Ghosts of 9/11 & December 7 haunt animal advocacy
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2006:
Then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that
December 7, 1941 was “A date which shall forever live in infamy,”
because on that morning a Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor
brought the U.S. into World War II.
Unfortunately, as Americans belatedly responded to
totalitarian empire builders, who had already been invading their
neighbors since 1937, some Americans took advantage of the crisis to
behave much like the enemy, aided and augmented by some branches of
the U.S. government itself.
Nothing of note was done to overt Nazi sympathizers, including some
prominent industrialists, but U.S. citizens of Japanese descent were
interned in remote work camps, ostensibly for their own protection.
Conscientious objectors fared little better, including many
of the most prominent ethical vegetarians of their generation.
The excesses on the domestic front during World War II, and
more recent U.S. government abuse of dissidents during the so-called
McCarthy Era and the Vietnam War, resurfaced in public debate
shortly before December 7, 2005.
The George W. Bush administration found itself having
unexpected difficulty persuading Congress that all of the invasive
provisions of the so-called Patriot Act–rushed to passage after the
terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001–warranted reauthorization.
Hundreds of innocent Americans of Islamic background were wrongly
detained, thousands of lives were disrupted, and some victims of
mistaken identity were even kidnapped, flown to secret locations
abroad, and subjected to prolonged isolation and torture.
Having failed for five years to capture 9/11 architect Osama
bin Laden, despite repeated public pledges to “smoke him out,” the
Bush administration badly needed to bust some alleged terrorists.
Was it merely coincidence, then, or a matter of political timing,
that on December 7, 2005 the FBI and local law enforcement
prominently arrested six alleged domestic terrorists for acts claimed
between mid-1997 and mid-2001 in the names of the Animal Liberation
Front and Earth Liberation Front?
“Federal investigators seemed powerless to stop the fires
that were set with gasoline-filled five-gallon plastic buckets and
followed with calling cards from the ELF and ALF,” wrote Jeff
Barnard of Associated Press. “Then, after Muslim terrorists struck
New York and Washington, D.C., the fires set by extremists in the
Northwest stopped,” as if the attackers recognized that 9/11 would
change public attitudes toward violent acts of protest, and would
enable law enforcement to more vigorously pursue the perpetrators.
“In 2002,” Barnard continued, “investigators got a break
when one of the people involved in firebombing a logging company and
a gravel pit in 2001 told his girlfriend, and she told her dad, a
state fire marshal. Three people were convicted. The alleged
leader, Michael ‘Tre Arrow’ Scarpitti, is being held in Victoria,
British Columbia, on a shoplifting charge, fighting extradition.”
But, Barnard observed, “It would be three more years before
authorities moved,” to round up the rest of the alleged ALF/ELF gang.
Did the FBI merely continue to build their case against the
other alleged conspirators all this time, or–knowing that they had
given up violent tactics–keeping them in reserve, under
surveillance, for a time when producing quick, dramatic results
might be necessary?
Defendants Stanislas Gregory “Jack” Meyerhoff, 28, and
Daniel Gerard McGowan, 31, now face potential sentences of life in
prison for alleged arsons that did more than $1 million apiece at the
Superior Lumber Company in Glendale, Oregon, in January 2001, and
the Jefferson Poplar Farm in Clatskanie, Oregon, in May 2001.
Meyerhoff, a student at Piedmont Community College, was
arrested in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“Last spring Meyerhoff was an honor student at Central Oregon
Community College in Bend, Oregon,” reported Hal Benton of the
Seattle Times. “Public records indicate that in the late 1990s,
Meyerhoff lived in Eugene, which has been the scene of numerous
arsons and other actions linked to activists involved with–or on the
fringes of–the ELF.”
McGowan, 31, the youngest child of a retired New York City
transit police patrolman, was arrested in New York City. He worked
in Brooklyn for the Women’s Law Initiative, a project formed to help
Chelsea Dawn “Country Girl” Gerlach, 28, arrested in Portland,
Oregon, with her Canadian housemate Darren Thurston, 35, could get
25 years in prison for allegedly assisting two other defendants in a
December 30, 1999 attempt to topple a Bonneville Power Administration
transmission tower. Gerlach, a student at Lane Community College in
Portland, is also charged with involvement in firebombing the
Childers Meat Company in Eugene on Mother’s Day, 1999, and in the
Jefferson Poplar Farm arson.
