He called himself Free, an apt name for an anarchist. And he stood tall in court as he explained why he had torched a Chevrolet dealership, incinerating three sport-utility vehicles. "I didn't do this because I enjoy property destruction," he said. "I did this because I'm frustrated that we are doing irreversible damage to our planet."
But last month a Eugene, Ore., judge handed down a prison sentence of 22 years and eight months to Jeffrey Luers, only 22 years old himself, not just for burning the SUVs but also for attempting to set fire to an empty oil tanker two weeks earlier. An accomplice, Craig (Critter) Marshall, 28, pleaded guilty and got 5 1/2 years in prison. "I think it's great," said Michael Morrow, head of the FBI's nine-agent office in Eugene. "It's just a matter of time before there are more arrests."
Nestled in the leafy Willamette Valley, Eugene (pop. 137,000) is an unlikely hotbed of anarchism. In Seattle's 1999 antiglobalization protests, it was a group of Eugene activists who helped lead the mayhem; they formed part of the "Black Bloc" that broke windows and trashed stores. But few if any Eugeners are headed to Genoa this week, despite their anticapitalist bent; they're too busy at home. Local anarchists broadcast a weekly radio program and two cable-television shows. They publish half a dozen 'zines, from Black-Clad Messenger to F___ the System, the new jailhouse rag from Free and Critter, and Rob the Rich!, published by prisoner Robert Thaxton, who was sentenced to seven years for injuring a Eugene policeman with a rock in a June 1999 riot. And the town is home to one of the movement's celebrities, anarcho-primitivist philosopher John Zerzan, who visited Unabomber Ted Kaczynski in prison to discuss "enslavement by technology."
The American anarchists, as the slogan goes, think globally but act locally. How local? Four years ago, a Eugene activist upset about the razing of some downtown trees deliberately vomited on the mayor. More recently, the "Anarchist Golfing Association" trashed a research project on putting greens conducted by an Oregon seed company, causing $500,000 in damage. "Grass, like industrial culture, is invasive," charged an anonymous e-mail from a Eugene library.
Police surveillance following these incidents has rattled nonviolent radicals. "Blowing up the SUVs brought heat down onto the entire community," says Heather Coburn, whose Food Not Lawns cooperative teaches anarchists to grow their own vegetables. "Some anarchists want to smash it all, but others are into mutual aid." The Shamrock House, an anarchist community center, offers free food for the poor, a lending library of leftist books and a free school with classes on martial arts and midwifery. Every Thursday, a shamanic healer offers "deep soul work" and "aura repair."