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Protector or Provocateur?

May 27, 1991
May 27, 1991

Table of Contents
May 27, 1991

First Person
Spotlight
North Stars
The Pistons
The New York Yankees
Dave Foreman
Monica Seles
Golf
Inside/Baseball
Television
Point After

Protector or Provocateur?

DAVE FOREMAN, COFOUNDER OF THE RADICAL GROUP EARTH FIRST!, FACES TRIAL FOR CONSPIRACY. ALSO AT ISSUE: TO WHAT EXTREMES MAY ENVIRONMENTALISTS' PROTESTS GO?

By Douglas S. Looney

Some people think I'm the devil incarnate," says Dave Foreman, a 44-year-old environmentalist who will go on trial in Prescott, Ariz., on June 10 on four charges, the most serious of which is conspiring to sabotage three nuclear facilities. "And it's true that I'm no saint."

This is an article from the May 27, 1991 issue Original Layout

Among the people and organizations he is talking about are a few you might think would be staunch supporters of Foreman, a founder of the radical environmental group Earth First!:

•Jay Hair, president of the National Wildlife Federation, who has called Foreman a "terrorist."

•Peter Berle, president of the National Audubon Society, who says that Foreman "sees value in violent activity."

•Outside magazine, which referred to Foreman as "arguably the most dangerous environmentalist in America."

There's no doubt that Earth First! has a reputation, deserved or not, for violence, but can the smiling, articulate man now sitting in a hotel coffee shop in Tucson really be dangerous? Foreman answers the question with another question: "If killing somebody would be the last course of action I had to take regarding the wilderness, would I take it? I don't know." He stares into his iced tea and then says: "A human life has no more intrinsic value than an individual grizzly bear life. If it came down to a confrontation between a grizzly and a friend, I'm not sure whose side I would be on. But I do know humans are a disease, a cancer on nature. And I also know I am far more interested in the plight of the spotted owl than I am in a logger in Oregon. I have a problem with glorifying the downtrodden worker."

Clearly, Foreman can be very callous when it comes to his fellow human beings. In his book Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, published this year, he wrote: "Human suffering resulting from drought and famine in Ethiopia is tragic, yes, but the destruction there of other creatures and habitat is even more tragic."

Earth First! is probably most notorious for the practice of "spiking," or putting large spikes in trees in an effort to slow logging. The spikes can snap the toothed chains of the power saws used by loggers and can explode the saw blades used in lumber mills. The procedure is described in Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching, a 1985 how-to manual coedited by Foreman. (Monkeywrenching is a term for environmental sabotage and harassment.) "I learned about spiking from loggers in Montana in the early 1980s," says Foreman, who contends that the procedure is no threat to human life. But Mike Roselle of Washington, D.C., another cofounder of Earth First!, who had a falling-out with Foreman and now works for the less radical environmental group Greenpeace, says bluntly, "Tree-spiking does endanger life." Flying shrapnel from a power saw hitting a spike could conceivably injure, or even kill, a logger or sawmill worker.

The strong words and deeds of Foreman and Earth First! attracted the attention of the U.S. government, which in 1989 arrested Foreman and four other Earth Firsters, all living in or near Prescott—Ilse Asplund, 37, a community health educator; Marc Baker, 39, a botanist; Mark Davis, 40, a cabinetmaker; and Peg Millett, 37, a singer. They are charged, in various combinations, with one count of conspiracy, three counts of malicious destruction of property, two counts of destruction of property of an energy facility, and one count of depredation of government property. If convicted on all counts, Foreman and his codefendants, all of whom have denied the government's charges, could receive sentences of up to 10 years.

In regard to the nuclear plants, the defendants are accused of conspiring to sabotage the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, 40 miles west of Phoenix; the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Generating Facility, near San Luis Obispo, Calif.; and the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility near Boulder, Colo. At the time of the arrests, Roger Dokken, then the assistant U.S. attorney assigned to prosecute the case, reportedly called Foreman, who is named in six of the seven counts, "the worst of the group." In one court document, the government claims that Owen Shackleton Jr., a senior investigator with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told an FBI agent that if the defendants had been successful in cutting down the power lines to the plants, as the government alleges they intended to do, "and the backup system failed, there is a possibility that a meltdown could occur."

The government has poured a substantial sum of money—Foreman says at least $2 million, the government won't say how much—and effort into prosecuting the case. Through tape recordings made by undercover FBI agent Michael Fain, who infiltrated Earth First! in March 1988 and remained in touch with its members for more than a year, and through wiretaps, the prosecution has amassed 806 hours of conversation. One of the seven defense attorneys involved in the case, Michael Black of Phoenix, says that between Feb. 13 and June 2,1989, the government wiretapped 1,356 phone calls to and from the home phone of defendant Davis.

