CAUGHT UP IN THE ACT

Like a parent who has forgotten his child's name, Dr. Marc Baker tells me for the dozenth time that he is not a member of Earth First!.

And for the 12th time, he is correct.
It is also true that when FBI agents fired their flares into the desert night on May 30, 1989, they discovered Dr. Baker at the foot of a Central Arizona Project power transmission line that Mark Davis was trying to topple with a cutting torch.

At times it appears that all of the defendants have forgotten that they were all--with the exception of Dave Foreman--pretty much caught red-handed. This convenient absent-mindedness of the environmentalists has been no match for the relentless drive of the prosecutor.

Though she has not taken to wringing her hands, it is obvious that Assistant U.S. Attorney Roslyn Moore-Silver is working with the intensity of Lady Macbeth to put Dr. Baker in a prison cell, no matter what the botanist's relationship is to Earth First!.

The good doctor, however, is missing most of Moore-Silver's earnest effort because the scientist spends much of his time in the courtroom reading books.

The prosecutor's zeal apparently offers up few fresh terrors to Dr. Baker, who, after all, worked for two years as a botanist in the deepest Amazon.

Speaking of the flesh-eating natives who populated the area surrounding the jungle river where he toiled, Dr. Baker put Roslyn Moore-Silver into perspective.

"For the most part, the Shuar Indians no longer practice headhunting, though, because of their fear of encroachment, quite a few of them hate white people."

For the most part, this is a mouthful, coming as it does from the lips of a man who is Anglo in an obvious sort of way.

Perhaps the rigors of those years in the Amazon explain why the prospect of going to prison does not appear to bother Dr. Baker nearly so much as the media's identification of him as an Earth First! activist.

The doctor gets extremely irritated by such factual sloppiness.
When he tells me, for example, after some long discussion over a vegetarian lunch, that a prickly pear cactus in the Amazon is named after him (Opuntia bakeri), he is mildly insistent that the title is italicized and that the first letter of the second word is lower case, because, by God, this is the exactness of science we are talking about and not the sort of half-baked pseudowriting of journalism, or whatever the hell it is that reporters do to make a living.

Dr. Baker's work in the Amazon became part of a Canadian television documentary and was even included as a component of a spread in National Geographic.

If the government wishes to stop the multimillion-dollar sabotage by Earth First! that is occurring on a national level, it must contend with the intentions of people like Dr. Baker, people who are not even affiliated with the radical environmentalists, people of substance who have plants named after them and who are yet willing to eradicate the vestiges of civilization.

But how do prosecutors and FBI agents begin to get through to someone who would spend two years in the Amazon bush? Consider for a moment that the sort of fellow the government is trying to lock up is a scientist who willingly lived in the habitat so succinctly summarized below:

As part of a work in progress, eccentric author Redmond O'Hanlon described his research on the South American river in Amazon Adventure.

"There is Chagas disease, for instance, carried by various species of assassin bugs that bite you on the face or neck and then, gorged, defecate next to the puncture; when you scratch the itch that results, you rub the droppings and their cargo of protozoa into your bloodstream; between one and twenty years later you begin to die from an illness whose symptoms are at first like malaria and later like AIDS. Then there is onchocerciasis, river-blindness, Col 3, Depth P54.02 I9.03 of being part of precedent-setting effort by the government to break up a radical environmental group.

His book of choice: State of the World 1991.
Asked about his reading habits, Dr. Baker produced for his interrogator an earlier version of the same book: State of the World 1989, suggesting, I surmise, that some homework is in order before any significant discussion can ensue.

It is a daunting text. Chapters have titles like: "Halting Land Degradation," and "Drought, Desertification and the Hydrological Cycle." Visual relief in the book is provided by tables and figures such as: "Annual Sediment Load Transported to the Sea By Major Rivers, Early Eighties"; "Projected Net Reductions in Carbon Emissions from Expanded Forest Protection"; also, "Reforestation Efforts and China--Effects of Land Rehabilitation Strategy in Quanjiagov, Mizhi County, 1979-86."

The tales in this book of worldwide environmental disaster are so depressing that the prospect of a cell with a cot and three hots, by comparison, seems downright reassuring.

Of course, that's facetious, but Dr. Baker's courtroom literature points out a common thread amongst the defendants: All of them have read environmental books whose content is terrifying. You simply cannot be a devotee of Danielle Steel and have any idea of what Dr. Baker and his colleagues are about.

"If you were to describe the very worst that any defendants have done," observed Dr. Baker, "it would be insignificant compared to the sheer apathy of the average American, much less the international destruction of the environment for their own comfort."

Dr. Baker did not arrive at this rather stiff-necked position recently.
"Seeing the picture of a dodo bird in the dictionary as a child, and I don't think I was an unusual child, was very upsetting. If it were up to me, something like that would not happen.

"Ever since I left home, I have been working towards a career in botany. I've always been interested in the process of evolution, how things came to be. I am interested in how these things affect human beings. The facts are there; we've already destroyed thousands of species."

When a man embarks upon a path as tutorial as the one Dr. Baker has chosen, it can be a solitary experience. testify against her husband. The U.S. Attorney's Office has since contacted her attorney, Joe Abodeely, to make the same demand. Though the government cannot easily compel such testimony in Arizona, that did not prevent the intimidation from escalating.

"The impression I had was that if I didn't testify, they would indict me," recalled Mrs. Baker in a conversation last week. "Basically what they said was that if you go to prison, who is going to be here to take care of your children?"

In the end, the government proved that it knew how to get through to all of the defendants, not just the Amazon adventurer.

With more than 800 hours of bugged conversations, defendants literally caught in the act, one paid informant and one undercover FBI agent, the prosecution dealt from power.

On Tuesday morning, as New Times went to press, defense attorneys entered into negotiations with the U.S. Attorney's Office for plea agreements on behalf of their clients.

Word prior to the meeting portrayed the government's primary target, Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman, getting off with simple probation. While defendants Marc Baker, Peg Millett and Ilse Asplund were expected to escape with light sentences, ringleader Mark Davis was looking at a multiyear sentence.

How do prosecutors and FBI agents begin to get through to someone who would spend two years in the Amazon bush?

"Seeing the picture of a dodo bird in the dictionary as a child was very upsetting.

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Phoenix Concert Tickets

Around The Web

Loading...