[Ppnews] Eco-vigilantes: All in 'The Family?'

Political Prisoner News PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 1 16:48:55 EST 2006


Eco-vigilantes: All in 'The Family?'
Brad Knickerbocker Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Date: 01/30/2006

(ASHLAND, ORE.)The group called itself "The Family." 
After  meticulously casing a
horsemeat packing plant in Redmond, Ore., they made a firebomb using 
soap and petroleum products (a napalm-like substance known as "vegan 
Jell-O") and a time-delayed incendiary device called a "Cat's Cradle."

Arriving at the staging area after dark, they dressed in dark 
clothing, masks, and gloves, and checked their walkie-talkies and 
police radio scanner. Quietly, they crept through the sagebrush 
toward the target. They drilled holes through the wall so the fuel 
would pour into the building. Then, they set the firebomb against the 
wall and retreated to the staging area. There, they dumped their dark 
clothes and shoes into
a hole and poured in acid to destroy DNA and other evidence. By the 
time the packing plant, Cavel West, Inc., was engulfed in flames, 
"The Family" had vanished into the night.

Five days later, through an anonymous communique, the Animal 
Liberation Front (ALF) took credit for the fire that destroyed the 
facility in July of 1997. But it would be years before the alleged 
plotters were apprehended. And until then, according to a 65-count 
indictment announced last week by the US Justice Department, the 
11-member group of activists launched 17 similar attacks across 
Oregon, Wyoming, Washington, and California in what authorities 
consider one of the most extensive campaigns of "ecoterrorism" in US history.

Documents and other information revealed in recent court hearings 
provide an inside look at how a band of extremists - 20th century 
Luddites, in a way - tried to leave their explosive imprint on a 
society whose commerce and industry they believed was overwhelming nature.

Edward Abbey, the desert curmudgeon whose 1975 novel "The Monkey 
Wrench Gang" inspired the environmental group Earth First!, once 
declared that "sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul." 
Most who took this to heart had no intention of breaking the law.

But somewhere along the way, vandalizing log trucks and "liberating" 
lab rats escalated into firebombs, plots to blow up electrical towers 
and dams, code names, and anonymous communiques boasting of 
destroying millions of dollars in property.

Other targets allegedly attacked by "The Family," for instance, 
include US Forest Service ranger stations, wild horse corrals used by 
the US Bureau of Land Management, a Bonneville Power Administration 
electrical tower, and an SUV dealership. There were also three forest 
products companies, the University of Washington Horticultural 
Center, a Colorado ski resort, and a police station in Eugene, Ore.

While the attacks occurred around the West, 12 of the 17 were in 
Oregon, most within an hour or so of Eugene. Like Berkeley, Calif., 
Madison, Wisc., and Boulder, Colo., Eugene is a university town known 
for its liberal politics. But it's also home to more radical thinking 
as well, including anarchists behind much of the rioting and
destruction at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.

Those close to the underground activists say the FBI has targeted the 
wrong people. "What law enforcement has done is round up a bunch of 
above-ground, well-known, peaceful animal-rights activists and 
environmental activists and charged them with being members of the 
ALF and the ELF [Earth Liberation Front] simply because they can't 
find the real members," says Jerry Vlasak, spokesman for the North American
Animal Liberation Press Office in Canoga Park, Calif. "These people 
are completely innocent of the charges."

Many of those charged appear to have led unremarkable lives in recent 
years. Suzanne Savoie works in a home for the developmentally 
disabled here in Ashland, Ore. Jonathon Paul, who lives with his wife 
in the mountains nearby, trains people who fight wildfires. Kevin 
Tubbs has been an assistant manager at a department store. Chelsea 
Gerlach is a disc jockey in Portland whose father works in the timber industry.

Yet modest, unassuming lives may have masked ideals and activism that 
went beyond the mainstream. Thirteen years ago, Mr. Paul spent six 
months in jail for refusing to testify about convicted ALF arsonist 
Rod Coronado. Mr. Tubbs once worked for People for the Ethical 
Treatment of Animals (PETA). As a sophomore at South Eugene High 
School, Ms. Gerlach wrote in the school yearbook: "Our generation was 
born to save the Earth - if we wait until we're out of school it 
might be too late."

Among activists, the recent arrests have brought a sense of fear and 
loathing - fear that there may be more to come from the police 
agencies that seem to have cracked the super-secrecy of ALF and ELF, 
and loathing for the informants who apparently enabled the breakthrough.

Activists writing online blogs have issued veiled threats against two 
"snitches," one of whom has been charged in the destruction of an 
electrical transmission tower in 1999. The sister of one of the 
informants, describing herself as "brokenhearted," speculated that 
law-enforcement officers may have provided drugs to her 
heroin-addicted brother.

"Just assume every conversation you have is bugged, assume everyone 
is an informer if you must, and don't talk about ANYTHING to ANYONE," 
another person wrote on an Internet site.

That warning seems to be well-founded. Evidence supporting the 
indictments reportedly includes 35 compact discs of recorded 
conversations and 40,000 pages of transcripts, police reports, and 
photos. Earlier this month, three more people were arrested for 
conspiring to destroy a US Forest Service genetics institute near 
Placerville, Calif.

In his affidavit to US Magistrate Gregory Hollows, FBI Special Agent 
Nasson Walker revealed that the investigation involved "a 
confidential source who is deeply embedded with the subjects' cell." 
The paid informant secretly recorded conversations, sent text 
messages from her cell phone about ELF activities, and occasionally 
had clandestine
meetings with FBI agents.

The recent arrests mark a breakthrough for the FBI in its fight 
against what it calls "ecoterrorism." But the story is far from over. 
Some 1,200 such incidents have been recorded in recent years from 
Oregon to New York. ALF/ELF and their defenders point out that no 
fatalities have resulted. But property damage has totaled more than 
$200 million.

Both sides in the struggle understand its seriousness. "Persons who 
conduct this type of activity are going to spend a long time in jail 
and they should understand that, regardless of the motive," FBI 
Director Robert Mueller said.

Mr. Tubbs, now awaiting trial, no doubt has that possibility on his 
mind. Supporters have set up a "book wish list" for Tubbs. Among the 
volumes he'd like to read: "Prison Etiquette: The Convict's 
Compendium of Useful Information."

(c) Copyright 2006 The Christian Science Monitor.  All rights reserved.

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