By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
AT AN AGE WHEN OTHER KIDS were heading off to college, Rod Coronado was hanging around the San Francisco Bay Area, listening to the historic figures of the radical environmental movement. Dave Foreman was preaching the gospel of Earth First! The New Mexico native, who had worked as the Wilderness Society’s top Washington, D.C., lobbyist, invoked the Boston Tea Party in his rhetoric. The situation was direr than we had realized, Foreman told audiences. Three-fifths of the world’s mammal species were likely to go extinct in the next generation, and there was no time to waste on niceties like lawsuits or lobbying. Quoting far-right presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, another nature-loving son of the Southwest, Foreman was fond of saying: “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.”
Also on the scene was a florid Canadian named Paul Watson, who had been expelled from Greenpeace in 1977 for his less-than-strict adherence to the tenets of nonviolence. He bought an English trawler and christened it the Sea Shepherd, and named his anti-whaling group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Watson left the parleys at International Whaling Commission meetings to others. His job was to put whaling ships out of commission.
“I had been reading this material,” Coronado tells me, picking at his tamale. “I approached Paul and said, ‘I want to go to Iceland and sink some ships.’ He didn’t say, ‘You’re crazy.’ He said, ‘What do you need?’ ”
Coronado became the eco-equivalent of a Dickensian boy thief, a seemingly fearless young man who wriggled in and out of impossible situations, always managing to triumph. By the account of one member of the Sea Shepherd crew, Paul Watson steered the boat, raised funds and talked to reporters. The daring (and thinner) Coronado climbed aboard Japanese and Norwegian whaling vessels in the dark of night and opened the seacocks, clambering back aboard the Sea Shepherd as the whaling ships slowly took on water.
CORONADO’S ACTIVISM, as with a majority of 1960s radicals, was not so much a rebellion against his parents as an extension of their ideals and their heritage.
Coronado grew up in a family of Yaqui Indians from the borderlands of Sonora, Mexico, and Arizona. The Yaquis have the distinction of never having been conquered. The Toltecs, the Aztecs and, later, the Spanish failed to bring them to heel, although the Yaquis were converted by Jesuits and engaged in thriving commercial pursuits in tandem with the priests. Once the Mexican government expelled the Jesuits, the Yaquis became outlaws. In the 1870s, one of the Yaqui leaders actually declared Yaqui territory a country independent of Mexico.
In 1903, the Porfirio Diaz government expelled the Yaquis, sending them to southern Mexico to work as slaves on the haciendas. Those who remained became known for their refusal to bend to the laws of the U.S. or Mexico, crossing and recrossing the border to escape persecution, often becoming bandits or soldiers who fought on the U.S. or Mexican side, depending on the politics of the moment. In the mid–20th century, many came to the U.S. to work in the agricultural fields.
Through all of this, the Yaquis maintained many of their old beliefs. These included the collective memory of an earlier way of life, a time with no war, when they communed with animals, particularly deer, and with flowers. These were the traditions Coronado learned from the late Anselmo Valencia, a tribal elder in Tucson who took him in when he was living underground in the mid-1990s.
Coronado says that his grandfather was an apostolic minister, and his parents were, in his words, “dirt-poor farm workers,” who instilled in him the ideals of social service, traveling to Mexico in the summer to bring clothes to poor people. Coronado started working with Yaqui kids and, in his own words, “felt whole.” But it was not his Boy Scout demeanor that made him famous; it was his tactical skills.
DURING LUNCH, I ASK CORONADO to tell me about his time with the Animal Liberation Front.
“I was a leader of my own ALF cell,” Coronado says. “I started one cell in California, and I moved to the Pacific Northwest to create another. There are two to eight people in a cell at any one time. They’re very independent. And anyone could propose and carry out an action. The person who had the idea would do the recon, the intelligence gathering, and sell the idea to the rest of us,” he says. “I was generally that person.”
Before bombing the mink labs, Coronado had traveled around for 11 months as an investigator for Friends of Animals, pretending to be a businessman interested in getting into the mink industry. He was an undercover agent, only for the animal-rights movement instead of the government. Coronado was, by his own account, “very good at what I did.” But he quickly grew disenchanted with the mainstream group’s bureaucracy. “I gave them the information,” he says. “They pretty much used it for fund raising. I felt like I owed those animals I watched die a lot more than that.”