SABOTAGING THE SABOTEURS

NEED SOME HELP CUTTING DOWN THOSE POWER LINES? CALL THE FBI.

That rarest commodity, a saboteur with a sense of humor, wrote the Arizona media in the second week of November 1987.

A letter claiming credit for vandalizing ski lifts at Flagstaff's Snow Bowl arrived on editors' desks from a group calling itself the Evan Mecham Eco Terrorist International Conspiracy, EMETIC (the Greek-based word that identifies an agent used to induce vomiting).

The letter writer immediately suggested reconciliation between the developers and the environmentalists.

The EMETIC representative acknowledged that there was an honest difference of opinion. The owners of the resort, the Fairfield Corporation, wished to expand and build condominiums over the objections of local Native American tribes. EMETIC wished to "chain the Fairfield CEO to a tree at the 10,000-foot level and feed him shrubs and roots until he understands the suicidal folly of treating the planet primarily as a tool for making money."

More to the letter writer's point, winter was approaching.
"It is colder than a Bruce Babbitt speech crawling around that mountain at night," wrote the correspondent, "and all of us would prefer to return to our usual nocturnal diversion of pursuing meaningless relationships in sleazy, but warm, bars."

The representative of EMETIC proposed detente. Fairfield should stop its plans for growth and "consult with appropriate spiritual authorities on the Navajo and Hopi reservations and agree not to operate at all on the days of greatest religious significance . . . if our compromise is accepted Fairfield should place a small ad in the classified personals [saying] `Uncle!' Otherwise, better hire more security."

The owners of the Snow Bowl, after consulting with the appropriate spiritual authorities at a major corporate law firm, offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those in EMETIC.

From this seemingly isolated incident in northern Arizona sprang an FBI investigation that rocked America's most notorious environmental organization, Earth First!.

In the courthouse that overlooks Prescott's historic town square, the federal government of the United States is determined to crush what it characterizes as a nationwide conspiracy of violent environmentalists.

Indicted are the co-founder of Earth First!, Tucson's Dave Foreman, and four Prescott residents: Mark Davis, Margaret (Peg) Millett, Ilse Asplund, and Marc Andre Baker.

The government charges that these five are terrorists who plotted to sabotage the largest nuclear power plant in America, Arizona Public Service Company's Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, just west of Phoenix. It is also alleged that Diablo Canyon, a nuke plant in California, as well as the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility in Colorado were on the Earth First! hit list. Prosecution by the U.S. Attorney commences June 10.

The indictment and thousands of pages of government records reveal the sensational components of the upcoming trial: sabotage, an FBI agent's pose as the damaged, yet sensitive, offspring of a dysfunctional family, LSD, snitches, thermite grenades, the long-lens photography of surreptitious meetings, marijuana, surveillance, love triangles, wiretaps, spiritual guides, body bugs, Joseph Wambaugh theories, cutting torches, Evan Mecham, dynamite, massage and ghosts.

Even this unwieldy list must be expanded to include the subversive element of laughter.

The indictment, you see, neglects to mention that Earth First! was most dangerous when it insisted that acts of environmental civil disobedience be salted with outlandish humor and sarcasm.

Earth First! ridiculed big business, satirized the polluters of Mother Earth, and hooted at the government.

The government's funny bone, however, proved to be more sensitive than ticklish. The feds reached a point where they'd had all the mockery from Dave Foreman and his ilk that they were going to take. It got to the point that every time you turned around, Foreman and his gang were razzing the pants off somebody.

When the government and the University of Arizona involved private companies and the Vatican in the construction of giant telescopes atop Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona, Earth First! organizers showed up at public hearings dressed as six-foot-tall creatures of the forest to argue the case for an endangered red squirrel who lived in the path of big-buck astronomy.

While mainstream environmentalists lobbied Congress, members of Earth First! suspended themselves in giant fir trees hundreds of feet in the air, squatting atop homemade platforms that looked like something God might jury-rig had God wanted to window-wash the clouds. Earth First! banners from these spectacular perches raised hell over the clear-cutting practices of timber barons.