Assistant U.S. attorney Kirk Engdahl alleged at Gerlach’s
arraignment that Thurston was living with her as an illegal alien.
Held on immigration charges in Tacoma, Thurston is a prime suspect
in five U.S. arsons. Engdahl reportedly cited an October 11, 1998
fire at the Bureau of Land Management wild horse corrals in Rock
Springs, Wyoming; the firebombing of a ski resort at Vail,
Colorado, eight days later, which did $12 million in damage; a
Christmas 1999 fire at the Boise Cascade office in Monmouth, Oregon;
the Jefferson Poplar Farm arson; and the May 21, 2001 firebombing
of a University of Washington horticultural research center, doing
$1.5 million in damage.
Gerlach was named but not charged as a suspect in the Vail arson.
Thurston carried a Social Security card identifying himself
as “Kevin Gregory Barske.” An individual by that name, who had no
connection to Thurston, was valedictorian of the Manitoba
Association of Radiologists graduating class in Winnipeg on September
Thurston was the only one of the December 7, 2005 arrestees who
could be described as “well-known to police.”
Reputedly nicknamed “The Mad Bomber” in high school, Thurston was
convicted in 1992 of firebombing three trucks belonging to an
Edmonton fish dealer, and of a June 1992 break-in at the University
of Alberta, with David Barbarash, now 41. His criminal record
began with vandalism at the University of Toronto veterinary school
Thurston and Barbarash were jointly charged in March 1998
with allegedly mailing razor blade devices to furriers, hunting
guides, and hunting columnists.
Thurston and Barbarash were also accused of sending pipe
bombs to Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, of Toronto, and white
supremacist Charles Scott, of British Columbia. Both escaped
injury. The day before Scott received a bomb, however, a mail bomb
severely injured animal researcher Terry Mitenko, of Cochrane,
Alberta, in a case authorities and media believed was related.
Thurston and Barbarash were not charged with that offense.
The March 1998 charges against Thurston and Barbarash were
dropped, said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, to avoid
jeopardizing another international investigation. More than seven
years later, the specifics of that investigation are still
unclear–but it predated all but one of the incidents involved in the
Also named but not charged in connection with the Vail arson
was William Courtney “Avalon” Rodgers, 40, a bookstore owner in
Prescott, Arizona. Law enforcement sources said Rodgers had
recently separated from his longtime partner Katie Rose Nelson, but
Nelson quickly emerged as a character witness for him.
Rodgers was charged with three other arsons, beginning with
the November 1997 burning of a Bureau of Land Management horse corral
at Burns, Oregon, that did $450,000 in damage. That was the fourth
action ever claimed by the ELF. No one has been accused yet of the
“In the first physical evidence disclosed in the case, the
inventory of a six-hour search of Rodgers’ residence and bookstore
listed boxes of suspected bomb-making materials such as timers,
re-lighting birthday candles, and three guns. Police also found two
digital photos of nude prepubescent girls stored on a compact disc,”
wrote Nicole Frey of the Vail Daily.
Either very late on December 21 or early the next morning,
Rodgers used a clear plastic bag from the Flagstaff jail commissary
to suffocate himself. Gerlach was immediately placed on suicide
Kevin M. “Bob” Tubbs, 36, was arrested in Springfield,
Oregon. He faces 30 years in prison for allegedly firebombing 35
sport utility vehicles at Joe Romania Chevrolet in Eugene on March
30, 2001, and for burning a USDA research station in Olympia,
Washington, on June 21, 1998.
Two other individuals, Jeffrey Luers and Craig Marshall,
were convicted in 2001 of a separate firebombing at Joe Romania
Chevolet in June 2000 that destroyed three pickup trucks. Luers was
sentenced to 22 years, eight months; Marshall drew five and a half
years on a plea bargain. He is reportedly now free on parole.
Sarah Kendall Harvey, 28, also known as Kendall Tankersley,
was arrested in Flagstaff, Arizona, where she was an administrative
assistant at Northern Arizona University. Harvey/Tankersley lived in
Eugene from 1996 to 2000. She was charged with arson and attempted
arson in connection with a fire that did $500,000 worth of damage to
a U.S. Forest Industries office in Medford, Oregon, on December 28,
“A graduate of Humboldt State University in California with a
degree in molecular biology, Harvey pleaded guilty in 1997 to three
misdemeanors,” Associated Press reported, “after being arrested at
a nonviolent anti-logging protest.” Harvey/Tankersley also had a
1999 conviction for trespassing on railroad property.
