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

Page 4 of 5

Part V: Radicalized

The charges were four felonies, each detailed in an indictment filled with words such as destruction, fire and violence. Named along with Tre Arrow were two men and a woman, all in their early to mid-twenties, who belonged to a Portland State University group called Students for Unity, better known for its involvement in civil-rights controversies than for environmental activism. The U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Mike Mosman, called the indictment "a major first step in investigating eco-terrorism."

The three PSU students charged in the firebombing – Jacob Sherman, 20, Angela Cesario, 23, and Jeremy Rosenbloom, 25 – were all arrested, then released from custody after pleading not guilty and promising to remain in Portland, to stay home after 10 p.m. and not to associate with environmental activists. Only Tre Arrow remained "at large," as the FBI put it. His friends from the Cascadia Forest Alliance said they hadn't seen or heard from Tre since he headed south to California months earlier, and insisted that it was unfair to call him a fugitive, because he might not even be aware of the charges against him.

His family, however, had little doubt that Tre knew the feds were after him. Although they hadn't seen their son in months, Jim and Mel Scarpitti say the young man they still called Mike had stayed in touch, phoning home every two weeks or so. He had recently called from Davis, California. "He said he had been asked to join in the endeavors to save the redwoods," Mel says, "and was thinking about it."

Darryl Cherney, a veteran Earth First! activist and a driving force behind Earth First!'s Sierra Pacific campaign, doesn't think Tre made it to the redwoods but says he met him in early June at the Earth First! Sierra Rendezvous, where Tre put on a campfire concert. "A heroic, charismatic, inspiring figure," Cherney calls Tre. Cherney sensed that Tre was looking for a direction. "I think his fall from the tree in Oregon was a pivotal event," he says. "The discovery that his own government would try to kill him for protesting against it had made him question everything he was doing."

Tre's sister Shawna concurs. "He told me that whole experience was so terrible," she says. "He was devastated, physically, mentally and spiritually. He felt there was no mercy in the people who had done this to him, and he became even more paranoid about the government than he had been before." Nevertheless, she sensed that by summer 2002 her brother was "happier than he had been in years," she says. "For a while, he seemed really disillusioned. After the ledge sit and his fall from the tree, he sort of pulled away from the Cascadia Forest Alliance. A lot of money had come in to the organization because of him, and he sort of felt like he was being used as a fund-raising tool."

Her brother had become difficult to reach during late 2001 and early 2002, Shawna says, "and when he did call, he didn't say much about what he was doing." Tre was much more forthcoming, however, when she spoke to him this summer. "He gave me the impression he was going to go back to Portland, and perform and record his music," says Shawna.

But first he intended to travel. In midJune, he began to hitchhike east on a crosscountry trip. His parents spoke to him when he arrived in Cincinnati in early July to spend time with his daughter. "Mike certainly didn't give us any indication that he thought he was in trouble," Jim says. Jim and Mel last heard from their son when he phoned them from Pittsburgh on August 13th, at almost exactly the moment when the indictment against him was returned by the federal grand jury in Portland. "I'm sure Mike didn't know anything about it," Mel says. "He said he was on a 'renewal journey.' " Tre even gave his parents the phone number of the woman he was staying with.

But the next morning, when the FBI showed up at that woman's front door. Tre was gone, having disappeared while it was still dark out. His parents have not heard from him since.

A week later, FBI agents showed up at the Scarpittis' house to interview Jim and Mel. "We were floored," Jim says. "We both find it very difficult to accept that he would be involved in anything beyond peaceful civil disobedience." They told the agents they would urge their son "to get back to Portland and turn himself in," Jim says, "because I'm convinced that would be what's best for him."

What the FBI didn't tell the Scarpittis, though, was that the Joint Terrorist Task Force suspected their son of participation in a far more aggressive arson attack in Pennsylvania on August 11th, two days before his indictment in Portland. The blaze at the U.S. Forest Service's Northeast Research Station in Irvine, Pennsylvania – not far from Pittsburgh, where Tre had been staying – caused more than $700,000 in damage and destroyed years of research. The Earth Liberation Front issued a press release in which it claimed responsibility for the blaze: "This facility was strategically targeted, and if rebuilt, will be targeted again for complete destruction. Furthermore, all other U.S. Forest Service administration and research facilities nationwide should now be considered likely targets."


Part VI: The Revolutionaries

Since its formation in 1997, the Earth Liberation front has taken credit for the majority of significant "eco-terror" incidents in the United States. Many other acts of sabotage against "those involved in exploitation or destruction of the environment," as ELF puts it, have been committed by individuals who may or may not be directly associated with the group, since 1980, when the federal government began keeping count. While the total number of incidents is in the hundreds, and the combined property damage exceeds $50 million, the overall impact of "underground direct action," as environmental activists describe it, has been much greater than these figures suggest. Because of eco-terrorism, companies ranging from sawmills to movie studios have changed the way they do business.

Before ELF existed, eco-terror was generally carried out by ad-hoc groups of between two and six people who chose targets in their communities and kept what they had done to themselves. ELF essentially formalized what already existed into the system of "anonymous cells" by which the movement operates. In the process, it has done spectacularly well at avoiding detection. To this day, no one in law enforcement has penetrated ELF, and no reporter has obtained an interview with an avowed ELF member.

"The history of social change shows that it takes stepping outside societal laws to make change happen," Says Craig Rose-braugh, who for the last four years has been the public face of ELF. Rosebraugh is a skinny, shaven-headed young man who wears wire-rimmed glasses and black com-bat boots. In 1998, he announced that he had received an e-mail from ELF claiming responsibility for the arson that caused more than $12 million in damage to a ski resort in Vail, Colorado, the largest eco-terror attack ever. Rosebraugh insisted that he did not know who had sent him the e-mail and said he was not an ELF member – though he did agree with the group's aims.

Rosebraugh has made no public statements that would connect him with any of the crimes the government suspects Tre Arrow of committing. But in an unpublished interview he gave to Rolling Stone shortly after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., he said he had become convinced that revolutions took place only when pacifists committed to aboveground civil disobedience were backed by militants who accomplished underground acts of violence. "Liberals," he said, "are the kind of people who support armed struggle among the Indians of southern Mexico but not here in America." At the time, he was enrolled at Vermont's Godard College, writing a master's thesis "arguing the validity of armed struggle."

It is impossible not to hear Rosebraugh's remarks from back then echoing in the press release sent to the media to announce ELF's responsibility for the laboratory fire set in Pennsylvania eleven months later. ELF's members are "no longer limiting their revolutionary potential by adhering to a flawed, inconsistent 'nonviolent' ideology," the press release said. "While innocent life will never be harmed in any action we undertake, where it is necessary we will no longer hesitate to pick up the gun to implement justice and provide the needed protection for our planet that decades of legal battles, pleading, protest and economic sabotage have failed so drastically to achieve. The diverse efforts of this revolutionary force cannot be contained, and will only continue to intensify as we are brought face to face with the oppressor in inevitable, violent confrontation."

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