When more responsible environmentalists spoke out on behalf of the Pacific Northwest's nearly extinct spotted owl, followers of Earth First! took more direct action. They dug post holes in the wilderness roads, poured quick-drying cement in the pits, and then jumped into the jelling muck up to their knees. As the cement dried, the activists became human fence posts blocking the roads while the television cameras rolled. Newsreel tapes showed overweight deputies and brawny lumberjacks confronting a pack of what appeared to be refugees from a Grateful Dead concert, all of whom seemed, at first glance, to have their goddamned legs cut off--or, were they imbedded in the road? Total pandemonium erupted.

Anyone tuning in the evening news and seeing these images had to ask themselves, "What the hell are these hippies up to now?"

Such sneering bravado from Earth First! appealed to streetwise people who didn't care for the globally warming world they lived in but who had no use for the Birkenstock-wearing and Volvo-driving members of the Sierra Club either. The smart-alecky defiance of Earth First! appealed to the guy on the stool at the end of the bar, the out-of-work carpenter whose tee shirt shows a hawk diving steeply with its deadly talons outstretched, about to snatch a mouse, a mouse who, even in this extreme situation, has raised its rodent fist and extended the middle finger in final and fatal salute.

What made Earth First! ominous was that landfill operators, ranchers on public lands, bureaucrats, toxic-waste generators and big-business CEOs were now confronted by an entirely different breed of environmentalist, green-power freaks who had no respect for lawsuits or silk suits. Some of these activists were thoughtful and some just flat wanted to destroy something.

Earth First!'s puissant refusal to knuckle under to progress, its willingness to punch back and smirk, was also seductive to serious environmentalists who dreamed of a simpler, cleaner countryside and who lusted for a good belly laugh to boot.

Of course, all humor, even environmental humor, has its dark side.
With Earth First!, the moodier aspect of its jibes took the form of vandalism, or as it is known in greener circles, monkey-wrenching.

Earth First! has never been shy about its belief in selective property damage. Dave Foreman even published a field manual that outlined a number of creative ways to decommission a bulldozer or to delay development by uprooting surveyors' stakes.

Not that any of these costly and destructive acts could actually stop a major project. But the very idea of being able to read all of Foreman's hyperventilated suggestions--my God, it was an outraged environmentalist's equivalent of reading Playboy magazine. You couldn't help but fantasize.

Some people's pornographic fantasies, of course, are wilder than others'. Mark Davis, for instance, had a dream as audacious as it was singular.

Although Mark Davis was indicted for the costly EMETIC prank in Flagstaff as well as some monkey- wrenching of a uranium mine at the Grand Canyon, nuclear power is his Moby Dick.

He wanted to humiliate the nuclear-energy industry by cutting down its power lines.

That was the big-picture fantasy.
The small-picture reality was that Mark Davis was too untethered to Planet Earth, too poor and probably too guileless to sabotage a nuke plant.

The FBI's agents had to put the deal together for Mark Davis, and because their real target was Dave Foreman, the feds had to link these two.

An FBI agent who had infiltrated Davis' circle encouraged the use of the co-founder of Earth First! as a possible source of cash. The same agent then drove Mark Davis to the Tucson residence of Dave Foreman to get the money. Davis returned to the FBI truck with approximately $500 in cash in an envelope. Not exactly a war chest but certainly more than spare change.

Upon their return to Prescott, Davis spaced out the envelope, leaving it in FBI agent Mike Fain's glove compartment.

When Davis finally remembered to retrieve this envelope, he promptly turned the cash over to a second FBI operative, giving him the entire $500. This FBI plant, Ron Frazier, had nurtured Davis' fantasy of toppling nuclear-power transmission lines. Frazier fed the dream by claiming that he could actually supply Davis with the forbidden fruit, thermite grenades. Frazier, who had access to nothing more incendiary than his imagination, took the $500 and then took a powder.

With no operating funds and no cash evidence tied directly to Dave Foreman, FBI agent Fain dashed back to Tucson, where he conferred with Earth First!'s co-founder again, went to the group's yard sale and finally picked up $100 more from a colleague of Foreman's.

