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

January 6, 1995

Air Date: January 6, 1995


Terrorism in a Small Town / Patrick Cox

In rural Joseph, Oregon, a group of ranchers and loggers recently hung the tarred and feathered effigies of two local environmentalists. Patrick Cox of Oregon Public Broadcasting explores what is behind this public display of extreme anti-environmentalism. (09:26)

The War Against the Greens / David Helvarg

Author David Helvarg discusses the violence against environmentalists documented in his book titled The War Against the Greens. Helvarg suggests that leaders of the Wise Use Movement use the rhetoric of violence to inflame passions against people working in natural resource protection. (05:56)

Wise Use Response / Charles Cushman

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. (05:39)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1994 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Terry Fitzpatrick, Deborah Begel, Patrick Cox
GUESTS: David Helvarg, Charles Cushman

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

More and more environmental activists in America are becoming targets of arson, assaults, death threats, rape, and gunfire. Some call it "the war against the greens".

O'DONNELL: I think it's a clear attempt to deprive people of their First Amendment rights. Their intent is to silence activists and to make activists just stay home and let the resource extractors have their way.

CURWOOD: Investigators blame some in the so-called "wise use movement" for much of the threats and violence. One wise use leader says he deplores any hostilities, but understands the frustrations of those dependent on resource extraction.

CUSHMAN: It's not surprising that these people are upset. But they - you know, part of my role is to help these people channel that energy into appropriate behavior.

CURWOOD: Environmental activism under fire on Living on Earth; first news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. Volvo has pulled ahead in the race among major auto makers to get an electric powered car to the US market. The Swedish company plans to start selling a hybrid electric car in California by 1998. Hybrids run on electricity generated by a small on-board gasoline engine: a more efficient system than the massive battery packs in other electric cars. Volvo's hybrid is expected to cost more than $30,000. It's also expected to use 20% less fuel than a conventional car. Researchers say hybrid cars could save far more fuel if made from ultra-light composites instead of steel, but Volvo says those materials are too expensive to use.

Federal officials recently approved a plan by Seattle wildlife managers to kill sea lions that threaten the survival of endangered species of fish. But animal welfare groups threaten to take the plan to court, making this a test of a new Federal law that allows the killing of sea mammals. Terry Fitzpatrick reports.

(Sea lion calls)

FITZPATRICK: About 50 sea lions migrate to Seattle each winter to feed on fish that spawn in the Pacific Northwest, but the natural balance between predator and prey has been broken by the construction of dams, which block streams and make the fish easy to catch. The steelhead trout is on the verge of extinction because sea lions eat 60% of the spawning fish. So, the National Marine Fisheries Service will allow officials in Washington to kill several sea lions in order to save the trout. Biologist Joe Scordino.

SCORDINO: When you weigh those two against each other and the fact that one, on one side the fish could be gone real easily against a few individual sea lions, it's no different than any other wildlife management approach.

FITZPATRICK: But animal welfare organizations say killing predators will set a dangerous precedent. They want officials to improve trout habitat and the passageway for fish at the Seattle dam. For years, local officials have tried unsuccessfully to scare sea lions away from here, and this year they'll have Federal funds to capture about 10 sea lions and hold them for the winter. But if that move doesn't protect the trout, several remaining sea lions could be killed by lethal injection. For Living on Earth, I'm Terry Fitzpatrick in Seattle.

NUNLEY: More than a century after Federal programs helped kill off the western wolf population, the US Government has received the go-ahead to reintroduce wolves in 2 states. Starting this month up to 30 Canadian gray wolves will find new homes in central Idaho and in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park. A Federal District Judge refused to stop a plan to release 150 wolves over the next 3 to 5 years. The plan has sparked anger from ranchers and farmers who fear the predators will kill their livestock. But the judge found no evidence the wolves would become a significant threat. The wolf is endangered in every state except Alaska and Minnesota.

The Mescalero Indian Leadership's recent decision to build a nuclear storage site on their New Mexico reservation has state officials up in arms. The state has vowed to fight the plan, but it's in a difficult position. The tribe is a sovereign nation. Some hope the plan will be defeated in a tribal referendum. Deborah Begel reports.

BEGEL: The Mescalero Apache Tribal Council recently signed a letter of intent with a group of 33 utility companies to build a temporary storage facility for nuclear waste on tribal land in New Mexico by the year 2002. Now the 3,500 member tribe must vote on the measure. The plan is still vague, and major issues like who will assume liability for transport and storage of nuclear materials haven't been worked out. Opponents charge this makes it impossible for tribe members to make an informed vote. Don Hancock, director of the Nuclear Waste Safety Project at the Southwest Research and Information Center, calls the upcoming vote ludicrous.

HANCOCK: The tribal referendum is similar to having an election where no voter knows what candidate is running for any office.

