Living the Truth: an Interview with Rod Coronado
Rod Coronado is a Pascua Yaqui warrior who has spent the last 18 years fighting for environmental justice. In 1985, at the age of l9, he joined the crew of the indomitable Sea Shepherd. The next year, Coronado and fellow crew member David Howitt sunk two illegal whaling ships off the coast of Iceland. Later that year, from the bow of the Sea Shepherd he began writing about his direct action experiences for the Earth First! Journal. Coronado is also an experienced hunt saboteur on land, defending bighorn sheep, desert pronghorn and other threatened species.
Coronado has utilized his skills to infiltrate fur farms and document their abuses. He acted as a media spokesperson for the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) during Operation Bite Back, a series of fur farm raids in 1991-1992, which caused more than one million dollars in property damage. He lived underground for three years, while he was sought by authorities for a 1992 arson at Michigan State University's (MSU) mink research facilities.
On September 27, 1994, Coronado was arrested for the MSU arson by federal law enforcement officials on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation near Tucson, Arizona. Despite facing intense pressure from the US government to reveal how the ALF is funded, Coronado refused to talk to authorities. He served a four-year prison sentence and continued to fight from inside.
Coronado re-emerged from prison with that same strength of spirit that originally led him to move beyond the rhetoric of direct action and to fully embody it. This consistency is rare among us, highlighting everyone's potential for empowered action.
EF!J: There comes a point in a child's life when they realize that injustice exists. How would you describe your childhood, and when did you first become aware that injustice exists in the world?
RC: I grew up in a loving, working-class family, and my mother's love and strength always came through in her teachings. My childhood was first shattered when I was 12 and saw a documentary on the Canadian harp seal slaughter. Never could I have imagined there existed such barbarity in the world.
EF!J: When did you realize that you could make a difference?
RC: In the same film, I saw Paul Watson physically interfere with the killing, and I knew that I wanted to do the same thing. It's only logical, right? That's when I learned what direct action in defense of the Earth was. I had read about it in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. My mom told me about the story with the reminder that we were Yaqui and this was our story, too--though I didn't really know what she meant at the time.
EF!J: It is evident that your work is grounded in a strong spiritual practice. Why do you think most folks in the radical environmental movement dismiss this as "woo?"
RC: It's a very Eurocentric perspective to deny spirituality to the environmental movement. It's one of the main reasons I get tired of hearing old white men like John Muir and Aldo Leopold quoted. Neither of these guys said anything about the Earth that wasn't common knowledge among indigenous people.
When I returned to the rez and started hanging out with the elders, direct action, deep ecology, radical environmentalism--whatever you want to call it--were all part of the sacred knowledge handed down orally, not some philosophical or ideological concept.
Spirituality for me is not only about sustenance, but a kind of road map one uses to successfully navigate through life. I believe that many of us in EF! lived before and probably fought before. When who you are and what you are is about the Earth, you learn that your own true power can only come from the Earth. That's what Geronimo and other great warriors knew. Only when we believe in our own power more than that of our enemies will we rediscover the kind of power the Earth has available to us as warriors. It is power that comes not out of fear but through simply listening and learning the lessons of how to live harmoniously with the rhythms of nature. For me, it's about being a better human and a warrior. I know my power isn't gonna come from a system controlled by rich, privileged, white men. My power comes from the very things I fight for.
EF!J: Some see economic sabotage as violent and in opposition to their sense of ethics. How do these two seemingly divergent issues meet for you?
RC: In our struggle to defend the Earth, I cannot ever imagine the two being separate. When we're talking about defending and living harmoniously with the Earth and her people--human and others--we're talking about a centuries-old spiritual resistance. Let's just talk about this continent, though it can apply to most of the world. Long before contemporary environmentalism and animal rights, there were human resistance movements fighting for the same things we're fighting for today. People being murdered for standing by the very same beliefs we say we are about in EF!.
As an indigenous person, I've had to relearn that fighting for the Earth as EF! does is a very old, sacred and honorable duty. It's one where I've learned that we can be the most effective when we take advantage of the knowledge and power our enemies know nothing of. They have laughed at this kind of thing for hundreds of years, and I'm glad they don't get it. They never will, but I've seen the Earth spirits. I pray to them and have had them help me carry out successful attacks against the Earth's enemies. I know that when I was out there on the run, it was they who protected me and warned me of danger.
EF!J: There has been a long-standing controversy in EF! between those who view environmental and social justice issues as stemming from a common root and those who feel human-related issues are not as important and should be separate. When did you first notice this pattern in EF and how did you deal with the conflict?
