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The government has poured a substantial sum of money—Foreman says at least $2 million, the government won't say how much—and effort into prosecuting the case. Through tape recordings made by undercover FBI agent Michael Fain, who infiltrated Earth First! in March 1988 and remained in touch with its members for more than a year, and through wiretaps, the prosecution has amassed 806 hours of conversation. One of the seven defense attorneys involved in the case, Michael Black of Phoenix, says that between Feb. 13 and June 2,1989, the government wiretapped 1,356 phone calls to and from the home phone of defendant Davis.
One sign of the importance and high visibility of this case is that Foreman's attorneys are Gerry Spence of Jackson, Wyo., a personal injury and criminal defense specialist, who claims never to have lost a case and who lists Imelda Marcos and the family of Karen Silkwood among his clients; and Houston attorney Sam Guiberson, one of the nation's leading experts in cases involving taped evidence. Both lawyers are providing their services free of charge. Guiberson says he has devoted 70% of his time over the past year to the case, and he normally gets $2,000 a day from clients. "I thought Dave Foreman deserved my help," he says.
With such high-priced legal talent on hand, it's obvious that the question being asked in the Prescott court is more than whether or not Foreman and his fellow defendants are guilty as charged. The larger issue is: Where should the government draw the line on civil disobedience? Among other things, the trial will examine the methods of protest used by radical groups such as Earth First!, whose slogan is "No compromise in defense of Mother Earth." When it comes to saving the environment, does a laudable end justify questionable means?
There is a long and largely honorable list of American activists, including Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King Jr., who have resorted to civil disobedience. But when does civil disobedience cross the line and become a threat to public safety? Specifically in this case, when does one stop being an ardent environmental activist and become an ecoterrorist? It's one thing to block the path of a logging truck with your body; it's quite another to sabotage a nuclear facility.
Ever since its founding in 1980—by Foreman, Roselle and three other men-Earth First! has been on the radical fringe of the environmental movement. Still, Foreman insists, "We were not violent. We were confrontational. There's a difference." Pressed to detail that difference, he concedes that "it's a fine line, and I might be making a semantic argument." Though Foreman has now publicly broken with Earth First!, he still espouses direct action when the ecology is threatened. At a speech on this past Earth Day at the University of Pennsylvania—Foreman's main source of income is public speaking—he mentioned the necessity for doing "midnight maintenance on a bulldozer," i.e., sabotage.
Foreman is not an easy man to understand. He is a chameleon. He can be charming. He can be persuasive. He can be passionate. He can be eloquent, as he was in his speech at Penn, where he called for the return of the Mexican wolf to Arizona and talked of the animal's "howl of defiance, a contempt for adversity. But it's also a howl of joy, a signal there's a party going on."
But, as Roselle says of Foreman, "he is slippery." After his indictment, Foreman split with Earth First!, claiming that "the group now is attracting the wrong kind of people. They are just opposed to authority. They don't have any background in what we do nor any love of the wilderness." Recently, he has even disavowed tree-spiking. "He encouraged this uprising and now is disassociating himself from it," says Roselle. "It doesn't make any sense."
As part of his head-spinning turnabout, Foreman says that he now wants to work with mainstream environmental groups, to help make them more visionary. This from a man who, while protesting the construction of a logging road in Oregon in 1983, stood his ground in front of a truck carrying five bulldozer operators and for his trouble was knocked down by the truck and dragged under it. "I'm just a middle-class guy," he says. "I wear a suit on TV."
Foreman was born in Albuquerque and traveled around the world as a youngster because his late father, Benjamin, was an Air Force sergeant. As a teenager he campaigned for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election and still loves the former Arizona senator's famous statement, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." While attending San Antonio junior college, Foreman formed a chapter of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom. He went on to the University of New Mexico, where he majored in history and, as chairman of the Students for Victory in Vietnam, was one of the campus leaders asked to name their heroes. Says Foreman, "To my undying embarrassment, I put down J. Edgar Hoover." Upon graduation in 1968, he went to the Marine Corps officer candidate school in Quantico, Va. He was in the Corps 61 days, 31 of which were spent in the brig for insubordination and going AWOL. "I think I had a nervous breakdown," says Foreman. He received an undesirable discharge.
In the years that followed, Foreman worked as a school teacher on a Zuni Indian reservation in New Mexico and as a horseshoer in northern New Mexico. Then for eight years, starting in 1973, he worked for The Wilderness Society, a mainstream environmental group, first as the society's Southwest representative, then as its lobbying coordinator.