A new manifesto by former ELF spokesperson Craig Rosebraugh touts the 'Logic of Political Violence.'
It's been easy to pooh-pooh the FBI's insistence in recent years that the Earth Liberation Front is the nation's No. 1 domestic terror threat.
Sure, the underground "ELFs" have burned down a couple of major housing developments, laid waste to a handful of university labs and torched some SUVs. But millions in property damage hardly adds up to an Al Queda-style security threat.
Besides, the ELF always insisted it would draw the line at physically harming humans — and, to date, it's stayed true to that promise.
Now, with the publication of a revolutionary manifesto by Craig Rosebraugh, the ELF's former spokesperson and public face, many skeptics will give the FBI's domestic-terror rankings a second look.
And some might even conclude that the agency was right all along. After all, Rosebraugh echoes a faction of his former group, which last year called on activists to "pick up the gun" and forget about nonviolence.
"It is time for us all to stop being the good citizens," Rosebraugh writes at the end of The Logic of Political Violence. "It is time to stop pretending that our own inactions are serving any purpose but to appease personal consciences. It is time to step out of the position of privilege into one of reality, taking responsibility for our obligation to stop the most diseased and violent political system in history.
"It is time for a revolution in the United States of America."
And what will this revolution entail? Bombs and guns, for one thing.
In a chapter-by-chapter analysis of notable reform, resistance and revolutionary movements of the 20th century, Rosebraugh picks apart the strategies and philosophies underlying these efforts — all neatly supporting his thesis that a strict adherence to nonviolence dooms a movement just as surely as pursuing single-issue reforms.
"[A] revolution in the United States must be comprised of a variety of strategies," he writes, "but it cannot be successful without the implementation of violence."
Rosebraugh is hardly an old-school revolutionary. He despises the excesses of capitalism, but not, apparently, the whole premise of it; in fact, he's a small-business owner in Portland, Ore., where he recently opened a vegan restaurant. He's also a white, nerdy, middle-class product of the American suburbs.
The revolution he wants is democratic. And despite his long-winded, uninspiring rhetoric, Rosebraugh clearly has the potential to make compelling arguments for armed revolt.
But it's all potential at this point. Arissa, the revolutionary group Rosebraugh co-founded after leaving the ELF press office, is in the initial phase of a long-term plan to "spread revolutionary consciousness" in America. Any action seems likely to be years, if not decades, in the future.
Rosebraugh's book, along with an upcoming memoir of his ELF experiences, is part of Arissa's initial effort to raise money — and consciousness — for the eventual revolution.
Even if The Logic of Political Violence is highly unlikely to motivate a mob, it does seem likely to stir serious thought among at least one of Rosebraugh's intended audiences: progressives who've been brought up in the post-civil rights era, believing in Gandhi and King's nonviolent strategies for change.
It helps that Rosebraugh is one of them; he even used to teach workshops on nonviolent activism. But like some others on the left, he has gotten increasingly fed up with the pace of progress toward justice for all.
Rosebraugh's stiffest task is convincing progressives that their cherished tactics of nonviolent protest won't work anymore — if they ever did. He argues that the civil rights movement, for all its legislative achievements, followed a "doomed road of reformism" that has plagued the American left ever since.
"Reformist pursuits," he writes, are "able to bite off, at most, an occasional piece of the oppression pie."
But these days, in a country that was born of revolution, even "the most radical elements of the struggle, including economic sabotage groups such as the Earth Liberation Front, have been seeking single issue changes under the existing power structure," Rosebraugh complains.
It's a state of affairs the government sanctions and benefits from, he writes, because handing out protest permits to those opposing the invasion of Iraq (to give one recent example) allows dissenters to feel that they have a "voice," even if their voice will not be heeded.
Before the civil rights movement, Rosebraugh points out, successful U.S. reform efforts like the early labor and abolitionist movements blended violence — and the threat of violence — into their strategies. Rosebraugh also surveys the "crucial role political violence has played in progressing struggles for justice" elsewhere in the world, including Cuba, Ireland, Algeria and North Vietnam.
But his argument for the necessity of violence ultimately rests on his conviction that the militaristic nature of the U.S. government makes it incapable of being "threatened by anything but the barrel of a gun — particularly one it cannot see."
Such an explicit embrace of political violence will surely set the FBI's alarm bells ringing. Which will be fine and dandy with Rosebraugh. After all, one time-honored strategy for fomenting revolution is provoking a government into cracking down hard on dissent — to the point where "neutral" citizens are forced to take sides, and where many find themselves sympathizing with the rebels.
The post-9/11 crackdown on suspected terrorists, including the ELF, has already planted some seeds of a revolutionary mindset in the U.S. A growing sense that the country is increasingly controlled by corporations — and not by a well-meaning democracy — will also help Rosebraugh make his case.
But the U.S. government need not tremble in its collective boots just yet. Rosebraugh won't make much headway until he can convince progressives, most of whom still worship the gospel of Martin Luther King, that "nonviolent means of social and political change have been exhausted" in America. This book will clinch that point for very few.
And even those few will be left with a series of vexing questions that Rosebraugh never really addresses: What would happen after the revolution? What kind of system would we put in place?
And how do we know it would work better than Cuba's, Ireland's or Algeria's — not to mention the one we've already got?