We did what we had to do. We had to stand up and say we weren’t going to watch what we love be destroyed anymore, not without a fight. We did what we believed was right, not legal. Ancient forests, the whales, salmon, all being destroyed to make a buck, an era of biological diversity coming to an end, all slowly driven into the meat grinder of humankind. It wasn’t just about the trees and fish, it was about us too. Our home as well. We recognized that there was a moral obligation as responsible planetary citizens in such dark times. An obligation to maintain allegiance, not to one government, but to our one planet. A different set of laws, laws that say if you destroy your home, you will have no place else to live.
So I can’t say I regret, nor condemn my own actions, when you take into account the extenuating circumstances. Not at this time, in this era of western civilization when so much continues to be lost. Do I feel bad about what I’ve done? Of course, some of it, because I am just one person trying to make a positive difference and I make mistakes. But what has happened to our planet is not a mistake. Humankind’s greatest environmental catastrophes were the consequence of conscious decisions and economic strategies that continue to guide our daily lives today. There’s always been a huge profit margin when it comes to the liquidation of natural resources for the shit we think we need.
The decision was long ago made to profit from the violence our lifestyles create and do what is wrong by the laws of nature, but right by the laws of man. We were born losers. Born into a time when all but a few of the pagans and earth-worshipers were wiped out or broken. Still, it was the spirit of the land and animals that awakened us and the knowledge that ours was the continuation of an active resistance, not simply the ideology of “ancient people.” That’s when we knew we wouldn’t be satisfied with petitions and protests. As good as these things are, neither is going to preserve biodiversity from an economic model that sees it only as a untapped resource waiting to be exploited.
Its been nine years since I was indicted for what they have come to call “eco-terrorism.” The first time was twenty years ago and ended with four of my years being spent in federal prison. No I was not a victim of injustice, I was at war and waged many successful raids for which I accepted responsibility and did the time for. The second time only cost me 8 months in prison, but the third and last time (I hope) was in 2006 for talking about what I had done before.
By that time our resistance had grown into a legitimate threat. No, we weren’t on the verge of stopping any of the violence, but we sure as hell weren’t making it any easier. Our ragtag assembly of skinny vegans and anarchists were accomplishing something that society could not control and that was a good thing for the earth and her animals. The thing is, it wasn’t just talking we were doing, I advocated for more resistance. I participated in it, and wanted more people too as well. I faced 18 years in prison for continuing the struggle, so I again took a deal, this time for only one year in prison.
But taking a deal cost me my voice. While the surrender I made to the federal government in 2007 had my sentencing judge encouraging me to remain a part of our movement’s non-violent voice, in Michigan it meant total isolation and prohibition against associating with anyone involved with environmental or animal groups. I had returned to the home of Michigan State University and General George Armstrong Custer, two of the targets of my attacks, and the Feds didn’t like it. So when I did communicate with an old Earth First! ally, it cost me four more months in prison.
So now that I am “free” to write and say what I like, to whoever I want, this is what I have to say. We need to, if not stop the destruction, than at least try to slow it down. Any and every way that does not harm life. We need to protect our children’s home. If not for ourselves, or the salmon, than for them. We have to be brave enough as planetary citizen’s to say, “We are not going to stand by and watch you destroy the land that we love and our survival depends on. We are going to try and stop you.” We need to be very brave at a time when our government is primed and ready to neutralize any individual who steps over the line in defense of Mother Earth.
I’m not saying others should do what I have done. The actions of such groups as the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front are part of the historic record now. But they are not necessarily a model for future strategies, those were just the ways I personally attempted to slow the destruction. Now we’ve got to encompass our beliefs not only against the systems we oppose, but towards a creative force of change.
We have to change the way we live, and show to others brave enough to look, that there is another less violent way. A way to live that does not require extreme violence and abuse. The way we’ve been forced to live (and I say forced because our chance to live more harmonically with the land is still largely illegal or impossible to any who do not believe in the value of money or private property.) takes us further and further away from a sustainable strategy of survival.