BEGEL: Hancock is working with concerned Mescaleros to disseminate information on safety and health risks at the proposed $135 million complex. Their vote is expected within a month. For Living on Earth, this is Deborah Begel in Tierra Amarea, New Mexico.

NUNLEY: Last month, dozens of local governments pulled out of the EPA's reformulated gasoline program because they feared the cleaner burning but more expensive gas would hurt the economy. But a survey by the American Automobile Association, which opposed the reformulated fuel, indicates prices actually dropped in regions where the gas was used.

Despite electing a Congress that's pledged to cut back government, most Americans still favor environmental regulations. A recent Newsweek poll says 73% of Americans would be upset if existing environmental regulations were weakened or eliminated. Asked about the contradictions between the desire for more protection and less government, pollster Larry Hujik said people haven't thought through the inconsistencies of downsizing government.

That's this week's Living On Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)

Terrorism in a Small Town

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Peaceful political protest is a fundamental right in the US, but recent times have seen some of the largest outbursts of political violence against individuals since the height of the backlash to the Civil Rights movement a generation ago. The series of murders of abortion clinic workers is the most extreme example of the trend, but not the only one. Dozens of environmental activists also report being personally targeted for their political beliefs and activities. Of course, the hands of environmentalists aren't completely clean themselves. Tree spiking and the sinking of whaling ships, for instance, have injured some, threatened lives, and destroyed property. But investigators say there's a widespread pattern of harassment and intimidation against environmental activists across America. That the harassment has sometimes turned violent with arson, rape, assaults, and attempted murder. And that the trend is closely linked to what's become known as the "wise use movement," which opposes restrictions on the use of private and public property. We'll talk about these charges shortly with a private investigator, and with a leader of the wise use movement. But first, Patrick Cox of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports on hostile words and acts aimed at 2 environmental activists in the small town of Joseph, Oregon.

(Ambient voices on television)

COX: It's a cold December evening in Joseph, Oregon. Retired saw mill worker Paul Morehead and his wife Ethel are sitting in their front room watching a home video of a boisterous crowd. The Moreheads interpret the images for an out of town visitor.

E. MOREHEAD: You'll see 'em all lined up in front of the, with the dummies.

P. MOREHEAD: Some little kids come along; they decide they'd join in. (Laughs.)

E. MOREHEAD: Hang 'em high, honey!

COX: Despite the way the Moreheads are talking about it, the taped event is hardly a family affair. The screen shows 2 tarred and feathered dummies being strung up on the beams of one of Joseph's Main Street businesses. The effigies are meant to resemble Andy Kerr and Ric Bailey, both environmentalists who live in town. Paul Morehead helped organize the hanging.

P. MOREHEAD: There's quite a few of us here in the county that think that we've been fighting this battle wrong. And there's quite a few of us here that think that you just have to keep in these folks's face all the time, go after 'em.

COX: The mock hanging took place 3 months ago. The 50 or so people who cheered on were local timber workers and cowboys angry at all the unwanted changes buffeting their community. Two thirds of Wallowa County is Federal land. In pastures where cattle once roamed free, the government now strictly regulates grazing. Logging in recent years has drastically decreased, too, causing scores of layoffs and closing 2 local saw mills. Then, earlier this year, one of the environmentalists most hated by ranchers and timber workers, moved to town.

(Sound of a fire burning)

COX: Andy Kerr's new home is a log cabin overlooking a lake in the shadow of several 10,000-feet mountains. Even on a cool, wet night, it's clear why he moved here, and why Wallowa County has been dubbed the Switzerland of America. Living here among his critics hasn't softened Kerr. Inside his new home he rails against the local ranchers who have ostracized him.

KERR: If they want to play cowboy, they can play cowboy, I would argue. But they shouldn't do it with their hand in the taxpayer's pocket, and they shouldn't be fouling the public lands doing it.

COX: That's vintage Andy Kerr. Kerr heads the Oregon Natural Resources Council, and for years he spearheaded the fight to save the spotted owl. This year he called for the abolition of cattle grazing on public land, comparing its effects to child abuse. As his notoriety has increased, so too have the death threats.

KERR: You know, they either come in writing, or they come on an answering machine, and you could hear the tinkle of bar glasses in the background.

(Machine buzzes; sound of a computer modem making connection)

COX: Kerr now telecommutes to his Portland office via modem. His organization still files plenty of lawsuits, and Kerr still is a favorite of the region's media who turn to him for pithy, unapologetic sound bites. All the same, Kerr says he's surprised at the intensity of local feeling here.

KERR: They think that I'm out to get them or their lifestyle, and that's not it. If I was wanting to wage a social war on Wallowa County, it would frankly be easier to do if I didn't live here.

