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NEW INTERVIEW WITH JEFF "FREE" LUERS

"The U.S. may be the kinder face of fascism, but it is still a fascist state. Yes, we have elected a man who may bring change, but the system that he upholds will still be a capitalist, imperialist monster. If anyone thinks that he isn't going to protect the corporate interests at the extent of the people, they are wrong."
Jeff Luers CRCI August 2008
Jeff Luers CRCI August 2008
When Jeff "free" Luers and Craig "critter" Marshall drove away from Romania
Chevrolet in the early morning hours of June 16, 2001 after igniting the wicks of
two one gallon milk jugs filled with Coleman fuel, they could not have known that
this action would come to significantly alter their lives.

The Eugene, Oregon anarchist eco-activists had placed the firebombs under a row of
SUVs in an attempt to bring attention to the disproportionate air pollution caused
by gas guzzling vehicles. Neither were aware that Luers had been tailed throughout
the day by three plainclothes police since his release from jail earlier that day on
a disorderly conduct charge stemming from activities during the Eugene "Seven Weeks
Revolt" anarchist conference. The cops lost track of the two a block from the
Chevrolet dealership. Ten minutes later, Springfield officers stopped them for a
traffic violation. Both were taken into custody by the undercover agents who had
been following them. It was later learned that one of the agents was from an
anti-domestic terrorist unit. Luers and Marshall were arrested on Criminal Mischief
One, a charge that carries about one year.

Damage caused by the fire was quickly put out with a simple fire extinguisher and
totaled $40,000 worth of damage. In addition, all three vehicles were repaired and
subsequently sold. No human life was taken or endangered, yet one week later Luers
was arraigned on nine different felony counts including arson, attempted arson, and
manufacturing and possession of destructive devices or explosives. Similar devices
were found at petroleum distributor Tyree Oil in Eugene, and three weeks before his
trial began, he was also charged with attempted arson of that facility and faced
several more charges. By the time of his trial, he had accumulated 13 charges and
was looking at serving 100 years if convicted. While no physical evidence was found
to link Luers to Tyree, he was offered a deal for 15 years if he would plead guilty
to both Romania and Tyree. He held fast and refused. In the end, he was convicted of
11 felony charges and sentenced to 22 years and 8 months with no possibility of
parole. Co-defendant Marshall took a "conspiracy to commit arson" and "possession of
destructive devices" plea and was released after serving four and a half years. It
must be made clear that no part of this deal involved any admission of guilt or
implication of guilt on the part of Craig Marshal or Jeffrey Luers. A later falling out between the two is unrelated to this plea.

In a decision handed down on February 28 of 2008, Luers' appeal for re-sentencing
was heard in Eugene's Lane County Circuit Court. The new ruling brings his release
date to December 2009. Luers originally filed his appeal in January of 2002. The
original sentence handed down to Luers in June of 2001 was stunning in a most
draconian sense and was clearly politically motivated.

Since the time of Luers' arrest, the United States has seen an unprecedented
dismantling of civil liberties via the excessive reach of the War on Terror. The
largest roundup of eco-activists in US history began with the launch of the FBI's
"Operation Backfire" on December 7, 2005. At a national press conference in January
2006, then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller
unveiled a 65-count indictment targeting the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the
Animal Liberation Front (ALF) with the claim that a "vast eco-terrorist conspiracy"
was the U.S. number one domestic terrorist threat.

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) was signed into law by President George
W. Bush on November 27, 2006. It was pushed through Congress by wealthy biomedical &
agri-business industry groups such as the Animal Enterprise Protection Coalition,
the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Center for Consumer Freedom, with
bipartisan support from legislators Senator Dianne Feinstein and Rep. James
Sensenbrenner.

AETA expands the legal definition of "terrorism" to include activity previously
protected as free speech under the First Amendment. The Act's broad language brings
ambiguity to statutory terms used in the offense and definition sections of the law.
Such undefined terms as "interfere with," "profit loss," and "economic damage" might
be applied to the results of lawful boycotts and peaceful protests: "interfering
with" could conceivably cover undercover investigations of animal laboratories,
Internet postings, email campaigns, or demonstrations and boycotts. Because of this
ambiguity, the law arguably does not give a reasonable person fair notice of what is
legal, as is required of a criminal statute. This is not resolved by the AETA's
stated exemptions for "lawful boycotts" and "peaceful protests." Indeed, the
elements of those acts may qualify as terrorist acts under the AETA. This brings a
chilling effect not only to the work of eco and animal rights activists, but to all
dissenters across the board. Luers in fact has never claimed affiliations with
either ALF or ELF.

