Boulder Community Network | Environmental Center | Stop$SuperVail | Campaign News
[Webmaster's note: this was submitted to the Earth First! Journal and published in their Brigid issue]

Vail Arson: Colorado Activists Face Grand Jury

by Ben Doon, AFR San Luis

The fires on Vail Mountain continue to burden nonviolent environmental activists in Colorado in the form of FBI harassment. Dozens of people have been contacted by the feds as the situation becomes increasingly serious. Three months have gone by since the night of October 19, 1998, and the federal investigation of the arson has evolved from casual phone conversations to grand jury subpoenas.

Ancient Forest Rescue (AFR) has openly opposed Vail Associate's (VA) Category III expansion into the Two Elk Roadless Area for almost four years now. Activists, skiers, students and Vail Valley locals have formed a unique coalition to stop corporate intrusion onto our public land. Side by side, concerned citizens from all over Colorado stood up and spoke out to the US Forest Service and Vail Associates with the message that the expansion is unacceptable. However, everything the coalition has achieved since 1995 crumbled to the barest of foundations when the media reported that supposed environmentalists were responsible for the fire. The governor of Colorado denounced the arson as an act of terrorism and an open season of FBI harassment on people known to be opposed to Vail's plan commenced.

The FBI's "investigation" began with phone calls to longtime environmental activists in Colorado. Timber sale appeal experts and others who fight the industrial invasion of Colorado wildlands through the National Environmental Protection Act process received phone calls within the first week after the fires. The general response was, "I have no comment; you can call my lawyer."

During the next few weeks Vail Valley locals began to receive phone calls from Ole Johnny Law. Most locals, unfamiliar with the FBI's infamous harassment and coercion techniques, agreed to speak with the feds under specified terms. The FBI and ATF interrogators proceeded to ignore their promises. One local businessman agreed to speak about the history of Vail with a lawyer present, but the feds insisted upon asking about other people. After our friend repeatedly stated he would not dignify the inquiry with answers, the feds stormed out of the room. Another local whose recent participation in the anti-expansion campaign has been limited to attending a slide show agreed to meet with the feds. Again the questions were focused on who's who and again the interview went nowhere. At this point any semblance of patience by the FBI began to erode and intimidation tactics began snowballing. One Vail Valley anti-expansion supporter was approached by an ATF officer on the street in Vail and was told his jacket looked suspiciously like one reportedly worn by a lone hitchhiker leaving Vail soon after the fires were set.

Currently, the FBI is using its best harassment techniques on college students. The FBI approached two women who work for a University environmental group. When they refused to cooperate, their supervisor was questioned. He was asked by the feds why the girls wouldn't cooperate. He replied, because they fear COINTELPRO, the FBI's policy used against radicals. When the meeting ended, the feds stated, "You can tell those girls we are not going away."

A few weeks later the FBI began snooping around another corner of the state and probed into the lives of other university students. One woman became a target of serious intimidation and isolation. Her friends were approached; her boss was questioned for three hours, and her professors were visited. Her environmental ethics professor was asked to produce all the papers handed-in during the semester by this woman. The feds insinuated she was a terrorist and wanted to know about her lifestyle. After all that they finally knocked on her door.

As a Happy New Year greeting, the FBI began issuing subpoenas to activists to appear in front of a grand jury on January 28. The first person to receive a subpoena was approached in Boston while visiting her parents during the holidays. They followed her while she dropped her mom off at work and approached her while she was taking garbage to the dump, wearing only pajamas and an overcoat.

While we are all confident of our innocence, the FBI harassment has been very difficult. For many people in Colorado the campaign to stop Super Vail was their first introduction to the environmental movement. Now, thanks to the arson, they are suffering under the burden of an investigation unprecedented here in Colorado. Our strength is our solidarity, and our belief is steadfast that the real victim of the fires and the ensuing investigation is the Two Elk Roadless Area and the pristine forests that will soon be tamed into the resort lifestyle.

To support AFR contact us at: POB 762
San Luis, Colorado 81152
(719) 672-3012

See also Brian Glick's excellent article:
COINTELPRO Revisited: Spying and Disruption
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