An Open Letter to ABC Network News
from the Earth First! Journal    7-Apr-1996

On Friday, April 5, the ABC news program World News Tonight with Peter Jennings aired a report linking the non-violent environmental group Earth First! with Theodore Kaczynski, the alleged Unabomber. The piece was riddled with distortions and inaccuracies, and can only be described as a hit piece on Earth First! and the environmental movement. ABC's sensationalistic coverage has done serious damage to the reputation of the Earth First! movement, based on the word of Barry Clausen, an individual employed by the timber industry.

The ABC hit piece begins with footage of an Earth First! protest circa 1988. A group of people are shown in the midst of a chaotic scene of violence; fists are flying, people are screaming. The imagery, which sets the stage for the rest of the piece, is clear: these people are violent, crazed extremists. The real story behind this footage, however, provides quite a different context. That day, two protestors, in an act of civil disobedience, had locked themselves by the neck to a logging road gate. In the moments just prior to the footage aired, these activists had been attacked by loggers, and were dragged by their necks in an attempt to open the gate. The decontextualized footage aired by ABC showed other activists attempting to intervene in order to protect their friends. The person throwing punches was one of the loggers, although ABC does not mention this.

ABC bases its allegation of a Unabomber-Earth First! link on two flimsy pieces of information. The first is Kaczynski's alleged presence at, as ABC calls it, "a meeting which top level members of Earth First! attended, at the University of Montana." In fact, this "meeting" was actually an environmental conference sponsored by the Native Forest Network, a grassroots environmental group working to protect temperate forests worldwide. Over four hundred people attended, including environmentalists from Poland, Scotland, England, Chile, Mexico, Canada and Australia. Even representatives from the US Forest Service attended the conference. Activists associated with Earth First! also attended the event, but had no role in the conference proceedings. Kacyznski's alleged presence at the conference (his name does not appear on the conference registration list) links him to Earth First! no more than it links him to the US Forest Service.

(The most interesting fact presented in the story, completely glossed over by ABC, was news of an FBI list of conference attendees. Is attending environmental conferences an activity now considered suspicious by our government? The November, 1994, conference occurred before excerpts of the Unabomber manifesto were released which linked the Unabomber to environmentalism.)

The second piece of information is ABC's contention that two of the Unabomber's victims were on "Eco-Fuckers Hit List" published by, in ABC's words, "a radical environmental journal." (This is the motto in the masthead of the Earth First! Journal.) A quick shot of the hit-list page was followed by a quote from Leslie Hemstreet, a member of the editorial staff of the Earth First! Journal. In the quote, Hemstreet says something like "We cannot be held responsible for what Theodore Kaczynsky may have done with any information he may have gotten from us, because if he had read our journal thoroughly, he would've seen that we are completely dedicated to non-violence."

The inference could not be clearer: The Earth First! Journal published the hit list. Yet this is false, and ABC knew that it was false. (An underground anarchist/environmental publication called Live Wild Or Die actually printed the hit list.) Roxanne Bezjian, the freelance reporter who interviewed Hemstreet for ABC, told the Journal after complaints about the coverage that she made it very clear to Brian Ross and Dave Rommel, the correspondent and producer of the piece, respectively, that the Journal had not printed the hit list. And while ABC never directly says the Earth First! Journal printed the list, the inference was strong enough to provoke phone calls to the Earth First! Journal office with people screaming that we are terrorists directly responsible for the Unabomber's actions. [1]

ABC further distorted the story by claiming that both of the victims appeared on the hit-list roster. The two corporations that ABC is referring to as appearing on the list (the list was composed of corporations) are the California Forestry Association and Exxon. Thomas Mosier, one of the Unabomber's victims that ABC cites as being part of the hit list, worked not for Exxon, but for the public relations firm Burson-Marstellar. ABC claims that Mosier was connected to Exxon because Exxon was a client of Burson-Marstellar. However, Burson-Marstellar, one of the largest public relations firms in the world, has numerous clients. Whether Mosier ever worked on anything related to Exxon is unclear.

Perhaps the most outrageous aspect of the hit piece is ABC's source of information, Barry Clausen, who appears in the piece. Clausen is a paid informant of the timber industry whose livelihood depends on an audience interested in Earth First!. Clausen has made a cottage industry for himself travelling to rural areas on speaking engagements paid for by "wise use" groups and the timber industry. The subject of his speeches is his claimed infiltration of Earth First! [2], and how Earth First! "terrorists" are attempting to destroy jobs, the economy and the whole of civilization.

Barry Clausen is not a credible source. He is a wannabe informant who has been rejected as unreliable by every law enforcement agency he has tried to work with. These include the Sheriffs of both Park County and Madison County in Montana, the US Forest Service in Montana, Washington and California, the US Marshall and the FBI. Clausen has also been rejected by private agencies including a private investigator in Seattle, Washington, and the securtity department of McDonald's hamburger chain.

FBI agent Horace Newborn, in charge of the Domestic TerrorismUnit at the FBI's headquarters in Washington DC, also characterizes Clausen as unreliable. In a sworn deposition Newborn stated about Clausen, "I think what we did is we did some other agency checks with Clausen. His name came up in other places, and we did some other agency checks, and they said he was not reliable."

This rejection (except Newborn's) is documented in Clausen's own book, Walking on the Edge: How I Infiltrated Earth First!, published by the Washington Contract Loggers Association, either in the form of direct conversations or by the agencies' refusal to grant Clausen and his partner Joanne immunity.

ABC's portrayal of Earth First! as violent is totally contradicted by the history of Earth First! activism. In the sixteen years since Earth First!'s formation the only people to have been injured as a result of Earth First! activities have been Earth First!ers themselves. Earth First! activists have all too often been the victims of violence. Activists have had their houses burned down, been shot at, and beaten up. In 1990, Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney were bombed in their car while organizing for Redwood Summer, an Earth First! campaign to protect California's redwoods. (Their lawsuit against the FBI for wrongful prosecution and harrassment is still pending.) ABC's irresponsible portrayal of Earth First! as violent terrorists legitimates such heinous attacks.

The damage done by ABC's hit piece on Earth First! is tremendous. Hard working environmental activists, who regularly place their bodies on the line to protect the earth, should not be subjected to such blather. This is especially true in light of the "logging without laws" timber salvage rider, which makes salvage logging operations above the law on US public lands. We have better things to do with our time than respond to such outrageous allegations.

The Earth First! Journal is asking for people to call Rhonda Schwartz, Senior Producer of World News Tonight, to complain about ABC's irresponsible, sensationalistic reporting. You may reach her at 404/874-0380.

Footnotes (added by Jym Dyer)

[1] Journalists and newspaper editors were certainly fooled. An example of particularly poor journalism is an op-ed piece written on April 23 by Boston Globe staffer Jeff Jacoby. Jacoby appears to have watched the ABC story, jumped to the obvious (and unfounded) conclusions, and ranted against Earth First! based on these conclusions. Clueless newspaper editors all over the country reprinted this rant. (The rant itself is not available online, but Judi Bari's rebuttal is.)

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair point out more examples of the media propagating this nonsense in a column for the April 17, 1996 issue of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, which was later printed in the May 6, 1996 issue of The Nation.

[2] As Cockburn and St. Clair put it, Clausen's so-called infiltrations "actually meant showing up at Earth First! meetings, which were well-advertised and generally festive events."

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