Filed under: Anti-Patriarchy, Civilization, Environment, Queer, US, White Supremacy
From Earth First! Newswire
by Kiera Loki Anderson
I spent the last two years doing interviews and archival research into feminist call-outs in the Pacific Northwest from 2000-‘05. During that period, eco-anarchist groups In Eugene, Portland, and Olympia had to expend huge amounts of energy if they wanted to keep activists safe from interpersonal abuse. These efforts were made infinitely harder by the lack of awareness straight, white activist men displayed about privilege and oppression.There has been some attention paid within Earth First! circles about how to challenge white supremacy and patriarchy in recent years. I aim here to shed some light on the widespread misogyny present within overlapping anarchist and environmental communities. I am specifically looking at responses to interpersonal violence and misogyny in primarily white and male-dominated activist groups in Cascadia, but I also want to draw from and contribute to an understanding of how racism, classism, and ableism maintain oppression within the larger movement and society.
I initially wanted to hear “all sides” of these call-outs. I interviewed a wide range of activists and put together a comprehensive archive of articles, zines, and web pages. I initially planned to create a healing, empowering space in which forest defenders and anarcha-feminists could hear differing experiences of that time – a calling-in of sorts – that could encourage healthier models of accountability in our movement to emerge.
However, my research challenged many of my assumptions. I’ve begun to understand the impact that widespread anti-feminist “counter-offensives” had on attempts to call out and organize against interlocking forms of oppression. The backlash also had impacts on individual survivors. In the last few years, debates about “call-out culture” have also become common in eco-anarchist circles. Although much of this writing from activist circles focuses on how call-outs are used to challenge oppressive language or actions more broadly, criticisms of “call-out culture” are often linked to criticisms of “punitive” approaches to accountability. 
In my own work, I’ve come across many examples of why direct action-style tactics like call-outs are necessary to challenge the entrenched and widespread oppression that marginalized activists face in supposedly “radical” activist communities. The activism of the early 2000’s, in places like Eugene or Portland, offers an exploration of how organizations and communities can either be complicit in misogyny and interpersonal abuse or actively try to challenge it. Misogyny underpins “cultures of abuse” that enable violence against marginalized women and trans people, and protects abusers and misogynists.
In the wake of the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, surveillance and police violence was commonplace. Unfortunately, other forms of repression were also at play alongside the power of the state: white, able-bodied men in Eugene were positioning themselves as high-profile spokespeople for the growing anarchist movement in town. Anarcha-feminists became concerned about the oppressive language and misogynist behavior (and at times outright abuse) displayed by some of these self-appointed spokespeople. They were critical of how social capital protected many serial perpetrators from attempts to hold them accountable, and looked beyond individual acts of abuse or assault in order to challenge the wider dynamics that allowed this oppression to continue. 
In doing so, these feminists also challenged exclusionary narratives about what was deemed “radical” or “revolutionary.” These efforts were about empowering more marginalized people, based on the idea that radical, revolutionary organizing needs to center on those most oppressed within society. But the evidence suggests that activists who highlighted this—like anarcha-feminists—received daily harassment that escalated into outright violence. This repression can be viewed as retaliation for highlighting the micro-aggressions and abuse carried out by influential anarchists in the community. I believe this retaliation would not have been possible without the complicity or willful ignorance of activists with a great deal of social capital in Eugene.
Within CFD, [Cascadia Forest Defenders] attempts to challenge misogyny and abuse in tree-sits initially used more of a “calling-in’ approach. In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, women were often responsible for the day-to-day town support of the sits, whilst the tree-sitters were often exclusively men. The Fall Creek tree-sits demonstrate how misogyny played out in the tree-villages and deterred women from being involved. There were also several accounts of assaults and abuse in different tree-sits—not just those near Eugene, but also at sits maintained by Cascadia Forest Alliance near Portland. One activist I spoke to talked about her experiences of that at Fall Creek:
There was a real undercurrent of “You are here because you are keeping the male Sitters happy, by whatever means necessary.” And that’s a hard thing to admit but it really was there and it really was the dynamic. And I understood it as that.