The arrests brought top-of-the-news coverage both in the five
cities where suspects were caught, and in the nearest cities to the
crime scenes. The number of cities involved practically guaranteed
that the story would go national. Additional publicity boosts came
from two unrelated cases that also involved alleged ideological
Self-described ELF activist Christopher McIntosh, 23, on
December 15, 2005 drew eight years in prison for setting a January
20, 2003 predawn fire at a McDonald’s restaurant near the Seattle
Peter Daniel Young, 28, was charged on December 23, 2005
with third degree burglary, intentional damage to property and
“animal enterprise trespass” in Watertown, South Dakota, for
releasing mink from the now defunct Turbak Mink Ranch near Kransburg
in 1997. Young pleaded guilty to federal charges based on the same
incident in August 2005, and drew a two-year prison sentence.
Accomplice Justin Samuel, captured in Belgium in 1999, already
served a two-year term.
Firebombings committed in the name of a cause are terrorism,
by any reasonable definition. Arresting terrorists, even if they
have not directly or intentionally threatened either human or animal
lives, is clearly necessary.
Probably no one will ever prove definitively that the Bush
administration manipulated the timing of the ALF/ELF busts to help
push the Patriot Act renewal through to passage.
But among the revelations during an ongoing series of
investigations, hearings, and panel reports about unauthorized Bush
administration spying on U.S. citizens were that activist groups
including PETA and Greenpeace were among the targets–and certainly
the Bush administration knew that this information would come out.
“After the attacks of September 11, 2001,” explained Eric
Lichtblau of The New York Times, “John Ashcroft, who was then
attorney general, loosened restrictions on the FBI’s investigative
power. The FBI used that authority to investigate not only groups
with suspected ties to foreign terrorists, but also protest groups
suspected of having links to violent or disruptive activities.
“One FBI document,” Lichtblau continued, citing materials
obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, “indicates that
agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a
‘Vegan Community Project.’ Another document indicates the bureau’s
interest in determining the location of a PETA protest over llama fur.
“The documents indicate,” Lichtblau added, “that in some
cases the FBI has used employees, interns, and other confidential
informants within groups like PETA and Greenpeace to develop leads on
potential criminal activity.”
If such infiltration had actually demonstrably contributed to
capturing ALF/ELF suspects, or other people who have actually been
charged with terrorism, the tactics might have been warranted.
“But the documents, coming after the Bush administration’s
confirmation that President Bush had authorized some spying without
warrants, prompted charges from civil rights advocates that the
government had improperly blurred the line between terrorism and acts
of civil disobedience and lawful protest,” Lichtblau summarized.
In short, the espionage was literally unwarranted.
And, when persons who do not actually support a cause are inserted
into the cause as spies, there is the constant risk that they will
act as saboteurs and agents provocateur.
Infiltrators have at times in the past proved to be among the
hardest-working and most reliable members of activist groups, as
part of their cover. Such paradoxes make agents provocateur
especially difficult to detect and expose, and especially dangerous
to a cause.
Agents provocateur tend to be mistaken for super-activists:
those who do the most, take the greatest risks, donate the most
money, and espouse the most radical positions. They often are among
the protesters who are most often arrested, yet time and again win
release on technicalities, sometimes after spending time in jail
with someone else who gets a long sentence based on tips from
Some agents provocateur are in fact super-activists, who
never realize that the admirers slipping them funding for disruptive
activities are not sympathizers but handlers, counting on the
unwitting agents provocateur to do things that backfire–like many of
the major actions claimed by the ELF.
The ELF name surfaced in 1996, John H. Cushman Jr. and
Evelyn Nieves of The New York Times reported in 1998, when it “was
spray-painted at the scene when someone damaged trucks at a Forest
Service ranger station; a few days later another ranger station in
the area was set afire.”
Those arsons contributed to the pretext for increased law
enforcement against opponents of old-growth logging.
The ELF apparently first linked itself to the ALF in claiming
a mink release at Mount Angel, Oregon, on May 31, 1997. The
remains of many mink allegedly trampled by the perpetrators were
displayed on TV.
