“It’s the middle of the night and the wind is up. ‘Ready?’ asks one. Yes, they all agree. So members of the darkly clad group take a deep breath, hoist the ladder in place and begin scaling the enormous highway billboard they have chosen to work on.”
I wrote that lead for a story published in the Scene section of The Sacramento Bee way back in 1984. (Yeah, I was an occasional freelance writer over there during the days before SN&R came into existence.)
The story—titled “Billboard Guerrillas”—had me traipsing around after a crew of locals who dressed in black and went out in the middle of the night with paintbrushes and flour paste to engage in minor acts of eco-sabotage. I took notes in the dark as the gang surreptitiously pasted over a casino billboard on Interstate 80 with a new message. “Buy war bonds,” the billboard read by the next morning. “Help support the U.S. invasion of Nicaragua.”
I’d read Edward Abbey’s 1975 novel The Monkey Wrench Gang like everybody else, but I didn’t know back then the level to which ecotage, as it’s sometimes called, would become a growth industry in 21st-century America as the destruction of our natural environment continued apace.
(Another good example of ecotage was when, in 1987, Earth First!-ers fashioned a long, jagged, black crack and fastened it down the face of the O’Shaughnessy Dam at Hetch Hetchy next to a John Muir quote: “Free the Rivers!”)
Still, the poetry and power of such guerrilla acts of nonviolence seem to have gotten lost into nihilism lately, at least when it comes to groups like the Earth Liberation Front, which reportedly has committed 1,200 acts of arson and vandalism in the United States alone. In this week’s compelling cover story, “Conspiracy of dunces” by Cosmo Garvin, the arrest of three ELF members for conspiring to commit arson is considered in light of tapes that outline the aggressive role an FBI informant seemed to play in encouraging and enabling the three eco-radicals on behalf of Homeland Security.
Did the FBI go too far, especially given the seeming ineptitude of these three? Read and consider.