13, 2004 that the FBI learned exactly where Tre Arrow was. He hadn’t turned himself in, but he was in handcuffs. Arrow had been caught stealing bolt-cutters from a hardware store in Victoria, British Columbia. He had been on the run for 19 months. “The only thing I was going to use the bolt-cutters for was to ‘liberate,’ as we call it, dumpsters [and share the waste].”
Canadian officials ran Arrow’s prints and fast became aware that he was a wanted man in the States. Arrow immediately began to fight extradition, as he felt that he would not receive a fair trial in the paranoid and punitive post-9/11 political climate. “The media has already convicted me not just of the crimes, but of eco-terrorism,” Arrow told Willamatte Week from his jail cell. “They don’t bother to use the word ‘alleged’ or ‘accused,’ just flat-out ‘terrorist’ with my name attached.”
He outright denied involvement in any firebombings or affiliation with the ELF. “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,” he said. “[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.”
Meanwhile several of Arrow’s alleged associates were already serving time. From his small cell Arrow essentially embarked on a protest-fast, as a strict raw vegan diet was continuously denied. He lost nearly 40 pounds, and many were concerned about his deteriorating health. Arrow approached a Canadian immigration panel seeking to be awarded refugee status because he and his lawyers claimed he’d already been labeled guilty by the media and would not receive a fair trial. The motion was denied.
Arrow spent much of his time fleeing the FBI by roaming around Canada. “When he showed up in Halifax, Arrow said he had an aunt living just outside the city. He came from the West Coast and didn’t talk much about his past. I got to know him as Josh Rivers, the ever-so-vegan couch surfer who defended Mother Earth,” writes Chris Aresenault in This Magazine. “He spent nights tearing around the city on a borrowed bicycle to scavenge paper from recycling bins so we wouldn’t have to print leaflets on ‘dead-tree bleached sheets’ … [Some] respected and admired him, while others found him off-the-wall if not downright offensive … He was kind and diligent, yet overzealous and a little hot-headed; passionate and contradictory. While incarcerated, he refuses cooked food, in part because of the fossil fuels used in cooking. Yet he chomps bananas shipped from Latin America at a far greater environmental (and social) cost. Lots of fury, a little short on thought.”
Eventually Arrow stopped fighting extradition and accepted a plea agreement, stating he had been involved in both the Ross Island and Schoppert arsons. On August 12, 2008 Arrow was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison, but was given credit for the time he had already served in Canada. Arrow would walk free in four years. He could have faced 40 years in prison and been forced to pay a fine of $500,000.
“Some may look at this non-cooperation plea agreement as a victory. Some may see it as a defeat. It’s really neither! It’s simply another step in this journey as i (sic) walk my path of conscience,” decried Tre Arrow in a message to his supporters after he agreed to the plea deal. “You see, it’s never been about me. From before the days of the ledge-sit, right thru ’til today, this has been and will always be about the commitment to leave our Earth Mother in a healthier, more beautiful state then when i (sic) arrived. This is about taking back our power from the government and corporate entities that would have us believe that monetary wealth and the acquisition of material objects is more important than the health of the planet.”
This essay is excerpted from GreenScare: the New War on Environmentalism, to be published next year by Haymarket Books.
Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the brand new book Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press in July 2008.
Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is just out from AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at: email@example.com.