Earth First!: A Brief History


“Resist much. Obey little.”—-Walt Whitman—taken from The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey, one of the Spiritual inspirations for Earth First!

Earth First! or the Earth Liberation Front was first formed in 1979. It is an environmental activist group that came together in the Southwestern United States. This dynamic group even has it’s own magazine, called the Earth First! Journal and the slogan “No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth” is on the front of its ongoing publication. Information I leave out can be found at www.earthfirstjournal.org and their main base of operations, as far as publication is concerned, is at P.O. Box 964, Lake Worth, FL. 33460.

Donations and subscriptions can be obtained through the Earth First! Journal at the above address. Gift subscriptions for prisoners are welcome. Part of their philosophy is “the growth of the movement and to advance the creation of a world free of speciesism, classism, ageism, racism, sexism, violence, exploitation and oppression.”

I have been a subscriber to their Journal for over 12 years and find information about acts to save our Mother Earth within its pages. Feeling called to action by the books Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey, a group of activists came together to form the nucleus of the movement.

Here, in their own words is what they said about their origin and mission:

“EF! has long identified with the train hopping culture and radicalism of the roots of US history. From signing the instruction manual on ecodefense with the moniker of long-time wobblie Bill Haywood to publishing frequent articles on boycotting industrial civilization, Earth First! authors have taken much from and given much to the traditions and cultures of hoboing and sojourning. The Journal office in Missoula during the late 1980s was a hotbed for dropouts, low baggers, and hobos, just as the office in Eugene, Oregon, became a gathering point for tree-sitters, free-staters, and barricade builders. By the late otties, when the Journal had moved down to the border, it seemed like the spirit of Sonora never tired of throwing desert vagabonds, prophets, and seekers into the whirlpool that surrounded the Journal office in Tucson. Such is the way of radical organizing, and life lived on one’s own terms. As Audre Lordes put it in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, “For some of us there was no one particular place, and we grabbed whatever we could from wherever we found space, comfort, quiet, a smile, non-judgment.” While we seek constantly to grab hold of some notion, faint or strong, of Earth, our place in the world, our territory and terrain, we find ourselves drifting between worlds, our lives weaving greater and greater mandalas of insides and outsides in the sands of rapidly approaching times.”—-Direct quote from EF! Collective

Environmental activist Dave Forman, ex-Yippie (Youth International Party) Mike Roselle, Wyoming Wilderness Society representatives Bart Koehler and Howie Wolke, and the Bureau of Land Management employee Ron Kezar pledged, “No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth!” as they journeyed from the Pincate Desert in Northern Mexico to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

What brought them together was a total sell-out by mainstream environmental advocates during the “RARE II” (the Forest Service’s Roadless Area Review and Evaluation) planning process. These activists foresaw a giant revolutionary movement to preserve multi-million acre ecological areas all across the United States.

This group borrowed from the notions of author Edward Abbey. As they traveled toward Albuquerque “Suddenly Foreman called out ‘Earth First!’ The next thing you know” quoted Howie Wolke, “Roselle drew a clenched fist logo, passed it up to the front of the van, and there was Earth First!”

Earth First! is now active in over 19 countries with a main focus of environmental protection through Direct Action. Each year they have a gathering of the group called the Round River Rendezvous, which still takes place in a different wilderness area of the country. By going to their website, you may find where their gathering is.

Recently, according to a report on You Tube, the 2011 Earth First! Round River Rendezvous ended when both Rising Tide and Earth First!ers occupied Montana Governor Schweitzer’s office and demanded that he withdraw his support for the Keystone XL Pipeline and the megaload shipments. The pipeline would move oil from the tar sands to international markets and the megaload shipments would bring construction equipment, built in Asia, to the tar sands. Everything would pass through Montana. The tar sands project is regarded by some scientists as the most destructive industrial project on the planet.

From time to time ELF is infiltrated by snitches who rapidly become known and their pictures and information about them is published in the Earth First! Journal so they cannot hurt other group members. I use the term “group members” loosely because the organization is fragmented for its own protection.