COX: Kerr is the better known of Wallowa County's 2 high-profile environmental activists. The other, Ric Bailey, is a long-time resident who heads a group dedicated to turning nearby Hell's Canyon into a national park. Bailey is used to hostility and boycotts. He hasn't been able to get his truck worked on locally for years. And since the hanging, some people are refusing to do business at the mall that houses Bailey's storefront office. His landlady would like him to move out of the mall, but Bailey says he's staying put. Unlike Kerr, he says he's not about to quit town.

BAILEY: My philosophy, having lived here for 17 years, has always been that you don't change your routine in order to accommodate intimidation. You don't change your beliefs, you don't change your way of doing things. If I want to go into the tavern and have a beer on a Saturday night, I'm going to do it. I'm going to live my life like a normal citizen of this community, like anybody else would do.

COX: Both Bailey and Kerr have discussed their situation with California-based private investigator Sheila O'Donnell. For several years, O'Donnell has monitored the growing movement of property rights, timber, ranching, and mining interests, which want to roll back government restrictions on land use. A conference featuring leaders of what's come to be known as the wise use movement took place in Joseph the same weekend as the effigy hangings. O'Donnell says the timing was no coincidence, and the hangings fit into a clear pattern.

O'DONNELL: I think it's a clear attempt to deprive people of their First Amendment rights. The wise use organizers actually talk about doing things to intimidate activists. Their intent is to silence activists and to make activists just stay home, and let the resource extractors have their way.

COX: Local support for such groups has been growing, says Phil Brick, an environmental politics professor at Whitman College in nearby Walla Walla, Washington. According to Brick, some locals feel hunted, and they've come to see their battle with environmentalists in more and more extreme terms. Brick says the targeting of Kerr and Bailey is a tactic to demonstrate their anger.

BRICK: And they want to make sure that the rest of the state understands that they're not going to be walked over. And they're not going to allow someone to move into their county who has, as their objective, what they see as the equivalent of ethnic cleansing. To remove them from the land.

(Cow mooing)

COX: At a cattle ranch a few miles from Joseph, Pat and Judy Wortman lead their herd of angus cows down from the mountainside for the winter. The Wortmans have hosted many wise use meetings: meetings that have taken an optimistic turn since November's Republican sweep of Congress. Many of the loggers and ranch hands who come to these meetings intensely dislike Andy Kerr and Ric Bailey. But they're also put off by the violent imagery of effigy hangings, and Judy Wortman says running environmentalists out of town is a waste of time.

WORTMAN: I don't see how those kinds of things are productive down the road. I see us as Wallowa Countians to have a major, major opportunity here in the next couple of years, legislatively, and I think one of the big battles that's going to happen is going to be amending the Endangered Species Act to include social and economics. And I'm sure as heck not going to spend my time on Ric Bailey and Andy Kerr if I can be back in Washington, D.C., and try to help change that Act.

COX: The radically changed political landscape may provide golden opportunities for some in Wallowa County. For others, it has pulled them back from the brink. Effigy hanging organizer Paul Morehead.

MOREHEAD: If we had not obtained control of the House and the Senate, there's no doubt in my mind that there would be armed insurrection.

COX: Morehead speaks of a future in which an environmentalist-run government will seek to de-populate Wallowa County, evicting people from their homes. He sees no irony in his own quest to drive Kerr and Bailey out of town, saying he just wants to make life so uncomfortable for them that they'll leave of their own accord. And if they don't, Morehead says he doesn't know what'll happen.

MOREHEAD: I've heard people say well, if I knew I had a terminal illness, I'd go out and I'd take care of these guys. And I said you mean to tell me that you would go out and you would commit murder, sacrifice your soul, and they'd stop and they'd say well, maybe not.

COX: Despite all the talk, no one has physically attacked either Kerr or Bailey. All the same, both say they're taking a few extra precautions without letting the threat of violence rule their lives. As Andy Kerr says, Wallowa County may be dangerous, but it's no more dangerous than living in most big cities. For Living on Earth, I'm Patrick Cox in Portland.

Back to top

CURWOOD: Just ahead on Living on Earth, a private investigator who's written about harassment and violence against environmental activists, and a leader of the wise use movement. But first, we wanted to let you know how to reach us with any comments or questions. Our phone number is 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Our postal address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. And our Internet address is LOE@NPR.ORG. Transcripts and tapes are $10.

The War Against the Greens

CURWOOD: David Helvarg is a licensed private investigator and an award-winning journalist who has written for public television and the Associated Press. Mr. Helvarg's most recent work is entitled The War Against the Greens, published by Sierra Club Books. The book documents 60 of what he says are hundreds of cases of violence and harassment against environmental activists.

