An Exclusive Interview With the Preserves Arsonist

He is smart. He is professional. He is everything you don't expect.

One-Eyed Fiona plays bouncy Celtic songs. The arsonist begins to groove. He nods his head and taps his black athletic shoes as he describes how the CSP has avoided capture.

"If you don't look or act suspicious, suspicion isn't drawn to you," he lectures. "One of our keys to success is how well we blend in. We don't stick out. If you're a couple out for a stroll on the Preserve, you're not suspicious. What do they expect? For us to carry a torch like an Olympic runner?"

Another key, he continues, is the dwindling sense of neighborhood community. Who knows what their neighbors look like? He says members of the CSP have walked away from starting a fire and said, "Hello, good evening, full moon tonight!" to local residents. One member even bumped into a police officer during a "reconnaissance mission" at a construction site. The member played it cool and chatted with the officer.

A fence encloses a Preserve arson crime scene.
A fence encloses a Preserve arson crime scene.
A fence encloses a Preserve arson crime scene.
A fence encloses a Preserve arson crime scene.


For complete New Times coverage of the Preserves Arsonist, click over to our Arsonist Archives.

When the construction later burned down, the arsonist says, "the poor bastard never made the connection."

Or did he?

The night before our meeting, investigators released a sketch of an "investigational lead" in the Preserve fires. The person was allegedly seen at the site of one of the arsons. When asked about the drawing, the arsonist says, "Well, obviously it's not me." When pressed if he knows who it is, his answer is something shy of a firm denial. It's not that he's being evasive, exactly. He acts as if such leads are simply of little consequence or concern.

The carefree attitude is, perhaps, another reason the CSP has been successful. They are playing the campaign like it's a creative and elaborate high-stakes game rather than a straightforward crime. He brags they were able to penetrate two security fences at Benson's house without cutting them. He says they've fantasized about using ultralight gliders to do bombing runs. They once even considered setting fire to one of Jeff Groscost's alt-fuel vehicles.

And, he says, they toyed with the idea of burning structures where owners have already moved in.

Their game is evolving, in other words.

They are expanding their operations, setting fires more frequently, becoming more intimate with the media. And as they continue to raise the stakes, their benevolent Robin Hood idealism cannot hold up forever. Already one of their fires was close enough to an occupied neighboring home to warp its windows and blacken its exterior walls.

"There's a guy in our group with 'special training,'" the arsonist warns. "If anybody ever confronts him leaving a fire, they better get out of his way."

The CSP's primary objective is to influence public opinion through high-publicity actions that eventually result in strict growth control. When asked how long the campaign will continue, the arsonist turns rhetorical.

"How long does it take to have meaningful growth control?" he asks. "How long until Asleep-at-the-Wheel [Governor Jane] Hull does something of substance and not just give lip service? How long does it take until Go-Go-Skippy [Rimsza] forgets he's a real estate man?"

So the arsons will never stop?

"We're hoping to stimulate conversation and awareness, and we're doing that," he says. "We know when to stop. If we have 25 or 30 fires, we're going to make a mistake or get caught."

If the CSP is concerned about growth control, its choice of urban targets is curious. Constructions on the Phoenix Mountains Preserve and the McDowell Sonoran Preserve are an optical illusion of violation. The Preserve is an urban park set aside specifically for the same residents whose houses are being burned. To a hiker or mountain biker, the houses appear to be built on free-range desert, given that the Preserve is not enclosed -- a fence would restrict the movement of wildlife. But houses are not built on the Preserve itself; they are built on the surrounding land already voted into private ownership.

Targeting houses near the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, as the CSP did in the January 18 arson, is a bit more logical. The new houses are built on private property, but there is a current battle to save 16,600 acres of nearby state land trust property from development.

In reality, none of the targets in either Preserve addresses the popular environmentalist concern about the acre-an-hour spread of the Valley's waistline.

So why has the CSP exerted so much concentrated fury on neighborhoods near the North Phoenix Mountains Preserve?

"Because they're encroaching on hiking and biking trails," he says. "Because they're an obnoxious reminder that there is no growth plan."

That answer is crucial to distinguishing the CSP from groups such as the Earth Liberation Front.

The ELF is made up of broadband environmentalists who want to save the world from itself. The CSP, the arsonist says, has only one member who is a devout environmentalist. The arsonist admits he had never even heard of the fight to preserve Tempe Butte, presumably because the Butte has no mountain-bike trails. The ELF has declared war on any business profiting from the exploitation of the natural environment, while the CSP's campaign is more personal -- this is where they live and play.

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