On Saturday, June 1, The Earth Liberation Front issued a press release, taking credit for the burning of Merrill Hall at the UW’s Center for Urban Horticulture. Whether or not we agree with what they’ve done, it’s important for us to clarify the facts and understand why it was done. A lot of people are confused, angry, upset, and wondering what happened to the radical environmental movement. I hear people saying: “What kind of assholes would burn down the CUH and why?”

Hey, wait a minute. The media has perpetuated four big lies in relation to this event. Let’s review and debunk them.

Lie #1: both daily newspapers reported that Toby Bradshaw, the professor whose laboratory was targeted by arsonists, wasn’t engaged in genetic research. He claims he only cross-pollinates different species of poplar to breed a disease resistant strain, “just like it’s done in nature.” Bullshit. Bradshaw has a long-term working relationship with OSU Prof. Steve Strauss, who takes genes identified by Bradshaw and then inserts them into poplar trees, creating genetically modified organisms.

Bradshaw then grows those genetically modified trees in his laboratory at the CUH and UW greenhouses. He was and still is an appropriate target for anti-GM protests.

Furthermore, fast-growing poplar trees are the monoculture crop of the future for logging companies who like to wave the green banner of environmentalism by claiming that they plant more trees every year than they cut. In truth, they plant poplars to replace forest composed of a mixture of tree species, including old growth. As we all know, mixed forests support a wide variety of plant and animal species that can’t survive in a monoculture crop of fast-growing poplar trees. It’s unbelievable that professors and grad students at the CUH–some of whom are growing endangered plant species–don’t know this. Perhaps they simply don’t know how Prof. Bradshaw’s work will be used by timber companies. Well, it’s time for them to wake up.

Lie #2: the news media keeps implying that the CUH was destroyed. On the contrary, the main wing of Merrill Hall was burned, including some classrooms and laboratories. Ironically, Bradshaw was careful to make backup copies of all of his research and store it off-site. After all, he has been the target of eco-activists before, when his genetically modified poplar trees were chopped down during the WTO protests in November of 1999.

Other researchers at the CUH, however, lost their computer data, files, and photographs, because they made no backups or, in at least one case, computer backups were made but were stored in a desk drawer in the same office that was burnt in the fire. While eco-activists can plan to torch a laboratory at night when no one is in the building, they can’t plan for the stupidity of academics who can’t figure out what “store your backups off-site” means.

Much fuss was made over the closure of the CUH to the public, yet it re-opened within a week. Again, the media bemoaned the loss of rare books in the Elisabeth C. Miller library, but firefighters draped protective tarps over the books before they put out the fire, saving over 80% of the library from lasting damage. The other 20% may still be salvageable. Most importantly, rare books are housed in a separate, climate-controlled, fire-proof room, and they were not damaged at all.

Classes haven’t even been disrupted; they’re continuing in portable classrooms. The Master Gardener program’s materials and equipment were lost, but will certainly be replaced. Even dollar estimates of the damage are inexact and probably inflated. Merrill Hall cost about $1.2 million to build in 1984, but the Seattle Times continues to report the damage as at least $3 million, with no support for that number.

Lie #3: both the Seattle Times and the P-I asserted that the arsonists were careless and didn’t know what they were doing. In fact, there’s every sign that this fire was planned very carefully and for a very long time. Everything published by the ELF on their various actions indicate that these folks plan very, very, carefully. No one was injured in the fire at the CUH. It was set late on a Sunday night when there was no one in the building; ELF people tend to watch their targets for a long time to discover the janitors’ cleaning schedules, who works in various places when, etc. In this case, they even checked Bradshaw’s lab carefully enough to spot a box of live snakes, and they moved it outside of the fire zone. In addition, after five years and over thirty different acts of property destruction and disruption, not a single ELF member has ever been arrested or convicted of a crime. These people know what they’re doing.

Lie #4: the media wants us to believe that these folks are “terrorists” who, as Toby Bradshaw put it in a Seattle P-I editorial are “anti-intellectual bigots incapable of making a reasoned argument in a public forum, but capable only of throwing a firebomb in the dead of night.”

Hold on a second. You can’t have it both ways. The ATF and FBI believe that the ELF consists of people who belong to more mainstream environmental and activist groups during the day–in other words they lobby government, carry picket signs, write letters to the editor, etc.–but then don a mask and carry a gas can and matches at night. So which is it?

We know the truth, don’t we? These are people who have spent years trying to get their message across in “public forums,” but have been out-spent by wealthy forestry companies who can afford to throw money at politicians and lobbyists. Researchers funded by forestry companies–including Prof. Bradshaw–have never been willing to address the concerns of environmentalists in public. They prefer to lie about what they do, as Bradshaw continues to do, claiming that he has no ties to GM research.

Many researchers claim, with the unscientific fervor of true believers, that genetically modified organisms will save the world. The Seattle Times can say “True revolutionaries hang around to argue their point and go to jail if need be. Civil disobedience is a powerful force for change.” This is the same newspaper that five days later printed in an editorial on the reinstatement of King County Sheriff’s Deputy John Vanderwalker: “For the community disaster of WTO, almost no one has been held responsible–not our mayor, who fobbed off blame on the chief of police; not the zealots who shut down an international diplomatic meeting by blocking the streets, and not the cop who provided the whole world with a terrifying image of being sprayed in the face with a blinding irritant.”

Such hypocrisy is commonplace in the media. It’s a bias against the viewpoint of those who want to change the system. It suppresses them, makes it easier for the state to criminalize them, and it shuts down debate. It’s the main reason why the folks who make up the ELF have turned their backs on civil disobedience and “public forums.”

In short, these arsons are the work of desperate people who have been abused and driven underground by the state and a compliant media. What goes around comes around, and we will see more of these fires.

The Seattle Times compares the ELF to the KKK, the Nazis, and snipers who kill abortion doctors, without drawing a distinction between violence against people and the destruction of property. If destruction of property is terrorism, then what should we call gross destruction of the natural environment? Weyerhaeuser and Willamette Industries, despite the clearcuts and dead salmon streams they leave behind, will never be called “eco-terrorists” in the pages of our daily newspapers.