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Know the West

Eco-terrorism and the Trial of the Century


In case you hadn’t noticed, 12 young people (average age 33) have been charged with arson and conspiracy to commit arson in several Western states. The 83-page indictment was handed down by a federal grand jury in Oregon, and it must be important because the story made the front page of the Western edition of the New York Times. Above the crease.

In commenting on their arrests (some are being held without bail), Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI chief Robert Mueller played the "domestic eco-terrorism" card before the media, often dropping the "eco" part.

Arson, terrorism or not, is, of course, a crime, a serious crime of which the dozen have only been accused. Fire scares people. It would scare me, if I were in one. But a bunch of unarmed treehuggers torching some trucks and buildings (including a ski-resort restaurant at Vail and a holding corral for wild mustangs) at night, after making certain that no two-leggeds or four-leggeds were anywhere close, is not, it seems to me, something I would compare to taking out the Oklahoma City Federal Building during working hours.

The 12, by the way (shades of the Dirty Dozen?) are now 11. Bill Rodgers of Prescott, Ariz., managed to take his life with a plastic bag while in custody. One of his several suicide notes, the one addressed to "my friends and supporters," reads:

"… Certain human cultures have been waging war against the Earth for millennia. I choose to fight on the side of bears, mountain lions, skunks, bats, saguaros, cliff rose and all things wild — I am just the most recent casualty in that war. But tonight I have made a jailbreak. I am returning home to the Earth, to the place of my origins."

Poignant, but an admission of guilt? Unless you’ve ever been in the federal-indictment wringer (I was, after protesting the logging of old growth during the 1990s) don’t jump to any conclusions. Bill was a gentle man, an explorer of caves, a bookstore owner and decidedly nonviolent. Was he an arsonist in his spare time?

I’ve been attending enviro-gatherings for more than 20 years, and mostly I’ve been with urban, hike-oriented, letter-writing, good-hearted folks who initially are reserved about venturing their views but who, after a glass of wine, can get, well, radical. As one after another tells of personal loss of a favorite place on public lands we all own — forests, wetlands, streams and such — their eyes get misty; then they get angry, as they recall what has been taken. And not just in the West, but in New York and New Jersey, Michigan and Florida. Everybody wants to tell their story. After a while, as they get madder and madder, the person stuck with moderating the discussion has to close it off or close the bar.

Many of us are a hair-trigger away from walking Bill’s walk.

Let me quote a few lines from that federal indictment where it names the Evil Eleven, though Rodgers, the dead guy, continues to appear as an "unindicted co-conspirator." This is odd, since he’d been declared dead a month before the indictment was made public. As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

But on to those quotes: "In discussing their actions among themselves, certain of the defendants and others used code words, code names and nicknames."

"Certain of the defendants and others dressed in dark clothing, wore masks and gloves, and otherwise disguised their appearance."

"Certain of the defendants and others acted as ‘lookouts" to ensure secrecy as the crimes were carried out."

Is anybody but me thinking Boston Tea Party?

And almost every count — and there are 65 of them — names the person or persons, followed by the phrase "and other person(s) known to the Grand Jury." In other words, a plant, or plants.

Is this surprising? The FBI does it all the time. They do it in drug busts; they did it to EarthFirst in 1989, thanks to infiltration via love, or what seemed like love. We don’t have law enforcement; we set up stings.

What to do? You could opt to abandon the country immediately. Or, you could stand up for the Earnest Eleven at the five-week trial set to start in Eugene, Ore., on Oct. 31. This may not be the Trial of the Century, but then again, it’s a young century. We could set the bar.

Robert Amon, who is usually called Uncle Ramon, is a former insurance salesman turned treehugger. He lives on an old Forest Service bus here, there, and everywhere.

Thumbnail photo of the Two Elk Lodge in Vail on fire, October 19, 1998. Vail Fire Dept.