The abuse happening at sits like Fall Creek was mirrored in campaign houses in town, as well as leftist/anarchist groups throughout Cascadia. One activist I spoke to was directly aware of 20 instances of interpersonal violence in a 2-3 year period in activist circles in the Northwest. She believes there were many more that she wasn’t aware of.
In the winter of 2000, a woman came forward about being assaulted by a respected forest defender in CFD. Reports of abusive behavior at Fall Creek also began to be addressed. In order to challenge the gendered division of labor in the tree sits at Fall Creek and Winberry, it was decided that there would be women-only months in the trees: a gender swap so that men would take on more of the town support and women would get to spend more time in the trees (which were all occupied by men at that time). Wind, who was involved in the action, recalled what happened:
We were only able to manifest women’s month at Fall Creek. Because the rest of the men—with three notable exceptions—bailed on the entire action at Fall Creek when the women moved to be in the trees, we actually didn’t have enough bodies to support both sits. And it was a matter of either abandoning one sit altogether, or underserving both sits, or basically allowing Winberry to continue in its own manner. And we opted to just not engage with Winberry at the time. There was certainly some women who were working with Winberry ‘cause otherwise shit would not have been buried, but we didn’t work to ask the men to come out of the trees in that sit themselves because the resistance was so furious at Fall Creek that we decided to basically pick our battles.
Later that spring, men who had been asked to leave Fall Creek for acting in abusive and misogynistic ways returned. According to an article published in “The Insurgent”, attempts to resolve the situation and to promote healing and reconciliation failed. A woman forest defender confronted them, and they became hostile. They called the woman a “feminazi” and began throwing Nazi salutes. They refused to leave, and set up a ‘patriarchy pod’. There was not enough community support to physically remove them, since activists in town were supporting them. This suggests that they reflected existing community norms within the white-dominated forest defense scene:
So as time went on they became more entrenched and even convinced other people that they were persecuted forest defenders who got caught up in a “feminazi witch hunt.” It’s hard to understand how such undesirable individuals were able to maintain a presence there. After all, they did need some support outside their boys’ club to maintain a road blockade. During the summer a lot of people came out. The pod was the first thing that they would encounter. The people there would put on a good show and talk about how they were there to “defend the forest” and that they were wrongly persecuted by “drama freaks” and the “Eugene Radical Feminists.”
Two years later, in the summer of 2003, the tree-sitters at Fall Creek were unwilling to agree to a region-wide anti-oppression and safer spaces policy. They were also allowing men to stay there who had been called out for abuse or sexual assault. The region-wide policy had been developed as part of Cascadia Summer, a campaign coordinated by representatives of different environmental and social justice activists from everywhere between British Columbia and Santa Cruz. For the first time, all these groups agreed on a unified anti-oppression policy that established a conflict resolution team committed to holding people accountable for the harm they caused. CFD was no longer willing to support the tree sitters at Fall Creek as long as they felt it was an unsafe space for women. This lead to an unresolved split between CFD and Fall Creek.
Cascadia Forest Alliance also dealt with multiple examples of coercion and sexual assaults in the sits at Eagle Creek. Chimpy, a CFA activist, shared his memories of one:
A well known, very capable, male identified tree activist made some inappropriate advances towards an inexperienced female identified ‘newbie’. She came forth in confidence to another somewhat more experienced activist woman. The incident was very much kept under wraps, at her request. Some of us were discussing the incident one day, wondering what to do about it. At the time we had been playing a lot of chess.” X [the man who had been coercive] is a lot like the rook, and Y [the woman whose boundaries had been pushed] is a lot like the pawn. You can’t lose the rook, they’re crucial to the game. Pawns are however expendable.” To which someone responded: “Yeah, but if you let the pawns get all the way across the board, they then become Queens!”
