Chapter 18 : The Arizona Power Lines

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

So now I’m a-sitting in prison,
A jump-suit and flip-flops I wear,
I’ll be out with good time by two-thousand and nine,
Hope there’ll still be some old growth back there,
And the man who looked just like Jesus,
He sure ain’t a sharing my cell,
‘Cause he was a spy for the FB of I,
And they busted Dave Foreman as well.

—Lyrics excerpted from, He Looked a Whole Lot Like Jesus by Darryl Cherney and Mike Roselle, 1990.

“I’m proud to be here fac­ing harassment by the FBI. I think I’m here because I’ve been effective in bringing attention to the crisis on this planet…my involvement will be curbed when I’m (lying) in the desert like Ed Abbey.” [1]

—Dave Foreman, June 1989.

Truth be told, by this time Earth First!ers had already been the victims of state repression. COINTELPRO, the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program, a creation of J. Edger Hoover, had been used since the 1950s to infiltrate and disrupt leftist organizations, often through the use of agent provocateurs, ostensibly to prevent a violent overthrow of the US Government. Most of the charges against such groups for any real crimes have either been found to be groundless, or, as in the case of the Black Panthers for example, many of the crimes were orchestrated by the undercover agents themselves in an attempt to discredit the organization. These efforts usually succeeded, and most of these dissident groups were undermined, rendered ineffective, or destroyed utterly. [2] The judgment of history has generally shown these organizations to be innocent of most of the charges against them, and even if they were considered a menace to society at the time, much of what they believed has eventually become mainstream thought, at least to some degree. [3] Yet, COINTELPRO continued after Hoover’s death well into the 1980s. [4]

Many Earth First!ers naïvely assumed they were immune, or at least highly resistant, to infiltration by provocateurs. This was due, they thought, to their lack of formal structure. Earth First! cofounder Mike Roselle likened them to the Yippies, which he’d been part of in his younger days, stating “You couldn’t infiltrate the Yip­pies. It was like infiltrating a marshmallow.” Judi Bari seemed to agree with this pronouncement, declaring, “There was nothing defined. It was a movement with a way of being and a feeling, and our extreme decentrali­zation makes it difficult for the FBI to even under­stand us, much less infiltrate us,” and, it wasn’t as if Earth First! didn’t take steps to minimize the danger. [5] As Greg King stated,

“We do have to get to­gether and plan our actions, and we do have to be clandestine. Often times we have to worry about the phones we use, and sometimes we have to worry about whether we have an infiltra­tor in the group. We don’t worry about it very much, but some­times you can, especially when you’re dealing with such powerful and insidious people as Charles Hurwitz of the Maxxam Group. [6]

Earth First! was soon about to find out that they had much to learn and plenty to worry about. On Tuesday, May 30, 1989, at about 8:15 in the morning, Earth First!er Peg Millett, and her two friends from Prescott Arizona, Marc Davis and Mark Baker, while engaged in a protest action in the deserts of northern Arizona were surrounded by fifty FBI agents. None of the three were armed. [7] Mark Baker wasn’t even a self-described Earth First!er, and he had never met Dave Foreman. He was a father of two and a botanist who knew Millett. Mark Davis wasn’t an Earth First!er either. He was good friends with Peg Millett, a father of three, and he was an environmental activist who had focused on wilderness protection, opposing nuclear power, and other related issues. Millett was an Earth First!er, who was a musician, singer, and ardent eco-feminist. She, like most Earth First!ers, was also committed to nonviolence, even though she, like most Earth First!ers, was dedicated to defending the wilderness. [8]

While they were surrounded, Peg Millett took off through the underbrush and disappeared, despite being chased by the swat team, some of whom had bloodhounds and others who were on horseback, and all of whom were heavily armed. None of them could find the activist. Two agents circling overhead in helicopters outfitted with infrared and night vision equipment couldn’t find Millett either. Somehow she had managed to evade the entire lot of them, reach the highway a mile and half away, and hitchhike back to Prescott. She was, however, not so lucky the next day, because she was arrested at the Planned Parenthood Clinic where she worked. [9]

