Please share this documentary essay which emphasizes the importance of freedom of speech vs. state repression, and how ordinary objects were turned into an artistic display.
The seizure of computers and other office equipment by the FBI from Leslie James Pickering and Craig Rosebraugh’s residence was aimed at crippling the ELF Press Office.”
The primary mission of the FBI is to monitor and crush domestic political dissent. In the case of Pickering and Rosebraugh, the FBI failed miserably in its attempt to quash Leslie and Craig’s First Amendment rights. Both Leslie and Craig remain committed to the fight for political, social and economic justice.
– Michael Kuzma, Civil Rights attorney
Gallery Note: This installation was displayed in Buffalo’s ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery from the 15th to the 26th of July 2015. It received, due to the subject matter and the absurdity of the FBI holding these objects for 14 years, good print media coverage in Buffalo, NY (see links at the end of this essay). The opening of the show was packed, and former Earth Liberation Front Press Officer, Leslie James Pickering – now co-owner of Burning Books in Buffalo – and Civil Rights attorney Michael Kuzma, both spoke.
We are happy to make this available now to national and international audiences.
What follows are pieces of the installation, including photographs collected by James Leslie Pickering from TV coverage of the raid, the Search Warrant and other assorted FBI documents, photographs of ATF agents trying to get evidence from SUVs burned during the Romania II ELF action, and of course, photographs of the returned objects themselves.
We open with a Gallery Statement explaining our reasoning for putting this into a gallery installation and follow with a short piece on the Earth Liberation Front written by James Leslie Pickering, then a video of Pickering speaking as he gives a tour of the objects returned by the FBI.
Photo copies, photos and documents from the exhibit come after.
Following photos of the returned objects, a video of Michael Kuzma explains the on-going harassment of Leslie James Pickering and also how the returned objects just barely made it to Buffalo on the day of the opening.
Please Note: Unless otherwise noted, images included below are from the private collection of Leslie James Pickering.
Special thanks to Lauren Regan and the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Oregon.
Art means many different things to people
At the ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery what goes on display here aims to intersect the realms of art and the politics regarding the times we live.
Sometimes art should creatively communicate the reality hidden behind the propaganda encountered in or our daily surroundings and actions, where most communication is designed to sell you something that you probably do not need or designed to sell you something that makes you feel good about yourself: from McMansions to reality shows, to drugs and/or easy belief systems without no mental challenge.
We are proud to exhibit Returned Objects: A Multimedia Art Installation.
Art and Free Speech are intrinsically tied together. They are tools of communication. Fourteen years ago the FBI raided the Earth Liberation Front’s Press Office in Oregon and confiscated the press office’s communication equipment. The equipment seized by the FBI, along with related photography, news clips and Federal Agency documents are now on display here at the ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery.
A group of artists and activists have worked almost a month to turn a pile of office equipment seized from Burning Books co-owner Leslie James Pickering during the 2001 FBI raid into an installation highlighting free speech, art and state repression. In addition to the now released office equipment (still tagged as evidence), the show features censored government documents, photographs, first-hand accounts, original television news footage of the raid and more.
It is ludicrous and absurd that the FBI held these objects for fourteen years. If there were any incriminating evidence on the communication equipment, it would likely have been found very quickly. The FBI’s snatch, held fourteen years, was intended to squash free speech.
This exhibit is about art, the repression and liberation of free speech and maybe a subliminal or not so subliminal message. In a world where we see more and more potentially apocalyptic scenes, especially with the climate catastrophes that are happening daily, is this “civilization” and economic system pushing the inhabitants on Earth to the brink? Are we witnessing the beginning of art going full circle?
Probably the first forms of communication and art were cave paintings. If collapse becomes reality, whoever is left will find some way to communicate. It probably will be through art. Is it possible that the spirit of cave paintings will be the next form of communication and art?
– Orin Langelle, ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery Director, 15 July 2015
On the ELF
Between 1996 and 2002, the Earth Liberation Front were responsible for over 3 dozen large-scale sabotage actions against corporations and government agencies that were wreaking havoc on the environment. These were major arson attacks, often completely destroying buildings and totaling hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. This earned the group the distinction of being the FBI’s “number-one domestic terrorist priority,” as well as gaining extensive media attention and the esteem of radical environmentalists across the globe.
Among the ELF’s admirers were Leslie James Pickering and Craig Rosebraugh, who ran an organization called the Earth Liberation Front Press Office, which exercised free speech in support of the ELF and underground environmental struggle. The ELF would anonymously send communiqués claiming responsibility for their actions to the Press Office, which would then pass them on to media and serve as a public voice in sympathy and solidarity with the ELF.