Chimpy ended up writing CFA’s policy on sexual assault, and the group also signed up to Cascadia Summer’s anti-oppression and safer spaces policies. But this did not change their ‘informal’ practices when it came to dealing with interpersonal abuse. Boadicea, another CFA activist I spoke to, pointed out that it was generally the less popular men that got excluded. In the summer of 2003, people looked the other way when it was clear a woman was being abused at the Solo timber sale because the abusive individual was a man with “climbing and rigging skills”. Rumors begun to spread about CFA’s inconsistency when it came to holding individuals accountable for their abusive behavior. Boadicea recalled that it was dubbed ‘Cascadia Rapist Alliance’ in some sections of the punk community in Portland
The women’s action camps and tree-sits that started around this time were a response to the entrenched abuse activists were faced with. They were arguably the only way for women to be safe and self-sufficient in the woods. Women were able to learn the climbing and rigging skills that were so highly valued in groups like CFA. They were also spaces where women were significantly less likely to be assaulted or abused. A two-week women-only action camp was organized by Mazama Forest Defenders (based in Ashland, Oregon) to kick off Cascadia Summer. Another women-only camp, the first to be referred to as a trans and women’s action camp, was organized by Boadicea and other CFA activists. Although the action camp was technically the first Trans and/or Women’s Action Camp, Boadicea recently acknowledged that the camp fell short of being trans-inclusive in practice. She hoped that the camp would kick-start a women-led campaign at the Bear/Cub timber sale in Mt. Hood, and her plan was met with excitement by many of the women organizers and ambivalence or hostility by the men. According to Boadicea, CFA was struggling to maintain campaigns at both Bear/Cub and Solo, but Solo wasn’t a safer space because of the abuse happening there. Efforts to have a women-led space at Bear/Cub instead didn’t materialize. When the sits were taken down at Solo in the fall of 2003, CFA began to fall apart. Boadicea recalls that gear had been promised to her for the campaigns she was working on. When it was sent down to CFD instead, she felt discouraged and drifted away from forest activism.
Feminists in Cascadia Forest Defenders were more successful at challenging abuse within the group. One of the ways they achieved this was setting up a women-only sit, in Unit 6 of the Straw Devil Timber Sale. This was the first time in Cascadia that a sit had been entirely erected and occupied by women. There was also an all-gender tree-sit elsewhere in the sale. By distancing themselves from Fall Creek, and promoting the ‘eco-feminist front’ at Straw Devil, they were able to transform into a feminist organization. Their commitment to supporting survivors is an example of the kinds of decisions and actions that were necessary within Earth First! affiliated groups to promote anti-oppression throughout the wider network.
Feminists in CFD also got a lot of backlash for calling out Fall Creek. In August 2003, accusations were posted on Cascadia Summer’s public message board suggesting that members of CFD who had spoken out about Fall Creek were infiltrators:
Be careful of who you trust. Some of these people are “trusted” individuals who have been involved for a long time in the community and have grown deep roots. Many people trust these individuals and allow them to use the old tactics of divide and concur, spreading disinformation, and basically sowing descent. Watch your words, and watch your backs. You might not suspect your “best friend” of being an infiltrator, informant, or provocateur but they very well maybe. I have my suspicions of a couple individuals specifically, maily due to disent they have sown and division they have created within the community [copied complete with spelling mistakes].
Although the accusation was quickly dismissed, it’s an example of how the language used to understand and challenge state repression—terms like COINTELPRO, infiltrators, disinformation, etc.—has also been used to silence feminist organizing against abuse. This repression by supposedly ‘radical’ activists was widespread throughout the Pacific Northwest in the early 2000s. There is plenty of evidence that suggests it was a serious threat to the anarchist movement’s cohesion and success. In places like Eugene there were efforts to target anyone who was a threat to the “anarchist status quo”. Members of marginalized groups were only allowed social capital if they aligned themselves with the primarily white anarchist scene. Many of the activists who challenged the scene’s racism, misogyny, or abuse ended up pariahs.
These outspoken activists were targeted in a variety of ways. Suggestions that they might be FBI agents was one particular tactic. Consider a quote from an “open letter” signed by a white anarchist man in Eugene and distributed in Eugene c. 2000:
An atmosphere where any person’s allegations are automatically believed is a perfect breeding ground for infiltrators bent on destroying the community. Got a problem with anarchists? Send in an attractive female Fed and accuse the most effective members of the community of “rape.”