At 7 AM that same day, three heavily armed FBI agents dressed in full body armor approached the home of Dave Foreman and his wife, Nancy Morton, in Tucson Arizona. They knocked on his door, drew their weapons, pushed past Morton after she had opened the door, and proceeded to run straight to the bedroom where Foreman was sleeping. The agents woke Foreman at gunpoint, allowed him to put on only a pair of shorts, and then hauled him away in handcuffs. [10] Although he had been arrested because of the protest, Foreman himself had almost no connection to the actions carried out in the desert. [11]

Foreman was released on $50,000 bond by a Federal magistrate who ordered the Earth First! cofounder not to leave Pima County (where he lived) and to surrender any weapons that he owned. Baker, Davis, and Millett were held in prison without bail until their arraignment several days later. The three were charged with Destruction of an Energy Facility, Destruction of Government Property, Destruction of Property Which Affects Interstate Commerce, and Conspiracy. Baker, Davis, and Millett potentially faced 35 years each in prison and $80,000 in fines. Foreman faced up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine on charges of Conspiracy to Destroy an Energy Facility. While this was going on, sixteen other activists in Arizona (including Earth First! Journal coeditor John Davis and staffer Nancy Zierenberg, as well as anti-off road vehicle activist Rod Mondt and anti-grazing activist Lynn Jacobs), Colorado (including local Earth First! spokesperson David Lucas), Montana, and Nevada—some of them self-described Earth First!ers, some of them not—were served subpoenas and questioned by other FBI agents. [12]

Then, on Wednesday Afternoon, the FBI held an elaborate press conference in Phoenix to announce the arrests, claiming that they had busted an organized crime ring, or a band of terrorists. They were joined by US Attorney Stephen McNamee, who called the arrests “a significant development in law enforcement.” He added that the investigation was still underway and additional arrests might follow. The FBI claimed that Earth First! had been planning to sabotage powerlines leading into the Palo Verde (Arizona) and Diablo Canyon (California) nuclear facilities which could lead to a nuclear meltdown. They alleged that this action was directly connected with two earlier actions carried out by an unknown group called the Evan Meacham Eco-Terrorist International Conspiracy (EMETIC), named after the right wing former governor of Arizona who had been impeached earlier that year. EMETIC had targeted the Fairfield Snowbowl, a ski resort located in a sensitive alpine area of the San Francisco Mountains, on sacred Hopi and Navajo land, north of Flagstaff. They’d also been linked to the cutting of three power lines leading into Hermit, Pine Nut, and Canyon uranium mines near the Grand Canyon in September 1988. [13] Major media outlets spread the story around the country without any question. [14]

What had actually happened, however, was that when the arrestees had been surrounded, a fourth member of their party was holding an acetylene cutting torch to the leg of a power transmission tower leading to the pumping station of the Central Arizona Project (CAP). That facility was not a nuclear power plant. It was instead used to carry water from the Colorado River, uphill across 300 miles of desert, to be used in Phoenix and Tucson, most likely to enable the continued rapid expansion of the suburban sprawl in both cities. [15] There was no actual proof of any connection, nor was there any evidence that EMETIC was connected in any way to Earth First!.

What the FBI was not so loudly proclaiming is that the aforementioned fourth individual involved in the protest, a man named Michael Fain, who had been with the other three, wasn’t arrested. The FBI had gone to great lengths to track down Peg Millet who had escaped, but they didn’t even touch Fain. He had been the one who had suggested the action. He had been the one who had rented the acetylene tanks. He had filled his truck with gasoline, and he had driven the other three to the desert where the swat team awaited them. That was due to the fact that that Fain was a special agent for the FBI who had successfully infiltrated Earth First! assisted by at least three others, and had set them up for a sting operation which had caught them when the trap had been sprung. Fain’s scheme had been part of an FBI plot hatched at least three years earlier. What the FBI wasn’t telling anyone that day, was that they had kept Earth First! under surveillance from as early as 1983, spent over $2 million in wiretaps—which, under law, were only supposed to be used as a last resort when all other investigative procedures have been exhausted. [16]

