Skip to comments.Activists' passion turns to violence
Posted on 10/23/2006 10:49:54 AM PDT by Responsibility2nd
Jennifer Kolar and Lacey Phillabaum seem unlikely criminals.
Well-educated young women passionate about environmental causes, they share a love of the outdoors and similar backgrounds. Both grew up in Spokane and attended the same public high school.
Those who know Phillabaum call her bright, outspoken, sometimes in-your-face but never dull. She was a skilled debater in high school and college and once worked for a well-regarded non-profit that promotes sustainable agriculture.
Kolar Kolar studied under one of the nation's top atmospheric scientists while pursuing a doctoral degree and had the makings of a good scientist, her adviser said, but her heart seemed elsewhere.
The women were concerned about what was going on around them -- the logging of old-growth forests, the slaughter of animals for sport. Like many Northwest activists, they pushed for change.
Phillabaum But their activism morphed into something more dangerous -- and now both are headed to prison.
Before dawn on May 21, 2001, Kolar cut the glass that allowed fellow Earth Liberation Front members to sneak into the University of Washington office of professor Toby Bradshaw, who was studying the genetics of fast-growing hybrid poplar trees. Phillabaum's role is still unclear, but she was also on the scene, court documents show.
Bradshaw and other researchers at the UW Center for Urban Horticulture would be arriving within hours, so the ELF squad must have worked quickly to plant the firebombs -- plastic buckets of fuel rigged with cheap digital timers, assembled in someone's garage. Their goal: destroy the research on genetic engineering of poplars to avert an "ecological nightmare" for native forests.
The fire ignited in Bradshaw's office spread through the building and raged for hours. Rare books, endangered plants and decades of botanical research went up in flames, causing $7 million in damage.
By then, Kolar, Phillabaum and the three others involved in the arson had disappeared.
At the UW, researchers tried to salvage their work. A new facility was built. But the trail to the perpetrators seemed to peter out. For nearly five years, the crime went unsolved.
While investigators searched for clues, Kolar and Phillabaum didn't go into hiding.
Kolar bought a two-story house in Wallingford, raced in local regattas and was active in a Seattle yacht club. Phillabaum pursued a career as a journalist, freelanced articles and sought mentoring from a professional journalism group. Others involved in the arsons also went on to do other things.
"The series of arsons stopped in 2001, and since then many of the people implicated in those have gone on to lead lives in the mainstream society," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Friedman in Seattle.
But investigators eventually closed in.
In December, federal agents arrested many of those believed responsible for a series of arson attacks across five states, including an Oregon poplar farm that had been torched at the same time as the UW center.
Three people were indicted earlier this year: Justin Solondz, 27, formerly of Jefferson County, who is believed to have fled the country; William Rodgers, 40, who committed suicide in an Arizona jail cell weeks after his arrest; and Briana Waters, 30, a Berkeley, Calif., violin teacher who faces trial.
This month, federal prosecutors identified for the first time the two remaining suspects: Kolar, 33, and Phillabaum, 31.
Both women are cooperating with authorities and have admitted to belonging to ELF and participating in the UW firebombing. The FBI has branded ELF an underground radical group and a top domestic terrorism threat.
At their January sentencing in Seattle, Kolar faces between five and seven years in prison; Phillabaum faces three to five. Defense attorney Gilbert Levy declined a request to interview his client, Phillabaum. Kolar declined comment through her attorney, Michael Martin.
"Paradoxes and ironies abound here, and they're all wedded to a tragedy," said David Frank, a University of Oregon professor who knew Phillabaum when she was in his debate program.
"How could such bright, articulate, well-meaning people ... how could they have been tempted by violence?"
From sit-ins to firebombs
Phillabaum was socially conscious even as a teenager at Shadle Park High School, former school officials say. She grew up in Deer Park, and her parents were partners in a Spokane law firm. In high school, she was voted "Teacher's Pet" in her senior year and won debate contests.
"She had a strong mind of her own," said Emmett Arndt, a former assistant principal at Shadle Park.
At the University of Oregon, Phillabaum studied art history and graduated in three years. She continued to debate in college, partly "to learn more about the reasons why the environment was under threat," said Frank, who teaches rhetoric.
The program taught students to use reason, research and persuasion to affect change, but Phillabaum left after a year, feeling frustrated with the lack of action, he said.
Typical of many students, "she found her way into activist groups," he said. "She was surrounded by people who were equally frustrated, equally angry. Out of those conversations came a dedication to more violent actions to achieve their actions."
"She was probably feeling frustrated with the system, with the exploitation of the Earth and species, and not having immediate results with above-ground organizing," said an associate of Phillabaum's, who asked not to be identified.
In college, she worked on Insurgent, a left-leaning campus publication that critiqued foreign policy.
The mid-1990s was the height of protests against logging on public lands, and Phillabaum was in the thick of it. She protested timber harvests in Oregon's Umpqua National Forest and joined others in blocking a logging road to Warner Creek, according to news accounts.
"You couldn't call her commitment into question," said a Eugene, Ore., activist who has known her for a decade.
At a 1997 tree-sit in Eugene, Phillabaum and others tried to save 40 trees from being leveled for a downtown development. Police arrested her and others for criminal trespassing. She was fined $100 and sentenced to three days in jail, according to the Lane County District Attorney's Office.
In other aspects, Phillabaum led a relatively normal life. She had a lot of friends, was well-grounded and came from a loving family, those who know her say. She spent a lot of time in the outdoors -- rafting rivers and hiking mountains.
An aspiring journalist, she also edited Earth First! Journal, which calls itself the voice of the radical environmental movement. In February 2001, she landed a job at In Good Tilth, a newsletter sent out by Oregon Tilth, a non-profit promoting sustainable farming.