HELVARG: Unfortunately, it's become increasingly common in the last several years; this kind of activity has grown in parallel with an organized anti-environmental backlash in the country. Assaults, arsons, dog killings, rape, bombing, possible homicide and several serious attempts at murder. A lot of the violence takes place in rural and low-income communities where often there's a single resource that provides the livelihood for the community. California, for example, Michael Jackson's environmental attorney in a logging town, the night of the first pro-logging yellow ribbon rally in this town, his office front was shot up and a death threat left on its answering machine. Pat Costner, Toxics Director of Greenpeace, a few days before she was going to release a national report on hazardous waste incinerators, her home of 17 years in Arkansas was burned to the ground. They lifted the roof off the remnants of her building and found the gas can that was used to start the fire.

CURWOOD: Is there any evidence whatsoever that the leaders, the architects of the wise use property rights movement are linked, personally, to any of this violence?

HELVARG: No; I think the leadership distances itself from the direct violence, although certainly they use the rhetoric of war in encouraging confrontations at the local level. I mean, Ron Arnold, who came up with the term wise use, for example, told me, "When I say we need a sword and shield to kill the bastards, I mean politically, not physically." And they certainly say that they don't want to see the violence; but at the same time they speak of a national uprising and a potential civil war. They're intelligent men and I think they understand what they're encouraging when they come into communities where people really are hurting. As one of them jokingly said, "If we got a fire going let's add some light fuel and see what happens."

CURWOOD: Now, we know that the wise use groups have a broad-ranging agenda. So where does violence fit into this picture, in your view. I mean, are you saying that violence is the means by which they intend to achieve their larger goals?

HELVARG: No; I think their larger goals are deregulation of industry and access for extractive industry to public lands in the west. In that sense, violence sometimes serves a political purpose. But the larger agenda is to eliminate 30 years of environmental legislation.

CURWOOD: What strategies make the wise use property rights network so powerful? I mean, how do they do what they do?

HELVARG: I'd say their real effectiveness is their ability to organize angry, militant demonstrations, to focus on public meetings, to organize fax and phone campaigns that are very directed. Chuck Cushman, who's one of their leaders on this technique, brags about how out of his farmhouse offices in battleground Washington, he can, with his fax modems on his various computers there, generate 12, 14,000 faxes overnight. They have also bragged about retooling his fax machines to make them look like they came out of Indiana at a time that they wanted to go after an Indiana Congressman. So effective combinations of what traditionally have been called dirty tricks campaigns, and industry lists for phone and fax calls, can give the impression of a much broader response to a particular political issue than really exists out there. It's a technique that's now, even has a name; it's called astro-turf, because it's not genuine grass roots.

CURWOOD: Can you give us some examples of how the wise use movement has been able to be translated into political power on the national level?

HELVARG: At one point I interviewed Carol Browner, director of EPA. She told me that she was very intrigued by wise use, but it didn't affect her directly. Three weeks later, elevation of EPA to Cabinet rank was shot down. If you look at the Congressional Record, you find it was the wise use rhetoric that was very influential there. Similarly, you recently had the biodiversity treaty, which was expected to sail through the House and Senate. It was initially signed off at the Rio Earth Summit in '92. It was killed in the Senate because of a report that was put out by Rogelio Maduro, who's a follower of Lyndon LaRouche. He wrote a report saying, essentially, biodiversity meant a loss of US sovereignty through the UN. It would give equal rights to animals and insects as to humans. This report was picked up by the wise use groups and taken to the Republican leadership in the Senate, and used to kill the agreement.

CURWOOD: Who are the biggest funders of this?

HELVARG: The biggest funders, in terms of direct funding, is the mining industry. In terms of in-kind services and support it is certainly the logging industry. You have tremendous political support from a whole network of New Right think tanks centered around the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. You have the, as I say, major players include the Farm Bureau Federation, the NRA, the Cattleman's Association, the various resource industries. So it's essentially, it's a very well-funded and well-structured element of the Right Wing backlash. And with the new Congress have a lot of support. You've had Phil Gramm and Newt Gingrich and other leaders of the new majority using wise use rhetoric, saying that all environmental legislation in the future will be determined by property rights and sound science, which from my investigations I take to mean industry science.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you very much. David Helvarg is author of The War Against the Greens, published by Sierra Club Books. Thank you, sir, for joining us.

HELVARG: Thank you.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Wise Use Response

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.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth's production team includes Peter Thomson, Deborah Stavro, George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, Julia Madeson, and Jessika Bella Mura. We had help from David Dunlap, Heather Corson, Molly Glidden, and Jonathan Medwed. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Keith Shields and Frank DeAngelis. Special thanks this week to Jim Donahue. Michael Aharon composed our theme.

Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, and is recorded at the studios of WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major support from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Joyce Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science and the environment; and all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt - whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside.

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