Q&A: Extreme Environmentalist on "Radical Change"

Inside Base Camp With Tom Foreman
April 22, 2003

From its inception, Earth Day has been about fostering respect for our natural environment and accordingly, working to protect it. For some folks, however, the slow quest for improvement is simply not enough, and they have pledged themselves to radical change.

Leslie James Pickering is slightly built and angular at every joint. He seems awkward and almost shy when he enters my studio, but his quiet demeanor belies a militant view of the environment and humans. He has come to talk about the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), perhaps the nation's most extreme environmentalist movement. According to the FBI, the ELF and organizations associated with it are suspected in 600 acts of violence— torching buildings at the Vail ski resort, burning SUVs in Oregon, striking a research center in Michigan and upscale homes in New York—in all, more than U.S. $45 million dollars in damage.

Yet, as he settles onto the stool opposite me, Pickering calls it all necessary.

Leslie James Pickering: Well, what the Earth Liberation Front is standing for, what they're defending, are the natural elements of the Earth that we all need to survive—our fresh air, our clean water, our healthy soil, our intact ecosystems. Without these, we all die, we all perish. So I'm representing a group that is fighting in self-defense, for preservation of our species, all species of life on Earth.

Tom Foreman: Many other people are fighting for those same things—they're just fighting in a different way than you are and they don't believe that your methods are fair, are rational, are reasonable. Doesn't that make you a tyrant because you're saying, "Our way is the only way?"

Leslie James Pickering: We're not saying that at all—education, and other forms of legal protest are necessary and have been going on for decades in this country. And what we're seeing is that that isn't gonna work on its own, it has never worked on its own. Every successful social justice movement throughout history has had an element of radical activism or radical engagement. We're not gonna stop at what the system tells us to stop at, because it's the system that's causing the problems that we're fighting against.

Tom Foreman: What is the system?

Leslie James Pickering: The system is the status quo, you know, the American lifestyle…

Tom Foreman: …everything that's not you?

Leslie James Pickering: (laughs) The establishment is the American dream, this capitalist society that we're living in, this imperialist society that we're living in, the way of life that we're taught to appreciate and aspire to. We (ELF) don't value property, and profits and economic gain over health or over the natural environment or over the natural world.

Tom Foreman: Many environmental groups hate you guys. They feel that you are doing tremendous damage.

Continued on Next Page >>


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