[Pnews] Targeting Earth First! - Dave Foreman and the First Green Scare Case
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 27 16:58:00 EDT 2013
September 27-29, 2013
Targeting Earth First!
Dave Foreman and the First Green Scare Case
by JOSHUA FRANK AND JEFFREY ST. CLAIR
Dave Foreman, co-founder of Earth First!, awoke at five in the morning
on May 30, 1989 to the sound of three FBI agents shouting his name in
his Tucson, Arizona home. Foreman's wife Nancy answered the door
frantically and was shoved aside by brawny FBI agents as they raced
toward their master bedroom where her husband was sound asleep, naked
under the sheets, with plugs jammed in his ears to drown out the noise
of their neighbor's barking Doberman pincher. By the time Foreman came
to, the agents were surrounding his bed, touting bulletproof vests and
He immediately thought of the murder of Fred Hampton in Chicago,
expecting to be shot in cold blood. But as Foreman put it, "Being a
nice, middle-class honky male, they can't get away with that stuff quite
as easily as they could with Fred, or with all the native people on the
Pine Ridge Reservation back in the early 70s."
So instead of firing off a few rounds, they jerked a dazed Foreman from
his slumber, let him pull on a pair of shorts, and hauled him outside
where they threw him in the back of an unmarked vehicle. It took over
six hours before Foreman even knew why he had been accosted by Federal
Foreman's arrest was the culmination of three years and two million tax
dollars spent in an attempt to frame a few Earth First! activists for
conspiring to damage government and private property. The FBI
infiltrated Earth First! groups in several states with informants and
undercover agent-provocateurs. Over 500 hours of tape recordings of
meetings, events and casual conversation had been amassed. Phones had
been tapped and homes broken in to. The FBI was doing their best to
intimidate radical environmentalists across the country, marking them as
potential threat to national security.
It was the FBI's first case of Green Scare.
The day before Foreman was yanked from bed and lugged in to the warm
Arizona morning, two so-called co-conspirators, biologist Marc Baker and
antinuclear activist Mark Davis, were arrested by some 50 agents on
horseback and on foot, with a helicopter hovering above as the activists
stood at the base of a power line tower in the middle of desert country
in Wenden, Arizona, 200 miles northwest of Foreman's home. The next day
Peg Millet, a self-described "redneck woman for wilderness," was
arrested at a nearby Planned Parenthood where she worked. Millet earlier
evaded the FBI's dragnet.
Driven to the site by an undercover FBI agent, the entire episode, as
Foreman put it, was the agent's conception. Foreman, described by the
bureau as the guru and financier of the operation, was also pegged for
having thought up the whole elaborate scheme, despite the fact that
their evidence was thin.
Back in the 1970s the FBI issued a memo to their field offices stating
that when attempting to break up dissident groups, the most effective
route was to forget about hard intelligence or annoying facts. Simply
make a few arrests and hold a public press conference. Charges could
later be dropped. It didn't matter; by the time the news hit the
airwaves and was printed up in the local newspapers, the damage had
already been done.
It was the FBI's assertion that the action stopped by the arrests under
that Arizona power line in late May, 1989, was to be a test run for a
much grander plot involving Davis, Baker, Millet, and the group's
leader, Dave Foreman. The FBI charged the four with the intent to damage
electrical transmission lines that lead to the Rocky Flats nuclear
weapons facility in Colorado.
"The big lie that the FBI pushed at their press conference the day after
the arrests was that we were a bunch of terrorists conspiring to cut the
power lines into the Palo Verde and Diablo Canyon nuclear facilities in
order to cause a nuclear meltdown and threaten public health and
safety," explained Foreman.
In the late 1980s the FBI launched operation THERMCON in response to an
act of sabotage of the Arizona Snowbowl ski lift near Flagstaff, Arizona
that occurred in October 1987, allegedly by Davis, Millet and Baker.
Acting under the quirky name, Evan Mecham Eco-Terrorist International
Conspiracy (EMETIC) --- the eco-saboteurs wrecked several of the
company's ski lifts, claiming that structures were cutting in to areas
of significant biological importance.
This was not the first act the group claimed responsibility for. A year
prior EMETIC sent a letter declaring they were responsible for the
damage at the Fairfield Snow Bowl near Flagstaff. The group's letter
also included a jovial threat to "chain the Fairfield CEO to a tree at
the 10,000-foot level and feed him shrubs and roots until he understands
the suicidal folly of treating the planet primarily as a tool for making
The group used an acetylene torch to cut bolts from several of the
lift's support towers, making them inoperable. Upon receiving the
letter, the Arizona ski resort was forced to shut down the lift in order
to repair the damages, which rang up to over $50,000.
