March 03, 2006

ELF spokesman talking 'direct action' strategy

By Diane Dietz, The Register-Guard
Published: Thursday, March 2, 2006
A man who promotes the overthrow of the U.S. government and hints that murder may - in future times - be a legitimate tactic, is talking strategy at a workshop on "direct action" at the University of Oregon on Sunday.

Speaker Craig Rosebraugh served four years as the lone public face of the radical environmental group the Earth Liberation Front, commonly called ELF.

The nebulous group of individual activists has connections to some of the 11 men and women now under indictment in U.S. District Court in Eugene for participating in $11 million worth of politically motivated arson.

Rosebraugh said he has been subpoenaed to testify March 16 before a federal grand jury in Eugene in relation to the group's clandestine activities.

Rosebraugh, a Portland resident who has been featured in news reports globally as the ELF spokesman, said his stance toward politically motivated killing is constantly misrepresented by journalists.

"What will appear in print or on television is me saying, `It's OK to kill people.' They take it completely out of context. It's a little bit unnerving to me," he said.

"I can envision a definite time when all different kinds of actions would be used. I don't go out and advocate for murder of politicians. I've always acted nonviolently," he said.

"But I can envision a time when I would be pushed in a corner, and I can envision a time it would be legitimate to take up arms and fight back by any means necessary. When the lives of yourself, your loved ones, your family, your people, your nation become threatened to the point where you either stand up and fight or face annihilation, that's what you do."

The workshop titled "Direct Action: A Dialogue on Politics and Strategy" is one of 120 workshops - most of them not so controversial - at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference today through Sunday at the UO law school. The event is open to the public.

The definition of "direct action" is hard to pin down. Activists use it to refer to anything from a legal, nonviolent protest on a sunny morning all the way up to burning down a ski lodge in the dead of night.

"It never was very clear what the intent was behind the term and its use in a particular situation," said Eugene Police Capt. Chuck Tilby, who has published an article on the phenomenon in the scholarly journal Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. "There's very little institutionalized meaning in a lot of terms like that."

It's like the term "violence," Rosebraugh said in a separate interview. The common meaning is harm to a person, but police and judges use it to describe vandalism and other property destruction.

"It's very difficult to exist and act in times like these where we have loaded terms with a variety of definitions that can be manipulated by the user for whatever means they intend to," Rosebraugh said.

The self-described revolutionary said he uses "direct action" to mean everything from voting to violence as long as the actor knows that the result will prevent or stop an unjust action from occurring. The meaning is less about the level of safety or harm than about effectiveness, he said.

Rosebraugh's speech will cover: "How to really decipher what is effective and what is not. How to decipher when direct action is needed and when it's not," he said.

Other members of Saturday's panel are likely to have alternative definitions of direct action. They include Stu Sugarman of the National Lawyers Guild, Kim Marks of Cascadia and Elaine Close of the Coalition Against Animal Testing.

Allies in the movement of animal activists, environmental activists and social anarchists hold a wide spectrum of views on the role of violence, Tilby said. The nuances are myriad and complex.

"The questions of whether, when, and to what extent violence is a legitimate tactic, however, are - and historically have been - a matter for substantial debate within the anarchist community," Tilby wrote in the paper he wrote with co-author Randy Borum, associate professor at the University of South Florida. And later: "It would be easy, but inaccurate, to portray anarchists in a monolithic way."

In any case, anarchists and other activists like to philosophize on the nature of revolution. "It should be free and supported to discuss what it will really take to change things within this country," Rosebraugh said.

And that's tough on law enforcement officers attempting to join them undercover, Tilby and his co-author wrote. Infiltration is difficult because of the anarchists' extensive knowledge, which requires a considerable amount of study and time to acquire, Tilby and Borum wrote.


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