Fain had been brought in by the FBI thanks to the information provided by at least one other informant, a man named Ron Frazier, who had been an activist, but then turned against Earth First!. Frazier had always been something of a maverick, even within Earth First! from the beginning. He was not so much an ecology activist as he was fond of monkeywrenching, which is all the more ironic given the fact that he was a diesel mechanic by day. There was also evidence that he was a heavy drug user and child molester, and he had displayed violent tendencies. He never quite understood Earth First! or its culture, which was evident in what he later told the FBI, characterizing Dave Foreman and Mike Roselle as Earth First!’s “generals” (which they weren’t), or that Dave Foreman was inciting violence when the latter pumped his fist in the air and shouted “Earth First!” at the end of his fiery speech at the 1987 Earth First! Round River Rendezvous in Arizona (where he proclaimed Earth First! “neither left or right or in front of behind, and not even playing the same game.”). He also had a growing paranoia that Earth First! was mounting an organized insurrection that would eventually spin out of control, which is odd, considering the fact that Frazier had made repeated suggestions to other Earth First!ers that they make use of explosives, which were consistently rejected. [17]

Frazier had been observed by other FBI agents who had infiltrated Earth First!, notably a woman named Kathy (“Cat”) Clark) who had sat in on a workshop led by Frasier on how to disable bulldozer engines at the 1987 Rendezvous. Six months later, after having a falling out with Mark Davis, whom he met through his associations with Peg Millett and other Prescott Earth First!ers, Frazier went to work for the FBI. It’s not known exactly how Frazier was finally convinced to work with the FBI, though it is entirely possible that Clark may have intuitively sensed that she could turn Frazier against Earth First!, and the paranoid notions that he had relayed about Earth First! may have grown from the seeds of ideas that Clark (or other undercover provocateurs) planted in his mind. Certainly, such happenings are consistent with the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. What is known is that Frazier had undergone hypnosis by a Doctor Richard Graver, in Texas, ostensibly to help the turncoat enhance his memory abilities, though it’s entirely possible that these sessions increased the subject’s paranoia. The FBI paid Frazier more than $54,000 for his services. At least one other undercover operative, Mike Gooch, a Prescott College student, is known to have been involved as well, but to what extent remains uncertain. [18]

Micheal Fain, on the other hand, had worked for the FBI for twenty years. His father, Lewis Fain, had also worked for them. The younger Fain had “joined” Earth First! when he showed up at the Round River Rendezvous in Washington in 1988. He told everyone his name was Micheal Tait and he presented himself as a “redneck for the wilderness” in the mold of Dave Foreman. He fit right into the Prescott scene, however, and he appealed to Peg Millett, which was later discovered to have been the FBI’s intention. [19] Millett had been an increasingly visible and inspirational figure in the Earth First! movement; she had become a speaker in its budding Speaker’s Bureau, and she had taken an active role in the Redneck Women’s Caucus. [20] She was also the person the FBI had in mind when they dispatched Micheal Fain to infiltrate Earth First! [21]

Fain became good friends with Millett and had an intimate relationship with one of her close friends. [22] The quiet and seemingly reserved Fain didn’t drink, claiming to be a recovered alcoholic, but he did attend Earth First! social events. He also claimed to have a learning disability and very rudimentary reading and writing skills, which no doubt was part of his cover and designed to help him gain the sympathy of Millett and other Earth First! activists. [23] Peg Millett also later recounted that Fain dressed the part of a Cowboy, and that she had been “a sucker for Cowboys”. [24] Though She and Fain were not romantically involved, they still went out dancing several times. Through their friendship, Fain got to know Mark Davis and Marc Baker, as well as other activists (including several Earth First!ers) in the Tucson area. His frequent visits brought him into repeated contact with the editors and staff of the Earth First! Journal. [25]

Fain had involved himself in several Earth First! actions over the course of the next several months, endeavoring to gain their trust. In January of 1989, Fain, Davis, and Millett hatched a plan to organize actions against the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant in Arizona, the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant in California, and the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility in Colorado. They and others would cut down power line towers leading out of (but not into) the facilities, making a large and costly statement against nuclear power and nuclear weapons. In March of 1988, Fain supposedly arranged for Mark Davis to secure funding from Dave Foreman, who warned them against carrying out any foolish or rash actions. Foreman did agree to donate $580 to Davis to support other Prescott area environmental activities. Fain also sought others to help carry out the proposed actions in Colorado and California. He requested that he be put in communication with monkeywrenchers active in those states, thus establishing the grounds for conspiracy charges to be brought against the Earth First!ers eventually caught in the FBI’s net. At some point, Davis and the others grew suspicious or at least more cautious and scaled back their planned actions to target the CAP facility instead. [26]