But the big allegations heaved at these eco-saboteurs wasn't for
dislodging a few bolts at a quaint ski resort in the heart of the
Arizona mountains, or for inconveniencing a few ski bums from their
daily excursions. No, the big charges were levied at the group for
allegedly plotting to disrupt the functions of the Rocky Flats nuclear
facility hundreds of miles away. Ironically, at the moment of their
arrests, the FBI was simultaneously looking into public health concerns
due to an illegal radioactive waste leak at the nuclear power site,
which led Earth First! activist Mike Roselle to quip, " [the FBI] would
have discharged its duty better by assisting in a conspiracy to cut
power to Rocky Flats, instead of trying to stop one."
Gerry Spence climbed into his private jet in Jackson, Wyoming estate
almost immediately after he heard about the FBI arrest of Dave Foreman
in Arizona. Spence had made a name for himself among environmental
activists in the late-1970s for his case against energy company
Kerr-McGee, when he provided legal services to the family of former
employee Karen Silkwood, who died suspiciously after she challenged the
company of environmental abuses at one of their most productive nuclear
facilities. Silkwood, who made plutonium pellets for nuclear reactors,
had been assigned by her union to investigate health and safety concerns
at a Kerr-McGee plant near Crescent, Oklahoma. In her monitoring of the
facility Silkwood found dozens of evident regulatory violations,
including faulty respiratory equipment as well as many cases of workers
being exposed to radioactive material.
Silkwood went public after the company seemingly ignored her and her
union's concerns, even going as far as to testify to the Atomic Energy
Commission (AEC) about the issues, claiming that regulations were
sidestepped in an attempt to up the speed of production. She also
claimed that workers had been mishandling nuclear fuel rods, but the
company has covered up the incidences by falsifying inspection reports.
On the night of November 13, 1974, Silkwood left a union meeting in
Crescent with documents in hand to drive to Oklahoma City where she was
to meet and discuss Kerr-McGee's alleged violations with a union
official and two New York Times reporters. She never made it. Silkwood's
body was found the next day in the driver's seat of her car on the side
of the road, stuck in a culvert. She was pronounced dead on the scene
and no documents were found in her car.
An independent private investigation revealed that Silkwood was in full
control of her vehicle when it was struck from behind and forced off to
the side of the road. According to the private investigators, the
steering wheel of her car was bent in a manner that showed conclusively
that Silkwood was prepared for the blow of the accident as it occurred.
She had not been asleep at the wheel as investigators initially thought.
The coroner concluded she had not died as a result of the accident, but
possibly from suffocation.
No arrests or charges were ever made. Silkwood's children and father
filed a lawsuit against Kerr-McGee on behalf of her estate. Gerry Spence
was their lead attorney. An autopsy of Silkwood's body showed extremely
high levels of plutonium contamination. Lawyers for Kerr-McGee argued
first that the levels found were normal, but after damning evidence to
the contrary, they were forced to argue that Silkwood had likely
Spence had been victorious. Kerr-McGee's defense was caught in a series
of unavoidable contradictions. Silkwood's body was laden with poison as
result of her work at the nuclear facility. In her death Spence
vindicated her well-documented claims. The initial jury verdict was for
the company to pay $505,000 in damages and $10,000,000 in punitive
damages. Kerr-McGee appealed and drastically reduced the jury's verdict,
but the initial ruling was later upheld by the Supreme Court. On the way
to a retrial the company agreed to pay $1.38 million to the Silkwood estate.
Gerry Spence was not cowed by the antics of the Kerr-McGee Corporation,
and when he agreed to take on Dave Foreman's case pro-bono, justice
seemed to be on the horizon for the Earth First! activists as well.
"Picture a little guy out there hacking at a dead steel pole, an
inanimate object, with a blowtorch. He's considered a criminal," said
Spence, explaining how he planned to steer the narrative of Foreman's
pending trial. "Now see the image of a beautiful, living,
400-year-old-tree, with an inanimate object hacking away at it. This
non-living thing is corporate America, but the corporate executives are
not considered criminals at all."
Like so many of the FBI charges brought against radical activists
throughout the years, the case against Dave Foreman was less exciting
than the investigation that led up to his arrest. The bureau had done
its best to make Foreman and Earth First! out to be the most threatening
activists in America.
