...I believed that the warning signals
were loud and clear but no one seemed to
be taking heed. Here were respectable
scientists with PhD's. They were
working within the system but it seemed to
me at the time not to be working. So
I decided to take the struggle to the
streets - use a bigger stick so to speak.
Q: And that was 24 years ago.
Did your bigger stick work?
A: No. Our food is still
being sprayed. But it seemed the way
to go back then. I founded the E.L.F.,
which was an acronym for Environmental
Life Force. With today's
incarnation, E.L.F. stands for Earth Liberation Front.
I've also heard it called the
Environmental Liberation Front.
We're comparing apples and oranges here.
An ELF is an ELF - the aims and tactics
are the same - defense of the earth by
means of direct guerrilla action.
Q: In other words, violence.
Isn't that a contradiction when you claim
to be an environmentalist?
A: Yes. In truth it's not
possible to wear both hats. By
definition, an environmentalist cherishes
all life - including greedy, thoughtless
people. Turns out, I was one of
those thoughtless people too.
Q: Why did you resort to
A: I justified my behavior by
claiming "self defense" In reality,
I was a pissed off frustrated sociopath.
I see that now. An incident pushed
me over the edge of rational behavior.
Back then, I lived in an agricultural
area. Lots of artichoke and
strawberry fields. One day, I was
driving into town (Watsonville) and I got
sprayed with Parathion. A crop
duster zoomed by me from behind. His
wingtips were no more than fifteen feet
from my car. Before I had time to
roll up my windows and close up my vent, I
drove into a toxic cloud. I went
directly to the agricultural
commissioner's office and reported the
incident. Nothing ever came of it.
For several hours I felt like I was going
to jump out of my skin. Parathion is
an organophosphate poison that was
developed by German scientists in WW II as
a nerve gas. After the war, they
started using it to kill insect pests.
The incident served as a catalyst.
The ELF was born.
Q: But the first ELF action had
nothing to do with pesticides or the
environment, did it?
A: In March of '77, ELF claimed
responsibility for shooting the windows of
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein's vacation
home in Watsonville with an air-powered
pistol. It was a target of
opportunity and no one was home at the
time. Ms. Feinstein was then a San
Francisco county supervisor. The
action was in retaliation for the jail
house death of Larry Williams, a young black inmate.
He went into diabetic shock and died for
lack of an insulin shot. ELF
demanded that a medical screening program
be initiated for all new prisoners.
The rationale: the inmate was one of
earth's creatures and he died of neglect.
Q: I still see this
contradiction. On the one hand you
feign concern for this unfortunate inmate, yet ELF places homemade
napalm bombs on seven crop dusters.
Am I missing something here?
Couldn't a pilot or a firefighter have
A: ELF took
extraordinary measures to avoid loss of
life or injury. The devices were
designed so only the low-yield detonators
would fire. The napalm mix had been
allowed to solidify so it could not catch
fire. The fuses were timed to ignite
at 2:00 am. I waited nearby until
all the detonators exploded. If
someone would have happened by, I was
prepared to warn him or her off, even at
the risk of capture. Later in the
day, a communique was dropped at the local
newspaper. ELF listed viable
alternatives to the excessive and
inappropriate use of pesticides on our
Q: What about the crop dusters?
A: They suffered some
blistered paint. It had rained that
night. All the planes were spraying
crops just hours after the incident.
But it was a successful media event.
Guerrilla theater, if you will. The
listing of alternatives was important.
You rarely hear of bombers and activists
offering alternatives to their grievances.
Usually, they just rant.
Q: Were there other issues ELF
A: There was an action in Oregon.
A pipe bomb was placed at the headquarters
of Publishers' Paper Company in Oregon
City on August 1st, 1977. (Footnote:
The facility operated by Publishers' Paper
is now owned by Blue Heron Paper Company).
This was another retaliatory action.
Fairly serious stuff because it involved
the transport of explosives across state
Q: What were the circumstances?
A: Publishers' Paper owned land
in Rose Lodge, Oregon. They
cultivated fast growing trees to provide
pulp for their paper mills. They
routinely sprayed herbicides to kill off
competing plant species. Eventually
the chemicals found their way into
streams. The spawning habitat for
steelhead and salmon were at risk.
In protest, some local folks had chained
themselves to trees on Publishers' land.
They were ordered off the property and
when they didn't go, a helicopter sprayed
them all with the herbicide Tordon.
The pipe bomb was set off at Publishers'
corporate offices. ELF demanded that
the company provide life-long health care
and medical monitoring for the spray
Q: Did anyone get hurt when the
pipe bomb went off?
A: No. It was designed to
be a low-yield device. The lesson
learned at the Salinas airport action was:
it was not necessary to do any real damage
to create a media event. I think a
window was blown out. Publishers'
never provided the medical care; that
would have been an admission of guilt.
Interestingly, Publishers' Paper was owned
by the Los Angeles Times News Agency.
When I went to trial, all charges were
dropped that related to the Publishers'
action. I think pressure from the
L.A. Times may have influenced the
decision to drop the charges. Just a
guess. I had taken full
responsibility for the incident so there
was no reason for the federal prosecutor
to let me skate on that one.