The FBI had also subjected the Wild Rockies Earth First! chapter in Montana to federal police harassment and infiltration. On May 11, 1989, a local periodical announced that a warning of a tree-spiking had been sent to forest service offices of the Clearwater National Forest, located southwest of Missoula. The next day, the “freddies” confirmed the spiking, and the local timber industry started a reward fund. The FBI and USFS officials staged a raid on the house of Wild Rockies Earth First!er Jake Jagoff, which he shared with several other Earth First!ers. After an extensive search, agents absconded with photo albums, personal diaries, tree climbing gear, and computer disks (but no tree spiking equipment). Several days later, local police appeared with a search warrant for shoes, apparently to match the soles of the footwear with the footprints found near the spiking. Several peripheral supporters were questioned, all of them asked for names, aliases, and locations of potential perpetrators. Missoula Earth First!ers deduced that at least one informant was active in their group. Their suspicions were bolstered by the fact that for several months leading up to the raids, their gatherings had been photographed, demonstrators had been tailed by police, and listening devices had been discovered at rallies and gatherings. [27] A handful of the Earth First!ers had been among the sixteen questioned in connection with the Arizona arrests, and Peg Millett had visited this Earth First! chapter as recently as April. [28]

Essentially, the FBI had launched a four-pronged attack on Earth First! intended to decapitate the movement by neutralizing its perceived leaders, by tying up group energy in defensive legal battles, by sowing suspicion and paranoia among Earth First’s ranks, and by discrediting the movement in the eyes of the masses (and certainly the Corporate Media). [29] The first prong, indeed the FBI’sgoal from the start, was to neutralize Earth First! by isolating and discrediting Dave Foreman. The FBI tended to think in hierarchical terms, that every organization and/or movement must have a leader and from them flowed all ideas and inspiration. Remove the head, and the organization is destroyed or at least rendered ineffective. In the Government’s mind, Dave Foreman was the head. Additionally, Dave Foreman was the principle author (or editor at least) of Ecodefense!, and in many ways, it was the ideas in that book itself that were the target. [30]

At the hearing on terms of release, US Attorney Roger Dokken proclaimed, “Mr. Foreman is the worst of the group…He sneaks around in the background. He was the financier, the leader, sort of the guru to get all this going. I don’t like to use the analogy of a Mafia boss, but they never do anything either…They just send their munchkins out to do it.” Several years later, when the defendants were finally brought to trial, discovery and testimony included a very revealing, informal conversation between Fain and another agent, inadvertently caught on tape. Fain said, “Foreman isn’t the guy we need to pop. I mean, in terms of the actual perpetrator. This is the guy we need to pop to send a message. And that’s all we’re really doing.” Later in the tape, he stated, “These people live on nothing—I mean, this isn’t much,” (referring to a $100 donation he had coaxed from an Earth First! Journal staffer). Continuing, he revealed:

“…but for them it’s about everything they got. They’re short on material assets, but they’re long on dedication…so in actuality we probably ought to give them their money back when it’s all over because they don’t really say what it’s for. Now they’re low budget, and I don’t really look for ‘em to be doin’ a lot of hurtin’ of people” (emphasis added) [31]

At this point, Fain realized the tape was rolling and recording, because his next words were, “We don’t need that on tape…hoo-boy.” [32]

The FBI’s second prong, was intended to hamstring Earth First! legally. Fortunately, Earth First! had retained effective and competent counsel, including Richard Sherman and Gary Spence (the latter of whom had successfully sued Kerr McGee Oil Co. in 1976 on behalf of the late Karen Silkwood’s family), who represented Dave Foreman, and Michael Black, who represented Peg Millett. [33] They were eventually joined by Wellborn Jack Jr. (for Mark Davis), Skip Donau (for Marc Baker), and Mark Boudoff, who served as legal counsel for Ilse Asplund [34], a fifth defendant who was added to the case a few months later. [35] By many accounts, Sherman obliterated Bailey’s testimony, but US Magistrate Morton Sitver, who had signed Foreman’s arrest warrant in the first place, accepted some of the prosecution’s arguments. Foreman was released on $50,000 bond, but Baker, Davis, and Millett were ordered held without the option of bail until their trial. [36] The trial was initially scheduled for August 11, 1989, but then delayed for more than a year [37], until it finally began in the summer of 1991. [38] Ultimately all three of the remaining, original defendants served jail time (in minimum security facilities) for being duped into becoming accomplices in a crime manufactured by the FBI. [39]