Spence was not impressed and in fact argued as much, stating the scope
of the FBI's operation THERMCON was "very similar to the procedures the
FBI used during the 1960s against dissident groups." No doubt Spence was
right. Similar to the movement disruption exemplified by COINTELPRO
against Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Panthers and the American
Indian Movement, the FBI's crackdown of Earth First! in the late 1980s
had many alarming parallels to the agency of old.
"Essentially what we need to understand is that the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, which was formed during the Palmer Raids in 1921, was set
up from the very beginning to inhibit internal political dissent. They
rarely go after criminals. They're a thought police," said Foreman of
the FBI's motives for targeting environmentalists. "Let's face it,
that's what the whole government is. Foreman's first law of government
reads that the purpose of the state, and all its constituent elements,
is the defense of an entrenched economic elite and philosophical
orthodoxy. Thankfully, there's a corollary to that law---they aren't
always very smart and competent in carrying out their plans."
The man who was paid to infiltrate Earth First! under the guise of
THERMCON was anything but competent. Special agent Michael A. Fain,
stationed in the FBI's Phoenix office, befriended Peg Millet and begun
attending Earth First! meetings in the area. Fain, who went by alias,
Mike Tait, posed as a Vietnam vet who dabbled in construction and gave
up booze after his military service. On more than one occasion, while
wearing a wire, Fain had tried to entice members of Earth First! in
different acts of vandalism. They repeatedly refused.
During pre-trial evidence discovery the defense was allowed to listen to
hours of Fain's wire-tapings, when they found that the not-so-careful
agent inadvertently forgot to turn off his recorder. Fain, while having
a conversation with two other agents at a Burger King after a brief
meeting with Foreman, spoke about the status of his investigation,
exclaiming, "I don't really look for them to be doing a lot of hurting
people... [Dave Foreman] isn't really the guy we need to pop --- I mean
in terms of an actual perpetrator. This is the guy we need to pop to
send a message. And that's all we're really doing... Uh-oh! We don't
need that on tape! Hoo boy!"
Here the FBI was, acting as if these Earth First!ers were, publicly
vilifying them, while privately admitting that they posed no real
threat. "[The agency is acting] as if [its] dealing with the most
dangerous, violent terrorists that the country's ever known," explained
Spence at the time. "And what we are really dealing with is ordinary,
decent human beings who are trying to call the attention of America to
the fact that the Earth is dying."
The FBI's rationale for targeting Foreman was purely political as he was
one of the most prominent and well-spoken radical environmentalists of
the time. Despite their claims that they were not directly targeting
Earth First! or Foreman, and were instead investigating threats of
sabotage of power lines that led to a nuclear power plant --- their
public indictment painted quite a different story.
"Mr. Foreman is the worst of the group," Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger
Dokken announced to the court. "He sneaks around in the background ... I
don't like to use the analogy of a Mafia boss, but they never do
anything either. They just sent their munchkins out to do it."
But agent Michael Fain's on-tape gaffes were simply too much for the
prosecution to manage, and the case against Foreman, having been
deferred almost seven years, was finally reduced in 1996 to a single
misdemeanor and a meager $250 in fines. The $2 million the FBI wasted
tracking Earth First! over the latter part of the 1980s had only been
nominally successful. Yet the alleged ring-leader was still free.
Unfortunately, the FBI may have gotten exactly what they wanted all
along. Dave Foreman later stepped down as spokesman to Earth First! and
inherited quite a different role in the environmental movement --- one
of invisibility and near silence.
Peg Millet, Mark Davis and Marc Baker were all sentenced separately in
1991 for their involvement in their group EMETIC's acts of ecotage
against the expansion of Arizona Snowbowl. Davis got 6 years and $19,821
in restitution. Millet only 3 years, with the same fine, while Baker
only received 6 months and a $5,000 fine.
Little did these activists know that there capture and subsequent
arraignments were only the beginning. THERMCON's crackdown of Earth
First! would prove to be a dry-run for the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
/*Joshua Frank* is author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect
George W. Bush
Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of
Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland
and /of Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion
published by AK Press. Hopeless is now available in Kindle format
/ He can be reached at brickburner at gmail.com
<mailto:brickburner at gmail.com>./
/*Jeffrey St. Clair's* latest books are Born Under a Bad Sky and
Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion
published by AK Press. Hopeless is now available in Kindle format
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B007X497NM/counterpunchmaga>. He can
be reached at: sitka at comcast.net <mailto:sitka at comcast.net>/
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415
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