green scare fugitive rebecca rubin surrenders

by Tim Phillips

Operation Backfire was a federal task force that investigated 20 politically-motivated arsons, committed by about the same number of activists, in five Western states between 1996 and 2001. The investigation fizzled out until one of the activists, heroin addict Jake Ferguson, became a government informant in 2003. This led to the largest roundup of radical environmentalists in U.S. history, beginning in December 2005; but four of those facing charges remained at large.

Yesterday Rebecca Rubin, one of the four, surrendered to U.S. authorities at the Canadian border. Rubin faces arson and conspiracy charges in Oregon, California, and Colorado for liberating horses and helping burn down several facilities, including a ski resort in Vail, Colorado, in the name of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). According to a 2006 Rolling Stone article, “Vail was about to add almost 1,000 acres of new skiing terrain and twelve miles of roads in the last known habitat of the mountain lynx.”

As Matt Rasmussen wrote in an early 2007 Orion Magazine article about these activists, “history is full of social upheavals in which true believers decided the cause was so great that they would step beyond the boundaries of law.” Thankfully the people involved in these actions were careful to avoid harming anyone, and in fact prevented others – at least temporarily – from harming animals and the natural world. Rasmussen concluded as follows:

When I consider the ELF arsonists, I find myself thinking of the militant nineteenth-century abolitionist John Brown. … Over the course of decades, what was first considered lunacy and extremism came to be regarded as courage and righteousness. Years from now, when we have a clearer understanding of the full damage we have done to the Earth, is it possible the ELF arsonists will be remembered in similar fashion?