Federal investigators grew frustrated as they were unable to identify or capture members of the ELF and launched a campaign of harassment against the Press Office. This included seven federal grand jury subpoenas, a Congressional Subcommittee subpoena and two Joint Terrorism Task Force raids on the Press Office, the second of which took place on April 5, 2001. The exhibits on display here are all from that day.
To many of us, the FBI and their kind are an abstraction. We frequently see federal agents depicted in movies as strong, sexy and intelligent with super-hero-like qualities. But for a number of people who struggle for justice and freedom, the FBI is an ugly and violently oppressive enemy that operates with impunity. Similarly, environmentalists are often depicted as naive idealists, who think they can hug trees and sing their way to a better world. But behind these fictionalized versions of activists and law enforcement is a system of insatiable greed and a desperate struggle to save our planet.
–Leslie James Pickering, 2015
Leslie James Pickering speaks during opening:
On the Raid
On April 5, 2001, at approximately 6:00 a.m., agents from the FBI, BATF, and Oregon State Police conducted a six-hour raid simultaneously on the North American ELF Press Office (NAELPO), on two vehicles driven or owned by ELF spokespersons, and on a vegan baking company also owned by one of the spokespersons. Warrants issued by authorities called for the search of the residence and vehicles of Craig Rosebraugh, Leslie James Pickering and Elaine Close, as well as the NAELFPO and the building housing Rosebraugh’s business, the Calendula Baking Company. The warrants also called for the seizure of any property relating in any way to the particular arson under investigation. The list of possible property items to be seized…covered just about everything you could find in an office or vehicle.
– Leslie James Pickering, 2003. From The Earth Liberation Front, 1997-2002 (Arissa Publications).
Pickering assembled a video containing footage of accounts of the raid. It was shown during the exhibits opening and on a loop during the duration of the show. To view the video please go to the Burning Books You Tube site.
On Romania II
In June of 2000, two activists visited a commercial Chevrolet dealership in Eugene Oregon and set a sport utility vehicle on fire.
In those years, “Climate Change” was still called “Global Warming” and was considered a hoax by the vast majority of US politicians and the general public. At the same time, SUVs were hitting the automobile market as status symbols that consumed twice the fuel and produced twice the pollution of the average car.
These activists thought that attacking an SUV would help to draw attention to this urgent and all-too-ignored issue. What they didn’t know was that local police were weary of them and were watching their every move that night.
Shortly after the fire was set, they were arrested and Jeff Luers was sentenced to an astonishing 22 years in prison. The government was using Jeff as a warning to frighten off any potential eco-saboteurs. The Earth Liberation Front wasn’t happy with this and had a response of its own to send.
On March 30, 2001, the ELF went to the exact same SUV dealership, Romania Chevrolet, and burned the whole place down. 35 SUVs were torched, causing a million dollars in damages. In its communiqué, the group called for actions against the SUV trend and to halt Climate Change, as well as an end of political persecutions of activists.
Romania Chevrolet was located in Eugene, Oregon, just a short drive from Portland, where the ELF Press Office was based. This proximity was enough of a reason to get a judge to sign a search warrant for the April 5, 2001 Joint Terrorism Task Force raid. The evidence seized and gathered during this raid was allegedly part of the investigation into the ELF’s arson of Romania Chevrolet.
– Leslie James Pickering, 2015
Romania II Communique
A million dollars worth of luxury SUVs were torched at Romania Chevrolet. Sucking the land dry, gas-guzzling SUVs are at the forefront of this vile imperialistic culture’s caravan towards self destruction. We can no longer allow the rich to parade around in their armored existence, leaving a wasteland behind in their tire tracks. The time is right to fight back.
Romania Chevrolet is the same location that was targeted last June, for which two earth warriors are being persecuted. The techno-industrial state thinks it can stop the growing resistance by jailing some of us, but they cannot jail the spirit of those who know another world is possible. The fire that burns within them burns within all of us and cannot be extinguished by locking them up.
In this continuous assault on both the planet and ourselves, SUVs destroy the Earth while the prison system tries to destroy those who see beyond this empty life. We must strike out against what destroys us before we are all either choking on smog or held captive by the state. Take power into your ownhands. It’s your life.
– Earth Liberation Front, 2001
Craig Rosebraugh, another former ELF Press Officer owned a bakery. When the Federal agents heard activists mentioning “cookies” during the raid, they assumed they were computer cookies; in actuality Pickering says they were chocolate chip.
