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Dave Foreman: "We Weren't Interested In Creating Outdoor Gymnasiums For Suburban Yuppies"

Dave Foreman took a short sip from a bottle of Pacifico. He wore walking shorts. Foreman stands better than six feet, much taller than he seemed a week before in a baggy blue jail uniform.

It was late Saturday afternoon and Foreman was waiting on the front porch of the old Tucson home which serves as the offices of Earth First! We were only a few hundred yards from the Ramada Inn. Foreman suggested we go there to talk.

Foreman, 42, was happy to be out of jail. His early morning arrest on May 31 by a Federal Bureau of Investigation antiterrorist team had been emotionally jolting, especially to Foreman's wife.

But now he was out. His life was returning to normal. Foreman was free on bond awaiting a trial that might be months away.

Three others arrested at the same time and charged with attempting to cut power lines leading from Palo Verde are being held without bond.

Gerry Spence, the miracle worker of a lawyer from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has volunteered to defend Foreman without fee. Spence gained fame as the lawyer who won the Karen Silkwood case against Kerr-McGee. He is also the lawyer who successfully sued Penthouse magazine in the famous case of Miss Wyoming.

I had spoken with Spence over the telephone. He assured me that it would be a canard to call him "flamboyant" and then proceeded to give a remarkable imitation of what a flamboyant lawyer talks like on the telephone.

I remembered Spence's voice booming at me through the phone lines as Foreman and I walked to the hotel.

"It just burns my ass," Spence said, "Why do the papers keep calling me flamboyant? Why do I have to pick up the papers and read that Dave Foreman is a saboteur and a radical?"

If you were to rate the volume of Spence's voice from one to ten, he was on the top of the scale.

"Flamboyant? Do they call me that because I wear a hat? "Radical?" Spence said. "I would think it's a radical position for American citizens to stand by, just blinking their eyes, watching while the earth is destroyed.

"The FBI would like you to think these people are wild-eyed terrorists of the Palestinian type. In reality, they are ordinary citizens. They are activists just like the people who conducted the Boston Tea Party."

Already, Foreman had paid the price.
His arrest by the FBI had been an exercise in state-sponsored terror.
Five agents came to his home just after dawn. They pounded on the door and barged through with guns drawn when his wife opened it.

Foreman was asleep and wearing ear plugs to keep out nearby construction sounds. The five agents surrounded his bed and pointed their cocked .357 Magnums at his face.

He thought they were there to execute him. They cuffed his hands behind his back. Then they threw him in a car, barefoot and wearing only a pair of shorts and drove him to the federal building.

One of the agents took his wife aside. The FBI man advised her to desert her husband, to extricate herself from a situation that will grow much worse.

I expected Foreman to be bitter. He wasn't. He was merely determined not to bow before intimidation.

Foreman led me into the hotel bar. We took a table near the wall. The waitress put some chips on the table and then brought iced tea.

"I come from a long line of pinto bean farmers in New Mexico," Foreman began. "They got wiped out by the Depression and moved to Albuquerque at the end of the Dust Bowl."

Foreman's father was in the Air Force and later worked for the Federal Aviation Administration. The family moved around a lot. Foreman went to high school in Blythe, California, where he began hiking in the desert and became an Eagle Scout. He went to college at the University of New Mexico.

"I graduated in 1968 with a major in history and minors in anthropology and biology."

Foreman grinned.
"Hell, I was state chairman of Young Americans for Freedom, a pro-war right-wing group. I still consider myself a real conservative."

Foreman's family tree goes back to prerevolutionary days and his ancestors walked the wilderness trail with Daniel Boone. All the women in his family became members of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

"The people calling themselves conservatives today are really monarchists or tories. If the people who are trying to frame me were around in 1770, they would have been calling Sam Adams, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson terrorists.

"All that I've been trying to do with Earth First! for the last nine years is the same thing that the people at the Boston Tea Party did. They couldn't get satisfaction from a distant and arrogant government run by King George III. So they threw tea in the harbor. They put their ass on the line."

