Three years ago, even as the most visible protestor in Portland, Craig Rosebraugh had trouble getting much attention for his anti-capitalist and animal-rights causes (see "Saving the World One Cat at a Time," WW, Dec. 3, 1997). Even people sympathetic to his impulses found this noisome punk too abrasive to deal with and too much an individualist in a movement of group cohesion.
Soon after, though, he emerged as the spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front, an anonymous alliance of burn-by-night saboteurs (or, depending on your socio-political lens, righteous monkey-wrenchers).
Rosebraugh's affiliation with the radical environmental group has brought unprecedented attention. Between 1996 and 1999, his name popped up in only four Oregonian articles. In the past 12 months, though, he's been mentioned in a dozen of the daily paper's stories, including its series on "eco-terrorists." And as a result of at least 10 recent ELF actions on Long Island, N.Y., the national press has discovered the shaved-headed spokesman. In the past three weeks, everyone from National Public Radio and the New York Times to 60 Minutes (with 20/20 in the near future) has featured Rosebraugh as the face of new-jack discontent in America.
It's not just the press that's noticed. Rosebraugh has been a consistent target of federal law-enforcement agencies. His every move and communication has been monitored. The U.S. Attorney's Office has repeatedly hauled him before grand juries investigating ELF-claimed actions in the western states, which have been directed principally at timber companies and, most prominently, at a lodge at the Vail, Colo., ski area in October 1998. Despite an FBI raid on his apartment last February seeking ELF-related evidence, no indictment has been returned against Rosebraugh.
Fame, however, has not brought fortune. Rosebraugh makes a living running his own vegan baking company, Calendula, and making sandwiches and muffins sold at Nature's Northwest and People's Food Co-op, among other stores.
In the wake of the East Coast actions, WW staff writer Philip Dawdy recently sat down with Rosebraugh.
WW: You said things are busy. What are you busy with right now?
Craig Rosebraugh: Mainly doing the media work for Earth Liberation Front actions that have gone on in the last few months in Long Island, here in Oregon and in Colorado. We've probably been in 75 colleges and media outlets around the world in the past week.
Colorado? What was going on in Colorado?
In mid to late November, a luxury home being built was burned to the ground in a suburb of Boulder, and [credit] was claimed by the ELF.
What's wrong with luxury homes?
What's wrong with luxury homes!?
Yeah. What's wrong with luxury homes? Why burn them down?
There are many answers to that question, many of which I've been speaking to for the last week. I may sound like a tape recorder.
Then give me your pat, standard answer.
Well, number 1, there is no reason in my mind that it is all right for someone to have a few-hundred-thousand-dollar up until a multimillion-dollar home when there are people living in their same city who can't afford proper shelter, who can't afford proper nourishment or proper health care. I think that is a major screw-up in society. Number 2, all of these new homes that have been targeted by the ELF have been threatening some natural or threatened land in those areas. The Colorado home was being built on very fragile natural environment that was previously undeveloped. In Long Island, they have had an overdevelopment problem for a long time.
What specific environmental degradation is going on in Long Island?
The last wild areas of the whole island are being destroyed. They are talking about putting in over 150 to 200 new luxury homes. Critics, both from the conservative environmental community and in the radical environmental community, feel that if that goes through, the last natural species, plant or animal, on Long Island are going to be completely gone.
Your frustration with this construction creates a simmering sense of outrage over how social orders should be: In essence, it's wrong that rich people build such goddamn big houses. Who makes you guys the agent of judgment?
Who makes the ELF the agents of judgment on that? What gives them the right?
My own personal belief is that the right is given by natural law. To me, natural laws are the different qualities that exist and allow life to exist on the planet, be it human, animal and/or plant.
Clean air, clean water, clean soil. If those in any way are being threatened, then [it affects] everyone on the planet. Not just white people, not just black people, not just animals, not just plants, but the entire ecosystem and all of life as a whole.
This sounds like a leftist interpretation of Christian thought.