RC: A hundred years ago, my own ancestors were burning down AmeriKKKan agricultural operations a few hours south of Tucson, long before there ever was an anti-globalization movement. Hell, indigenous resisters were the first anti-globalization movement, fighting the imperialist economic and social policies of European governments and the impact they had on the environment and our own lives, which were really inseparable.
When I first became involved with EF!, I saw a lot of very privileged, white, middle-class EF!ers who didn't care about the environment the majority of us live in unless it was "wilderness." I dealt with it by just doing EF! actions that reflected what I believed EF! to be. It pissed some folks off to see our anarchist ALF flag at the '88 Round River Rendezvous, but we were the young guard, just as others are today. Whether the old guard likes it or not, EF! and radical environmentalism comes in many diverse forms. I guess it never really troubled me, because I believe the ones we are most answerable to are the beings we represent.
EF!J: You were a part of the collective that proposed the EF! Journal's move to Tucson, until the feds said that your involvement broke the conditions of your probation. Working to build diversity in the EF! movement was one of the main reasons for bringing the Journal to the Southwest. What are your thoughts on movement building in relation to Earth First!?
RC: Earth First! needs to break out of its comfort zone if we want to survive the coming waves of repression and continue strategic guerrilla resistance. There are so many folks out there from other walks of life that are ready to fight. We need to reach those people who are outside of college towns and activist circles. We need to bring back the old roadshow concept and get EF! ideas out to the rez's and neighborhoods. We need to go to people when they need help and not just when we need help, get to know them and let them get to know us. That's how we've built the coalition with the Apaches in Arizona who are fighting the Mt. Graham telescope project. There are so many "Third World" environmental catastrophes right here in AmeriKKKa. We need to learn how to operate in the frontline environmental battles right here and not just jet off to the big demos and conferences.
EF!J: How do you think the Journal can be more effective at this?
RC: When I think of the Journal, I think of the French socialist newspapers that continued to organize against fascism right up until the Nazi occupation. Once the Nazis shut them down, they shifted modes and became the French Resistance. I think we need to continue to be one of the only voices for the growing global, guerrilla, eco-defense movement. But we also need to slap some sense into people until they're ready to take action. The struggle to defend the Earth will live on; whether Earth First! does depends on our own willingness to put action behind our words. Otherwise, we're just another environmental group.
EF!J: The ALP and Earth Liberation Front (ELF) have been spun by the corporate media as domestic terrorists. Do you think economic sabotage is still viable in the current political climate?
RC: Direct action is more important now than ever because of today's political climate. Let's be real. If we really believe that we are part of a real resistance struggle then we have to expect that our effectiveness is going to be seen not only in our impacts on the Earth-destroying industries, but inevitably reflected more so in repressive government attacks. The more dangerous that it is to do ELF and ALF actions, the more important it becomes to carry them out. Repression is intended to intimidate others from engaging in acts of resistance. It means we lust have to continue to evolve and be clever, just like Coyote.
Let's again look at the history of resistance in North America. One hundred years ago, the US and Mexican governments referred to my people as "bloodthirsty savages" or "indios diablos." Now, they call us "ecoterrorists." If Jesus Christ were alive today doing what he did, they'd call him a terrorist too. The punishments for direct action resistance are so high because it is a tactic the state genuinely fears. Direct action is about taking a very unpopular stance at a very necessary time.
The ALF or ELF will never be hailed as heroes in our time. Their roles will be seen more clearly in 100 years when the ecological shortsightedness of our present government is realized. Some people say that in a "post-September 11" world there's less room for direct action. But that's exactly what the Consumer Freedom whores want us to believe. They're exploiting September 11 to push their own agenda, while hoping it will force us to compromise ours.
Personally, I don't know why someone hasn't tried to burn down Pacific Lumber or the Horse Butte Capture Facility. How many more rivers and salmon runs have to be destroyed and buffalo slaughtered before we realize these corporations are killing us and our only home? I don't care what the political climate is, it's never not a good time to take direct action to rescue victims from suffering and cease the destruction.
EF!J: Unfortunately, it seems like more folks are getting caught. Are there any words of wisdom or lessons that you want to convey to potential elves to keep them safe?
RC: Hopefully, it seems that way because there are just more people fed up and taking action. Words of wisdom to all ELF and ALF warriors out there: Stay away from your old friends and familiar above ground political scenes; don't use computers or telephones for anything; don't put any faith in techy gadgets; keep it simple; never use your own vehicle or those of other activists; physical exercise (think of the embarrassment of being run down by a cop); and don't pinch pennies, your freedom is worth the few extra bucks it costs to increase your security. Pray to the powers of Earth for guidance--stealth of Cougar, night sight of Owl, like lightning, the power to strike your enemies suddenly and return home safely. I love you all, and I'm praying for you to make it count. Maximum destruction! Not minimum damage.
© Earth First! Journal March-April 2003