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
Borrowing from his Sea Shepherd experience, Coronado decided to target laboratories researching the domestication of mink, which he had learned about during his Friends of Animals undercover stint. Coronado and his ALF colleagues rescued 60 mink — legally — buying them from a small farm in Montana. The animals had been bred in captivity, but once the ALFers fed them live animals, they refused to go back to dry food.
“Once they tasted blood, their instincts came back,” he says. “We would always release them near water. They’d be swimming like mad, using their bodies like they never had before. It was a part of us too, that experience of living that way. We saw that it was a part of us.”
The ideal of absolute freedom at any cost was a young man’s fantasy, and a profoundly American one, familiar to readers of Edward Abbey and the Western writers who preceded him. But the members of Coronado’s ALF cell were pragmatic enough to realize they could never afford to buy all the mink being raised on farms, or all the lynx and bobcats. Coronado was eventually convicted of torching a researcher’s office at Michigan State University and destroying years of research data at an off-campus mink laboratory. He was sent to prison in 1995, where he served 48 months of a 57-month sentence, with time off for good behavior and time served. But he had started a movement. Before Coronado, nobody had raided a mink facility. “There were 70 raids on fur farms from the time I went to prison to when I got out,” Coronado says.
This may help to explain why, when animal-rights activist David Agronoff was questioned by a grand jury last year, ostensibly about the arson of a condominium complex in San Diego, all the investigators wanted to talk about was Coronado.
IN MARCH 2004, ROD CORONADO, accompanied by a writer from Esquire magazine, was arrested by authorities in Sabino Canyon. The canyon, a scenic thoroughfare of rock and water in the highest of the five mountain ranges surrounding Tucson, had been closed so state Game and Fish Department officials could trap and kill five mountain lions. Uncontrolled sprawl had brought condos and trophy houses up to the lions’ doorstep, as it were, and the lions had been sniffing around. When state officials were about to shoot the mountain lions, Coronado found himself in a position familiar to anyone who’s volunteered: He was the only one willing to show up every single day and keep interfering with the hunt by springing the traps set for the lions, and, if necessary, placing himself between gun and animal. Then he was busted, and his life threatened to fall apart.
“We saw all those other guys get rounded up,” he says, referring to the Vail saboteurs. “They were targeted for serious criminal offenses. There were informers giving solid evidence.” He leans forward, putting down his coffee cup. “Hunt sabotage is usually a ticket, maybe a $500 fine.”
Coronado and the reporter were arrested and charged, but only with misdemeanors. A few months later, the feds added a felony conspiracy “to interfere with or injure a government official” to Coronado’s charges. The state of Arizona added two misdemeanor charges of its own. But the worst was yet to come.
On February 15, 2006, a grand jury indicted Coronado under a little-used law prohibiting the distribution of information related to the assembly of explosives and weapons of mass destruction. His crime? He’d spoken at a gathering called “Revolution Summer” in San Diego in 2003. After his standard inspirational speech, someone asked how he’d blown up the mink labs. He grabbed a plastic juice bottle from a table and explained that he’d filled a similar bottle with gasoline, set a timer, and that was pretty much that. Or it was until a photo of Coronado brandishing the juice bottle made an appearance before Congress.
“I was pretty naive,” Coronado says. “I got out of prison and said, okay, it’s the Age of Bush. I told myself, okay, I can lecture, I can do aboveground organizing, but that’s all I can do.”
It didn’t help that hours before Coronado’s arrival, arsonists had set fire to a San Diego condominium complex, causing $50 million in damage, and leaving behind an ELF banner. Although Coronado apparently had nothing to do with the arson, the political climate was becoming distinctly dangerous for anyone who could be labeled a terrorist — even an ecoterrorist. And the definition of terrorism seemed to shift depending on the government’s priorities — and the Bush administration’s need to keep the Christian Right on its side. The U.S. Department of State defines terrorism as violence against noncombatants, while other agencies, notably the FBI, put crimes against property in the same category. Yet the FBI does not consider abortion-clinic bombings terrorism, despite the fact that they have resulted in six deaths nationwide. Although radical environmentalists are, by the FBI’s own account, the agency’s top counterterrorism priority, no one has been injured, much less killed, by radical environmentalists. By contrast, individuals with ties to white-supremacist or antigovernment groups have killed six people and injured more than 135 since 1996, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The FBI’s decision to investigate radical environmentalists through its counterterrorism office has been questioned by its own Office of Inspector General, which in a 2003 report recommended that eco-sabotage should be handled by its criminal division.