Stickers were also put up around Eugene hinting at links between prominent anarcha-feminist activists and “COINTELPRO.” The snitch-jacketing of feminists, at a time when there were heightened fears around government infiltrators, went hand-in-hand with physical violence and harassment. These feminists had been calling out oppression as well as supporting survivors. They were targeted with levels of harassment and abuse that seem hard to fathom in our present movement. The violence included everything from spray-painting someone’s house to trying to burn it down. My research suggests that the labeling of anarcha-feminists as potential government informants was why people felt justified carrying out these kinds of retaliatory actions. People found it easier to blame individuals for being “divisive” when they called out oppression than to acknowledge that it was the abusive or marginalizing behaviors that were disruptive. The combination of surveillance with overt police violence provided a perfect environment to maintain hierarchical oppression.
Survivors and their allies were facing similar scrutiny elsewhere in Cascadia. Activists with Cascadia Defense Network, based in Olympia, were also figuring out the best way to deal with perpetrators in their group. One member, Avalon, aka Bill Rodgers, was called out for sexually assaulting under-age girls in 2000. According to Boadicea, some of the older-guard EF!ers who knew Avalon were suspicious about the call-out:
For them to suddenly see a group of activists turn on another group of activists over a story that one person brings up, probably rang their alarms with the volume all the way up of being a potential FBI-founded accusation…just designed to pull the movement apart.So there were the people that believed in rape more than they believed in COINTELPRO, there were the people that believed in COINTELPRO more than they believed in rape, and then there were people who were paralyzed, not knowing what to do.
A group, led by women involved in Cascadia Defense Network, was able to exclude Avalon from Earth First! circles in the Northwest. In the summer of 2005, Avalon was once again asked to leave after he tried to attend the EF! Rondy in Mt. Hood. The organizers, acting in solidarity with survivors, made it clear he was not welcome.
These examples of attempts to link call-outs of oppression, violence, and abuse with state provocation are far too frequent in our movements. Activists have even fallen back on these arguments when a clear link has been made between infiltrators and perpetrators of abuse. Witness to Betrayal by Kristian Williams provides an account of scott crow’s relationship with Brandon Darby (who turned informant in 2006). William’s interview with crow provides a partial account of how call-outs of sexual assault were handled at Common Ground Collective after Hurricane Katrina. At one point, crow reflects on how he responded to posts calling Brandon out for assault:
They were saying, this guy’s raping women all over the place. Then they started posting on Indymedia. And you have to understand; it was not verifiable at all. It was very inflammatory language and happened occasionally about other issues within Common Ground. Women and men in the organization took it as COINTELPRO being used against us. So, I used my connections with Indymedia all around the world to take it down, on server after server after server, because Brandon asked me to. I still stand by that, because you know, no physical person ever came forward and no advocate for a physical person ever came forward and said, “he physically assaulted me.” It was always definitely inappropriate power dynamics that caused drama, but that would be it.
crow’s criticism of the call-out’s tone is unsettling. A term like “inflammatory” suggests that the posts about Darby being a serial rapist might have been taken seriously if they adopted a more placatory tone. And although the call-outs may have been made anonymously to protect survivors and their allies from backlash, crow seems to suggest that the survivors should have given Darby and his allies the benefit of the doubt and shared more about their experiences. crow’s interview outlines the many important lessons to be learned in the case of Brandon Darby. As was in the case in Cascadia, white men in leadership positions are often able to maintain destructive behaviors because other activists with a lot of social capital continue to vouch for them.
crow’s renewed commitment to his decision to protect Darby from rape call-outs avoids an important, and some might say long overdue, opportunity to explore the links between acts of abuse and infiltration. He also fails to acknowledge how the male leadership of Common Ground had downplayed the frequency of sexual assault within the organization as well as actively shutting down call-outs. Courtney Desiree Morris’ article “Why Misogynists Make Great Informants” provides a more thorough analysis. Although Common Ground had strong African-American leadership, it seems as if white coordinators and leaders still acted – at least initially – to protect disruptive men like Darby. Morris references Rachel Luft’s research into the race and gender politics of Common Ground. Luft’s interviews tell a disturbing story (which is similar to what I have begun uncovering in Eugene) of high rates of sexual violence, misogyny, and racism carried out by white male organizers and volunteers. When it came to holding white men like Darby accountable for sexual assault, attempts to deny it fell back on racist, gendered narratives about the need to protect white women from black men.
