PE: For those unfamiliar with your past, could you introduce yourself?
Hi my name is rod and I’m from the desert southwest, but live in the great lakes bioregion now. I’ve spent my life fighting for the earth and animals and have just finished a 5 year period of federal supervision that prevented me from being involved in environmentalism or animal issues. I’ve spent a total of 6 years in prison for actions related to the protection of animals, and am now moving forward in my life with new strategies and tactics, that are both effective and legal. Though I walked a controversial and radical path, I no longer advocate illegal activity. That’s a personal decision that I made before with very intense personal consequences, so I’m not doing that anymore. I’m doing what a lot of people are doing now, and that’s struggling to find a way to help stop some horribly violent federal and state policies that currently are allowing for the killing of wolves and other wildlife.
PE: What have you been doing these last 7 years while on probation? Other than helping wolves, what else are you doing these days with your life?
Trying like hell to stay out of prison. When you’ve made a mark for yourself like I have in the law enforcement community, it gets real easy to get back into trouble. So I did what I had to do, I severed all contacts with the activist world, didn’t email, phone, write or do any social media with anyone with an activist past history and just worked my job at a brewery where I’m a server. I also was a big part of my children’s lives. I wasn’t in prison. I was a present father, raising children, teaching them to love life and nature. Loving life myself. I went kayaking when I could. We played in lakes and rivers, camped. I did what Geronimo and others like him had to do when they were forced to surrender and live on the rez. I will still be a father, but now it’s time to stand up for the wild once again.
PE: It seemed for a while like every time you moved they were trying to put you in jail again. I had thought you retired to raise your child, What have you actually been doing during all the years where you seemed to disappear from the public eye?
No one will deny that federal law enforcement agencies had identified me as a target. Not only had I already spent 4 years in prison for Animal Liberation Front actions in the 1990′s, but in the ensuing years I had become a spokesperson for the group while continuing to organize with Earth First! And Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty. I even made it easier for them by hanging out with other suspects of federal investigations. So while I did have to go back to prison as part of a non-cooperative plea agreement, at least I didn’t get the 16 year sentence they threatened me with in trial. So yes, it was time to lay down my arms and think about my children and the future. I spent the last five years just keeping my head low and not traveling or seeing any close friends and only very restricted travel to see my family. I wasn’t allowed to visit my elderly parents in Portland, because my probation officer said all of the Northwest was off limits due to its history of radical environmentalism and animal rights activities.
Like so many other men recently released from prison, I focused on the financial survival of my family. I also got involved with my children’s school and met other parents raising children nonviolently who became friends. We tried to start a community garden near the school and introduced a zero-waste program that survives today. The last five years allowed me to be a part of my kid’s lives rather than only hear about it in letters.
Now that my federal supervision is over, I can think about acting as a responsible human being and organizing against the destruction of the wild. Here in Michigan that means stopping the recent sport hunt for wolves. That’s where the tour came in. Folks from the Hunt Saboteurs approached me offering to help build a broader grassroots campaign drawing from several movements. Not just against wolf hunts in the six states where they are now being hunted, but against contest predator hunts and control efforts by the USDA’s Wildlife Services program.
PE: A lot of people seem to see animal liberation and anti-colonial work as opposed. But to you they seem to be very deeply connected?
The connection for me comes with the concept of seeing an animal, person or mountain as part of something bigger, or whether they are just a resource to be exploited and dominated. That is the foundation for the invasion of planet earth and for me I’ll work with anyone fighting against that destruction. Here in the Great Lakes, the wolf is a sacred animal to the indigenous people. So you ave not only animal welfare and animal rights people opposed to the hunt, but the tribes as well. Combine that with environmentalist and even sportsmen against hunting and trapping wolves and you have the potential for a lot of solidarity which equals strength. The Idle-No-More movement s amazing and supporting indigenous peoples engaged in struggles against colonialism is vital or they are going to be marginalized and silenced. All us parties affected by the same Invader need to build stronger alliances and push back in the legal channels we have left.
