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Some people think I'm the devil incarnate," says Dave Foreman, a 44-year-old environmentalist who will go on trial in Prescott, Ariz., on June 10 on four charges, the most serious of which is conspiring to sabotage three nuclear facilities. "And it's true that I'm no saint."
Among the people and organizations he is talking about are a few you might think would be staunch supporters of Foreman, a founder of the radical environmental group Earth First!:
•Jay Hair, president of the National Wildlife Federation, who has called Foreman a "terrorist."
•Peter Berle, president of the National Audubon Society, who says that Foreman "sees value in violent activity."
•Outside magazine, which referred to Foreman as "arguably the most dangerous environmentalist in America."
There's no doubt that Earth First! has a reputation, deserved or not, for violence, but can the smiling, articulate man now sitting in a hotel coffee shop in Tucson really be dangerous? Foreman answers the question with another question: "If killing somebody would be the last course of action I had to take regarding the wilderness, would I take it? I don't know." He stares into his iced tea and then says: "A human life has no more intrinsic value than an individual grizzly bear life. If it came down to a confrontation between a grizzly and a friend, I'm not sure whose side I would be on. But I do know humans are a disease, a cancer on nature. And I also know I am far more interested in the plight of the spotted owl than I am in a logger in Oregon. I have a problem with glorifying the downtrodden worker."
Clearly, Foreman can be very callous when it comes to his fellow human beings. In his book Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, published this year, he wrote: "Human suffering resulting from drought and famine in Ethiopia is tragic, yes, but the destruction there of other creatures and habitat is even more tragic."
Earth First! is probably most notorious for the practice of "spiking," or putting large spikes in trees in an effort to slow logging. The spikes can snap the toothed chains of the power saws used by loggers and can explode the saw blades used in lumber mills. The procedure is described in Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching, a 1985 how-to manual coedited by Foreman. (Monkeywrenching is a term for environmental sabotage and harassment.) "I learned about spiking from loggers in Montana in the early 1980s," says Foreman, who contends that the procedure is no threat to human life. But Mike Roselle of Washington, D.C., another cofounder of Earth First!, who had a falling-out with Foreman and now works for the less radical environmental group Greenpeace, says bluntly, "Tree-spiking does endanger life." Flying shrapnel from a power saw hitting a spike could conceivably injure, or even kill, a logger or sawmill worker.
The strong words and deeds of Foreman and Earth First! attracted the attention of the U.S. government, which in 1989 arrested Foreman and four other Earth Firsters, all living in or near Prescott—Ilse Asplund, 37, a community health educator; Marc Baker, 39, a botanist; Mark Davis, 40, a cabinetmaker; and Peg Millett, 37, a singer. They are charged, in various combinations, with one count of conspiracy, three counts of malicious destruction of property, two counts of destruction of property of an energy facility, and one count of depredation of government property. If convicted on all counts, Foreman and his codefendants, all of whom have denied the government's charges, could receive sentences of up to 10 years.
In regard to the nuclear plants, the defendants are accused of conspiring to sabotage the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, 40 miles west of Phoenix; the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Generating Facility, near San Luis Obispo, Calif.; and the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility near Boulder, Colo. At the time of the arrests, Roger Dokken, then the assistant U.S. attorney assigned to prosecute the case, reportedly called Foreman, who is named in six of the seven counts, "the worst of the group." In one court document, the government claims that Owen Shackleton Jr., a senior investigator with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told an FBI agent that if the defendants had been successful in cutting down the power lines to the plants, as the government alleges they intended to do, "and the backup system failed, there is a possibility that a meltdown could occur."