This is a fascinating concept and Foreman enjoys talking about it.
"Bush and Reagan ought to be wrapping themselves in the Union Jack rather than the Stars and Stripes," he said.

After college, Foreman went to work as a part-time teacher on the Zuni Indian Reservation and at the trading post.

He left to go to horseshoeing school at New Mexico State in Las Cruces.
"I worked at horseshoeing for a couple of years in northern New Mexico. Then I realized there really aren't very many old horseshoers around. At least, they're not intact. It's a real dangerous job and one day I nearly lost an eye."

So he became a guide and started a mule-packing business, and it was about this time--in 1971--that he became interested in conservation issues.

By 1973 he began working for the Wilderness Society as its Southwestern representative at a salary of $250 a month.

Five years later, he moved to Washington, D.C., to be the group's lobbyist.

"I went back to Washington expecting to be impressed by everyone," Foreman recalled. "I found very few congressmen who seemed like giants. At the same time, I saw that conservation groups were becoming more and more bureaucratic.

"They were interested in maintaining close contact with powerful members of Congress. They didn't want to rock the boat. They forgot their job was to be constant advocates for ecological sanity.

"They started hiring accountants, people who were basically businessmen. The conservation movement was losing its soul."

In Washington, Foreman was making the largest salary he has ever made--$18,000 a year. He left and came to Arizona.

Foreman and four friends who were interested in ecology went on a camping trip to Mexico. One day, sitting in a bar in Sonora, San Luis, they founded Earth First!

"We wanted to get back to the fundamentals of John Muir," Foreman said. "We wanted to reinject enthusiasm into a movement that had died and turned boring.

"We really believe that man has no right to destroy the planet. This movement isn't designed to merely preserve scenery or backpacking trails. We weren't interested in creating outdoor gymnasiums for suburban yuppies. We were talking about saving life."

They contacted Edward Abbey, the writer, and he gave them both encouragement and some money.

The first thing Foreman did was to hook up with Bart Koehler, the country-Western singer who calls himself Johnny Sagebrush. With $20 in their pockets, they took off in Foreman's ancient Volkswagen bus on a 10,000-mile drive around the United States to raise both donations and interest.

"We were on the road three months," Foreman said. "We went to Washington state, New York, Florida, and California. I'd give a speech, Johnny Sagebrush would sing some songs and then we'd pass the hat.

"Generally, we got enough to buy a six-pack and gas to get us to the next town. We slept on people's floors, and we'd have leftover pizza for dinner. I don't think I could ever do it again but it was worth it. We created a lot of interest."

The first big action taken by Earth First! was the hoax that made people think there was a huge crack in Glen Canyon Dam.

"It was the spring of 1981," Foreman said. "We didn't know if we could make it work. We bought 300 feet of black plastic tape from Babbitt's department store in Flagstaff. We got some rope, some duct tape and some pipe and rolled it all up. Then we got on top of the dam and just pushed it off, and it rolled all the way down.

"God, it looked like there was a crack all the way down the dam."
Foreman smiled now as he remembered that day.
"We waited around to get arrested," he said, "but nobody showed up. So we went over to the parking lot where Ed Abbey gave a speech. Johnny Sagebrush sang. Finally, the county sheriff's car came up.

"The deputy told us he wasn't even against us. Turned out he was a great admirer of Abbey's and wanted very much to meet him. So we couldn't even get arrested."

Foreman marveled at what happened next.
"Do you know it took me seven tries before I could even get arrested?"
It wasn't until the spring of 1983 that this occurred. But it almost cost Foreman his life.

"We were up around Medford, Oregon, on a forest issue," Foreman recalled. "The forest service was trying to punch a road into an area where there were no roads at all.

"We did things like stand in front of bulldozers in an attempt to stop workers from going in there to work.

"One morning there was just me and a fellow in a wheelchair. We blocked the road with a log. At five in the morning, a sheriff's deputy came and pulled the log off the road with a winch.

