Coronado. Photo courtesy of Chrysta Faye
On March 24, 2004, long-time earth and animal liberation
activist Rod Coronado was arrested for his involvement
in an Earth First! campaign against the killing and removal of mountain
lions in the Sabino Canyon recreation area outside Tuscan, AZ, an area
usually closed to hunting. In December 2005 he was found guilty of “conspiring
to impede or injure an officer of the U.S.,” a felony, “interference
with a U.S. Forest Service Officer,” and “aiding and abetting
the depredation of government property,” both misdemeanors. On
August 7, 2006 Rod was sentenced to eight months in federal prison and
three years of supervised release (probation) in which he is forbidden
to write, publish or speak about the animal and earth liberation fronts,
Earth First!, or encourage illegal activities practiced by those groups.
While serving his federal sentence, Rod Coronado shared with Sangamithra
Iyerhis thoughts on recent animal enterprise terrorism legislation,
his changing perspectives on direct action, and the magic of Harry Potter.
Can you talk a bit about the Sabino Canyon case?
The depredation of government property stems from the alleged destruction of
a mountain lion snare set in the canyon by a federal lion hunter. The trap
was never damaged, only sprung, but that never came out in court. Our efforts
were very public, and I served as spokesperson for the people who represented
the lions. When all legal measures to stop the hunt were exhausted, AZ Earth
First! was contacted by the Center for Biological Diversity to help intervene
as we were the only group opposing these trophy hunts authorized by Arizona
Fish and Game. I was arrested in Sabino Canyon along with a reporter from Esquire magazine
after being chased by a helicopter and cornered by federal and state officers.
We had succeeded in stopping that hunt, but learned in our trial that after
media attention died down, hunters returned to the area killing four lions
and capturing more.
What are your thoughts about recent federal legislation targeting animal
and environmental activists? What do you think it means for the future of animal
activism in this country?
This recent legislation is typical for a society that uses law enforcement
as a means to resist social change while also protecting the special interests
of industries with powerful friends in Washington. It reminds me of the abolitionists
of the 19th century who were faced with prosecution under the Fugitive Slave
Act for aiding runaway slaves, something we consider downright heroic today.
Just as rich landowners were frightened at the prospect of losing slave labor,
corporations today worry about the impact on their profit margins should they
ever be held responsible for committing large-scale animal cruelty and environmental
With animal welfare it is economically unfeasible to be compassionate while
remaining profitable. I read about the global threat to fisheries if pollution
and overfishing continue unabated, yet the fishing industry assures us everything
is fine. When it comes to the environment we have a historic record of showing
scarcity of a resource simply drives up the market value, fueling industries
to relentlessly exploit it until total ecological and market collapse. With
such a record of inaction no one should be surprised that some people become
frustrated and find no other avenue besides lawlessness. If Congress truly
wanted to prevent “animal enterprise terrorism” they would generate
greater responsibility in managing the natural resources of the earth instead
of dragging their feet when a serious environmental catastrophe is at our doorstep.
Since 9/11 the political climate makes it far too easy for actions that destroy
property to be seen as a form of terrorism. In response, we can best adapt
our activities towards avenues, which do not result in some of our brilliant
young leaders being criminalized as terrorists. We have to shift the blame
to where it belongs, with irresponsible profit-driven corporations and public
policies that cater to them. At the same time we need to return to a very grassroots
approach and not allow animal and environmental activism to be relegated to
the work of national and international organizations who operate as corporations
themselves, capitalizing on societal concerns for animals and the environment.
We need to return to a level of democracy where it’s not lawyers representing
our interests, but the affected communities themselves.
Has your position on direct action changed?
Yes, personally and politically. When I began my career as a direct action
activist, animal rights and environmentalism were still very fringe issues
to the mainstream. Now thanks in part to direct action these issues have extended
to the forefront of society. We have Prime Ministers and former Vice Presidents
sounding the alarm we were ringing years ago. Of course law enforcement has
responded with draconian laws that categorize direct action on the same level
as terrorism. Dealing with political actions against corporate interests and
property more severely than most physical crimes of violence.
In my opinion, direct action in first worlds like the U.S. have served their
purpose and it is time for us to evolve strategies away from a focus on what’s
wrong with our world and direct our energies toward what is right. Those who
have been sounding the alarm now have a chance to show disenchanted citizens
our vision of a peaceful, harmonic and sustainable way of living. There is
a greater example to be made by us through mutual aid and cooperation, free
education, organic gardening, etc. than any act that seeks to attack our destructive
I could continue to do what I have done for the past 20 years, but what would
come of it? Martyrdom and a life sentence. No, I want to be part of the rebuilding.
I want to watch my children grow and live the way I believe we should.
Do you have any regrets?