PE: I asked David Barbarash, a former ALF spokesperson what he would want to ask you if he was interviewing you. He wondered if you regret any of the actions you participated in over the years?
Ahhh, the regret question. Who doesn’t have regrets? But if the interviewer is evading asking me more directly if I regret my illegal actions on behalf of wildlife, I’d have to say no I don’t. I could be cheeky and say I regret not sinking the third whaling ship with the watchman aboard, or finding more lion snares, but that’s kind of how I feel…I’d never want to hurt anyone, but with so many victories like wolf recovery being reversed, I wonder whether its less about “winning” and more about simply standing for what you believe even when its unpopular to do so. It wasn’t popular to take the actions I did, but I did them not with the intention of winning any popularity contests, but to save some lives…however temporarily that might have been. And I don’t regret that.
PE: David also wondered if you would share your thoughts on whether people’s activism may be motivated by past experiences of trauma or anger, and how that affects their actions?
I think this has to do with what I said about the connection between animal and Indigenous issues. A lot of people relate to animals and nature because they are ground up by the same machines. In that way, I think a lot of people are empathetic to animals and can relate to them because we all have a bond with animals some time in our lives and like children, we believe it is wrong to abuse them. But if your saying that such activism attracts unhealthy or unstable people, well I’ve seen that too.
PE: I have read that you became vegan and started working to defend animals after listening to punk music, in particular the song This Is The ALF by Conflict?
That’s kind of funny because its only partially true. Here’s the real story. I began working to protect animals when I was 12 and listening to Paul McCartney and John Denver. Punk music didn’t come until I went overseas on Sea Shepherd in 1985. I started fighting against whaling and the Canadian harp seal hunt after being exposed to both through dramatic direct action campaigns by Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace. In England, the Sea Shepherd crew included hunt saboteurs who were also vegetarian and vegan. They were the first ones to lead me to question my beliefs about all animals. I had tremendous respect for members of the American Indian Movement who were still fighting colonialism, then I witnessed nonviolent civil disobedience used in anti-nuclear protests, but these people exposed me to the principles behind the Animal Liberation Front, and that’s where “This is the ALF” comes in. After working on Sea Shepherd in port one day, some hunt saboteur volunteers had me over to listen to music. I couldn’t understand a word of what sounded like screaming, but they handed me the album cover which had the lyrics and I wanted to join. That’s when I went vegetarian and convinced I would start an ALF group.
PE: Did you grow up around animals? When did you learn your love for animals from?
I believe everyone has an inherent compassion for animals. It’s just the question of whether it gets repressed by institutionalized thinking that convinces us to see animals another way. I guarantee that if you switched babies between hardcore hunters and vegans, each child would be raised with the corresponding parent’s worldviews, at least while they were children. But if nature is allowed to prosper, compassion for animals will come to anyone. The only thing unique about me s that I chose a path of action that made my compassion more noticeable.
PE: Do you still see punk or other music cultures today as having radical potential to radicalize youth
I’m sure that’s true, but I don’t have my finger on that pulse. I’ve always had my movement musician favorites, Dana Lyons, Alice DiMicele, Jim Page, Joanne Rand, Casey Neil and many others whose music was a kind of soundtrack for my life in the 80′s and 90′s, but I don’t know who is leading that charge anymore. I believe that music is a sacred medium to reach people and I still love listening to any new song with a story sympathetic to animals or nature, because you know that we are not a minority and those kinds of songs are received well.
PE: What is hunt sabotage?
