The Rise and Fall of the Eco-Radical Underground

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To those who have studied radical movements, the unprecedented prosecution of environmental activists represents the end of an era. Four states have already passed legislation — drafted by a right-wing lobbying group that represents 300 major corporations — that classifies any act of property destruction motivated by environmental beliefs as "ecological terrorism." In Pennsylvania, misdemeanors and nonviolent protests like tree-sitting are now punishable as terrorist acts. Even Coronado, considered the "leader" of the movement for years by the feds, has vowed to quiet down after too many years of harassment by the government — as the father of a young child, the risks are now too high for him. "I suspect that on a practical level, these arrests, especially followed by lengthy sentences, will fuel a transformation in local anarchist politics," says Michael Dreiling, a University of Oregon sociology professor who studies social movements in the Northwest. "If I were to make a guess, I'd say that it will lead to deeper fissures over tactics and strategy in years ahead. I don't think we will see many more ELF actions. We live in a society that can practically monitor your body from a satellite in outer space. An underground political-protest movement like the ELF is going to be very difficult in the future."

Of those indicted, only McGowan, Waters, Jonathan Paul and the couple known as Exile and Sheba have pleaded not guilty. They are scheduled to stand trial on October 3ist. McGowan is under house arrest at his sister Lisa's apartment in New York, allowed to leave only two hours a week. "I lived in New York during 9/11, and I saw terrorism firsthand," says Lisa, a tough woman in a black leather jacket, over coffee around the corner from her house. "In the neighborhood Daniel and I grew up in, most of the dads were firefighters and policemen, and we lost 350 of them that day. My friends are still mourning the losses of their fathers and husbands. To call my brother and a group of activists terrorists is insulting and unfair."

Amanda Lee, McGowan's attorney, will likely argue that those who have accused her client have either lied or exaggerated his role in the arsons in order to secure lighter sentences for themselves. "Testimony from snitches or people facing life in prison is notoriously unreliable," she says. Although he is only charged with acting as a lookout on two of the arsons, McGowan faces life plus 330 years in prison.

These days, Ferguson lives in the suburbs of Eugene. A pariah in town, he has no steady girlfriend and calls his eight-year-old son his best friend. He studies diesel mechanics at a community college and works on cars. On a recent spring day, he sits on a bench outside his classroom, a messy braid poking out of his baseball cap. His face and body are bloated — one condition of his immunity deal was enrolling in a methadone program.

Ferguson's tattoos are faded, and a big copper ring is turning one of his fingers green. At the mention of Avalon, his face goes slack, and he stares at the ground, thinking about what he's done. "I guess I'm sitting around waiting for someone to probably come and kill me now," he says. "Sometimes, I think that's part of the feds' tactic, leaving me out of jail so I get killed. The feds are into punishment, dude. It's fucked up."

As the morning sun crosses a grassy quad, Ferguson grows more and more unhinged. He insists that he still loves his sisters and brothers, that he'll never stop loving them, that he knows they are sitting in their jail cells today with the firm knowledge that he only did what he had to do, harboring no grudge against him. Life for him was once thrilling in a way that few people ever experience — the rush of drugs and women and radical action, a revolution in the making. Now there is nothing but a long expanse of ordinary and lawful days, repetitive and boring, devoid of fire.

"Here I am, going to school, and I can't do an arson," Ferguson says, shaking his head. "Man, I can't steal a parakeet."


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