Hunting Tre Arrow: The Flight of America's Most Wanted Eco-Terrorist

Page 2 of 5

Part II: The Wrestler

Michael James Scarpitti grew up in Jensen Beach, Florida, in a rambling lakeside home insulated from the mansions of Palm Beach just a few miles away by layers of suburban sprawl. His father, Jim Scarpitti, owned a plumbing and air-conditioning business, while his mother, Melody, worked as a real estate agent.

Mike, their only son, first achieved public prominence as a star wrestler at Martin County High School. At age thirteen, Mike began seriously lifting weights. "He transformed his body into four percent body fat," his father says. "He was ripped, let me tell you."

Mike was regarded by both his teachers and fellow students as a sweet, smart kid with a gentle nature that belied his ferocity on the mat. Mike made most of his spending money baby-sitting, a job he had trained for during the years his parents served as foster parents for Catholic Charities, taking in infants who had been given up for adoption until permanent placements could be arranged. "Mike pitched in and helped us take care of those babies," his father says. "He fed them, changed their diapers, and he was great about it."

His devotion to wrestling had begun to wane during his last couple of years at high school, replaced by a new passion for music. By graduation, he was playing piano, drums and guitar, and was determined to pursue a career as a musician. "My brother was always someone who had deep feelings and could express them very well," his older sister, Shawna, says. "He was way mature for a teenage boy. If something moved him, he would cry about it without any shame at all." His parents lobbied hard to get Mike to enroll at Florida State University.

It was during his second semester at FSU that their son began to change. "It started with this health-and-fitness class he took," Jim Scarpitti says. "All of a sudden he announces he's a vegetarian, then, the next thing we know, he's a vegan." His parents were reassured when Mike won a service award for a recycling program he started in his dorm. "Mike was and is a very earnest kid," Jim says. "He became a walking encyclopedia about health and fitness, nutrition and herbs, and that sort of thing."

During his second year at FSU, Mike and some friends formed a band they called Soya Bean Fields and played at clubs and coffeehouses all over Tallahassee. By the end of his sophomore year, Mike had decided that his college career was completed. "When he got his associate of arts degree, he sent it home to us," Jim says. "He wrote something like, 'You were the ones who wanted this, so you keep it.'"

Mike spent the next few years on the road. He lived for a while in Boulder, Colorado, and in Cincinnati, where he fathered a child with his backup singer. At that point, marriage was out of the question. The mother stayed in Ohio with the baby, and Mike moved on to Sedona, Arizona. He and the mother remained close. Jim and Mel described the young woman as "our third daughter," and they regularly visited their granddaughter.

A visit to Portland convinced Mike it was time to relocate once again. "He just fell in love with the Northwest," Jim remembers. "Whenever Mike would write to us, he'd include all these drawings of the scenery, the white-capped mountains and the dark-green forests. He's a gifted artist, and his letters were like illustrated novels."

Once he'd moved to Portland, he began to introduce himself as Tre Arrow. Music was still his primary focus, but around this time he was getting more deeply involved with environmental activism. In summer 1999, the family gathered for a vacation at a dude ranch in Montana, where Mike's sister Gina was working. "When he talked about what they were trying to do to the forests out in Oregon, his voice would tremble, and he would almost be in tears," Jim says. The last time Tre visited his family home was at the end of 2000. By then, he had legally changed his name to Tre Arrow. He would eat only raw foods, refused to wear shoes, rarely bathed and insisted on sleeping outdoors. Tre's devotion to the natural world had become a sort of religion, it seemed to Jim, who describes his son's forest activism as "almost cultlike." Mike prayed to the moon and the stars, and carried ants out of the house to avoid crushing them. He also declined to say much about "the community" of people who surrounded him back in Oregon.

"Friends would tell us that this was a phase, that he would grow out of it," Jim says. "But deep down in my heart, I knew it wasn't true. We weren't really concerned, though, because Mike was still such a good kid. And everything he says is the honest-to-God's truth if you think about it. What we're doing to the earth is terrible. Mike is one of those people who can't look the other way."

Near the end of his Christmas visit, Mike's parents tried to convince him that he was risking his life foolishly. The conversation ended badly. "Voices were raised, and harsh words were said," Shawna says. "It was the main reason my brother didn't come home again."

After Mike returned to Portland, his parents found it difficult to keep in contact with him, and when they did get their son on the phone, he was hazy about the details of his daily life. "He told us he spent a lot of time in the pods," Jim says. "But he didn't want to say a lot about it." By spring 2001, Jim and Mel Scarpitti could contact their son only by leaving messages with a woman they knew only as Martha. "We could get little information out of her," Jim says. "She at least would tell Mike when we called, because he always phoned us back, but if we started asking questions, she was real vague and sort of unfriendly."

Part III: Standoff

During the fall of 2001, the battle for the forest moved to the Oregon coast, where the state Department of Forestry had just auctioned off the rights to log 124 acres in God's Valley, designated the Acey Line Thin. Tre Arrow was but one of twenty Cascadians arrested there in October, but he garnered more publicity than all the others combined. Of course, he was the only one who nearly died.

Tre was with the Cascadia activists who entered the Acey Line sale site on the morning of October 4th, in defiance of assorted state forestry officials, loggers and sheriff's deputies from two counties. "The police got really angry when Tre drew them away and led them on a chase through the woods," says Samantha Waters, one of the activists who was there.

When Tre climbed a hemlock fir to avoid being caught, officials responded with an unprecedented level of aggression, first sending a climber with a chain saw up the tree, then ordering the climber to remove each limb as he went. As the man approached Tre's perch in the top limbs, Tre began to rock the tree, then catapulted himself into the next one. Startled officials ordered loggers to take the first tree down, section by section, then informed Tre they were going to cut down every tree within a thirty-foot radius. Tre answered by launching himself once more, this time into the tallest of the nearby trees, "to try to protect it," he explained later.

While police officers looked on, loggers took down every nearby tree until Tre was alone in the top of the tallest fir, peering down at them from a height of nearly 100 feet. Once again, forestry officials sent their climber up, who took off limbs as he went. "Finally, we were just a few feet apart, and we talked for a couple of minutes," Tre said in an interview with Alternatives magazine. "He told me that I was crazy, that he loved these forests, that if I believed in Jesus and God, I wouldn't be doing all this. At that point, a man on the ground called up, instructing the logger twice to use his chain saw to cut the branch I was standing on. The logger in the tree looked at me and said he wouldn't deliberately kill someone like that."

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