Hunt sabotage has evolved for me over the years. It began with my English friends who sabotaged British hound foxhunts with false scent trails and horn calls, then it evolved to similar tactics in America to interfere with desert bighorn sheep hunts. I’d say hunt sabotage is nonviolently interfering with the recreational killing of wildlife. I was arrested in 2004 for sabotaging a mountain lion hunt and went to prison for 8 months. Now hunt sabotage means something different for me. It means utilizing any channel you have available to stop not just individual hunts, but entire hunting seasons. Its very dangerous confronting armed men in the woods, but we can sabotage hunts by getting involved with the agencies that establish hunting seasons and begin to lobby to have the views of the non-hunting majority represented. These agencies are supposed to be following principles of conservation that recognize that wildlife is a public trust resource and as such the opinions of non-consumptive “users” matters. Presently the states where wolf hunting and trapping was recently enacted, the state wildlife agencies have cosy relationships with sportsman’s groups. It’s not a unique situation. The hunters through payments for licenses and tags provide the budget for those agencies, so they tend to manage wildlife with the needs of hunters as a priority. So for me, hunt sabotage is any tactics or strategy that aims to stop the recreational killing of wildlife.
PE: What is the reason they are intending to kill the wolves? Can you talk a bit about the campaign?
In Michigan, the justification for the wolf hunt is that wolves are preying on livestock and hunting dogs as well as being seen in the neighborhoods of some rural towns. This is what was said leading up to the hunt and then when it began, we discovered that 90% of livestock depredations in Michigan were at one farm where the farmer practiced horrible farming practices. Cattle that died were left in pastures and when wolves were attracted they were blamed for the deaths and permits issued to kill them. This one farmer also received over $60,000 in compensation for his livestock losses and was recently criminally charged with animal abuse. One of the other justifications was the killing of “pets” which means dogs trained to chase down bears. Bear hunters place bait piles to attract bears, but they also attract wolves too sometimes or are placed in areas where wolves have their dens. These hounds are released to chase bears through wolf territory and occasionally get killed when they do this. But that’s not the wolf’s fault. Then we have the state’s wildlife agency lying to the media about the level of danger wolves were posing to humans in one town and those lies being repeated by a state representative to justify the hunt to the legislature. And on top of this, we have laws in Michigan which already allow hunters or farmers to kill a wolf they witness attacking their animals. In addition, the USDA’s Wildlife Services has been called in to kill over 20 wolves in recent years in Michigan. So that’s what we are fighting. We are opposed to the indiscriminate killing of wolves and we want to see wolves returned to endangered species listing.
PE: It seems a lot of people see wolves as a pest, or a threat to be afraid of. Do you find it is hard to convince people wolves need to be protected?
I don’t think its hard for people to get this issue. We’ve learned it before after we eradicated wolves the first time. Society as a whole has changed, but the agencies responsible for livestock and wildlife refuse to evolve and reflect those changes. And these agencies have little accountability. People understand that predators play a vital role in maintaining the health of prey animals like deer and elk. What I’ve been hearing is people asking, “why are people still killing wolves?” In addition to the role predators play in the ecosystem, I also believe they should be protected because we still don’t know a lot about them. The campaigns of persecution have continued literally since Europeans first arrived, and I think we should demonstrate a little human evolution by no longer waging such a war on wildlife. Wolves returning to the landscape is a success story in endangered species preservation that desperately needs to be defended right now.
PE: Anthropologist Layla Abdel Rahim writes about how the idea of a predator is a problematic construct, because the animals don’t see other animals as prey all of the time – but rather just as other animals most of the time and only as prey when they need to feed. I wonder what you think of this and if you think using scientific categorizations such as apex predator is at all problematic?
Well, let’s see where else do we use that word? To describe sexual predators! So undeniably, there is a negative connotation for some people. But yes, we allow science and taxonomy to frame our relationship to animals when the relationship can be so much more sacred. It’s a agreed upon concept to call some animal relations “predator” but we should also question our personal and spiritual relationship to animals. Not just because I am indigenous, but I also gravitated towards the way native people viewed animals. It was never demeaning, it was always on an equal standing. The animals were (and still are) people too, or people are animals too…Wonderful stories of mysticism and magic that sounded better than Bible stories to me.