The ELF and ALF next claimed to have jointly set a July 21, 1997
fire at the Cavel West horse killing plant in Redmond, Oregon.
During 1997-1998 ANIMAL PEOPLE learned–and reported in
November 1998–that a person using the same Social Security number as
individuals known as Bill Wewer and Rick Spill had rented premises
near Mount Angel, and near highways to the sites of other early ELF
ANIMAL PEOPLE has long suspected that Wewer and Spill were
the same man.
Wewer, an attorney and direct mail fundraiser, drafted the
incorporation of the Doris Day Animal League in 1986. In 1989-1990,
Wewer simultaneously represented both the “March for the Animals”
and the anti-animal rights group Putting People First, founded by
his wife Kathleen Marquardt.
PPF, now defunct, defended whalers, sealers, furriers, and the
Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus.
PPF also received donor lists and other materials stolen from
PETA and the Performing Animal Welfare Society by covert operators
working for a private security firm called Richlin Consultants,
according to information disclosed to PETA and PAWS by former Richlin
operative Steven Kendall.
Richlin Consultants was directed by Clair George, CIA deputy
director of operations from July 1984 to December 1997. Further
particulars about it may emerge in February 2006, when a PETA
lawsuit against Ringling for funding the infiltration is due to go to
Wewer later represented the Ventura County Humane Society,
until his reported death in San Francisco on April 1, 1999. ANIMAL
PEOPLE learned that the San Francisco coroner’s office never actually
saw a body.
Rick Spill in 1993-1997 handled marine mammal issues for the
Animal Welfare Institute, and was instrumental in the 1994-1995
breakup of the Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary, the largest-ever attempt
in the U.S. to rehabilitate captive dolphins for return to the wild.
Spill was apparently last seen within the animal cause at the
November 1999 anti-World Trade Organization protests in Seattle.
ANIMAL PEOPLE continues to monitor the activities of an
individual of similar features, build, and habits who emerged as an
outspoken anti-animal rights activist in 1999.
Despite our suspicions, there is as yet no direct indication
of wise-use manipulation of the ELF, and no trace of wise-use
background among the arrested suspects, but many later ELF actions
contributed to wise-use political success.
Most notably, as a bill to slash funding for the USDA
Wildlife Services government extermination agency was before the
House of Representatives in June 1998, arsons allegedly committed by
the arrested suspects razed two Wildlife Services buildings. The
House approved the funding cut on the first vote, two days later,
but well-hyped backlash helped to reverse the cut the day after that.
The Vail ski lift arson, ostensibly set to protect lynx
habitat, came eight months after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
on February 12, 1998 agreed to consider the lynx for Endangered
Species Act protection throughout the Lower 48 states. Protecting
lynx is bitterly opposed by loggers, hunters, trappers, and land
developers. The Vail fire helped to rally backlash that delayed the
first U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service critical habitat designation for
lynx until November 9, 2005.
At that, the designation is unlikely to take effect.
“Lori Nordstrom, a Fish & Wildlife Service wildlife
biologist in Helena, said the agency doubts the effectiveness of the
designation, but seeks to implement it to satisfy legal
requirements,” wrote Susan Gallagher of Associated Press.
Whether or not agents provocateur turn out to have been
directly behind anything the ELF did, at least two of the alleged
arsonists helped to set up the arrests of the others.
The case broke “with the cooperation of one key informant,”
reported Denver Post staff writers Alicia Caldwell, Joey Bunch, and
“Dubbed ‘cooperating witness’ by federal investigators, the alleged
Earth Liberation Front insider knew names and dates, and was willing
to wear a wire to record conversations with other members,”
Caldwell, Bunch, and Lipsher continued. “According to those
familiar with such investigations, prosecutors typically cultivate
an informant who will surreptitiously record conversations with
co-conspirators and then charge who they can. Federal prosecutors
also look for defendants, facing potentially long federal prison
terms, to begin flipping, or offering cooperation in exchange for
leniency. That opens the door for additional charges.