I don't consider it leftist at all.
What do you consider it?
I consider it a proper belief.
Fair enough. But you haven't answered the question: Why burn it down? Why not just stage gigantic protests that will shame people into taking a hike?
People are becoming more and more outraged at watching the same old tired, exhausted, unsuccessful state-sanctioned means of protest that gets nowhere, not only with the environmental movement but the animal-rights movement and any other social-justice movement occurring in modern-day times.
What people? Who are they?
The Earth Liberation Front number one, the Animal Liberation Front number two. People engaged in property destruction and different sorts of direct action at protests like WTO and IMF. Take a clear evaluation of the popular environmental movement-the modern one has been going on for say 30 years in this country. What has it really accomplished? Are we better off now than we were then? Where are we as far as our clean air, our clean water, our clean soil? From my own personal beliefs, we are not winning the battle. We are losing.
Why is that?
I think it is because we have given in and coerced ourselves to believe in left-wing politics that say there are certain things you must do in order to have proper social change, you must follow certain guidelines with a right and a wrong...
Give me an example.
Following state-sanctioned means of protest...
Stay on the sidewalk?
Stay on the sidewalk. When you have a march, get a parade permit.
It almost sounds like from your language that the environment is almost becoming like the Vietnam War for the generation of the late-'60s and '70s.
In what way?
You are seeing radicals in opposition to the mainstream beliefs attached to that issue. There are those who would compare the actions of the ELF to the Weathermen, the SLA. Do you see any connection?
Indeed I do. As I stated before, the ELF is not absolutely an environmental organization. The main idea is not just environmentalism, but looking at what is causing environmental destruction on this planet and what is also causing exploitation and murder on what would have to be a natural sort of chain.
I have noticed over the years an increased emphasis in the ELF press releases on the dollar value of the economic damage. Why is that?
The whole reason these actions are going on is because people realize that certain entities are profiting off their greed. They are not going to listen to morals or ethics. If they did, they wouldn't be in that business anyway. They would realize, as I do, that we need certain qualities on this planet to survive, and you wouldn't do anything to threaten them. So if they aren't going to listen to morals and ethics, they will listen to the possibility of losing money, because they value wealth. It's pure economic ideology.
I want to come back to the point of the new generation of radicals. Can you point to any particular, single event that pushed people over the edge?
I don't think it's that simple. In just the last few years, you had a very large action against the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. A few years later, you had WTO and then the IMF, and then the protest over Prague.
Are you trying to save the Earth or human beings?
Both. We are trying to save all life and the planet, which provides all life.
What evidence do you have that this is working, that anybody gives a rat's ass?
There are what I consider three major goals of an ELF action. The first is to cause immediate economic damage to the entity at hand. Second is to reveal and educate the public as much as possible about the atrocities committed against the environment. The third is to take all necessary precautions against harming any human or animal.
Let me stop at that one. My understanding is some firefighters suffered smoke damage....
That is the claim by mainstream media. I have yet to hear an independent confirmation of that.
Let's assume for a minute that someone did actually get hurt and suffer smoke inhalation; is that an acceptable action?
Well, I personally don't like to see anyone get hurt for any reason. But I think the idea here is to keep in mind the murder, the destruction, the exploitation that goes on on a daily basis, committed by people who are out percolating greed and pure lust as far as wealth goes....
But the firefighter wasn't out for greed lust, or anything like that-let's face it, he was just doing his job. He is a cog in the wheel.
That is correct. But it depends on what you are doing with your work. I definitely have respect for firefighters, and I don't want to see people get injured. But I believe that a lot of times when buildings are empty, firefighters are told not to save the building if it is going to risk their life.
Does the ELF or anybody pay you for the work you do?
I have never been paid for the work I have done; it's subjective justice issues, so to speak.
Subjective justice issues.
What does that mean?
I consider it the work of promoting justice on a planetary basis.
The New York Times called you a publicist.
