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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Wise Use Response

Air Date: Week of

Charles Cushman of the American Land Rights Association responds to some of author David Helvarg's assertions that the Wise Use Movement promotes violence against environmentalists.


CURWOOD: Joining us now from the studios of KOPB in Portland, Oregon, is Charles Cushman. Mr. Cushman is the head of several organizations which are part of the wise use movement, including the American Land Rights Association. Hello, Sir.


CURWOOD: We've heard some pretty concrete charges of violence against environmental activists. What do you think is the reason for this violence?

CUSHMAN: (Laughs) You think an advocate for the Sierra Club was writing a grant supported hit piece as documentation of that sort of stuff? We don't participate in that kind of thing. In fact, anything other than peaceful political activity is simply inappropriate in America.

CURWOOD: So why do you think these charges are being made?

CUSHMAN: Well, it's - I think what happened is when Earth First! was put out by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups as kind of their stocking horse, to make the Sierra Club and other groups look more moderate, and Earth First! got itself involved in violence, and they saw how much of a hit they took in the press and the public over threatening people and damaging people, that the Sierra Club thought this is a great weapon to try to go after wise use leaders with. It's a shame, but it shows the desperation of David Helvarg and the Sierra Club that they have to resort of this kind of stuff.

CURWOOD: I want to ask you - you said that you teach nonviolence.

CUSHMAN: I teach peaceful activity wherever I go. I'm well known for that. There's just no place for anything other than peaceful activity in American politics.

CURWOOD: So you're saying that it's wrong for Andy Kerr to get harassing or threatening phone calls.

CUSHMAN: No, no question about it. I mean, I certainly understand how frustrated those people are, how angry they are. I mean, I don't think that there's a logging family or a small rural community family in Oregon or Washington that doesn't know the name of Andy Kerr. Because he's responsible for more lost homes and communities and economic deprivation in the Northwest than any other single individual. So it's not surprising that these people are upset. But you know, part of my role is to help these people channel that energy into appropriate behavior.

CURWOOD: David Helvarg, in his interview with us, said that the language of war is used by property rights and wise use advocates and that the leaders know what that means. And Mr. Helvarg is implying that you all are sending a code to your followers.

CUSHMAN: Well, Mr. Helvarg, look, this guy went around lying to everybody in order to get interviews. Didn't tell them who he really worked for. This guy has no credibility. No mainstream journalistic outlets have picked up, no major news sources have picked up on his book. Because it's a hit piece.

CURWOOD: Is there anything libelous or slanderous in Helvarg's book?

CUSHMAN: I haven't read it; I've heard bits and pieces of it from various other people. I saw an excerpt from it in a national magazine. Oh, yeah, there's - I mean, they take a little bit of truth, weave it in with a whole lot of non-truth, try to imply connections that are not there. Come on, this is the same kind of stuff that Joe McCarthy used to imply that people were, there was a Communist under every rock. I mean, Mr. Helvarg is taking McCarthyism to a new art form.

CURWOOD: Mr. Helvarg says that you have used your home in Battleground, Washington, and sent out thousands of faxes. And at one time he accuses you of changing the fax machines to look like it wasn't coming from your home but Indiana. Is that true?

CUSHMAN: Oh yeah. Sure. We had 2 grass roots groups in Indiana who didn't have fax machines and they asked for our help. You know, I don't have any problem with that.

CURWOOD: Mr. Helvarg says that your movement isn't grass roots, it's astro-turf. Can you disabuse us of this notion? What is the size of the number of followers you have? How large is your membership?

CUSHMAN: Well that's like saying, how big was Martin Luther King's movement? How big was Gandhi's movement?

CURWOOD: Those are pretty big movements. You've got that size? You've got those numbers?

CUSHMAN: I don't think we're that big, but I think that we have - I don't think either of those 2 gentlemen knew how many people they had in their movement, and I don't think that we do. We're simply part of it; none of these groups are formally connected. If we lead, we lead by example. We show people how to do it. We send information out. One thing Helvarg said was true; he said we had something in the neighborhood of 12 or 14,000 fax numbers; that's true. Helvarg said that the Farm Bureau is a member. They have a couple of million members in their group. I would say that, I mean I know our association has 18,000. I know we're in touch with 1,800 other organizations, very small, little grass roots groups, up to larger grass roots groups across the country.

CURWOOD: How much of a role do you think that the property rights wise use movement played in this last election?

CUSHMAN: Well, there was a lot of anger at President Clinton, and certainly his war on the West, his attack on rural communities throughout the West. So I think we had a role. I mean, our group, and we have another group called the League of Private Property Voters, and we published a quarter of a million vote indexes that showed how members of Congress voted on private property, and other resource issues. And I know that was very heavily played in the press. So I mean we, we got the word out there.

CURWOOD: All right, I want to thank you for taking all this time with us. Charles Cushman is executive director of the American Land Rights Association. He spoke with us on a line from Portland, Oregon. Thank you, sir.

CUSHMAN: My pleasure.



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