Is it still necessary to burn things down and rescue some of the prisoners of the war on nature? Of course it is. I could never say that actions that result in no harm or loss of life, but that harm the profits of companies engaged in the destruction of Earth is ever a bad thing to do. Only it is simply no longer a sustainable or practical way to resist. We are too few, and there are too many laws designed specifically to destroy us.
The laws of our present society treat our crimes the same way the laws of South Africa and Great Britain treated the crimes of the outlawed African National Congress and Irish Republican Army. “Eco-terror” laws have sent to prison some of our bravest planetary citizens for as many years as the ANC’s Nelson Mandela spent in prison before society was ready to recognize his struggle as legitimate.
We need to explore other ways of fighting…and living. Ways that do not give our opponents the satisfaction of criminalizing and destroying us. Because even if we destroy a building or rescue some prisoners, the consequences of doing so are likely to send us to prison for the rest of our practical lives.
Because the people who believe its OK to tirelessly abuse animals and destroy the Earth are also in charge of the courts. And once you are in the Bureau of Prisons inventory it will be as easy as pie to return.
Take it from me, in 2004, when I was “trespassing” in the public’s national forest and springing a snare set for a mountain lion, I never thought I’d be entering into a nine-year period of federal incarceration, pre-trial and post-trial supervision. Over those nine years I had to focus on fighting for my own freedom and not that of others. Because choosing to do something illegal means being responsible for the consequences, however unjust we might know they are. That is the consequence for being that kind of warrior. However noble you might think it is, it is not very practical at a time when we need everyone we can get.
I don’t know how great is your level of distraction, or even if you’ve been paying attention, but things aren’t looking too good for our planet. And guess who is responsible? Us. Our own species is threatening to wipe out all of the others due to our insatiable consumptive deathstyle. Yes, we should be pointing fingers and outing the guilty, but at the heart of the problem is our own very selfish way of living. An economic model that pro-offers a level of consumer consumption that is rapidly turning the world into our own refrigerator. So here we are, recognizing that by our own choice, we are our own worst enemy and by virtue of belonging to consumer culture we are both its perpetrator and victim.
After all these years of resisting I still don’t have the answers, but I do know the questions and at the top is our need to live a different way. A way that allows for the nurturing of life, not its neglect, a way that reminds us all that there is an alternative that can bring us back into harmony with the rest of the non-human world that is still waiting for us to join the circle of life, not death.
All I can say is that I love life. After my near incarceration for the rest of my healthy existence, I know the value of living and loving and practicing a way that makes me feel less a part of the problem, and more a part of the solution. And if we loose, and it all goes to hell, then at least I will know that I stood with the ancient forests and whales. I choose to remain free, to remain loyal to my family I share this Earth with, all of them, my kids and the finned and furred too. And I will never shy away from expressing my pride at having been an Eco-warrior in these difficult times. I stand with dignity in the company of my ancestors and all those people who have given their lives because they knew the laws of their society were wrong.
I stand with the wolves of Northern Michigan who will die this month. I stand with our nearest non-human relatives, the primates still languishing in laboratories. I stand with the Earth herself who we continue to inject with toxic chemicals. I stand with my children who will have to live in the world we leave them. And I stand with you, my fellow human relations who I implore to join in this struggle that is no where near over. I know that together we can destroy the world. But I also know we don’t have to.
Just don’t be afraid to believe what is in your heart. Don’t be afraid to stand up when others won’t. Because once you allow yourself to remain silent to injustice, it will only become easier. Because there will always be people to keep you company in denial. History reserves judgment not for those who stand up against injustice, but for those who remain obedient to it. Know that as far away as we all have gone from the ways of Earth, she will always be waiting for us to come home. Do not be afraid to love, and to cry at what is happening to all we love. Feel. That is the first step. The rest will come naturally.