Rewriting history

Earth First! founder's violent tactics gave him and his cause a bad name

David Foreman still remembers when he was "run over" by a pickup truck, suffering minor injuries, as he and other members of Earth First! protested a timber sale in Southern Oregon. But he's apparently all too willing to forget that he advocated for violence in the woods himself through the sabotage of logging equipment and spiking of trees.

He seems to want to rewrite history, but no one should let him do that without recalling that this was a man whose words and actions put people at risk of injury and even death. He was willing to take the short and violent route to achieving his goals, rather than the long and tedious slog that real environmental heroes have taken to protect nature's places.

Foreman, who will speak locally this week, was a founder of Earth First! and the author of "Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkey Wrenching," a book that provided a how-to on destroying property and spiking trees.

Earth First! did achieve success in some areas, but primarily through peaceful protests in which it and other environmental activists were willing to be arrested in support of their cause. Agree or disagree with their goals, those activists put their lives and freedom on the line in peaceful, yet effective ways.

Foreman, however, was willing to put other people's lives and freedoms on the line. Among its "accomplishments," Earth First! proved to be the birthing grounds of the Earth Liberation Front, which took destruction and disregard for human life to a new level by torching university buildings, cars, homes and businesses, including a mill office in Medford.

Foreman was not involved with ELF and was never convicted in direct connection with any acts of sabotage or violence, although he was likened to a behind-the-scenes "Mafia don" by the FBI. He was either too wise to get involved personally in the violence or too smart to get caught, but there's no doubt he helped plant the seeds that led to that violence.

Foreman is now an advocate for "rewilding," which would create large connected expanses of wild areas that would, among other things, provide habitat for large carnivores like wolves and cougars. Again, agree or disagree with the premise, give credit to his Rewilding Institute for stimulating the dialogue and pushing its ideas forward through peaceful means.

But he cannot walk silently by his past, nor should anyone let him. Some might say that Earth First! helped achieve necessary environmental change and therefore its transgressions can be overlooked. That sort of end-justifies-the-means argument has been made many times over many issues and rarely is it true. It's not true in this case.

Committed environmentalists have made major changes in national policy without resorting to violence. In truth, the violence that did occur damaged rather than helped their cause.

Whether he intended to or not, David Foreman helped create that damage as surely as he did in damaging his opponents' lives and businesses.

And that shouldn't be forgotten.


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