I am that too.
What do you think of the reporting of the Long Island fire? Did the media get the message out on what the ELF is all about?
It did. And there is the second guideline of the ELF: to try and reveal and educate the atrocities committed against the environment.
So, even though the media equated the ELF with terrorists, it was a success?
The majority of the news stories, if not all the news stories, are going to be somewhat negative against the ELF. I know that. I don't think the mainstream media can represent them in a non-biased fashion. They have to use that term "terrorism" because there are different societal enforcements in place. But if there is any sort of information that comes out about the incident or the issue that the ELF was targeting, I consider that a success.
Are you a member of the ELF?
But how can you speak for the ELF and not be a member, when you are clearly a fellow traveler?
The ELF is again anonymous, not only to me, but also to themselves and different selves. I am not anonymous; I am a spokesperson who has been chosen by whoever these anonymous people are, claiming responsibility for actions that have already occurred. I release that information to the public and then I go on to talk about the ideology of the organization as I have interpreted it from communications that have come down for the last three to four years.
Why should anybody believe that you don't have connection with these people? How is that provably true?
Prove that it is not true. I am supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, am I not?
But the presumption is that because you have been the subject of FBI, ATF and Forest Service investigations, there is something up with Craig Rosebraugh.
The only thing up is that different law-enforcement agencies have no other suspects, no other leads to go on as far as catching those individuals involved in ELF activity. So they go after the only public face or faces they can identify.
How did you receive your most recent communication? Email? Fax?
I never disclose the type of communications or how I receive them. And I don't plan to.
Do you have a new fax machine since the feds took your stuff?
I had some really old equipment donated to me from an anonymous source on the East Coast.
Do you even use the Internet anymore?
I have personal email; I do research on it.
You know you are being watched.
Indeed I do.
Do you enjoy your celebrity at all?
I don't hate it. If it really bothered me and if it came to a point that it was destroying me, then I might choose to step back and help find other folks to help with the media work. But I wouldn't say I enjoy it. It is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I can't imagine doing something that would be more difficult.
What is so hard about it? You get information from the ether and you do press releases. Reporters call you and you say, 'Here is the ideology, here is the action, here is the dollar damage. Thank you. Good bye.'
There is a lot behind the scenes on a psychological basis that is very difficult. You are talking about years of FBI, ATF, government harassment that has been growing to the point that I wake up early in the morning thinking the door of my home has been broken down. So I put on my clothes early in the morning so I will be ready when the door gets broken down. The psychological games they play put that extra pressure on you. I have been repeatedly targeted recently by the FBI and...
Well, after a week of trying to find me through different means, they gave me a subpeona to testify against another individual in a criminal contempt trial. For a week straight, they were outside my house knocking on the door, at all hours of the day, sitting in my driveway for hours at a time. I would leave my house and be followed in my vehicle. And beyond that, I get threatened all the time from people all over the country, via email and the telephone.
Have you turned these threats over to the authorities?
Who would I turn it over to? I don't trust the police, why would I trust the FBI?
Why do I see you at so few protests? You are only at the animal ones now, and rarely even at those.
For a variety of reasons. My health is not what it should be due to stress and anxiety. That is part of it. Another is that I'm becoming more and more of a disbeliever in the same state-sanctioned means of protest that I talked about earlier and trying to prioritize my time in a way that I feel is most effective. The work I have been doing revolves around the press office and publicizing the work of underground groups who do direct action.
There are people in the radical community who don't like you.
A lot of people don't like me.
What do you make of that?
I think they should evaluate why they don't like me. If it is for a personal reason, that's fine. I have no problem with that. If it is for an ideological reason or strategic reason or they don't like the tactics I advocate, then I think perhaps they should rethink why they don't like it and do some more self-education on past historical social movements and the role that direct action played in those.
Are you an anarchist?
I don't label myself in any way. Usually that is left up to the mainstream media to do.
OK. Here's your chance. What are you?
I am Craig.