As weapon, violence is boomerang
In May 2001, members of a Northwest group used arson to advance its agenda. They set fire to the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University...
Seattle Times staff columnist
In May 2001, members of a Northwest group used arson to advance its agenda.
They set fire to the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington because they believed one of the researchers was genetically engineering poplar trees. He wasn't.
The arsonists destroyed plants and the research of several people other than the man whose work they targeted. None of their goals was served by the violence.
"Misguided" is the word, I believe. I'd even call them ecoterrorists.
The crime is back in the news because a woman accused of acting as a lookout for the Earth Liberation Front is scheduled to go on trial next month.
The professor whose work the group feared, Toby Bradshaw, said he is still doing the same line of basic research he's pursued for the past decade, trying to understand "the genetic mechanisms by which organisms adapt to their environments."
He does hybrid breeding, but not genetic engineering, no Frankenplants.
Bradshaw said he'll testify at the trial.
The damaged building, Merrill Hall, has been rebuilt, bigger and better. This week is the third anniversary of its rededication.
Researchers there work to preserve endangered plants and restore degraded landscapes, among other things. It's a building full of nature lovers.
Attacking it was senseless, but does trying to scare people into submission ever make sense? I don't think so. It might seem to work in the short term, but in the end it's self-destructive.
Consider lynching. It did what it was intended to do for decades, but the practice also became a rallying point against Jim Crow.
The arson at the UW clearly doesn't approach that scale but it shares a reliance on violence to influence the behavior of other people.
The goal is to make people suffer enough that they'll give in to you.
Powerful people use the tactic to oppress the less powerful. People who feel powerless use it against stronger adversaries.
They can be left-wing, right-wing. The range of who and for what cause is broad. They all want to be part of something significant.
Eighteen men and women were indicted for alleged involvement in several arsons in Western states including the UW fire.
A dozen of them entered pleas, four fled and one committed suicide after being taken into custody.
The last one, the woman accused of being a lookout, Briana Waters, was a student at The Evergreen State College in 2001 and denies participating. Now she's a 32-year-old violin teacher in Berkeley, Calif., and a mom.
Her trial date was set while we've been remembering the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and the nonviolent tactics of the civil rights movement.
Some causes can't be advanced with votes or pleas, but you can work outside normal channels and still preserve your integrity.
That's a radically different approach, and one that works.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or email@example.com.
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