Jeff Luers has become internationally known and supported as a political prisoner,
not only because of the length of his original sentence, but also because of his
prior activism and the tree-sitting campaign at Fall Creek, Oregon. To some he is a
true revolutionary. He also wears the label of terrorist. He has served time in a
number of Oregon correctional facilities with the majority of his time spent at the
maximum security Oregon State Penitentiary. He has been housed for the past nine
months at the Columbia River Correctional Institution in Portland, Oregon. This
interview was conducted by this author through a series of letter exchanges during
late 2008 and January 2009.

MG-What is the status of your release date? Are you still looking at December 2009?

JL-My current release date is December 16 2009. There is some contention between me
and the Department of Corrections about this; the date should be December 15. That
is my good time release date. While it is unlikely to change, I could be released as
late as June 17, 2010.

MG-What are you most looking forward to upon your release? What are you most
apprehensive about?

JL-There are so may things that I am excited about. No more walls is a big one. I
think that within my first weeks I'll find myself camped deep in the woods
reconnecting with nature.

There doesn't really seem to be too much that I'm apprehensive about. Certainly,
prison has changed me, but the core of my being is still the same. My biggest
challenge I think, is going to be living indoors and paying rent.

MG-At the time that you began your activism, there were a host of eco issues to be
addressed. What put you on the path to tree sitting as opposed to other
environmental struggles?

JL-For me, tree sitting was all about the direct action. It was a campaign and
struggle that was local that I could have a direct impact on.

The end goals of many struggles are completely beyond our reach. Not that we
shouldn't still struggle to reach those goals, but they translate into petitions of
redress. We must concede that we are powerless to create change ourselves and end up
asking others to do it for us.

Direct action isn't like that. The power to create change or act on a belief system
rests completely in our hands. It takes power away from the powerful and puts it in
the hands of the powerless.

I got involved in old growth defense because I was physically capable of stopping
the logging of that forest. And anyone familiar with the Fall Creek/Red Cloud
Thunder campaign knows that we did not politely ask for that forest to be protected.
Nor did we protest gently.

MG-What moved you to follow through with the arson at Romania? Did you feel that
there was any other alternative at all to raise awareness about global warming? And,
what was running through your mind when you set flame to incendiary?

JL-Our world is being physically and geographically altered by the greenhouse gasses
that we're putting into the environment. Local and global climates are changing.
These events have been happening for decades, but it is only now that this makes
news.

Industry giants and corporate hooligans are making millions of dollars destroying
the planet I love. They are putting people's lives at risk.

You ask me what moved me to follow through with these actions. I ask, what has not
moved others?

There were plenty of other alternatives to raise awareness about global warming. Al
Gore did a great job. He's also a former vice president and millionaire. It's harder
to ignore him or shut him up though many tried.

Things have not changed much since the time of kings. Poor people are still ignored.
Only when the peasants revolt does the king take notice.

Do you really want to know what I was thinking when critter and I lit the incendiary
devices? Okay. I was thinking, "Don't set yourself on fire."

MG-You and critter both followed through in carrying out the arson action together
and you were immediately arrested together after this action. Because of his plea,
he was released after serving a four and a half year sentence in contrast to your
original sentence of 22 years plus. What do you have to say to this? (Any comment
for sake of clarity to the community regarding your falling out with him?)

JL-critter and I talked extensively before he agreed to take his deal. He was firmly
prepared to go to trial with me had I asked. I wanted critter to take the deal. At
the time, they offered him five years. They were offering me fifteen. By taking the
deal he in no way had to cooperate. Hell, he wouldn't have even had to acknowledge
guilt.

The falling out he and I had is personal and between he and I. We have since made
up. I am very much looking forward to seeing my old friend.

MG-How effective was your action at Romania, and is there anything that you regret?

JL-In some ways the Romania action was and is probably one of the most effective
direct actions taken in the United States; I know, very modest of me, right? Our
action changed the dynamics of clandestine actions for the earth in this country.
Afterward, Romania car dealerships all over the world were targeted.

Suddenly, it was no longer just industry being targeted but the culture that is
responsible for global warming.

And yeah, I do have some regrets about Romania. After all of the [prison] time that
I got for that little fire, I wish I'd done something bigger.

MG-Your original sentence by any fair and rational definition was brutal and
extreme, particularly in contrast to punishment meted out to rapists and other
violent offenders, many of whom you saw and see released while you sit in a concrete
cage. The effect on you has had to, at times, fill you with rage. What have you done
to channel this rage?

JL-I've never been angry about my sentence. What am I supposed to feel rage toward?
I already know that the system is corrupt and unjust. I already know that property
is valued more than life. I know that an act of dissent will receive harsher
punishment than crime. I was angry at those things when I took action. So I can't
complain that [this punishment] happened to me. In some ways, I'm glad that they
gave me 22 years and called me a terrorist. It not only proved that I was right
about the things that I was saying, but it also showed that direct action really
truly is a threat to business as usual.