“One witness the government is relying on is Jacob Ferguson,
according to Gerlach’s lawyer, Craig Weinerman,” Caldwell, Bunch,
and Lipsher wrote. “Ferguson, Weinerman contends, took part in the
arsons but has not been charged. Another witness is Meyerhoff, a
high school classmate of Gerlach’s who has been charged but not for
every crime he admitted to participating in, according to court
Predicted & predictable
None of this is any surprise at all to ANIMAL PEOPLE. Our
September 2001 edition predicted on pages 12-13 that the 9/11
terrorist attacks would provide animal use industries with the
security-conscious political climate they needed to obtain escalated
federal surveillance of animal advocacy. We mentioned the Joe
Romania Chevrolet arsons, the Vail ski lift fire, the
Ringling-funded infiltrations of PETA and PAWS, and many other
instances of espionage and agents provocateur disrupting animal
advocacy, all by way of warning.
We knew what would happen because throughout recorded history
the major animal use industries have repeatedly seized upon poorly
understood external threats to society as a pretext for persecuting
Two thousand years ago, for example, the Jerusalem Temple
defended their control over the slaughter-and-sacrifice industry by
exploiting Roman fear of a Jewish revolt to persecute opponents of
the Temple’s sacrifice-based economic system. Victims included John
the Baptist and Jesus.
Circa 700 years ago the Roman Catholic Church controlled most
of the farmland in Europe, and taxed the proceeds heavily to finance
the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Crusades, all waged within a 30-year
span to repel Islamic influence on the far side of the Mediterranean
The Church simultaneously waged the Albigensian Crusade to
exterminate a vegan sect called the Cathari, who would not bear arms
even in their own defense. Mixing antecedents of Protestantism with
possible traces of Brahmin, Jain, or Buddhist teachings, the
Cathari emerged in eastern Europe, but developed enduring popular
support in southern France. The Cathari influenced the pro-animal
teachings of St. Francis of Assisi and Richard of Wyche, Bishop of
Chichester, who was an early British critic of the morality of
About 650 years ago, and again 340 years ago, fear of
bubonic plague enabled agribusiness, as it existed then, to condemn
widowed cat ladies as witches and seize their land. Some may have
been animal hoarders (see “U.S. Supreme Court endorses seizure of
hoarded animals,” page 1), but others were authentic animal lovers.
Civilization itself is widely depicted as having been enabled
by the advent of animal husbandry, though archaeological evidence
increasingly suggests that soil erosion resulting from the
domestication of goats actually brought the collapse of the first
Nothing threatens the economic and cultural established order
more than the prospect of people turning away en masse from the use
of animals for meat, fur, and leather.
Accordingly, animal advocates can expect more paranoia and
persecution any time progress makes animal use industry leaders
nervous and something big scares the public.
Post-9/11 panic has subsided. Political opinion is at last
swinging away from allowing government agencies to commit excesses
against activists in the name of security. But history suggests that
it is in the interludes between intensive government surveillance
that infiltrators and agents provocateur directly sponsored by
industry are most active and dangerous.
A now 20-year-old Canadian government strategy paper called
Defence of the Fur Trade and a similar strategy outline produced a
year later by the American Medical Association both described the
tactic of neutralizing animal advocacy by associating it with
Simply answering that far more violence is done by trappers,
vivisectors, et al misses the point.
Accepting terrorism of any sort invites infiltration and
disruption, and ultimately retards the cause, no matter how much of
a vicarious feel-good frustrated activists may get from a transiently
successful “direct action.”
Critical to remember, as both Defence of the Fur Trade and
the AMA strategy pointed out, is that most of the public does not
approve of cruelty to animals, when they recognize it. Therefore,
if animal advocates do not commit self-discrediting acts of
terrorism, animal use industry covert operatives often will distract
the public by committing such acts in the name of animal advocacy.
Animal advocates should be aware that seven years before any
ALF or ELF suspect used a pipe bomb, a covert operator named Mary
Lou Sappone, hired by former U.S. Surgical Corporation owner Leon
Hirsch, in November 1988 set up a fringe activist to be caught in
the act of planting a pipe bomb in the U.S. Surgical parking lot.
Because when the public sees purported animal advocates
involved in violence, that violence becomes the story– not the
violence going on out in the woods, inside the labs, and inside the
The best defense animal advocates have against such
duplicitous tactics is to avoid any association with violence, so
that agents provocateur become conspicuous.
Convincing the world to treat animals with moral
consideration requires activists to keep the high ground, not from
fear of arrest, but from the likelihood that appearing to be
irrational or dangerous will obscure the message and lead to failure.