Information icon.svg Results for the 2023 RationalWiki Moderator Election have now been posted. Thank you for participating in this election, and congratulations to the winners!

Earth First!

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Not to be confused with the First Earth Battalion, an entirely different kind of woo.
Their logo, a stone hammer and a monkey wrench, a reference to "monkeywrenching" as a term for sabotage, as popularized by The Monkey Wrench GangWikipedia.
A buncha tree-huggers
Save the rainforests!
Watch that carbon footprint!

Earth First! Make Mars Our Bitch is a self-proclaimed direct action "radical environmental" group formed in 1979[1] by some former lobbyists for the Wilderness Society and Friends of the Earth, both mainstream environmental groups, who were disillusioned with mainstream environmentalist tactics. The tactic of tree sitting originated with them. The media chose to focus instead on linking them to ecoterrorism because their newspaper often published articles on the subject of sabotage, including "tree spiking,"[note 1] later collected in the book Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. Their influence peaked around 1990 with the "Redwood Summer" protests in California.[2] During the Redwood Summer protests, some within the movement led by Judi Bari attempted to bring timber workers into a coalition with environmentalists through the Industrial Workers of the World, with negligible success; most timber workers instead joined counter-protests against Redwood Summer organized by the wise use movement, especially citing tree spiking as a danger to sawmill workers. Judi Bari, in response, renounced tree spiking,[note 2] and Redwood Summer organizers in general adopted a stance of non-violence. Since a 1991 split,[note 3] the movement has been mostly associated with the U.S. anarchist milieu. A terrorist splinter group formed in the 1990s called the Earth Liberation Front.

Arizona incident[edit]

In 1987 a Prescott, Arizona group calling itself EMETIC (Evan Mecham Eco-Terrorist International Conspiracy) sabotaged the ski lift at the Arizona Snow Bowl. The FBI infiltrated the group and through an agent provocateur convinced them to attempt to sabotage power lines in 1989, for which the four were arrested and prosecuted. During the infiltration the FBI desparately attempted to implicate Earth First! in EMETIC's actions, even arresting Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman and charging him with "conspiracy" for giving two copies of his book Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching to the undercover FBI agent. The FBI agent, Michael Fain, was caught on tape saying that Dave Foreman "isn't really the guy we need to pop, I mean in terms of an actual perpetrator. This is the guy we need to pop to send a message. And that's all we're really doing. Uh-oh! We don't need that on tape. Hoo boy!"[3]

Misanthropy controversy[edit]

In 1987 and 1988, Murray Bookchin, an influential New Left eco-anarchist, published several articles criticizing the hard green "deep ecology" philosophy popular in Earth First!, accusing it of being crudely anti-humanist, "deep Malthusian," and misanthropic. He cited a statement by Dave Foreman in an interview that the best approach to famine in Ethiopia would be to let the people starve and "nature take its course" rather than sending food aid, an article in the Earth First! newspaper by Christopher Manes (as Miss Ann Thropy) positing that AIDS was Gaia's answer to overpopulation, and slogans like "back to the Pleistocene."[4][5][6] This controversy continued for a few years. Edward Abbey, in his posthumously-published 1989 novel Hayduke Lives poked fun in turn at Bookchin portraying him as a cranky academic Marxist. (Bookchin, in fact, had attacked Marxism in his snarky 1969 pamphlet "Listen, Marxist".) Eventually, Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman reconciled somewhat during a public debate in which the two agreed on most things, published as the 1990 book Defending the Earth.[7]

Pipe bombing incident[edit]

On May 24, 1990, activists Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney were injured by a pipe bomb placed under the driver's seat of their car. The FBI and local Oakland, California police accused the two of planting the pipe bomb, in spite of evidence to the contrary and falsely arrested them. This led to a long, drawn-out legal battle with both Cherney and Bari accusing the FBI and local police of deliberately mishandling the investigation. The legal case was eventually resolved in 2002 with Bari's estate and Cherney being awarded $4.4 million in damages for violation of their First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights by being framed for the crime. Judi Bari did not live to see the successful verdict in her favor, having died of cancer in 1997. The actual perpetrator was never found and the crime remains unsolved.[8][note 4]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Tree spiking is the driving of large nails through a few random trees in an attempt to stop timber sales. It has been a federal crime in the U.S. since 1988, due to a rider introduced by Senator Mark Hatfield (R-OR) after a 1987 incident where a California mill worker was injured from a shattered bandsaw hitting a spike.
  2. Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney had, however, previously recorded the song "Spike a Tree for Jesus"
  3. On the split, see Foreman, Dave: Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, and Zakin, Susan: Coyotes and Town Dogs: Earth First! and the Environmental Movement. Briefly: a bit of a culture war erupted between early members who were from a conservation biology and environmental movement background and lived in the rural western states, versus an influx of newer members from a leftist and anarchist background with a more urban/countercultural protest style. The early members grew tired of the good name of Earth First! being besmirched by shopping mall puke-ins, flag burnings, "no deal assholes" stickers, and patchouli-drenched dreadlocks; the newer members for their part accused the old guard of besmirching Earth First!'s good name with neo-Malthusian statements on famine and immigration, "rednecks for wilderness" stickers, and a preference for Texas swing and Lone Star beer rather than reggae. Nobody else cares.
  4. Also see the book Timber Wars by Judi Bari, Common Courage Press, 1994