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Profile: Earth First!
Earth First! was a participant or observer in the following events:
Original Earth First! logo, featuring a crossed tomahawk and wrench. [Source: Feelnumb (.com)]Dave Foreman, a former lobbyist for the Wilderness Society, and several other environmental activists form Earth First!, an organization established, in its words, “in response to a lethargic, compromising, and increasingly corporate environmental community.” Earth First! combines environmental activism with a form of spirituality called “deep ecology.” Activists for the group carry out such actions as tree-sitting (sitting in or near a tree to prevent loggers from cutting it down) and tree spiking, which involves hammering a long nail that can create shrapnel injuries when cut by logging tools such as a chainsaw. In his 1985 book Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching, Foreman describes in detail a number of sabotage methodologies, from disabling logging and earthmoving equipment to the proper way to spike a tree. (“Monkeywrenching” is a term borrowed from the 1975 novel The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey, which depicts characters destroying machinery and burning billboards across the Southwest; Abbey will contribute an introduction to a later edition of Foreman’s book.) Foreman leaves the group in 1989 after being arrested for conspiracy to sabotage a nuclear plant. As of 2005, Earth First! is still active, but operates mainly through its publication, the Earth First! Journal, which publicizes other radical environmental and animal rights groups. After the group begins using more moderate actions to protest environmental depredations, activists who prefer more direct action will gravitate to the Earth Liberation Front (see 1997). [Southern Poverty Law Center, 9/2002; Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Thomas Mosser. [Source: Washington Post]In North Caldwell, New Jersey, advertising executive Thomas Mosser opens a package mailed to his home. Mosser is in his kitchen. His family is in another part of the house; they are preparing to go buy a Christmas tree. When Mosser opens the package, it explodes, tearing his torso open and spilling his entrails onto the kitchen floor. As his horrified wife attempts to staunch the flow with a baby blanket, Mosser dies. Months later, the “Unabomber,” later identified as Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski (see April 3, 1996), takes responsibility for the bombing, claiming that Mosser was targeted for the public relations work his firm did for Exxon; in a letter to the New York Times, Kaczynski will reference the wreck of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez and the subsequent massive oil spill as justification for Mosser’s murder (see April 24, 1995). [BBC, 11/12/1987; Washington Post, 4/13/1996; Washington Post, 1998; Washington Post, 5/5/1998] Friends and co-workers are initially perplexed by Mosser’s murder. “We’re all perplexed,” says Kathy Hyett, who worked with Mosser at Burson-Marstellar. “Why? Why?” Some of his colleagues wonder, presciently as it turns out, if any of the clients of Mosser’s firms might have triggered the attack. A college friend of Mosser’s, John Hanchette, says, “The idea of Tom’s death this way is so foreign to me that I thought, ‘It must be another Tom Mosser.’” [New York Times, 12/13/1994] Mosser is a senior executive at Young & Rubicam Inc., the parent company of public relations firm Burson-Marstellar, one of New York’s most successful PR agencies. Kaczynski will write that Burson-Marstellar represents everything that is wrong with corporate America. In his letter, Kaczynski will write, “We blew up Thomas Mosser last December because he was a Burston-Marsteller executive.” (Kaczynski misrepresents himself as one of a group of anarchists he calls “FC,” later found to stand for “Freedom Club.”) Kaczynski will blame Burson-Marstellar for helping Exxon “clean up its public image” after the Exxon Valdez oil spill and, more broadly, for “manipulating people’s attitudes.” The firm has received negative publicity, largely in the more radical environmental press, and has been listed in articles in “No Sweat News” and “Earth First!” as representing a number of firms that are involved in damaging the environment. The Earth First! (see 1980 and After) article blames Burson-Marstellar and other PR firms for attempting to make the public believe that there is no serious environmental crisis. [Washington Post, 4/13/1996; Washington Post, 1/23/1998] Burson-Marstellar will deny any involvement with Exxon during the Valdez crisis, though Exxon later asked the firm to critique the way its officials had handled the case. [Washington Post, 4/13/1996; Washington Post, 1/23/1998] Kaczynski, who misspells Burson-Marstellar in the same way that it was misspelled in the Earth First! Journal article, did not know that Earth First!‘s information was incorrect; as the firm will claim, Burson-Marstellar never worked for Exxon to clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Southern Poverty Law Center will observe, “Thanks to incorrect information from EarthFirst!, Mosser was killed for something his company never did.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 9/2002] After Kaczynski’s arrest, Jake Kreilik of the Native Forest Network will say, “It is obvious if you read the Unabomber’s manifesto that there is a heavy emphasis against technology and a lot of the other things that Earth First Journal focuses on in terms of the radical end of environmental politics.” Burston-Marstellar has been the focus of pro-environmental protests in the last several months, a fact of which Kaczynski may have been aware. [New York Times, 4/8/1996]
The original Earth Liberation First logo. [Source: Original ELF (.com)]The Earth Liberation Front (ELF), an extremist offshoot of Earth First! (see 1980 and After) founded in Britain in 1992, steps up the vandalism and violence of its parent organization. It consciously models itself after the Animal Liberation Front (ALF—see 1976) in having little to no hierarchical organization, and consists of what it calls “autonomous groups of people” who are “anonymous not only to the public but also to one another.” The ELF writes that it exists to “inflict economic damage on those profiting from the destruction and exploitation of the natural environment,” and “to reveal and educate the public on the atrocities committed against the earth and all species that populate it.” In a promotional video, “Igniting the Revolution,” ELF says it now knows “that to be successful in the struggle to protect the Earth, more extreme tactics must be utilized. Thus the Earth Liberation Front was born.” It first garners major US public attention in 1997, when ELF activists burn down a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) horse corral in Oregon (see 1997). [Southern Poverty Law Center, 9/2002; Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