The punishment has only served to further my dedication as demonstrated by my
continuing struggle from inside these walls.

MG-Operation Backfire hit the environmental movement hard, in the NW particularly.
You saw former comrades given lengthy prison sentences based on the testimony of
other former comrades who rolled over for the feds. The Animal Enterprise Terrorist
Act was signed into law in November of 2006. Clearly, the criminal factory farm
corporations and capitalist industry polluters have it made in the shade as the
government protects their interests at all costs. First, what do you have to say
about these draconian measures and second, do you have any words of encouragement
for activists who have fallen to fear and retreated to the shadows?

JL-Fear is the enemy of freedom. We fail to act because we fear the cost of living
free. We live in a police state. The U.S. may be the kinder face of fascism, but it
is still a fascist state. Yes, we have elected a man who may bring change, but the
system that he upholds will still be a capitalist, imperialist monster. If anyone
thinks that he isn't going to protect the corporate interests at the extent of the
people, they are wrong. We live in one of the few countries in the world where
corporations are granted and guaranteed the same rights under our constitution. By
design, our government is structured to uphold that rule of law.

I would rather be in prison or dead than blindly submit to a government I know is
corrupt and wrong. I would rather dare to live free and fight against injustice than
cower in silence and despair. I think many people feel the same way. We just have to
be smarter in how we speak out and in how we act.

Oppression is designed to break the free spirit of the people and force them to
accept their lot. The whole nature of and desire for freedom is to break free at all
costs.

There is a world beyond this one just waiting to be created. The right to clean air,
water and food is a birthright. Freedom is ours by right of birth. It cannot be
granted by any government. It cannot be bought at any price. It is ours and we must
only choose to wear its mantle.

MG-You've kept us updated via your Dispatches from prison. In your last one you wrote
that you were tired of fighting. This is a right that you certainly have earned. You
also wrote that you were not giving up, but are instead looking at different ways of
fighting. Can you touch more on this?

JL-I've spent the last twelve years on the front lines. Sadly, nearly nine of those
have been in prison. I want to focus on my life and family when I get out.

I've seen our failures at struggling against the symptoms. I'd like to focus on
creating the cure. Direct activism and militancy is a mainstay of the struggle for
social and environmental justice. Unfortunately, creating alternatives to today's
mess has not been. That is where I would really like to work and bring really hands
on changes and alternatives to the table.

MG-One of the more chilling Dispatches from you appeared online on Portland
Indymedia in September of 2006. In it, you wrote about the more brutal aspects of
prison life. In the space of a few weeks a guard had been severely beaten in the
yard, fights in chow hall were averaging one a week and a man lay dying for five
hours in front of your cell. You wrote, "I can watch a man get stabbed in the neck
and keep eating. I can pretend to not see a man lying helpless in his own blood
(along with everyone else on the yard). And I can watch a man die and be completely
unmoved."

When you learned that the guy you watched die was a child molester, you wrote that
you were glad that he was dead. While a few folks who commented seemed to understand
what it was that you were trying to convey, one chastised you for feeling glad. She
wrote that this was a "sad turn of events for you," and that if anyone should have
compassion for another human being, it should be you.

Clearly, prison is a dehumanizing experience. While I understand that it is not your
job to clarify your feelings, how would you respond to the woman's comments?

JL-This is the first time that I have seen these comments [I mailed Jeff a print out
of the Indy post]. It is obviously a little difficult to respond to something I
experienced years ago.

My friend Randy Cross-who took his own life no to long after-killed a man. I watched
that man die. I felt nothing as I did. It was simply just another day in prison.

Many people cannot begin to grasp the violent life of a max security prison. The
threat of death is in the air everyday. I lived that life without cowering from it.
When threatened with violence I responded in kind. When threatened with being
stabbed I had my own shank to turn to.

Every one of my friends had a weapon hidden somewhere. Prison is a war zone. We
struggle for territory, space, to avoid becoming a victim. Right or wrong, that was
my life. I fought, I stood my ground, and I survived.

When I learned the man Randy killed was a child molester who admitted in court that
he raped and used a foreign object inside a little girl, a girl who wasn't even yet
twelve, I was glad the monster was dead. There are several monsters that I would
like to see dead and not all are in prison. Some start unjust wars.

I'm not sorry the guy died. And I don't need to justify or explain that feeling.
What I am sorry about is that I can watch that level of violence and be unaffected
by it. I'm sorry that society makes monsters that must be killed.

MG-What do you think the world will look like to you when you hear the steel door
close behind you for the last time and you walk free? What do you think you will
look like to the world? How will you see yourself?

JL-I think the only difference is that the world and I will both be a little older.

To learn more about the case and work of Jeffrey Luers, go to:

www.freefreenow.org

Marlena Gangi is an activist, photojournalist, educator and co-founder of NW APOC. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

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