Inside the ELF
A former Earth First!er who sailed with the renegade Sea Shepherds to save baby harp seals and served jail time as a card-carrying member of the Animal Liberation Front, Rod Coronado is fast replacing Dave Foreman as the radical environmental movements resident prophet and godhead. Finished with direct action after his release from prison four years ago, he now lives in Tucson, where he works at the Earth First! Journal and travels the country speaking about the environment.
The lone face and de facto spokesperson of the Earth Liberation Front, he sat down with the L.A. Weeklys ALEX MARKELS this week to answer a few questions.
L.A. Weekly: Whats the difference between those now in the vanguard of the radical environmental movement and the old guard from your Earth First! days?
CORONADO: People in the movement nowadays are thinking more holistically. In the past, everyone was very much about wilderness roadless areas, grizzly bears and that sort of stuff. Nowadays, youve got people who are just fighting to protect their neighborhood woods. In fact, Id say there are just as many activists involved in urban restoration as there are people involved in protecting the wilderness.
But the most glaring difference from the old days is that the connection between environmentalism and animal rights is much stronger today. Back in the 1980s, radical Earth First!ers still ate meat. Now if youre a radical environmentalist and youre not meatless, people will call you a hypocrite. Those involved in the struggle today are very much connecting the dots between the environment and animal oppression.
So who exactly are these new ELF activists? How many of them are there and how are they funded?
I honestly have no idea exactly who they are. But the people who are being captured and investigated arent the children of 60s radicals, they are the children of corporate executives. I often talk to people who say my dad is so and so and it just blows me away. They feel so much guilt for the wealth they were brought up with. And now theyre rejecting the privileged lives they were brought up in and striking back. And if recent actions are any indication, their numbers are only increasing. Its a plain fact that theres been a greater number of illegal direct actions and more dollar damage in the last five years than ever before.
As for funding, since theres no real organization, the cost of carrying out any actions comes out of peoples own pockets. But were used to doing a lot with very little. When youre a 20-something grassroots activist, and youre deciding how to spend your time and money to make a difference, it makes a lot of sense to cause a million in damage with just $100 of investment. Thats a better return than any other form of activism Ive been involved in.
Were you surprised by the recent torchings of Hummers and other SUVs? Will we see more of this?
Lets just say that I knew it wasnt going to be the old guard who would push the envelope; it would be the young people. Theyve decided to go after SUVs and luxury homes because they are such opulent examples of the anti-environmental direction our society has taken.
Its targeting the people most responsible for financially supporting the oil industry by driving SUVs. Now, every time they fill their tanks, theyll be more aware of the destruction theyre causing. And the next time John Q. Public goes car shopping and hes thinking about buying that $40,000 SUV, hell know that hes a target and instead opt for something more economical.
Its a lot like what happened in the fur industry. People used to ask, Whats the good in spray-painting someones fur coat? But 20 years later, a big reason people dont wear as much fur isnt because theyve seen the light, but because they dont want to be called out in public. Hopefully, in a few years, there will be that same sentiment about SUVs. It will be glaringly obvious that this is a very politically incorrect thing to drive.
As for whether well see more actions like this, well, just look at the tally of whats already gone on. And theres plenty of SUVs still on the road.
You said the vanguard is moving beyond conventional monkey wrenching like tree spiking in forests. What types of action should we expect in the future?
I think the next wave is to start making a stronger connection between the companies that destroy the environment and the people who run those companies. The days of holding protests signs in front of corporate headquarters are going to go by the wayside. In their place, people are going to be knocking on the doors of corporate execs in their homes. Theyll strip away the facades and show the names and addresses of those directly responsible. Corporate executives are no longer going to find their own homes safe havens.
Also, anybody whos directly associated with companies that engage in environmental destruction or animal abuse will find themselves accountable for that support. Insurance companies that offer a policy to an animal research company or a controversial development company will be targeted. And companies that do horrible things in other countries or cooperate with repressive regimes overseas, but operate in the safety of the United States, will be on the list, too.
Whats your response to those who see ELF members as terrorists and deplore their actions as unacceptably violent?
Terrorism is just the buzzword of the current political climate. If you call them a terrorist, you can justify your repression of them. Its a tactic of the government and corporate opposition to capitalize on the publics legitimate fears. But most people are smart, and they know the difference between an activist and a terrorist. Until the FBI can show a pile of bodies, theyre going to have a hard time convincing people that we are terrorists. We engage in extreme tactics, but they are in response to extreme situations.
The truth is, the people who accuse us of being violent mostly the government are committing violence on a daily basis. So I dont even take it seriously. As far as our own movement, I cant say that someone wont hurt someone else in the name of environment. But its not any one individuals right to commit violence in the name of the ELF. Everyone who takes it upon those themselves to use the ELF name knows that our guiding principle is that we dont hurt people. That hasnt changed and its not going to change.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.