The Satya Interview: Freedom from the Cages:
Rod Coronado is currently in the Federal Correctional Institution in Tucson, Arizona serving a four and a half year sentence, having been convicted of aiding and abetting arson at a Michigan State University research facility, in which 32 years of data intended to benefit the fur industry was destroyed. He is the first Native American Animal Liberation Front member in U.S. history to be sent to Federal Prison. In a two-part interview, Satya asked him for his views on extremism and the future of direct action.
Q: What is extremism, and how do you personally define it?
A: Extremism comes in varying degrees. Most people associate extremism with religion or politics, but the extremism that most concerns me is environmental, social and spiritual, which I differentiate from religion. Extremism to me is not what we as socially conscious individuals do to fight a greater evil. It's what multinational corporations, governments and consumers do to the earth and animals that pushes the extremes of the earth's carrying capacity at the expense of other life forms and future generations.
Extremism to me is continuing to manufacture and produce products that we know are destroying our ozone and contaminating our water. Extremism to me is the tyrannical degree of police and military repression that citizens sanction and that results in the imprisonment, torture and death of any who stand in the way of progress. Extremism is also the distance we have allowed ourselves to become from the laws and power of nature which taught us how to live in harmony with other life for millennia. This is an extremism that allows us to label those trying to reverse the destruction of earth and animals as "extremists" while calling the activities of the destroyers legitimate, and those responsible law-abiding citizens. I consider myself anti-extremist in every sense of the word because extremism tips the scales of all life on earth precariously close to disaster.
Q: How far should one be willing to press for a cause or belief system?
A: It depends on the cause and belief. Capitalism and communism are causes and beliefs, as are most institutionalized religions which, I believe, have been pressed so far, to the point that those opposing them and striving to maintain spiritual or cultural autonomy are persecuted. If you believe in something or rally behind a cause, the best you can do is to embody your principles and beliefs in your own life. People recognize sincerity and true faith. Nothing is gained by forcing someone to believe in something. If your cause or belief is true and does not negatively impact the balance of nature, then it is good for the earth, and most likely good for you and all other life.
When the balance of life on earth is negatively impacted by the actions of others, whose cause and belief come at the expense of ecological integrity and the human spirit, and which cause the unnecessary suffering and exploitation of other life striving to live in harmony with us, then we are justified in taking action that would restore balance and preserve life and freedom. We are justified as long as that action is only to the degree of righting wrongs and obtaining true justice, rather than turning into a cause or belief which obstructs the path to peace and harmony with all Creation. Freedom does not mean you have the right to exploit or abuse others. Using physical force to prevent an atrocity has always been commendable throughout history, when fighting a greater evil. If we can direct that force specifically against the tools and machines of life's destruction, with the goal of also liberating the oppressed without causing harm or loss of life, then there can be no truer path for those fighting tyrannical oppression.
Q: Should we blame others for not being radical enough?
A: Once again, all we can do is make an example out of our lives. Rather than pointing fingers at others, we should be asking ourselves if we're radical enough. Being radical is not about using more and more force. I don't like the world "radical," as the only radicals are those we're trying to stop from destroying the planet. So, the question is whether we are conservative enough. It's not just about what we eat, but what we consume. Paper made from forests, plastics which create dioxins, electricity generated by damming rivers, burning coal and nuclear reactors, agricultural products like cotton and vegetables which use pesticides and insecticides being introduced into the environment. It's a question of living as simply as possible with minimal impact on the earth and animals. It's about asking ourselves whether we're paying the rent -- not to landlords, but to the earth. As citizens of a country that consumes most of the earth's resources and creates most of its pollution, we should be fighting from within the belly of the beast to stop the destruction the U.S. is responsible for here and abroad. We do that by not blaming others, but by blaming ourselves for supporting evil industries and politicians with our money and our votes; by educating ourselves and others about every impact of our actions. From realizing that buying coffee is helping to steal lands from indigenous peoples living in poverty because they must grow cash crops rather than food, to realizing that driving a car is supporting the destruction of habitat in the quest for oil and sponsoring wars in other countries, we must measure our own impact on the earth rather than just on animals, and then pay the rent by rescuing animals, smashing windows, and striking the evil empire where it hurts the most: in the pocketbook.
Q: When is violence acceptable?
