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The Rise and Fall of the Eco-Radical Underground

Page 3 of 7

In October 1996, two months after the victory at Warner Creek, Ferguson and his new girlfriend, Josephine Sunshine Overaker, an herbalist with a huge tattoo of a bird spanning her back, drove to a ranger station in Detroit, Oregon. Creeping among the moss-draped hemlocks, they scrambled onto the roof of the station and lit a wick attached to a jug of gasoline, but couldn't get it to ignite. They managed to set fire to a Forest Service pickup truck and spray-painted graffiti on a nearby shed: "Earth Liberation Front." It was the first time the phrase appeared at the site of an arson in the U.S. Two days later, Ferguson and Sunshine brought the Dog along to burn another ranger station, in Oakridge: This time they got it right, burning the place to cinders. They also threw piles of nails on the road as they left to slow down firetrucks on their way to the scene and chucked their gloves into a reservoir on the way home. The nucleus of the Family was now in place. The Dog had the commitment, Ferguson had the criminal skills and Sunshine would do anything for Ferguson.

FBI agents immediately began prowling the Eugene coffee shops, but activists resisted the idea that one of their own had set the fires. Sure, they believed in monkey-wrenching, but this was way more hardcore than anything Earth First had ever preached. "We thought Oakridge couldn't have been us, because the building was burned so expertly," says Flynn. "We didn't think we had people who were that good."

Ferguson became the muscle of the operation, the recon specialist, visiting more than twenty fur farms across Oregon and Canada to scout their security systems. He soon found a wild-horse corral run by the Bureau of Land Management in Burns, Oregon, that he thought they could hit. The BLM was supposed to round up wild horses whose populations had grown too large and allow the public to adopt them for $125 each. But BLM employees were "adopting" the horses themselves and selling them to a slaughterhouse for $700 — after which the horse meat was flown to Europe for human consumption. Violence was being done to those horses, and the Family wanted respond in kind. That was enough of an argument for Avalon, who decided to join the action. "We were psyched," says Ferguson. "We needed someone to rely on."

Hitting the road in the Dog's van, they hid near the corral for hours, making notes about security guards, the time employees came and left, what parts of the structure were combustible and the location of the building's alarms. When it came time to set the fire, they shoplifted the supplies they needed to make the "burgers," which is what they called their firebombs, building them in a friend's garage while he was out of town — creating a mess of wires and plastic buckets, with kitchen timers attached to gas-soaked sponges. They bought the gas to make the vegan jello at a bunch of different gas stations, in hopes they wouldn't raise suspicions, and picked up secondhand black clothes from a Goodwill drop box as camouflage.

The night before the attack, Avalon and the others went on a "camping trip" — a dry run during which they found a location to put on their black clothes and decided where to place the burgers. The next night, they liberated the horses — 500 horses and burros rushing by them, into the great wild beyond. Then, while the Dog stayed in the van with a police scanner, Avalon and the others set the fires, working fast.

Afterward, they took their clothes and stuffed them all in a hole in the ground, pouring acid over everything. To cover their tracks, Ferguson sold the van to some hippies. Then, prosecutors say, the group typed up a communiqué, gloves on. "The BLM claims they are removing non-native species from public lands (aren't white Europeans also non-native)," they wrote. "This hypocrisy and genocide against the horse nation will not go unchallenged"

When they were done, they mailed the communiqué to Craig Rosebraugh, a vegan activist living in Portland who had a reputation as an uncompromising radical. Although Rosebraugh wasn't a member of the cell, he recognized that he was being offered the role of spokesman for the ELF and sent the communiqué to every news outlet in the state.

It was a great fake-out: The feds kept pressure on Rosebraugh, with Congress even summoning him to Capitol Hill to answer questions, but he always took the Fifth. The only thing he would talk about was the ideological basis of the movement: The ELF's property destruction, he said, was no different from the Boston Tea Party's attempt to overthrow a repressive government. "It is time to start talking about a revolution in this country," Rosebraugh declared. "And, yes, if there is a revolution, it will be violent. Name one revolution in history that was not violent."

Over the next three years, the Family became the running dogs of the revolution, setting fires to show Babylon that they really meant it when they said there was no compromise in the defense of Mother Earth. The "brothers" and "sisters" took their cue from Abbey's novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, in which ex-Green Beret George Hayduke returns from Vietnam to find the Southwestern desert wrecked by development and vows to exact revenge. Hayduke loved monkey-wrenching: "The heavy pack on his back, overloaded with water and weapons and hardware, felt good, solid, real, meant business. He felt as potent as a pistol, dangerous as dynamite, tough and mean and hard and full of love for his fellow man."

The cell grew to encompass Jen Kolar, a millionaire yacht racer and fervent animal-rights advocate; Joe Dibee, an Internet Explorer security tester at Microsoft; Rebecca Rubin, a thin, black-haired scientist from Canada who studied cranes; and another one of Ferguson's flings, Kendall Sarah Tankersley, a medical receptionist at a Planned Parenthood clinic. But none was more dedicated than Avalon, Ferguson and the Dog. Avalon designed the burgers with his disciple Stan Meyerhoff. Ferguson did the legwork. And the Dog was the glue. He was in charge of the voice mailbox they had set up for people to leave messages, and Family members would tap on his window in Eugene at all hours to let him know they were available to do an action. Sometimes, Ferguson and the Dog would hook up with animal-rights militants they knew in the underground; once they liberated forty-six dogs from a pacemaker lab in Southern California. "None of those other skinny people, the vegans, could pop the locks," brags Ferguson. "Luckily, I was there."

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