Earth First!

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Earth First! is a radical environmental defense movement, pioneered in the early 1980s by Arizona desert activists Dave Foreman, Mike Roselle and others. Earth First! advocates direct action to prevent logging, dam building, and other forms of development which may cause destruction of wildlife habitats or the despoilation of wild places.

Earth First!ers believe in "Deep Ecology," a philosophy put forward by Arne Naess, Bill Devall, and George Sessions, which holds that all forms of life on Earth have equal value in and of themselves, without regard for their utility to human beings. Earth First!ers use this philosophy to justify an a ecocentric view of the world in which intrisic values for organisms and ecosystems outweigh their resource values. The motto of Earth First! is "No compromise in defense of Mother Earth!"

Action within the Earth First! movement is also informed by anarchist political philosophy. Rotation of the primary media organ among publishers in differing bioregions, an aversion of organized leadership or administrative structure, and the use of rhetoric by so-called members identifying Earth First! as a movement rather than an organization, all of these activities characterize a decentralized, locally-informed activism based on communitarian ethics.

In the field, individual citizens and small groups form the nuclei for grassroots political actions, which may take the form of legal actions--i.e. protests, timber sale appeals, and education campaigns--or civil disobedience--tree sitting, road blockades, and sabotage - called "ecotage" by some advocates when it is done as a form of ecodefense.

A very popular combination of tactics is road blockades, activists locking themselves to heavy equipment to immobilize it, tree-sitting to prevent logging, and sometimes sabotage of machinery.

Although Earth First! was at first known for the practice of tree-spiking and monkey-wrenching, in 1990 Judi Bari led Earth First! in the Northern California and Southern Oregon region to renounce these practices, calling them counterproductive to an effort to form a coalition with workers and small logging businesses to defeat large-scale corporate logging in Northern California.

In 1990 a bomb was placed in Judi Bari's car, crippling her, and leading to false charges by police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation that she was responsible for the bomb. Bari died in 1997, but her federal lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland California police resulted in a 2002 jury verdict exonerating her and awarding her estate to fellow Earth First!er Darryl Cherney, a total of $4.4 million. Eighty percent of the damages were awarded for violation of the two Earth First! leaders' First Amendment rights to organize politically in defense of the environment. Juror Mary Nunn told reporters the jury unanimously agreed with Bari's and Cherney's claims that the FBI and Oakland Police attempted to frame the pair and falsely smeared them in the media as a way to neutralize them and Earth First! by making the public believe they were terrorists who used bombs. Earth First! has never advocated the use of bombs or explosives in any way, due to the risk of harming living things.

It is not, in part for this reason, considered a true terrorist group.

See also: environmental movement, Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang, tree sitting.


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