June 05, 2006

She is NOT a terrorist

by Sam Howe Verhovek
Chelsea Dawn Gerlach is a "naturally peaceful person" who would "never, ever resort to violence," says her sister, Shasta Kearns Moore.

Gerlach, a onetime radio disc jockey, loves animals, dance and music, and has a particular passion for forests, say friends, who add that her connection to trees - green, living, growing trees - is almost mystical.

But federal authorities offer a strikingly different view of the 29-year-old Gerlach, who sits in jail here, denied bail, facing charges that could put her in prison for the rest of her life.

She is a terrorist, they say. As U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales puts it: "We will not tolerate any group that terrorizes the American people, no matter its intentions or objectives."

Gerlach and more than a dozen others have been arrested in recent months in what federal law enforcement officials say is by far the biggest crackdown they have ever launched on radical environmental protesters.
The pressure has affected some tragically: One suspect in Arizona killed himself in his jail cell. Two others in custody have been placed on suicide watch.

Some defendants say they will fight the charges to the end, but several others have indicated they will cooperate with authorities.

One of them is Lauren Weiner, 20, who was raised in affluent Westchester County, N.Y., but eventually hopped trains to the West and met a group of people who called themselves "environmental defenders," according to court documents.

Weiner pleaded guilty last week to charges of criminal conspiracy in an alleged plot to firebomb a U.S. Forest Service genetics lab, a fish hatchery, the Nimbus Dam and other government facilities near Sacramento. She is expected to testify against two collaborators, with whom she lived, in return for a reduced sentence.


Like Gerlach, many of those charged were in their early 20s at the time of the attacks. E-mails and other writings suggest they were swept up in a fervor of rage against modern sprawl, gasoline-guzzling vehicles, the killing of animals and even the genetic manipulation of plants.

Few in the mainstream environmental community offer any defense for the crimes themselves, but many take umbrage at the "terrorism" label used by federal officials. They say those who perpetrated the crimes appeared to take careful steps to make sure no one was killed or injured in the incidents.

"While I'm no fan of animal testing or environmental sprawl or what have you, that's no excuse for destroying property in the name of protecting the environment," said Chip Giller, president of Grist, a popular Web site for environmental news.

"On the other hand," Giller said, "categorizing these vandals as one of the country's most serious domestic terrorism threats - that's ridiculous. It just gives these folks the attention they seek."


Post a Comment

<< Home