Earth First!’s proposals were published (and still are) in their periodical, Earth First!, The Radical Environmental Journal which is informally known as Earth First! (We’ll Strip Mine the other Planets Later) Journal in a very tongue in cheek manner.

ELF would pound spikes into trees so chain saws would break when they hit the spikes. Also, a common practice to protect wilderness areas were tree sits. The first tree sit took place on May 23rd, 1985 by Mike Jabukal. The U.S. Forest Service law enforcement official Steve Slagowski arrived and he and other agents arrested Mike Roselle, Ron Huber and other people who were sitting at the base of the tree to support Jakubal, who was up in a nest he had built in the upper reaches of the tree.

The first tree sit lasted only one day. When Jakubel came down at night to look around, he saw that the rest of the forest around his tree had been clear-cut and officers who were hiding in the area arrested him. But the tree-sitting tactic was adopted by Earth First! and since that first tree sit, there have been many successful actions.

From 1987 on, Earth First! adopted many Direct Action tactics to prevent the destruction of wild life habitats or the rape of wild places. Because ELF was so active, this change attracted many new individuals to Earth First!, many of whom came from anarchistic political backgrounds and other areas of the counter-culture.

Tre Arrow, an affiliate of Earth First!, according to a report by Kaccey Montoya on the internet, lived on a ledge on the Portland, Oregon’s U.S. Forest Service Building for 11 days. His message—“Are you willing to love and respect your mother, Earth?” Tre Arrow was born as Michael Scarpetti in 1974, according to Wikipedia.

Other activists kept joining and one of them, Judi Bari, welcomed the new intense direct-action and leftist direction of Earth First! In the early 1990’s the Earth First! movement headed toward anarchist political philosophy even more strongly than before. In ’92, as Earth First! moved toward more “criminal” acts to protect the Earth, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) truly came together.

The Earth First! Journal became to spokes piece of the organization. There was a clear division between those who published the Direct Actions and those who took part in them for the protection of the journal itself.

The defense of Mother Earth took two directions—the legal ones, i.e. Protests, timber sale appeals, and educational campaigns—or civil disobedience—tree sitting, road blockades, and sabotage of industrial and forest cutting equipment—know as “ecotage” by some Earth Firsters who stated that it was necessary to defend Mother Earth.

The “law machine” stepped up to stop the different factions of Earth First! During a non-violent tree sit, activist David Chain was intentionally killed by loggers. Then, in 1990, a bomb exploded in Judi Bari’s car, almost killing her and also injuring activist Darryl Cherney, who was in the car with her. They were both arrested by law enforcement officials who claimed that “they were transporting the bomb when it accidentally exploded.”

Judi Bari claimed that if she were transporting a live bomb, it would be suicidal to place it under her front seat. The case against Bari and Cherney was contested and it was dropped due to tainted evidence. After that Bari sued the FBI and the Oakland Police. Despite the fact that Judi Bari died in 1997 of cancer, the lawsuit continued and it resulted in a 2002 jury verdict awarding her estate and Darryl Cherney a total of $4.4 million. 80% of the damages were for violation of their First Amendment rights by the FBI and the police who tried to discredit them in the newspapers as violent extremists even though all evidence was contrary to the event.

Even at this time the bombing remains unsolved. In March of 2011, a U.S. federal judge in California ordered the FBI to save the evidence in the bombing event. The FBI was planning to destroy all the evidence, which would lead one to believe that the bomb was planted by the legal authorities.

In recent years the U.S. government has classified the Earth Liberation Front as a terrorist group. Many Earth Firster’s are in prison with lengthy sentences. Every Earth First! Journal has a two page spread dedicated to the Earth First! Prisoner Support Project, a prisoner and post-release support group for earth and animal liberation political prisoners.

The fight to preserve living conditions and endangered species continues as the growth of industrialization and population growth continue to destroy our Mother Earth. Ask yourself: what can you do to help our only home, the planet Earth.

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