"She was an exemplary employee," said Chris Schreiner, Oregon Tilth's quality-control manager. "She brought a new level of quality and content to the newsletter."
She worked at the newsletter for four years. She also joined the Society of Environmental Journalists and sought mentoring help from veteran reporters, said the group's executive director, Beth Parke.
In 2005, Phillabaum moved to Charlottesville, Va., to take a writing job at the C-VILLE Weekly. The alternative paper fired her after three months, said editor Cathy Harding, who declined to say why.
Phillabaum's double life was quickly catching up to her.
In December 2005, federal agents arrested Stanislas Meyerhoff, 29, of Charlottesville, who they accused of masterminding the UW and Oregon tree farm firebombings. At the time, Meyerhoff was Phillabaum's boyfriend, a Charlottesville newspaper reported. Meyerhoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy and arson charges in July.
Phillabaum's role in the UW arson would soon be revealed, as would Kolar's.
'It's a puzzle'
It's not clear whether Phillabaum and Kolar knew each other at Shadle Park, but they overlapped at the school, located in a middle-class neighborhood of north Spokane.
Kolar graduated two years before Phillabaum and went on to the University of Colorado in Boulder. She majored in applied mathematics and later earned a master's degree in astrophysical, planetary and atmospheric sciences, according to the school.
"I never thought that atmospheric sciences was her passion, or something that was her lifelong ambition," said Merritt Deeter, an atmospheric scientist who shared an office with Kolar when both were grad students. "She kind of prided herself on her activist nature."
Kolar was bright and skilled but distracted, said her doctoral adviser, Peter Webster, now a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
"If she had applied her passions to science, she would have been a good scientist, but she had other things that were much more important to her," Webster said.
She was passionate about animal rights and often protested against animals being hunted for sport, Webster said. "It's not the least bit surprising to me that she carried her passions that far."
In grad school, Kolar volunteered for such groups as Rocky Mountain Animal Defense. She tried to stop the Denver Zoo from allegedly sending surplus animals to hunting ranches, said David Crawford, the group's founder.
He stressed that his group doesn't condone violence and that she left in 1996.
In July 1997, Kolar allegedly took part in an arson that destroyed a horse slaughterhouse in Redmond, Ore.
She's expected to admit her role in that crime, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer in Portland. She also has pleaded guilty to attempting to firebomb a Colorado gun club that organized turkey shoots in 1998.
Kolar settled in Seattle several years ago. She bought a house in Wallingford a year after the UW arson, joined the Corinthian Yacht Club in Seattle and competed in Puget Sound regattas. Her profile on that club's Web site noted that she loved the outdoors and co-owned the Manta Ray, a 30-foot performance sailboat.
Kolar was a crew member on a boat that recently won at the Swiftsure Lightship Classic, said the skipper, Alex Wigley.
"It's a puzzle. It just blindsided me," said Wigley, who described Kolar as capable, funny and intelligent.
"This whole event has made me wonder how well I know anyone."
Read again their sentence for causing over 7 million dollars worth of damage.....
At their January sentencing in Seattle, Kolar faces between five and seven years in prison; Phillabaum faces three to five.Can you imagine the sentence these nutjobs would have received if they blew up abortion clinics????
IFRC, the ultimate irony of this is that transgenic poplar trees are now being grown in commercial groves for the express purpose of later being harvested for conversion into pulp products like paper, thus reducing demand for logging of natural groves and the forest. so these idiots were actually hurting their own cause.
File that under "Too Effin' Bad".
I noticed they had lots of "passion", too. Suppose I was passionately against yachting, does that mean I should fire bomb them?
No, you make an excellant analogy. These girls are terrorists. But PC terrorists, and as such...... they got a slap on the wrist.
It's simply the next step in their continuum. When one begins with the premise that their own morality is absolute and that this morality must be forced on others, violence is only natural.
Of course, any violence in the furtherance of this absolute morality is not immoral. Only the violence, real or imagined, of those who oppose your absolute morality is immoral.
Such is the illogical, scary world of those who become a law unto themselves.
The article leads with "they were unlikely criminals" and then goes on to detail their years of radicalism on behalf of environmental causes. Poor journalism.
or a whopping 28 months for conspiring against our country and aiding terrorists...
We need 20 year terms and the death penalty for eco-terrorism.
I'm a doctoral student at the UW. I cannot imagine having my research destroyed because some idiot - some idiot who has the training and background to understand research - doesn't like what I'm researching. This is typical of leftists - only they get to choose the correct topics for study, the correct speech, the correct politics.
These aren't 'nice girls,' they're criminals and should be looking at 10 years for the arson at least, with an extra 10 tacked on for eco-terrorism.
There is nothing more inherently dangerous than a "peace" activist.
I would like to see some pictures of these people.
Why do I get the feeling that they are in some way unattractive?
Just a hunch.
My bias showing.
Why are people still surprised that well-educated person can be a terrorist? After all, many of 9/11 bombers had college degree (some from Germany). I read a paper a while ago written by Standford economists about this issue.
Yes, I sure did.
But I also noticed *who* wrote the pap & then the spin made [a lot] more sense.
What these "nice girls" did isn't a whole lot different that what the Weather Underground members responsible for blowing up a Math lab on the UW campus Madison, WI in the late 60s on a Sunday morning.
The WU creeps *thought there'd be no one inside, but there was & their bomb killed a researcher.
Do the crime, do the time.
The "good news", here?
...they got *caught*.
Click the link, as they have pics there.
Clearly without pictures guilt or innocence cannot be established.
Phillabaum is said to be the narrator of the documentary film, Breaking the Spell:The anarchists, Eugene, and the WTO.
Only maybe the religion of 'Peace"
They will convert to Islam in prison.
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