The last of five Earth First! defendants accused of plotting to sever power lines into nuclear plants throughout the West were sentenced Thursday on their pleas to charges of vandalizing ski-lift supports.
Before she was sentenced to the maximum three-year prison term for a 1987 incident at an Arizona ski resort, singer/songwriter Margaret (Peg) Millett, 37, made her statement to U.S. District Judge Robert Broomfield in an a cappella song about nature versus money.
“We must fight them with our spirit, with our life and with our guile,” Millett sang. “We must show them that the answer is to stay forever wild.”
Co-defendant Mark Davis, 40, who will surrender Monday to begin a six-year prison term, cried as Millett’s strong voice resounded in the courtroom.
Two others were sentenced for failing to report the cutting of the ski-lift supports. Health educator Ilse Asplund, 37, got 30 days in jail and five years’ probation, and biologist Marc Baker, 39, will serve six months, minus time served, and five years’ probation. Both are to pay fines and perform community service.
Davis and Millett must pay about $20,000 restitution. The four friends were ordered not to have any contact with one another.
Davis was the “quarterback” of the Prescott-based Earth First! quartet, and Millett the “cheerleader,” Broomfield said. “But what you were doing was criminal,” he told them. “You had a right and have a right in the future to be a legitimate environmentalist but you clearly crossed the line.”
Baker and Asplund pledged to defend the environment lawfully. The aggressive tactics of “monkeywrenching” do not “ultimately lead to an increase in public consciousness,” Baker said. “Americans need to wake up. I think apathy is probably the worst crime that anyone can commit.”
Assistant U.S. Atty. Roslyn Moore-Silver said the sentences would aid in “crushing this radical deviant pseudo-environmental movement that has besmirched legitimate environmental movements like the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club.”
The fifth and best-known defendant, David Foreman, 44, an Earth First! co-founder who has since disavowed techniques laid out in his book, “Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching,” was not in court Thursday. He pleaded guilty earlier to conspiracy in a plea bargain that would delay his sentencing for five years. Then, he could change his plea or plead guilty to a misdemeanor.
For both the prosecution and the defense, the sentencings wound down quietly--"dribbled,” one environmentalist said--from arrests that sent up skyrockets when Earth Firsters were caught torching a power line tower in the Arizona desert.
A 2 1/2-year FBI undercover investigation alleged that they plotted to sabotage electricity into nuclear plants at the risk of meltdown; cutting ski-lift supports and electric poles to a uranium mine were merely a dress rehearsal, prosecutors said.
The defense suggested it would put the government on trial for creating a conspiracy where none existed, for trying to make a crime of writing a book and for trying to gag environmentalists. But the trial did not materialize as an environmental soapbox after the five entered pleas last month.
Mainstream environmental groups, while sympathetic, have distanced themselves from the Earth First! action but some shared concerns about the “chilling” effect of the investigation.
Mike Rozelle, an Earth First! co-founder who now coordinates Greenpeace’s rapid-response team, said: “This is something that happened to the Monkeywrench Gang, it didn’t happen to the Sierra Club . . . until they throw some Sierra clubbers in jail, people aren’t going to realize this (FBI investigation) is a threat.”
Staff writer Morrison reported from Los Angeles and free-lance writer Laughlin reported from Phoenix.