I love to be educated and read wildlife agencies reports on wolf management, but at the end of the day I choose to see the wolf as my sacred relation. And as a resident of Maa’iigan’s homeland, I feel an obligation to speak up among the humans when the wolf’s future is at stake. Yes, because they are a apex predator who helps hold the ecosystem in balance, but also because they are the sacred brother/sister to the Anishinaabe who still call this place home, and wolves and coyotes and other predators are just mega-cool…
PE: How can we build bridges between Indigenous resistance and movements for animal liberation?
By first, not being so fucking judgmental of people who eat animals. Long before there was an animal rights movement, there were indigenous peoples defending the earth and her animals with their lives. And they still are! Just because they eat meat doesn’t make them the enemy. Until we learn tolerance we will continue to be disenfranchised. It doesn’t mean WE have to be like them, but there’s such beauty in diverse worldviews that all hold nature and animals on the same level as us. It is the oppositions worst nightmare for us all to be unified against their policies that destroy the same world we all love.
PE: How does being a parent change things now for you?
I heard this story where a young warrior wants to be at the front of the war party, in the thick of any fighting, but when you’re a little older, you let the younger warriors lead the battle, and then when you’re a little older, you’re fine being in the rear guard and when you’re a little older than that, maybe you’re crouching behind a tree or rock watching to see how things are going before jumping into the fray… I think it’s like that for me. I’ve been in enough battles, I’m not an adrenalin junkie doing this for the thrill. I’m a middle-aged man with kids dammit, and I have to take care of them to be a warrior, that’s why indigenous resistance exists, to protect our families and communities. It’s always been about protecting the vulnerable, the young and elderly, it’s the same way in our struggle.
We are trying to protect people and the environment for the good of all, so that we may simply maintain our right to exist. Being a parent has given me a deeper understanding of the need for a long-term sustainable strategy for fighting and living. I also know that those I might come into conflict with are also trying to do the same thing, eke out a living and protect their families. So that means not being so adversarial, and being less willing to fight, and more willing to try and work together first.
Having children has made me a better warrior, because I’ve realized when you’re willing to defend something with your very own life as many father’s are prone to feel, you understand the motivational power as it exists in nature where many creatures are driven by the same strength of love. Because that’s what it’s about for us, about defending what we love. And if we can’t experience that raw passion and love for something close to us, then we’re dead already. I’m not ready to give that up. It’s also why no struggle can be real unless its inclusive of people raising children. People with dominating, destructive worldviews have been breeding like crazy, we need some kids to be raised in the new old ways…
PE: You spent a lot of time in prison, and on probation over the years. Can you talk from your experiences about what is effective prisoner support, both when people are in prison and when they get out? Is there any advice you would give to people who might be looking at doing time?
First, advice to people looking at doing time. Don’t have children. Going to prison doesn’t just effect you, it effects those who love you, so be prepared to put them through incredible trauma and suffering too. Don’t think you can maintain relationships while you are in prison. The best you are doing is sharing your traumatic experience. There is nothing good about going to prison. It should be avoided at all costs.
Once you are in the system, your purpose is no longer the survival of your family and community, its about your own survival. That’s what I experienced and that’s why I’m grateful to be able to be organizing again and am very conscious to not step over that line into anything even remotely illegal. It’s simply not worth it. We have to constantly be doing a cost/benefit analysis of our modes of resistance and weigh whether its a sustainable strategy or not. If our tactics result in our bravest warriors being imprisoned for years, then its time to rethink. It doesn’t mean we condemn our past tactics or strategies, it just means we evolve to our changing environment. Like coyotes or wolves.
PE: There has been a dramatic rise in ALF actions over the last year, bands like Los Crudos and Earth Crisis are touring again, and now Rod Coronado is back on tour encouraging activists to get active; kinda feels like the 90s again. How do you figure the current state of radical movements compares to past decades?