The Vail resort in flames. [Source: Mark Mobley / Colorado Independent]Earth Liberation Front (ELF—see 1997) activists set fire to a Vail, Colorado, ski resort, causing $12 million in damage. At the time, the Vail attack is the costliest ecoterrorist attack in US history. The attack consists of seven separate fires, which destroy three buildings, including the “spectacular” Two Elk restaurant, and damage four chairlifts. In a press release, the ELF says: “[P]utting profits ahead of Colorado’s wildlife will not be tolerated.… We will be back if this greedy corporation continues to trespass into wild and unroaded [sic] areas.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2005; Colorado Independent, 10/19/2008]
Resort Threatens Lynx Habitat - The ELF justifies the bombing by claiming that the resort encroaches on the natural habitat of Canada lynx in the area, an endangered species; an 885-acre planned expansion would, the group claims, virtually destroy the habitat. The resort and other construction have virtually eliminated all lynx from the area. [Outside, 9/2007; Colorado Independent, 10/19/2008; Rocky Mountain News, 11/20/2008]
Activist Says ELF Not a Terrorist Group - In a 2007 jailhouse interview, one of the activists, Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, will discuss her role in the bombing. An activist since her mid-teens, she began by getting involved with “above ground” protests with Earth First! (see 1980 and After), a less overtly militant environmental organization, and became disillusioned when she saw how little effect such protests had on corporate depredations. She will say that she and her colleagues were extremely careful about buying the materials for the firebombs, not wanting to raise suspicions. They built the actual devices in a Utah motel room, with group leader William C. Rodgers, whom Gerlach and the others call “Avalon,” doing the bulk of the work. After performing a final reconnaisance of the lodge, some of the ELF members decide the bombing cannot be done, and return to Oregon. Rodgers actually plants the devices and sets them off; Gerlach, who accompanies Rodgers and others to the resort, later emails the statements released under the ELF rubric. Gerlach will say: “We weren’t arsonists. Many of our actions didn’t involve fires at all, and none of us fit the profile of a pyromaniac. I guess ‘eco-saboteur’ works. To call us terrorists, as the federal government did, is stretching the bounds of credibility. I got involved at a time when a right-winger had just bombed the Oklahoma City federal building—killing 168 people—(see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and anti-abortionists were murdering doctors (see March 10, 1993 and July 29, 1994). But the government characterized the ELF as a top domestic terrorism threat because we burned down unoccupied buildings in the middle of the night. It shows their priorities.” [Outside, 9/2007]
Apprehensions, Convictions - The Vail firebombing focuses national attention on the organization, as well as on other “ecoterror” groups that use vandalism, arson, and other destructive methods to further their agendas. In December 2006, Gerlach and Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff will plead guilty to federal arson charges. Gerlach and Meyerhoff have already pled guilty to other arsons committed between 1996 and 2001 by a Eugene-based ELF cell known as the Family, which disbanded in 2001. (Gerlach will say that the Family took great pains to ensure that while property was destroyed, no one was injured; “In Eugene in the late nineties, more than a couple of timber company offices were saved by the proximity of neighboring homes.”) The FBI learned about them from an informant who enticed friends of the two to speak about the crimes in surreptitiously recorded conversations. Both are sentenced to lengthy jail terms and assessed multi-million dollar restitution fines. Two others indicted in the arson, Josephine Sunshine Overaker and Rebecca J. Rubin, who do not directly participate in the Vail firebombing, remain at large. Rodgers will commit suicide in an Arizona jail in December 2005 after being apprehended. Several others will later be arrested and convicted for their roles in the assault. [Associated Press, 12/14/2006; Outside, 9/2007; Colorado Independent, 10/19/2008; Rocky Mountain News, 11/20/2008]
Firebombing Detrimental to Local Activism - Gerlach will later say that the Vail firebombing was actually detrimental to local environmental activism. [Outside, 9/2007] In 2008, Ryan Bidwell, the executive director of Colorado Wild, will agree. He will say that the fires damaged the trust the community once had in the environmental activist movement, and will add that the federal government used the fires to demonize the entire environmental movement. “I don’t think it really changed the Bush administration agenda, but it probably made their job easier by lumping those actions onto the broad umbrella of terrorism over the last decade,” Bidwell will say. “I don’t think that’s been effective at all, but every time that someone lumps groups here in Colorado under the same umbrella as ELF it’s really disingenuous. In places like Vail that have a history it’s made it more important for the conservation community to communicate what its objectives are.” [Colorado Independent, 10/19/2008]
Entity Tags: Rebecca J. Rubin, Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, Earth First!, Josephine Sunshine Overaker, Earth Liberation Front, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Colorado Wild, Bush administration (43), Ryan Bidwell, William C. Rodgers, Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Earth First! (see 1980 and After) activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cheney are acquitted of charges resulting from a pipe-bomb detonation in Bari’s Subaru station wagon. Bari and Cheney were driving to an Earth First! rally in 1990 when the pipe bomb exploded in Bari’s car. FBI agents charged them with conspiring to plant the bomb, but Bari and Cheney consistently denied any such plans or any knowledge of the bomb, saying they had been falsely painted as “ecoterrorists” (see 1970s) and in fact had been the targets of an assassination attempt. The jury finds that FBI and other law enforcement agents violated their civil rights, and frees them. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 9/2002]
Environmental and animal rights activist Rod Coronado, long affiliated with both the Earth First! (see 1980 and After) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) organizations (see 1995), and another activist, Earth First! member Matthew Crozier, attempt to prevent officials with the Arizona Game and Fish Department from capturing and killing mountain lions in Sabino Canyon near Tucson. Both will be charged with attempting to impede or injure an officer. [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
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