According to Luft, it was initially the white male organizers who shifted the blame onto black men in the community:
Common Ground failed to address white men’s assaults on their co-organizers and instead shifted the blame to the surrounding Black community, warning white women activists that they needed to be careful because New Orleans was a dangerous place. Ultimately it proved easier to criminalize Black men from the neighborhood than to acknowledge that white women and transgender organizers were most likely to be assaulted by white men they worked with.
Luft also points out that white women in leadership positions were complicit, by downplaying the frequency of the assaults and by suggesting that white women were unsafe in the surrounding neighborhood. This plays into a long tradition of white women being complicit in the criminalization of black men in the South. Buying into myths of the “predatory black man” lets white men—who are far more likely to be perpetrators of abuse against white women—off the hook. It also demonstrates how gendered violence in America is reinforced by white supremacy and vice versa.
This brief look at the way sexual assault was being responded to at Common Ground proves why we need to consider the links between other forms of repression in our fight against State repression. Morris invites us to make these connections:
We might think of these misogynists as inadvertent agents of the state. Regardless of whether they are actually informants or not, the work that they do supports the state’s ongoing campaign of terror against social movements and the people who create them. When queer organizers are humiliated and their political struggles sidelined, that is part of an ongoing state project of violence against radicals. When women are knowingly given STIs, physically abused, dismissed in meetings, pushed aside, and forced out of radical organizing spaces while our allies defend known misogynists, organizers collude in the state’s efforts to destroy us.
What Morris drives home is how white, male-dominated social movements are complicit in the abuse carried out by the state when they label survivors and their advocates as divisive, vindictive, or even informants. Men who use their positions of authority in our movements to harass and disrespect fellow activists play a major role in allowing abuse to thrive in our movements.
The examples I’ve laid out: the protection of perpetrators, the regular (and at times violent) harassment of outspoken feminists, the attempts to discredit survivors and their allies, all contributed to what I consider semi-orchestrated cover-ups of abuse within anarchist and activist communities. My exhaustive research of the last few years, and comparable examples cropping up in wider society on university campuses or in regards to men like Bill Cosby, have given me the frameworks and material that have helped me reach this conclusion. The silencing and vilification of particular survivors and their allies has a chilling effect whenever it occurs in our movement. A survivor (active in a range of different activist groups in the NW) made that clear to me recently:
I saw some of the worst of the social dynamics, and so did many of the other survivors I’ve talked to. One person even told me “Survivors have been coming to me, saying ‘I got raped but I’m going to keep quiet about it, because what happened to your friend when they told their story was so awful.
In order to better support survivors, and strengthen our resistance to state repression and systemic oppression, we need to consider how we can, collectively, call-out men who are acting in misogynist, racist and/or abusive ways. We need to challenge people with social capital who are enabling traumatizing, disruptive behavior that undermines our social movements. We need to make sure that survivors who come forward are protected and supported in doing so, regardless of how much social capital the people who abused or assaulted them may have. This is part of a long and proud tradition of directly confronting injustice wherever it occurs. Direct action, with its origins in the strikes and sabotage of the IWW, the sit-ins of the Civil Rights Era, or the window smashing of the Suffragettes, is also central to our continued success as a movement. We need to honor its roots in the struggles of marginalized people across the globe and continue to use it to call out oppression and abuse within our movement. No Compromise in Defense of Consent!
Kiera Loki Anderson is an artist-storyteller and PhD student currently residing in unceded Coast Salish Territories. They have a background in forest defense and feminist/queer community organizing. A central focus of their research and praxis is the history of anti-oppression and safer space organizing within forest defense in the early 2000’s. Contact them via website or twitter at kjanderson.net or https://twitter.com/kjandersonsTags: Earth First!, Radical History, Trans and Women's Action Camp