On Saturday, a Philadelphia animal-rights mailing list circulated a message announcing a meeting sponsored by the Philadelphia-based chapter of Earth First! — the radical environmental group that spawned the terrorist Earth Liberation Front during the 1990s. The Earth First! announcement itself is unremarkable, apart from the group’s plan to hang an anti-Thanksgiving banner somewhere in the City of Poultry Love urging “Don’t Kill a Turkey.” But what caught our eye was the sender’s electronic “signature” — a closing block of text consisting of five quotes from cult leader and serial killer Charles Manson. In this mini-tribute, the quotes from Manson hint at a motivation for his murderous crusade: a concept he called “ATWA” (Air, Trees, Water, Animals). “There is NO COMPROMISE when it comes to saving ATWA,” this message reads, adding without a hint of irony that ATWA is “a holy war. You are either working for ATWA — life — or you’re working for death.” Eerie parallels exist between today’s earth- and animal-“liberation” movements — those who use intimidation and violence to take away your food choices, rather than merely “talking turkey” — and the turbulent 1960s-era environmentalism that kept Manson’s supporters loyal to their demented hero.
Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, long-incarcerated for her 1975 assassination attempt on U.S. President Gerald Ford, provides a frightening example. In his 1997 biography Squeaky: The Life and Times of Lynette Alice Fromme, author Jess Bravin describes an interview where Fromme’s federal public defender asks why she tried to shoot the President. “If I were a reporter and I had a camera here and I were to ask you, ‘Why?’ what would you say?” Fromme answered right away: “For the trees,” she said.
Today’s Manson devotees maintain a website in Manson’s honor, which happens to be located at www.atwa.info. In an interview published there (and also available on Squeaky Fromme’s own website), Manson is asked: “Are you familiar with, or in contact with the more radical environmental groups — Earth First!, Sea Shepherds, ALF, etc?” His reply: “We started the root thoughts for most or a lot [of them].”
In 1974, as a means of “supporting” the recently convicted Manson, Fromme and another Manson “family” member, Sandra Good, formed the “International People’s Court of Retribution.” This was a fictitious terrorist group on whose behalf the two sent out hundreds of threatening letters — warning of assassination attempts on politicians and businessmen thought to be responsible for killing animals and polluting the earth. And similar to the modern “spokespersons” for violence-prone activist groups (including the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front, and SHAC) the Manson girls claimed to be mere messengers for an “International Court” made up of thousands of underground followers.
“We’re going to start assassinating Presidents, Vice Presidents and major executives of companies,” TIME magazine would later quote Good as saying. “I’m warning these people they better stop polluting or they’re going to die.” One of the threatening letters, preserved by the Los Angeles Public Library, reads in part: “Your products are poisoning our world. STOP or many with knives come to butcher [your] body in bed or [on] TV. Supermarkets, cars, pools — accidents happen every day.” At her own trial, Good told the judge: “It would give me great satisfaction to remove from the earth executives of Standard Oil Company.”
Compare that to the more recent rhetoric of the equally fictitious “Revolutionary Cells,” a group thought to be invented by animal-rights fugitive Daniel Andreas San Diego. The accused pipe-bomber, whose public supporters include convicted arsonist (and PETA grantee) Rodney Coronado, allegedly issued a public threat that would make Squeaky Fromme proud: “You never know when your house, your car even, might go boom. Who knows, that new car in the parking lot may be packed with explosives. Or maybe it will be a shot in the dark.”
It’s hard to ignore the possibility that today’s animal-rights violence and eco-terror movement has roots in the drug-induced ramblings of Charles Manson. Is it a coincidence that British Animal Liberation Front bomber Ronnie Lee lit his first fuse in 1975, just months after Manson’s “International Court” started making death threats? The dangerous Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was formed in 1977, and Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski began his environmentally motivated letter-bomb spree in 1978. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was co-founded by Sea Shepherd member Alex Pacheco (along with the current PETA president, Ingrid Newkirk) just three years later. Pacheco intoned in 1989 that “arson, property destruction, burglary, and theft are ‘acceptable crimes’ when used for the animal cause.” Squeaky couldn’t have said it better herself.