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 movement’s 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. Weekly’s ALEX MARKELS this week to answer a few questions.
L.A. Weekly: What’s 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, you’ve got people who are just fighting to protect their neighborhood woods. In fact, I’d 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 you’re a radical environmentalist and you’re 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 aren’t 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 they’re rejecting the privileged lives they were brought up in and striking back. And if recent actions are any indication, their numbers are only increasing. It’s a plain fact that there’s been a greater number of illegal direct actions and more dollar damage in the last five years than ever before.
As for funding, since there’s no real organization, the cost of carrying out any actions comes out of people’s own pockets. But we’re used to doing a lot with very little. When you’re a 20-something grassroots activist, and you’re 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. That’s a better return than any other form of activism I’ve been involved in.
Were you surprised by the recent torchings of Hummers and other SUVs? Will we see more of this?
Let’s just say that I knew it wasn’t going to be the old guard who would push the envelope; it would be the young people. They’ve decided to go after SUVs and luxury homes because they are such opulent examples of the anti-environmental direction our society has taken.
It’s targeting the people most responsible for financially supporting the oil industry by driving SUVs. Now, every time they fill their tanks, they’ll be more aware of the destruction they’re causing. And the next time John Q. Public goes car shopping and he’s thinking about buying that $40,000 SUV, he’ll know that he’s a target and instead opt for something more economical.
It’s a lot like what happened in the fur industry. People used to ask, “What’s the good in spray-painting someone’s fur coat?” But 20 years later, a big reason people don’t wear as much fur isn’t because they’ve seen the light, but because they don’t 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 we’ll see more actions like this, well, just look at the tally of what’s already gone on. And there’s 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. They’ll 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 who’s 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.
What’s 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. It’s a tactic of the government and corporate opposition to capitalize on the public’s 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, they’re 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 don’t even take it seriously. As far as our own movement, I can’t say that someone won’t hurt someone else in the name of environment. But it’s not any one individual’s 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 don’t hurt people. That hasn’t changed and it’s not going to change.