One sign of the importance and high visibility of this case is that Foreman's attorneys are Gerry Spence of Jackson, Wyo., a personal injury and criminal defense specialist, who claims never to have lost a case and who lists Imelda Marcos and the family of Karen Silkwood among his clients; and Houston attorney Sam Guiberson, one of the nation's leading experts in cases involving taped evidence. Both lawyers are providing their services free of charge. Guiberson says he has devoted 70% of his time over the past year to the case, and he normally gets $2,000 a day from clients. "I thought Dave Foreman deserved my help," he says.

With such high-priced legal talent on hand, it's obvious that the question being asked in the Prescott court is more than whether or not Foreman and his fellow defendants are guilty as charged. The larger issue is: Where should the government draw the line on civil disobedience? Among other things, the trial will examine the methods of protest used by radical groups such as Earth First!, whose slogan is "No compromise in defense of Mother Earth." When it comes to saving the environment, does a laudable end justify questionable means?

There is a long and largely honorable list of American activists, including Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr., who have resorted to civil disobedience. But when does civil disobedience cross the line and become a threat to public safety? Specifically in this case, when does one stop being an ardent environmental activist and become an ecoterrorist? It's one thing to block the path of a logging truck with your body; it's quite another to sabotage a nuclear facility.

Ever since its founding in 1980—by Foreman, Roselle and three other men-Earth First! has been on the radical fringe of the environmental movement. Still, Foreman insists, "We were not violent. We were confrontational. There's a difference." Pressed to detail that difference, he concedes that "it's a fine line, and I might be making a semantic argument." Though Foreman has now publicly broken with Earth First!, he still espouses direct action when the ecology is threatened. At a speech on this past Earth Day at the University of Pennsylvania—Foreman's main source of income is public speaking—he mentioned the necessity for doing "midnight maintenance on a bulldozer," i.e., sabotage.

Foreman is not an easy man to understand. He is a chameleon. He can be charming. He can be persuasive. He can be passionate. He can be eloquent, as he was in his speech at Penn, where he called for the return of the Mexican wolf to Arizona and talked of the animal's "howl of defiance, a contempt for adversity. But it's also a howl of joy, a signal there's a party going on."

But, as Roselle says of Foreman, "he is slippery." After his indictment, Foreman split with Earth First!, claiming that "the group now is attracting the wrong kind of people. They are just opposed to authority. They don't have any background in what we do nor any love of the wilderness." Recently, he has even disavowed tree-spiking. "He encouraged this uprising and now is disassociating himself from it," says Roselle. "It doesn't make any sense."

As part of his head-spinning turnabout, Foreman says that he now wants to work with mainstream environmental groups, to help make them more visionary. This from a man who, while protesting the construction of a logging road in Oregon in 1983, stood his ground in front of a truck carrying five bulldozer operators and for his trouble was knocked down by the truck and dragged under it. "I'm just a middle-class guy," he says. "I wear a suit on TV."

Foreman was born in Albuquerque and traveled around the world as a youngster because his late father, Benjamin, was an Air Force sergeant. As a teenager he campaigned for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election and still loves the former Arizona senator's famous statement, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." While attending San Antonio junior college, Foreman formed a chapter of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom. He went on to the University of New Mexico, where he majored in history and, as chairman of the Students for Victory in Vietnam, was one of the campus leaders asked to name their heroes. Says Foreman, "To my undying embarrassment, I put down J. Edgar Hoover." Upon graduation in 1968, he went to the Marine Corps officer candidate school in Quantico, Va. He was in the Corps 61 days, 31 of which were spent in the brig for insubordination and going AWOL. "I think I had a nervous breakdown," says Foreman. He received an undesirable discharge.

In the years that followed, Foreman worked as a school teacher on a Zuni Indian reservation in New Mexico and as a horseshoer in northern New Mexico. Then for eight years, starting in 1973, he worked for The Wilderness Society, a mainstream environmental group, first as the society's Southwest representative, then as its lobbying coordinator.

When he and his friends conceived Earth First!, Foreman says, it was a "rambunctious, rowdy period in my life. But when people immediately branded us as radical, I thought, 'O.K., if that's what they think, let's show 'em what environmental extremism is.' " He reluctantly admits to monkeywrenching but declines, on the advice of his lawyers, to be more specific. In Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, Foreman writes: "We are warriors. Earth First! is a warrior society."

