The Earth First!

All four prisoners shuffled into the courtroom as though headed for the scaffold. They were handcuffed. They wore the baggy blue jail uniforms that make everyone appear guilty until proven innocent. None of the four could manage a smile. They were escorted to the defense table with the same caution that might have been directed to a quartet of Iranian hijackers.

Their avowed goal as members of a group called Earth First! was to save the environment. But now they were accused of a plot that might have caused a "China syndrome" at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.

Two of the men wore beards. The third sported an ample mustache.
Margaret Millett, 35, the lone woman member, wore glasses with plastic frames. Her hair was down over her shoulder in a long braid. Millett looked more like a librarian at the reference desk than a saboteur.

As members of Earth First!, they are spiritual descendants of writer Edward Abbey. Abbey inspired Earth First! in its environmentalist ways with his novels, such as The Monkey Wrench Gang, and essay collections, such as Desert Solitaire.

When Abbey died this past March, he was 62. He'd had five wives and five children. He was a wonderfully humorous, combative and articulate writer.

Taking it in alphabetical order, Abbey disdained authority, automobiles, bureaucrats, cities, developers . . . The list goes on.

All through his writing career, Abbey, too, urged the preservation of the desert and trees and streams.

He was adamantly opposed to things like importing water to Phoenix merely for the sake of increasing population:

"They cannot see," he wrote once, "that growth just for the sake of growth is a cancerous madness, that Phoenix . . . will not be a better city to live in when the population doubles again and again. They would never understand that an economic system which can only expand or expire must be false to all that is human."

Abbey was a stranger to the lust for money. Having written a memorable novel called The Brave Cowboy, he sold it for just $7,500 to Kirk Douglas, a businessman-actor who changed the name to Lonely Are the Brave and created from it one of the great cult movies.

The Monkey Wrench Gang, written in 1975, has sold better than 500,000 copies. Desert Solitaire, written in 1968, has gone through eighteen printings.

But none of this changed Abbey's lifestyle.
It was Abbey's book that inspired David Foreman, one of the defendants. Before returning to Tucson he worked in Washington, D.C., as a lobbyist for the Wilderness Society.

Foreman was a close friend of Abbey's. He is the author of a book called Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkey Wrenching. Some think that he is the model for one of Abbey's most famous fictional characters.

Foreman's book contains diagrams of ways to cut down power transformers and techniques to bedevil those who would reduce the natural environment.

It is an extension of Abbey's fictional plan to blow up Glen Canyon Dam in The Monkey Wrench Gang.

Foreman's book gave him the credentials to be a leader in the movement.

But now, in this federal courtroom this provided no consolation for Foreman. He was a prisoner.

Just minutes away, the ultimate city madness of the Iceberg Phoenix Grand Prix was going through its preliminary paces.

Even now, as the court hearing moved ahead, the Formula One racing cars roared and squealed around and around in a kind of rat's maze.

The race promoters had promised Mayor Terry Goddard this would give two-hundred million people the world over a chance to see downtown Phoenix.

What they did not warn Goddard was that the views of Phoenix would turn out to be so devastating. Anyone sitting in London, Paris or even Beirut who saw the Grand Prix on television would make an immediate mental note to avoid setting foot in such a place.

The race proved the ultimate bad joke. The gullible Phoenix City Council was victimized by the race's slick promoters. But we were all taken advantage of by our own elected officials. Oh, well. What else is new?

They squandered millions of taxpayers' money on an event that proved an international insult.

It was a race that people on the streets could hear as far north as Osborn and as far south as Broadway. But they weren't allowed even to get a passing glance at the cars without paying an exorbitant admission fee.

In fact, the most clever engineering feat of the week was that the promoters created enough walls and sharp curves to make it impossible for anyone to get a good look at the race course--including those who had paid top dollar.

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Tom Fitzpatrick

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