The third prong of the FBI’s attack, sowing suspicion and fear among its ranks was effective. Within less than a month after the arrests, Earth First!ers were whispering and finger-pointing, wondering if the newcomers were legit, and walking on eggshells for fear of their statements being misinterpreted, either as words that could be taken out of context and used by an undercover infiltrator against the movement, or as statements that might lead actual activists to conclude (wrongly) that the person uttering the statement was an infiltrator themselves. Although the fear and paranoia might abate, it would never completely go away. Earth First! was much less of “a marshmallow” than Mike Roselle or anyone else had originally hoped. Earth First!ers tried to mitigate this paranoia and offered suggestions on how to avoid jumping at shadows [40], and in some ways, the paranoia served a useful purpose for the movement, as it required some careful self reflection on tactics and strategies, particularly monkeywrenching [41], which was by far a controversial tactic with debatable effectiveness.

As for the fourth prong, the FBI went to great lengths to paint the worst possible image of the accused. All four were brought into the courtroom for their initial hearing wearing orange prison jumpsuits, handcuffs hooked to chains around their waists. They were escorted by a battalion of armed guards. US Attorney Roger Dokken repeatedly raised the specter of Earth First! “terrorists” causing “a China Syndrome” event at the Palo Verde nuclear plant (even though the FBI knew full well that the real Earth First!ers involved in the sting operation planned no such thing, nor were they careless enough to inadvertently cause anything even remotely close to it, even though Fain had repeatedly suggested it to them). Dokken and FBI agent Lori Bailey—testifying on Fain’s behalf who was absent, no doubt in part because the FBI wanted to ensure that he not reveal too much that would undermine their case—even tried to defame the character of each of the defendants. For example, they described Marc Baker as indigent, even though he was a gainfully employed biologist with a Ph.D. [42]

David Small, supervisor of one of the FBI antiterrorism squads involved in the Arizona arrests, stated that his group was involved in the case because terrorism, “includes any individual committing criminal acts under federal, state, or local laws in furtherance with their political or social goals.” Such a broad description could have included the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. or Thomas Jefferson. [43] Earth First!, like it or not, had joined the ranks of the many movements that taken their place in the proverbial hall of martyrs, but this was but a hint of what was still to come.

 



[1] “The Empire Strikes Back: FBI Attacks Earth First! – Foreman, Millett, 2 Others Arrested”, by Dale Turner, Earth First! Journal, special edition, June 16, 1989.

[2] “Stop FBI Repression!: The Historical Context to Recent Bomb Charges Against California Earth First! Activists, by Michael Robinson and Jim Vander Wall” Industrial Worker, July 1990.

[3] “In the Middle of Run Away History: Judi Bari, Earth First! Organizer, Mississippi Summer in the California Redwoods”, interview by Beth Bosk, New Settler Interview, issue #49, May 1990.

[4] Robinson and Vander Wall, July 1990, op. cit.. For general exposes on COINTELPRO, see Matthiessen, Peter, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, New York, NY, Viking Press, 1983; Churchill, Ward and Jim Vander Wall, Agents of Repression, Woods Hole, MA, South End Press, 1988; Churchill, Ward and Jim Vander Wall, The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI's Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States, Woods Hole, MA, South End Press, 1990; Glick, Brain, The War at Home, Covert action against U.S. activists and what we can do about it, Woods Hole, MA, South End Press, 1993; and Swearingen, M. Wesley and Ward Churchill, FBI Secrets: An Agents Expose, Woods Hole, MA, South End Press, 1995. For more on operation THERMCON, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/THERMCON.

[5] Bosk, May 1990, op. cit.