"Then, at six, some workers arrived in a big double-cab pickup truck. I stood in front of the truck. The driver advanced slowly and bumped me. Then, he started forcing me back. I wouldn't get out of the way, so he started pushing the truck up against me. Then, when he made contact, he accelerated.

"I was being pushed back. Then, when he started going faster and faster, I lost my balance. I grabbed onto the bumper as I fell over backward. I held on as the truck kept moving with me hanging on the bumper and being dragged along.

"The truck dragged me about a hundred yards and stopped. The workers jumped out.

"The driver's name was Les Moore, and I know he was so mad that he had wanted to kill me. I could see the look in his eyes as he drove that truck into me.

"He came up to me and said: `You goddamned Communist bastard. Why don't you go back to Russia where you came from?'

"I said, `Hey, Les, I'm a registered Republican.'
"Then the sheriff's deputy came rushing up.
"`Are you all right?' he asked. `Do you have anything broken?'
"`I'm fine,' I said.
"`All right,' the deputy said, `then I'm placing you under arrest.'

"He put me in handcuffs and charged me with obstruction. I pleaded innocent and there was a trial in which I served as my own lawyer.

"At the trial, they tried to deny under oath that the truck had run me down. There was one thing wrong with this. The television station had film of the whole thing.

"Well, that blockade went on for a couple of months and 44 people were arrested before it ended. But we slowed down construction until a mainstream conservation group filed a lawsuit and got the road construction stopped."

"Why didn't you get out of the way of the truck when you saw the driver wasn't going to stop?" I asked.

"I figured I had made my commitment," Foreman said. "If I got out of the way, then they would figure everyone was going to get out of the way. And then, someday, maybe somebody wouldn't and he'd be killed.

"I'm not a totally nonviolent person. I believe in self-defense. But when you make a commitment to nonviolence, you have to live by it regardless of the consequences."

Foreman laughed as he recalled what happened at the trial.
"I got to cross-examine Les, the truck driver.
"`Why didn't you stop, Les?' I asked him.

"He answered that he couldn't stop because we were on a road that ran along the edge of a cliff. He was afraid I was going to push the truck over the edge."

"Do you remember how you felt as the truck was dragging you along and you could hear the engine roaring?"

Foreman shook his head.
"I felt like I was in a hell of a fix," he said.

He thought for a moment.
"I still have the tape of that incident. I like to run it backward so that it looks like I'm under the truck and I rise to push it all the way back down the road.

"You know, when something happens like this latest arrest by the FBI, you feel you'd have a better chance facing eight tanks in Beijing.

"I can't even feel a whole lot of anger toward the undercover guy the FBI sent in here. I just wonder how anyone can live with himself who does things like that.

"I know why they want to shut me up. It's because of the book."
Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkey Wrenching, has been out three years now. It has sold more than 12,000 copies and been reviewed in many respected national publications.

"They can't stop the book because of the First Amendment, but they want to intimidate me and to get rid of me.

"We're at the edge. Everybody ought to realize that. We are close to the end.

"Chernobyl . . . the oil spill in Prince William Sound . . . the garbage washing up on the East Coast last summer . . . the greenhouse effect . . . the destruction of the tropical rain forests . . . the terrible erosion in Arizona . . . .

"We're killing the planet.
"Some of us have to stand up and talk about that. We have to resist the destruction any way we can."

Foreman shook his head again.
"Abbey predicted this before he died. This is just the beginning of a major crackdown. I see the United States as a dying empire. It's controlled now by giant corporations who think they're above the law.

"But I'm not gonna be shut up," Foreman said, putting down his glass of iced tea.

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"For me, it's just like I was still in front of that truck. I've got no choice."

One of the agents took Foreman's wife aside. The FBI man advised her to desert her husband.

"Abbey predicted this before he died. This is just the beginning of a major crackdown."

"The people calling themselves conservatives today are really monarchists or tories."

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