Ivan Mathew, one of several assistant U.S. attorneys who have worked on the case over the past two years, said in one court document that "the defendants have made statements that they are prepared to die in [the] cause of their radical movements." In a detention order, U.S. magistrate Morton Sitver wrote that codefendant Davis wanted to cut high-tension power lines and that "he wanted to participate in these type of activity [sic] on a fulltime basis with funding from David Foreman." In the same order, Sitver noted that Davis had told an FBI undercover agent, presumably Fain, that he had "ordered" 50 thermite grenades with $500 given him by Foreman. When asked about this by a reporter, Davis said, "Dave Foreman has done a great deal of good in his life, and I don't want to say anything else."

Baker, Davis and Millett have been indicted for attacks on the Fairfield Snow-bowl ski resort chair lift in Arizona's San Francisco Peaks. The government says that in the attacks, cutting torches were used to sever bolts supporting the lift pylons. The government also has charged that in 1988 these three defendants, plus Asplund, sawed through 29 wooden poles supporting electrical lines to the Canyon Uranium Mine, 13 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, causing two of the poles to fall and creating a power outage at the mine. Baker, Davis and Millett were arrested on May 30,1989, at a power-line tower of the Central Arizona Project, that state's massive water transfer system, while they were allegedly trying to blowtorch the tower's support legs. The prosecution charges that they were on a trial run for planned attacks on the nuclear facilities.

The government will almost certainly seek to portray Foreman as the power behind the scenes in these incidents. But that could be tough to prove. Earth First! prides itself on being an organization only in the sense that its members share the same goal: protecting the earth. In theory, no one reports to another member.

It is likely that the centerpiece of the prosecution's case will be tapes, made by Fain, referred to in a defense motion to exclude certain evidence. On a taped excerpt from a May 5, 1989, conversation, Fain is heard telling Foreman that he had looked at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and the towers carrying the power lines. A voice, identified as Foreman's, then suggests to Fain that "you just go in and take the, uh, nuts off, and they don't fall then. But as soon as, as a storm comes in with wind and everything, it brings it down." And on a tape made on May 13, the same day on which, the government says, Foreman gave $100 to Fain, Foreman says, "That's for you to help fund your, you know, whatever work you want to do."

At 7 a.m. on May 31, 1989, Foreman was asleep in his house in a suburb of Tucson. He had put in earplugs to block out the barking of a neighbor's dog. Foreman's wife, Nancy Morton, was filling hummingbird feeders when four FBI agents, pistols drawn and wearing bulletproof vests, charged into the house and arrested the naked Foreman. Foreman laughs when he says, "I don't do well in the morning under the best of circumstances, and these clearly were not the best of circumstances." A .38 pistol was found under Foreman's bed. Foreman was held in four jails in Tucson and Phoenix over the next three days, before Morton raised his $50,000 bail. Asked recently what it meant to have her husband released in her custody, Nancy said, "It means he's going to be wearing an apron a lot."

The indictment further links Foreman to the alleged conspiracy by charging him with giving copies of Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching to an FBI undercover agent. In adddition to tips on spiking, the book contains such information as the "best techniques" for felling power lines (including "removing bolts from steel towers") and advice on communicating ("Don't openly discuss your illegal activities on the telephone").

Foreman's lawyers have been trying to keep portions of the book from being submitted as evidence, citing First Amendment rights. That didn't wash with U.S. district judge Robert Broomfield. In an opinion delivered on Feb. 26, Broomfield wrote, "Although the First Amendment may provide protection for defendant to write, publish and edit the book and to articulate his views—even controversial ones—he is still bound by the consequences of his conduct."

Spence, in one of the thousands of pages of documents stuffed into eight bulging file folders in the U.S. District Court clerk's office in Phoenix, possibly tipped Foreman's defense when he stated: "It is not an act in furtherance of a conspiracy to discuss the means of a possible crime which others may or may not be planning and in which the defendant plays no part. His position is one of an adviser, not a participant."

One of the handicaps the government may face in prosecuting the case is continuity: The assistant U.S. attorney now in charge, Roslyn Silver, is only the latest of several prosecutors. Then, according to a court document filed by Spence, there is the following observation made by Fain in a statement to fellow FBI agents: that Foreman was not really a perpetrator, but that he needed to be "popped" (arrested and prosecuted) to send a message to other similarly overzealous environmentalists. That could make Fain a less-than-unbiased witness in the eyes of the jury.

Of no less effect, of course, is how Foreman is seen by the jury. Will his "devil incarnate" image of the past overpower his preferred identity as a simple lover of the great outdoors? "I guess the real Dave Foreman is sitting around a camp fire, smoking a cigar, talking with friends," he says. He then sighs and adds, "We live in a depressing time."

PHOTOANDY FREEBERGForeman likes this Goldwater axiom: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice."PHOTODAVID J. CROSSIn '88, an Earth First! follower delivered this lofty message.TWO PHOTOSDAVID J. CROSSForeman has rallied the Earth First! troops to actions like this blocking of a logging road.