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Excerpt from The Culture of Make Believe

Logger Kills Redwood Activist (p. 498)

From chapter "Expanding the Frontier"

Redwoods cannot stand alone. Roots burrow through the soil, reaching out to each other, to intertwine, to hold up these tallest if trees, so they may stand together. If you listen carefully enough, you can hear them speak. They groan and creak, and whisper in the wind. Some squeal like kittens, or sing songs eerie as those of whales. The bark is soft and spongy, inviting touch. The trees themselves are huge, as big around as ten or twelve people stretching fingertip to fingertip, and far taller than any building should ever be. They sometimes create their own weather, with small clouds forming far below their crowns.

The big ones have been cut. There are pockets, still, of ancient trees, but once, not even that long ago, there was no such thing as old growth redwoods. There was merely home. No one could have conceived of something so absurd as cutting them all down. Once, the rivers were full of salmon. Once, humans lived here in dynamic equilibrium with their surroundings. No longer.

I live in redwood country. As I write these words – in this moment – sheriffs, fish and game officers (whose job, ostensibly, is to protect wildlife, but whose real job is to protect, you guessed it, industrial production), and employees of the Pacific Lumber Company (goons is the technical term) are chasing people through the trees (mainly old growth douglas fir) a couple of hundred miles south of here, on the Mattole River. The people being chased are attempting to prevent these trees from being cut. The cuts violate environmental laws, but that makes no difference to the sheriffs, fish and game officers, and goons. The only thing that matters is that the trees be cut, and that opposition to this activity be eradicated. Activists have been chased down cliffsides, they have been lied to, they have been sentenced to long jail terms. A couple of days ago, a nineteen-year-old activist was charged with eight felony counts of child endangerment and eight misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. His crime? With parental permission, he brought a bunch of seventeen-year-old volunteers up from the Bay Area to participate in defending the forest. The Humboldt County sheriff alleged the kids faced “potential bodily harm” in the forest.

For once, the sheriff is right. Loggers threatened to burn alive at least one of the teenagers, who had climbed a tree. Police assaulted others of them with pepper spray. No charges were filed against loggers, police, or the corporation they work for. Of course. The mother of one of the teenagers said, “Any danger he was in was from the loggers, the police department and the Fish and Game Department. I think they came home more courageous, angry at what’s going on in the world.”

A couple of years ago an activist by the name of David Chain was killed by a logger. The logger, working for Pacific Lumber, felled a tree on the protesting Chain.

The logger was videotaped just an hour before, hurling curses and threats at the protesters: “Get the fuck out of here! You’ve got me hot enough now to fuck…Get outta here! Otherwise I’ll fuckin’, I’ll make sure I got a tree comin’ this way…Ohhhhh, fuck! I wish I had my fuckin’ pistol! I guess I’m gonna just start packin’ that motherfucker in here. ‘Cause I can only be nice so fuckin’ long. Go get my saw, I’m gonna start fallin’ into this fuckin’ draw!” He soon began revving up his saw, shouting, “Fuck! Yee-Hoo!”

I later spoke to a friend whose ex-husband used to be a faller. She said, “Fallers can drop trees on a dime. If you can’t drop it precisely where you choose, you don’t last long in the woods. This sounds like murder.”

Of course, the media (including so-called National Public Radio), Pacific Lumber, and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department all went into high gear to present the murder as Chain’s fault, and to present the company as the real victim.

I first heard about the murder on public radio. I don’t normally listen, because I don’t like being lied to. But this time I happened to be listening, and the journalists did not disappoint: First, they announced, incorrectly, that Chain had been killed not by a tree the logger cut, but by another tree knocked over in a domino effect. Second, after a brief and moving statement by a tearful Earth First!er, the journalist asked three basic questions. They were: 1) Members of Earth First! Are aware that their activities are dangerous, aren’t they? And isn’t it true that this activist was engaged in an especially dangerous form of activism? 2) Of course the logger didn’t do this on purpose, did he? (Evidently, the statement “I’ll make sure I got a tree comin’ this way!” was not strong enough proof of intent, nor was his wish for a “fuckin’ pistol”) 3) In the aftermath of this death, how is Earth First! going to change its tactics so this won’t happen again?

I almost drove off the road.

The response by Pacific Lumber was equally predictable. John Campbell, president and CEO of Pacific Lumber, vehemently denied his loggers knew protesters were in the area. The predictability of this lie is the exact reason Earth First!ers brought the videotape recorder. Later, Pacific Lumber released a press statement which had as its primary purpose the same goal as the questioning by the journalist: to shift responsibility for the death onto the victim: “It is a tragedy that this young man lost his life,” Campbell said. “And this was a shattering experience for our work crews, who labored for more than three hours yesterday to free Mr. Chain’s body. Clearly, it is time for these groups to stop putting their members in harm’s way.”