[6] “Tree Perching, Part 1”, Greg King Interviewed by Crawdad Nelson , New Settler Interview, Issue #24, September 1987.

[7] Turner, June 16, 1989, op. cit.

[8] “Players in the Drama”, by Karen Pickett, Anderson Valley Advertiser, August 7, 1991.

[9] Turner, June 16, 1989, op. cit.

[10] Turner, June 16, 1989, op. cit.

[11] Pickett, August 7, 1991, op. cit.

[12] Turner, June 16, 1989, op. cit.

[13] Turner, June 16, 1989, op. cit.

[14] See for example, “4 Held in Plot to Cut Lines Near Nuclear Plants”, by Paul Feldman and Richard E Meyer, Los Angeles Times, June 1, 1989; “4 Arizonans are Seized in Nuclear Sabotage Plot”, AP Wire, San Diego Union-Tribune, June 1, 1989; and “Earth First! Founder Arrested on Sabotage Charges”, AP Wire, Ukiah Daily Journal, June 1, 1989.

[15] “FBI Targets Earth First!”, by Karen Pickett, Anderson Valley Advertiser, July 3, 1991.

[16] Pickett, July 3, 1991, op. cit.

[17] “A Snitch on the Stand and Other Revelations About the Pawns of the Evil Empire”, by Karen Pickett, Terrain, December 1991.

[18] Pickett, December 1991, op. cit.

[19] Pickett, December 1991, op. cit.

[20] Turner, June 16, 1989, op. cit.

[21] Pickett, August 7, 1991, op. cit.

[22] Pickett, December 1991, op. cit.

[23] Turner, June 16, 1989, op. cit.

[24] Public speaking appearance and music performance by Millett, 1996.

[25] Turner, June 16, 1989, op. cit.

[26] Turner, June 16, 1989, op. cit.

[27] “Wild Rockies EF! Faces FBI Intimidation”, by Dale Turner, Earth First! Journal, special edition, June 16, 1989.

[28] Turner, June 16, 1989, op. cit.

[29] “We Are Not Alone in This”, by Dale Turner, Earth First! Journal, special edition, June 16, 1989.

[30] Pickett, July 3, 1991, op. cit.

[31] Pickett, July 3, 1991, op. cit. Emphasis added.

[32] Pickett, July 3, 1991, op. cit.

[33] Turner, June 16, 1989, op. cit.

[34] Pickett, August 7, 1991, op. cit.

[35] “Arizona 4 Are Now 5; Tapes Show Po­litical Move against Foreman”, by Dale Turner, Earth First! Journal, Brigid / February 2, 1990.

[36] Turner, June 16, 1989, op. cit.

[37] “Ari­zona 5 Trial Soon”, Dale Turner, Earth First! Journal, Mabon (September 21), 1990; “Arizona 5 Trial Postponed”, and “EF! and the FBI, A Strained Re­lationship”, Earth First! Journal, Yule (December 21) 1990; “Arizona Five Conspiracy Trial”, uncredited press release, Earth First! Journal, Litha (June 21) 1991

[38] Arizona Five Conspiracy Trial”, uncredited press release, Earth First! Journal, Litha / June 21, 1991; “Arizona Conspir­acy Trial Ends in Plea Bargain”, by Karen Pickett, Earth First! Journal, Mabon / Septem­ber 23, 1991; and “Wake Up!”, by Marc Davis, Earth First! Journal, Samhain / November 1, 1991.

[39] “Earth First! Activists Jailed in ‘Conspir­acy’ Trial” and “A Snitch on the Stand & Other Revelations About the Pawns of the Evil Empire”, by Karen Pickett, Terrain, December 1991.

[40] “Which of my Friends is an FBI Infiltrator?”, by Pam Lambert, Earth First! Journal, Samhain / November 2, 1989.

[41] “Whither Monkeywrenching?”, in “Dear Nedd Ludd”, by Dave Foreman, Earth First! Journal, Samhain / November 2, 1989.

[42] Turner, June 16, 1989, op. cit.

[43] “We Are Not Alone in This”, by Dale Turner, Earth First! Journal, special edition, June 16, 1989 and “The Perils of Illegality”, by Dave Foreman, Earth First! Journal, Samhain / November 2, 1989.