Rushing back to Mark Davis in Prescott, the FBI agent gave him the cash.
Still, problems persisted if the FBI's terrorists were actually going to attack a nuclear-plant transmission line.

Mark Davis had no car.
The FBI agent agreed to use his vehicle. He also volunteered to be the driver who took the group to the target.

Mark Davis had no gas.
The FBI agent agreed to supply the fuel.
With the sort of diligent effort one likes to see in a federal official, the FBI agent was finally able to help Mark Davis realize one of his fantasies.

On May 30, 1988, Special Agent Michael Fain, posing as environmental provocateur Mike Tait, ferried three Prescott Earth First! supporters out to a remote power line in western Arizona. As Davis fired up his cutting torch, law enforcement officials swept in.

As it turned out, the power line was not connected to a nuclear plant.
Davis had wanted to practice on Central Arizona Project transmission lines used in the state's water-transfer system before tackling the white whale of nuclear power.

FBI agent Fain was so alarmed by this plan to hit anything other than a nuke plant that on his last trip to Tucson he tried to get Foreman to pressure Davis into forgetting about the CAP and to go after the big enchilada, the Palo Verde generating station.

The FBI apparently wanted to tie Davis and Foreman to each other and to a violent act directed at America's nuclear power industry. Obviously the headlines from sabotage linked in the reader's mind to nuclear meltdowns would be much more convincing than publicity regarding monkey-wrenching of something as mundane as water canals. The public-relations bonanza of radioactive terrorism was incalculable to the FBI's goal of eliminating Dave Foreman and Earth First!.

And that was, and is, the government's goal, if you can believe Special Agent Mike Tait.

On his final visit to Foreman, FBI agent Tait accidentally tape-recorded a conversation between himself and another agent. After picking up the $100 at the Earth First! yard sale, the two federal officers talked:

Tait: "In actuality we really ought to give [Earth First!] their money back when it's over because they don't really say what it's for. They are low-budget. I don't really really look for them to be doing a lot of hurting people, it's just that they get a few guys like this that'll . . . like Davis . . . "

Second agent: "Who freelance."
Tait: "Yeah. That's what it is, see, and . . . 'cause this [Foreman] really isn't the guy we need to pop, I mean, in terms of actual perpetrator. But this [Foreman] is the guy we need to pop to send the message and that's all we're really doin' and if we don't nail this guy [Foreman] and we don't get Davis, we're not sending any message. In the Rendezvous [the annual gathering of Earth First! followers] last year, he [Foreman] said somebody ought to be prepared to give his life this year and somebody ought to be prepared to do hard time."

Second agent: "Oh, really?"
Tait: "Yeah."
Second agent: "[Inaudible]."

Tait: "These people are dedicated. They just don't have any money. That is why the yard sale to help put together their legal defense. Unless it's done for nothing . . . it's the old Sixties stuff."

Second agent: "Do they have a beef right now that they need a defense fund . . . ?"

Tait: "They are always doing civil disobedience, getting arrested, so they need that and they have what they call their direct-action fund where . . . they are always giving money to this and their direct-action fund is for illegal activities."

Then Tait considers what he's shared with the other agent and adds, "We don't need that on the tape . . . oh boy."

But it is on tape. You bust Foreman, you bust Davis, you send a message. What is the message?

It will take several months in court to dope out the final answer, but in the meantime one signal is abundantly clear: If you think the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day called for something more meaningful than musical tie-ins on MTV, if you are alarmed over the increasing levels of radioactive waste, you'd better confine your anger to letter-writing campaigns.

To be continued

Earth First! was most dangerous when it insisted that acts of environmental civil disobedience be salted with outlandish humor and sarcasm.

They dug post holes in the wilderness roads, poured quick-drying cement in the pits, and then jumped into the jelling muck up to their knees.

With the sort of diligent effort one likes to see in a federal official, the FBI agent was finally able to help Mark Davis realize one of his fantasies.

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