I don’t think it’s a resurgence, it’s the survival of our struggles. Some of us might have gone to prison, but the need for organizing never went away, and thankfully brave people are following a very dark time for the radical environmental and animal rights movements and pushing forward. I don’t think we can compare this to past decades because twenty years ago 9/11 hadn’t happened and we weren’t labeled as terrorists. We have to evolve and recognize that there are strong forces out there that want to treat us like criminals rather than the harbingers of social change. So in that way, I can’t say what the state of radical movements is like because I don’t consider myself radical anymore, nor am I up on their progress. I hear about infighting, the debates on issues that distract us from being a broader more public movement that focuses on solidarity building issues with people we too often call the enemy. I’m just trying to share with the new generations of activists out there what I’ve learned and help them realize the cost-benefit analysis of doing actions that won’t lead you to prison. There’s a time and place for everything, but right now its time in the US to reclaim the public process in regards to wildlife issues and do something completely different. In a way, organizing in these old fashioned traditional ways can be very radical because its a strategy that has been left to very conservative people.
PE: Can you talk a little about your history with wildlife defense and hunt sab?
My first hunt sabotage actions were in England targeting foxhunts and badger baiting back in 1985. In 1987 we started a hunt saboteurs group in California to interfere with trophy desert bighorn hunts. A lot of my ALF actions were on behalf of predators, the most prominent being our actions against the fur farm industry and our Don Quixote-esque raid on the USDA’s Predator Research Facility in 1992. We destroyed the laboratory, but they just rebuilt it bigger, but at least a few coyotes got away that night.
I returned to opposing trophy hunting in 2002, going into the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona to interfere with desert bighorn sheep hunts. We spent winter weekends searching out a handful of trophy hunters across a huge desert mountain landscape. The bighorn sheep hunt sabs were the perfect balance of effectiveness and experiential bliss, because the desert is beautiful in winter time.16 mile hikes looking for hunters, seeing the sheep themselves, and other wildlife, you are literally seeing what your fighting for. We also began going to wildlife agency meetings, giving testimony on hunts we were opposed to and documenting illegal hunting in the field.
It culminated in 2004, with the very public hunt interference against attempts to remove mountain lions from the Sabino Canyon National Recreational in the Coronado National Forest outside of Tucson, Arizona where I lived. Public opposition to the hunt was overwhelming, and the whole city knew the only thing standing in the way of the state and federal lion hunters was us Earth First!ers. We spread false scent trails with mountain lion urine, and I was chased down with a helicopter after we sprung a lion snare. I was sentenced to 8 months in federal prison for that one.
The most effective campaign we did was against the hunting of sandhill cranes which winter in southern Arizona. We would lay in cornfields between hunters in blinds and incoming cranes who upon seeing us waving our arms or reflective mylar would veer away from the hunter’s. The best part about it is that never once did we get caught. When we did interact with hunters, it was as fellow hunters as I always have the appropriate tags and licenses. We also documented the hunt, including cranes attempting to aid their wounded relations. We also solicited public comment on the hunt at birding events and repeatedly testified against the hunt on ecological grounds that it wasn’t sustainable or necessary. Once again, it was amazing just to be in the fields watching thousands of cranes flying overhead.
I had wanted to continue the campaigns against trophy hunts in Arizona, but then I was overtaken with my legal defense on not just the lion hunt front, but for a lecture I gave defending arson the same day an ELF fire caused a $60 million fire in San Diego. So that’s why now I’m jumping on board to help wolves now, because I think the same strategy can work, to participate in the process of changing policy by attending public meetings and calling on these agencies to reform to reflect the interests of citizens who appreciate wildlife as a working component of the environment, not only as some kind of resource.
Upcoming tour dates:
Friday March 14th at the Kalamazoo PeaceCenter
Thursday March 20th Oakland CA. 7PM at The Holdout: 2313 San Pablo Avenue, near 23rd ST.
Friday March 21st San Francisco CA. 7pm at The Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics: 518 Valencia Street, near 16th Street BART.
Saturday March 22nd Animal Liberation Forum (Long Beach CA)
Sunday March 23rd Animal Advocacy Museum in Pasadena CA.
Thursday March 27th Humbolt State University.comments powered by Disqus