Excerpt from Redacted Documents:
Before the Raid: Aftermath of the Romania II Fire
The following four photographs printed with permission by Sol Neelman. If you are interested in Neelman’s work please see solneelman.com or email <email@example.com>. Those six photographs represent the ATF looking for evidence after the Romania II ELF fires.
Exhibit of the Returned Objects
(Craig Rosebraugh was the other ELF Press Officer during the 2001 raid)
Photos of the returned objects courtesy of the ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery:
Special ATF agent John Comrey personally signed the evidence tag on the Underwood Five. Pickering says that Comrey was known among radical environmentalists and and animal rights activists as the man who hunted down Rod Coronado. Coronado is a Native American, former political prisoner, who freed many animals with the Animal Liberation Front. He was on the run for four years before he was captured.
It seems the FBI have an outdated protocol or something that requires them to seize typewriters during raids of political radicals. There were many communiques from fugitive groups written on typewriters during the 1960s and ’70s, and forensics would attempt to match a communique with the exact typewriter it was written on, implicating its owner in a specific crime. The ELF however, became active in the mid 1990s long after the era of typewriters. As far as I know, the ELF have never used a typewriter to compose a communique.
I was in an undergrad book arts program at the time of this raid, and had a collection of equipment used for that program, including a number of typewriters. My favorite was an Underwood 5. It worked beautifully, I liked the typeface and I could feed larger sheets of paper into it. The feds seized 3 of my typewriters during this raid, which I had to explain to more than one teacher, and off all the things they took I missed the Underwood 5 the most.
– Leslie James Pickering, 2015
FBI Redacted Documents
(complete set of redacted documents at the bottom of the post)
“I’m Polluting the Planet”
(More sets of Redacted Documents at end of display)
Statement Before the House Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, Washington, DC, February 12, 2002
Today the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health is conducting a hearing to explore the growing threat of eco-terrorism and lawlessness on our national forests. The hearing’s principal focus will be on the violent and increasingly frequent attacks of environmental terrorist groups like the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front. […]
When it comes to the extensive violence on national forests, ELF’s objective is as simple as it is unsettling, to create an overpowering aura of fear and anxiety that scares the American people off their forests or their right to use their forests.
Today, some 10 years and many million of dollars in destruction after its emergence, the Earth Liberation Front has partially succeeded in achieving that objective in some parts of the country. People who legitimately work, live and play in these wild places now have no choice but to look over their shoulder in fear of a shadowy terror group like ELF.
– Rep. Scott McInnis (R-CO), Chair
[In 2010, McInnis ran for governor of Colorado, but ended his bid after revelations that he plagiarized material while a fellow at the Hasan Family Foundation.]
The Green Scare
Just what is this Green Scare, you say? Well, when we use that term, we are referring to the tactics that the US government and all their tentacles (FBI, IRS, BATF, Joint Terrorism Task Forces, local police, the court system) are using to attack the ELF/ALF and specifically those who publicly support them [emphasis added].
Similar to Senator Joe McCarthy’s campaign and the House of Un-American Affairs (HUAC) of the 1950’s, legislators, property rights advocates and industry spokespeople are using threats and propaganda to crush any public support of underground resistance. Instead of McCarthy we have the likes of representative McInnis (Colorado, home of ELF Vail Action-1998), Hooley (Oregon-home to numerous ELF actions) and Nethercutt (Washington State-home of ELF University of Washington tree genetics lab arson-May 2001).
Their strategy–a combination of introducing legislation to make punishments for direct action worse and to take out the support structures of the underground ecological resistance movement.
— Spirit of Freedom, Earth Liberation Prisoners Support Network Zine, Spring 2002
The Recycling Box
A while after the raid, we got a call from the Portland FBI office, letting us know that they were ready to return some of our property. Hesitant and freaked out, we gathered up the nerve to walk into the FBI office and pick up our things. When we got there, agents directed us into what looked like an interrogation room with a box of trash on a table. It was the contents of our recycling bin. Apparently nothing that we were about to put out to the curb turned out to be incriminating evidence against the ELF. The situation turned out to be a ruse and a couple of agents launched into a series of questions about more recent ELF activity. Somewhere between pissed and dumbfounded, we pretty much stormed out of there. I’m pretty sure we left them with the box of rubbish.
– Leslie James Pickering, 2015
Civil Rights attorney Michael Kuzma explains the on-going harassment of Leslie James Pickering and how the returned objects just barely made it to Buffalo on the day of the opening:
For a very good article that explains more of what happened regarding the raid, please see Michael I. Niman’s online version in Buffalo’s The Public: