The Paralyzing Shadow of Accusation
In the 1980s in the North Santiam Canyon east of Salem, OR, Ancient Forest
activism was peaking after years of dogged effort. This is the area of the famous
1986-89 North Roaring Devil blockade and tree sit (the second ever pro-forest
tree sit; the first coming in the nearby South Santiam's Millennium Grove actions
of 1985). North Roaring Devil protection efforts went on for three years, over
sixty folks were arrested for non-violent Civil Disobedience at the logging
site; sixty-three acres of five-hundred-plus year old trees were leveled; but,
in the end, a lawsuit stopped the logging of an additional 170 acres and even
led to the Willamette National Forest Plan being thrown out and redone. The
entire area is now a part of a 49,000 acre reserve.
Naturally, this effort gained a lot of notoriety. It was the first such effort
to garner national attention to the plight of our fast-vanishing old growth
forests, bringing in reporters from around the world. It led to a spread in
National Geographic and some TV documentaries. By 1988, things also got going
eight miles away in the Little North Fork Santiam drainage when a concerted
effort was mounted to stop Forest Service plans to liquidate Opal Creek's wondrous
The successful (it's now a designated Wilderness area with over 35,000 acres
preserved) Opal Creek endeavor led to even more attention coming to the Santiam
In 1995, sixty miles south at Warner Creek, activists mounted an occupation
of a planned post-fire (an arson) "salvage" logging area. People from
around the country came and camped out in the snow and rain for over a year
before a lawsuit ended the threat of logging there.
Change in Tone
Soon a few new folks arrived on the two scenes advocating major violent defense
of the forests. One who moved to the Detroit area claimed eco-bona fides as
one of the folks arrested with famed activist Judi Bari when she broke into
the home of Harry "we log to infinity" Merlo, CEO of Louisiana Pacific
until he was rudely fired by LP shareholders in 1995 after years of mismanagement.
Bari and friends famously drank Merlo's sherry and soaked in his hot tub before
Of course, when Northwest activists checked into this guy's story, he was not
with Bari in California that night. He constantly pushed for more extreme actions
by forest defenders. He claimed to have spiked trees in the area and falsely
cited a recently deceased local (one of my best friends) as his accomplice.
He even loudly claimed to have provided the accelerants used in the famous Vail
arson. Then, he vanished one night and cannot be found, even by a contractor
trying to settle a multi-thousand dollar monetary dispute in his favor.
On the Cusp of Victory
On Oct. 28, 1996, an arson fire broke out at the Detroit Ranger Station, the
Ranger District responsible for both Opal Creek and the Breitenbush River area
of the North Roaring Devil. A truck was burned and graffiti reading "Earth
Liberation Front" was painted on the building. At the time, Earth Liberation
Front (ELF) was an England-based group that had done no actions in the USA.
This was a first.
Two days later, the Oakridge Ranger Station (yep, Warner Creek) was burned
to the ground. Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas visited the site declaring
the arson an act of cowardly eco-terrorism. "This is what people do who
do not understand how to operate in a democracy," Thomas pontificated.
When peaceful protesters arrived the next day, Halloween, at Forest Service
HQ in Eugene to protest yet another Ancient Forest timber sale in the Detroit
area, they were met by a phalanx of riot police, decked out in full Seattle
WTO Ninja turtle attire and surrounding the entire block.
From that point on, increased militarization took place at every forest protest;
including ski-masked, black-attired, highly-armed characters slinking through
the woods taking photos of every protester and, every once in awhile, leaping
out of the brush and tackling and arresting folks for "violating a Closure
The big question at the time was; not so much who was doing these arsons, though
that was high on everyone's minds; but why here? Why in the two areas where
activists were winning? It was so counterproductive that major research into
spotted owls and recovering burned areas went up in smoke at Oakridge; research
that made the case of the protesters!
Detroit was also well on its way to a transformation away from being the nation's
biggest timber cutting ranger district in the 1980s (an average of 13,000 acres
of Ancient Forest was cut annually, leading to an average yield of 125 million
board feet per year!) Now, after the transition, the Detroit Ranger District
hosts over three million visitors per year and cut less than one million board
feet last year; all from salvage and small tree thinning operations.
All this brings me to last week's arrests
in a number of "ELF" and "Animal Liberation Front" (ALF)
incidents. Bandied about universally in the media as "Eco-terrorism"
cases, each event also cries out for the same "Why here?" analysis.
Even if one was a dedicated ELF/ALFer, why would one choose to attack these
specific targets? Of course, one can find the rationales on their own website.
(The notion of committed Luddites having websites is another issue.)
Tim Hermach, head of the Native Forest Council, has seen how the fallout from
such actions has impacted non-profit advocacy groups like his. He put it this
way, "It's strange how easily we forget. COINTELPRO; industry's arson,
insurance fraud & strategic PR campaigns to divide & conquer its opposition
of responsible citizens. ELF and its alleged crimes are far more likely to be
one or all of the above rather than "us." Just look at the targets.
Just look at the results. Did they help us? Did they advance our cause or set
us back? Even if one believed there were some willing dupes from within our
ranks who played a role in "ELF" actions; were they directed, encouraged
or manipulated by the FBI or industry agents?"
"Eco-Terrorism" as a concept itself is the brain-fart of Ron Arnold,
guru of the Wise Use Movement. Arnold ginned up the entire notion as a way to
combat ever-increasing public support for conservation.
And ironically, Arnold claims that "eco-terrorism" is clandestinely
carried out at the behest of major non-profit groups and their funders when
he himself uses the theory as the main cash cow for his own non-profit. While
I agree with him on some things, especially that there is something just a tad
shady about the Big Greens and their Big Oil foundation funders; it's not them
in any way behind this wave of arsons.
Nor is it the work of any of the many small groups that have organized to protect
critical habitats. Despite the fact that a couple of the recent arrestees did
spend some time at the Warner Creek blockade, they were not instrumental in
that effort. Most long-time activists knew none of the accused.
And accused is all they are. We also must remember that the FBI arrested activists
Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney after they were the victims of a car bomb. The FBI
accused them of bombing themselves basically. After years of litigation, Bari
and Cherney were exonerated and the FBI was forced to pay Cherney and the deceased
Bari's estate a $4.4 million dollar settlement for violating their First and
Fourth amendment rights.
In summary: we have questionable actions at questionable sites; we have arrests
with the aid of an unnamed "confidential informant;" we have provocateurs
(informants?) who arrive, then vanish; and, after ten years, we have no arrests
in the Bari bombing nor in the Detroit and Oakridge arsons or the arson of the
Warner Creek forest; reminiscent of the lack of law enforcement effort on the
"Anthrax letters" to the media and top Democrats.
A pattern emerges: issues that remain "unresolved' are matters where activists
or their causes are harmed or silencing dissent is the motivation. Should industry
or their stooges be even slightly impacted by anything, legal (remember those
increasingly-present Ninja turtles appearing wherever citizens are exercising
their constitutional rights) or otherwise, the FBI stages a full-court press;
rights be damned.
It really is "what people do who do not understand how to operate in a
MICHAEL DONNELLY was instrumental in both the North Roaring
Devil (he was the plaintiff in the lawsuit that stopped it) and the Opal Creek
campaigns. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org