A: That depends on the definition of violence. I define violence as physical force directed at a sentient being or natural creation. I do not believe that violence can be committed against something inanimate whose sole purpose is the destruction of innocent life and natural creation. The violence that is legally committed against animals in labs, fur and factory farms, and in the wild is totally unjustified and unacceptable, as is the violence committed when the remaining wild places are destroyed. The violence committed against women, people of color, indigenous peoples, and anyone who opposes the loss of human rights and freedoms to governments and corporations, is especially despicable. It prevents those with a close relationship with the earth from displaying the path of harmony.
Self-defense is not violence. Should anyone defend themselves from violence with violence, then I believe it is acceptable. But as a movement whose fundamental belief is respect and reverence for all life, there is no place for violence as a means to preserve life, especially when we have yet to exhaust the avenues of non-violent, illegal direct action against the tools and institutions of life's destruction.
Q: What do you think is the future for direct action movements like Earth First! (EF!), the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)?
A: For Earth First! I see a wider body of support as more and more people become disenchanted with mainstream environmentalism. I also see Earth First! gaining more respectability, which I don't necessarily think is a good thing. When any movement gains respectability it tends to want to retain it by focusing on the more legitimate and legal avenues for obtaining its goals and objectives. I've always loved EF! because of its primitive edge and its no compromising support of illegal direct action, "monkeywrenching." But now EF! sometimes seems to become swallowed up by the corporations they oppose by placing too much faith in media-orchestrated actions rather than in actions that cost corporation profits. Still, I have total faith and allegiance to EF! and have incredible hope for the young warriors they attract who must face their own trials and tribulations before deciding whether to place their faith in the powers of earth, or the powers of the media, courts and Congress. For the Animal Liberation Front, I see an escalation in its attacks on institutions of earth and animal abuse, and a greater emphasis on economic sabotage as police repression and physical security prevent the more popular tactics like live animal liberations. I see the ALF being treated in the future as the domestic terrorist organization the Justice Department has labeled it, meaning wider persecution of anyone who publicly supports ALF. Basically, I see the ALF leading other direct action underground movements to defend earth and animals into the 21st Century. I believe that in order to survive, the ALF must learn the lessons of their British counterparts, hopefully without the costs of imprisoned warriors. If the ALF can only grow through continued imprisonment of its members, then it is everyone else's obligation to ensure that strong prisoner support exists for them. Either way, illegal, direct action will continue to grow as more and more people realize that governments and corporations whose very existence is based on animal abuse will never afford legal protection to animals. If we truly believe in animal liberation, then we better be ready to break society's laws and do some time for it if necessary.
For PETA, I see the mainstreaming of animal liberation. Where other large organizations compromise their more "radical" beliefs to gain acceptance, I have yet to see PETA compromise in this fashion. They have pushed animal rights into every home, and have brought the idea of respect and reverence for animals past the stage of ridicule and into the borders of acceptance. They also have never shied away from recognizing or supporting their troops -- the ALF -- which I think is vital. Above-ground organizations like PETA and EF! have an obligation to support illegal, direct action because so many of the things both groups believe in can only be won by breaking the law. Very rarely if ever have struggles for justice and liberation been won without breaking establishment laws.
Q: Do you think there is a "too far" that can be reached in defending animals and the environment?
A: It depends on how far humans are willing to go to destroy earth and animals. Right now, I have complete faith that we can stem the tide of animal abuse and ecological destruction with non-violent illegal, direct action should all other tactics fail (which they are). But when we are talking about the preservation of our life-support system, the earth, and prevention of the extinction of literally thousands of species which play an integral role in a healthy environment, then allowing that to happen is what has gone too far. To stop it whatever we are forced to now may seem extreme, but will be appreciated by future generations who will be able to live and survive thanks to this generation's actions on behalf of earth and animals.
The question is whether we've already gone too far by allowing governments and corporations to play Russian roulette with the fate of this planet and our future without taking greater personal responsibility to stop it at all costs. We, as citizens of earth, and as the guardians of the planet for future, generations can never go too far in preserving earth and the many Nations of Life upon it. Such is our obligation.
You can write to Rod Coronado at 03895-000, FCI Unit SW, 8901 S. Wilmot Rd., Tucson, AZ 85706.