Foreman, Dave (1946 – ) American Radical Environmental Activist

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Dave Foreman (1946 )
American radical environmental activist

Dave Foreman is a self-described radical environmentalist, Co-founder of Earth First! , and a leading defender of "monkey-wrenching" as a direct-action tactic to slow or stop strip mining , clear-cut logging of old-growth forests, the damming of wild rivers, and other environmentally destructive practices.

The son of a United States Air Force employee, Foreman traveled widely while growing up. In college he chaired the conservative Young Americans for Freedom and worked in the 1964 presidential election campaign of Senator Barry Goldwater. In the 1970s Foreman was a conservative Republican and moderate environmentalist who worked for the Wilderness Society in Washington, D.C. He came to believe that the petrochemical , logging, and mining interests were "extremists" in their pursuit of profit, and that government agenciesthe Forest Service , the Bureau of Land Management , the U.S. Department of Agriculture , and otherswere "gutless" and unwilling or unable to stand up to wealthy and powerful interests intent upon profiting from the destruction of American wilderness . Well-meaning moderate organizations like the Sierra Club , Friends of the Earth , and the Wilderness Society were, with few exceptions, powerless to prevent the continuing destruction. What was needed, Foreman reasoned, was an immoderate and unrespectable band of radical environmentalists like those depicted in Edward Abbey's novel The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) to take direct action against anyone who would destroy the wilderness in the name of "development." With several like-minded friends, Foreman founded Earth First!, whose motto is "No compromise in defense of Mother Earth."

From the beginning, Earth First! was unlike any other radical group. It did not issue manifestoes or publish position papers; it had "no officers, no bylaws or constitution, no incorporation, no tax status; just a collection of women and men committed to the Earth." Earth First!, Foreman wrote, "would be big enough to contain street poets and cowboy bar bouncers, agnostics and pagans, vegetarians and raw steak eaters, pacifists and those who think that turning the other cheek is a good way to get a sore face." Its weapons would include "monkeywrenching," civil disobedience, music, "media stunts [to hold] the villains up to ridicule," and self-deprecating humor: "Radicals frequently verge toward a righteous seriousness. But we felt that if we couldn't laugh at ourselves we would be merely another bunch of dangerous fanatics who should be locked up (like the oil companies). Not only does humor preserve individual and group sanity, it retards hubris, a major cause of environmental rape, and it is also an effective weapon." But besides humor, Foreman called for "fire, passion, courage, and emotionalism...We [environmentalists] have been too reasonable, too calm, too understanding. It's time to get angry, to cry, to let rage flow at what the human cancer is doing to Mother Earth."

In 1987 Foreman published Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching, in which he described in detail the tools and techniques of environmental sabotage or monkey-wrenching . These techniques included "spiking" old-growth redwoods and Douglas firs to prevent loggers from felling them; "munching" logging roads with nails; sabotaging bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment; pulling up surveyors' stakes; and toppling high-voltage power lines. These tactics, Foreman said, were aimed at property, not at people. But critics quickly charged that loggers' lives and jobs were endangered by tree-spiking and other techniques that could turn deadly. Moderate or mainstream environmental organizations joined in condemning the confrontational tactics favored by Foreman and Earth First!

In his autobiography Confessions of an Eco-Warrior (1991) Foreman defends monkey-wrenching as an unfortunate tactical necessity that has achieved its primary purpose of attracting the attention of the American people and the media to the destruction of the nation's remaining wilderness. It also attracted the attention of the FBI, whose agents arrested Foreman at his home in 1989 for allegedly financing and encouraging ecoteurs (ecological saboteurs) to topple high-voltage power poles. Foreman was put on trial to face felony charges, which he denied. The charges were questioned when it was disclosed that an FBI informant had infiltrated Earth First! with the intention of framing Foreman and discrediting the organization. In a plea bargain, Foreman pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and received a suspended sentence.

Foreman left Earth First! to found and direct The Wildlands Project in Tucson, Arizona. He continues to lecture and write about the protection of the wilderness.

[Terence Ball ]



Foreman, D. Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. New York: Harmony Books, 1991.

. "Earth First!" In Ideals and Ideologies: A Reader, edited by T. Ball and R. Dagger. New York: Harper-Collins, 1991.

, and B. Haywood. Ecodefense: A Guide to Monkeywrenching. Tucson: Ned Ludd Books, 1985.

List, P. C., ed. Radical Environmentalism: Philosophy and Tactics. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1993.

Manes, C. Green Rage: Radical Environmentalism and the Unmaking of Civilization. Boston: Little, Brown, 1990.

Scarce, R. Eco-Warriors: Understanding the Radical Environmental Movement. Chicago: Noble Press, 1990.

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Foreman, Dave (1946 – ) American Radical Environmental Activist

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