(Footnote: Reportedly, several of the Rose
Lodge protestors have experienced health
problems which they attribute to being
sprayed with the herbicide.)
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES NEEDS TO DO THE
RIGHT THING AND PROVIDE MEDICAL HELP FOR
Q: What came after Oregon?
Nothing, really. I got arrested and
went to jail.
Q: How did you get caught?
A: Good old-fashioned
investigative techniques and advanced
technology. ELF was issuing a lot of
communiques. To avoid getting into a
predictable pattern, different copy
machines were used each time. We
learned at my trial that the ATF had a
complete record showing the time and
address where every ELF communique had
been printed in both California and
Oregon. But I made the mistake of
using a copier where my girlfriend, Carla
Susan Olander worked.
The ATF traced the communique to that
machine and started asking the management
questions: was anyone aware of an employee
who had expressed anti-pesticide opinions?
They learned that my girlfriend was under
a doctor's care and was drawing disability
payments due to an exposure to pesticides
while working in a cannery. They
kept the two of us under surveillance for
a couple of months. On November 22,
1977 the ATF and Santa Cruz SWAT came
through my front door while I was
sleeping. Scared the hell out of me.
In the spirit of civil disobedience, I
made a full confession and prepared myself
for some serious prison time.
Q: Were there other arrests?
A: No, my girlfriend Carla was a participant in the ELF's
actions. She cooperated with the ATF
so she wasn't charged with anything.
Q: Now that the statute of
limitations have expired, can you tell if
others were involved with ELF at the time?
A: I'm not sure there is a
statute of limitations for terrorist acts.
I told the authorities that I acted alone.
They accepted that and I think their
investigation bore that out. For the
record, I acted alone. That's my
story and I'm sticking to it.
Q: Thank you, Bart Simpson.
A: No, it's true. There was
no more ELF actions after I was busted.
Q: Until now.
A: Right. I have no
knowledge of the latest incarnation of
ELF. I was alarmed when I heard one
of the talking heads on the nightly news
mention ELF a few months back. I
thought, Oh boy, they'll be charging
through my front door again.
Q: But that hasn't happened, has
A: No. I think they've
ruled me out. (Knock on wood). My
life is an open book. I have a
career that takes up all of my time and
I'm constantly traveling. I'm
retired from that stuff. I enjoy my
freedom too much to revisit that nightmare
I went through a quarter of a century ago. My philosophy on
militant environmentalism has changed over
time. It's counter-productive to the
movement. After my stint at Lompoc
federal prison, I was released on
probation. The judge had given me
five years but he later modified the
sentence to five years' supervised
probation. After I was out, I
contacted Richard Armentrout, one of the Rose Lodge spray
victims for the first time. He told
me that the ELF bombing had embarrassed
them and alienated them from their former
supporters. Just the simple
perception that they may in some way be
associated with a terrorist group was all
it took to destroy their credibility in
their community of peers. That
really bothered me. I apologized but
it was too late. the harm was done.
Thanks to Richard Biffle
Q: So you no longer advocate
A: Not if it manifests itself in
violence. Civil disobedience can be
militant in practice or perception.
But violence is NEVER civil. Thoreau
and Gandhi landed in jail but they never
could have accomplished their goals had
they resorted to violence. They
maintained the high moral ground and
inspired support. They showed they
were better than their adversaries.
Q: Do you consider your past
actions to be a failure?
A: Yes. Both morally and
strategically. After my arrest, I
opted for another approach. I
founded a not-for-profit organization to
assist commercial growers to develop
strategies for cutting back on their use of
pesticides. This was a program
developed, in part, by Dr. Van Den Bosch.
I was fortunate to gain his support before
he died. The strategy is called
Integrated Pest Management or IPM.
It was a fairly new concept in the late
70's. It's widely practiced these
Q: Are you still active in the
A: No. I recruited a board
of directors with college degrees in
entomology and plant pathology. I
wrote the initial seed-funding proposal
and received a generous grant from the
David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
Then I reluctantly stepped down. The
board of directors felt my pending trial
could be problematic. And, of
course, I had no professional credentials.
Basically I was a confessed bomber
awaiting trial. Not the greatest
public relations asset if you're trying to
influence commercial growers. The
academicians took over the corporate helm
but they failed to secure additional
funding and the enterprise faded away.
The good news is that similar businesses
have flourished. So I'm reassured
that my instincts were sound.
Perhaps we were ahead of our time.
With hindsight, I see that IPM has
accomplished more than those seven
firebombs ever did.
Q: What would you like to say to
the ELF today?
A: If I transport myself back to when I was Underground, I don't think I would Have listened to an old fart like me.
Most likely a lot of the people who make up today's ELF weren't even born when ELF was founded. So I'm not too optimistic
that the current cadre will listen. But here's my request: Stop the violence. It's only a matter of time before
someone gets injured or killed. Arson can get out of hand very quickly. Who would want an innocent firefighter
to get killed doing his or her job? I'm so thankful no one was hurt during my activities. I couldn't live with
myself had that happened.