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Direct Action: Tre Arrow Arrested

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Issue: 17 Section: Environment Geography: Canada, USA Topics: police, social movements, terrorism

April 6, 2004

Direct Action: Tre Arrow Arrested

FBI labels prominent anti-logging activist as "eco-terrorist"

by Dru Oja Jay

Tre Arrow on a ledge at the US Forest Service building in Portland, Oregon. Arrow's eleven day stay on the ledge is credited as the turning point in a battle for the preservation of Eagle Creek. photo: ONRC
On March 10th, a man calling himself Joshua Murray was arrested for shoplifting in a Victoria Canadian Tire outlet. According to police, fingerprints identified him as Tre Arrow, an Oregon environmental activist listed on the FBI's most wanted list with a reward of $25 000 for information leading to his arrest. FBI spokespeople and news headlines have labelled Arrow an "eco-terrorist", but many have taken issue with this label, describing him as a principled and inspiring activist.

Arrow, who is referred to by the FBI and many media outlets as Michael Scarpitti-his name before it was legally changed-was wanted for his alleged involvement in an arson that resulted in the destruction of two logging trucks in June of 2001, and an April arson that damaged three cement trucks.

According to Portland Attorney Stu Sugarman, who has been in contact with Arrow, he disappeared approximately two months before charges were laid associating him with the burning of logging trucks. He lived for the following two years in Canada under the name Joshua Murray and continued his activist work. Writing on Indymedia sites and in conversation, acquaintances describe his love of nature and unwavering commitment to the protection of the environment. One acquaintance recalled an incident when Arrow suffered a head injury, but refused to allow his friends to call a cab, preferring to walk several blocks to the hospital.

By most accounts, Tre Arrow is best known for "turning around the campaign to save Eagle Creek" in Oregon. To prevent the logging of this wilderness area, Arrow camped on the seven-inch ledge of the US Forest Service Building in downtown Portland for eleven days with a megaphone. The Forest Service eventually backed down and Eagle Creek was spared. Arrow has also taken part in several tree sits in old growth forests and ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in 2000, where he received over 15 000 votes.

While Arrow's ultimate innocence or guilt will be decided by a jury in the distant future, the battle over the symbolism of his capture is already pitched. FBI missives, "Wanted" posters, and headlines from the Associated Press, Reuters, MSNBC, and numerous other outlets have painted him as an "eco-terrorist". Groups such as Stop Eco-Violence and Property Rights Foundation of America have cited his arrest as a decisive blow in the fight against domestic terrorism.

Not surprisingly, Arrow disagrees. "My involvement in peaceful, non-violent activism is well documented. Any attempt to label or brand me as the 'T' word is only an effort to discredit my reputation and detract from the effective campaigns I've been involved with."

Arrow is not the only one taking issue with the use of the word terrorism. In trying three other suspects charged with participating in the same arsons as Arrow, U.S. District Court Judge James A. Redden has ordered lawyers and prosecutors not to use the word "terrorism" or "terrorist". Redden said that the defendants were charged with arson, not terrorism, and warned, "the use of that term may [result in] the imposition of sanctions."

The FBI has continued to use the term "eco-terrorist" to describe Tre Arrow, leading some critics to claim that "terrorism" is a political construction used in the court of public opinion, rather than a legal term used in front of a jury.

FBI materials state that Tre Arrow has "been known to be affiliated with" the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), which the FBI considers the number one domestic terrorist organization in the United States. The ELF consists of a number of small cells operating individually, under a set of three general principles. These include educating the public about the "atrocities committed against the earth," taking "all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human" and "inflicting economic damage" on those who profit from environmental destruction or exploitation.

"Is it a greater evil to destroy the property of this corporation or to choose to allow these corporations to continue to destroy the environment? What the activists are saying is that it's a lesser evil to stop these corporations from destroying the planet," explains ELF spokesperson Craig Rosenbaum.

The FBI operates by the US Code of Federal Regulations, which defines domestic terrorism as "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." Depending on the definition of "force", a street protest, graffiti, or sit-ins might also be considered terrorism. The FBI maintains that the definition-and its application-are straightforward.

Many environmental activists claim that Arrow is being framed as a "terrorist" because of his success as a political activist, not because of evidence of his involvement in the arsons. By most accounts, proof of Arrow's involvement rests on the testimony of Jake Sherman, a man who admitted to the arsons and agreed to testify against Arrow in order to receive a reduced sentence of three years. Arrow could face life in prison if convicted.

Tre Arrow has been on hunger strike since his arrest and as of this writing, he is in solitary confinement in a Victoria, BC prison. His extradition is being contested.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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