Of course, who doesn’t? I regret my children suffer from my separation.
I regret not having learned the things I now know before they began causing
pain. I regret externalizing my unhappiness with the world onto others rather
than first endeavoring to change myself. I regret having hurt people I love.
But I am human and like most of us, we learn from our mistakes. I learned that
nothing helps us prevent future acts of insensitivity like our past acts of
insensitivity. It’s just a question of whether we are courageous enough
to accept what we have done wrong. If only our government could do the same.
One thing I don’t regret is accepting the challenge to live in a way
that doesn’t make me a pawn of our political climate or a slave to the
dogmatic self-defeating patriarchal worldview.
What advice do you have for fellow activists?
We make our lives the model of how we want others to live. I believe in relating
to people as a counter measure to the corporate media and fear-mongers who
portray us as extremists. What we represent should never be termed as extreme
because nothing could be simpler than living with consideration towards others.
What should be labeled extreme are political agendas at the expense of all
life on earth.
All of us want to see an end to suffering, but we have to accept that many
others have tried and sacrificed, often more than we ever will, only to see
the injustice they fought outlive themselves. And while it is important to
stand up for what we believe in, little is gained from being knocked down.
Let’s not do the state’s work and allow our actions to resemble
the terrorist acts they allege them to be. Let’s embody what we represent:
love, compassion, respect and peace and leave out the war, destruction and
greed. People are smart. They will be able to tell the difference, but not
if our actions represent those of the system we are trying to stop. It’s
not going to be a handful of individuals attacking the state that effects change,
but the multitudes of oppressed standing in solidarity as victims of injustice.
It’s our job to win people over without lying to them and by offering
realistic solutions they can understand and embrace.
Most importantly be happy. There is great joy to be discovered in helping others.
I understand this incarceration has been a transformative experience
This time in prison has been transformative just as it would be for anyone
imprisoned for their political actions or views. What I see as my current state
of transformation began earlier this year when for the first time I began to
reflect, not just on my political activities, but on my personal actions as
well. In pursuit of my activist career, I hurt a lot of people very close to
me, always keeping my “eyes on the prize” and never questioning
the hypocrisy of my own actions. Last winter, the pain I was causing became
too great to ignore and I was ashamed of how I had been justifying my personal
behavior that was nowhere near embodying the respect, compassion and love that
I have endeavored to represent. That’s when I decided to “retire” from
my confrontational politics and antagonistic positioning and focus on a simpler
way of practicing what I want to preach. As a father and a partner in a relationship
that meant working on being emotionally, spiritually and physically available
to those who teach me about love more than any type of actions against violent
It’s been a whole new revelation and more rewarding than any “revolutionary” action
I had previously engaged in. More importantly, it taught me to live life with
the great level of joy we all desperately need to survive and sustain ourselves
in the coming years of turmoil.
It has also helped me find common ground with “enemies” and see
that however misdirected we both might be, there is enough commonality for
us to discover a mutual way of resolving conflict without violence. I no longer
believe in “good vs. evil.” I believe we are all capable
of good and evil, it’s just a matter of being accountable.
What’s really sad and frustrating is not being able to convince my past
opponents of my willingness to work towards change in a different way. The
system is totally unforgiving and unwilling to look past my actions of before
to see the potential in working together now. When I was sent to prison, I
accepted the punishment, but really would have liked for Arizona Fish and Game
to ask for a sentence of community service so that we both might learn an alternative
form of conflict resolution that is less punitive. Still, whatever injustice
I personally suffer will not sway me from extending myself to explore a different
way of dealing with social and ecological problems. The system can refuse to
change but I won’t.
What have you enjoyed reading in prison?
I’ve really enjoyed J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books,
which are a wonderful exploration into a parallel world where magic still exists.
They are beautiful stories that remind us that more important than power and
control is friendship, respect, unity and tolerance. It’s funny but ever
since I became a parent, I’ve found such inspiration in children’s
books. So often the heroes are those who rescue animals or risk their lives
to save their loved ones—important lessons that many grown-ups could
benefit from learning again.
What gives you hope?
I know there is much pain in the world. I’ve seen the faces of thousands
of animals suffering in cages, the destruction of ancient forests…No
one needs to remind us of the dark times we face. But if we are going to make
it through, we are going to make it by helping one another. This world is still
a wonderful place. They haven’t destroyed it all yet, and there’s
still enough to inspire hope. We are a crazy species, but smart enough to pull
ourselves out of this nosedive if we act now and stop pointing our fingers
at others. We just have to hold on tight to what we love, our children, each
other, the Earth and I think we will be all right.
For more information visit www.supportrod.org.
To learn more about Rod, read the two-part 1997 Satya interview “Freedom
from the Cages” www.satyamag.com/interviews.html.
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