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Is logging protester just an activist, or a dangerous terrorist?

A man who had been on the FBI's most wanted list now sits in a Canadian prison cell waiting to see if he'll be extradited to Oregon, where he faces arson charges tied to a logging protest.
Tre Arrow, whose legal name is Michael ScarpittiDon Ryan / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

For 19 months, Tre Arrow was one of the most wanted fugitives in America — accused of firebombing logging and cement trucks in Oregon and having links to a group of radical environmentalists viewed as terrorists by the FBI.

Now he’s in a jail cell here, facing charges of trying to shoplift bolt cutters. He’s begun a hunger strike to protest what he calls injustices in the U.S. legal system, and is eager to talk about the evils of corporate culture — although not the FBI’s case against him.

“As an activist, I stand tall. I hold my head high,” Arrow said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre.

Arrow, 30, was born Michael Scarpitti but says the trees told him to change his name. He gained notoriety by scaling the offices of the U.S. Forest Service in Portland in 2000 and perching on a narrow ledge for 11 days to protest logging on Mount Hood.

Terrorist or just activist?
Arrow says he is not a terrorist.

“They (the FBI) want to label me the ’T’ word,” said Arrow, a veteran of anti-logging protests in Oregon who likes to go barefoot to protect the Earth and is seen as something of a folk hero among environmental militants.

Arrow said he will fight deportation to the United States, contending he wouldn’t get a fair trial because of the FBI’s assertion the crimes he is accused of are acts of terrorism.

Arrow has been accused in Oregon on federal charges of use of fire to commit a felony, destruction of vehicles used in interstate commerce and use of incendiary devices in a crime of violence. The charges carry combined penalties of up to 80 years in prison.

The FBI believes he’s more than an activist. He is accused of firebombing logging trucks and cement trucks in two separate attacks in Oregon in 2001, and is suspected of having links with the Earth Liberation Front, a shadowy group that has claimed responsibility for scores of acts of destruction and vandalism over the past dozen years.

Arrow was arrested in March. His capture had become a top priority for the FBI, said Julie Thornton, the agent in charge of domestic terrorism investigations in Oregon.

Although the FBI’s focus has been on preventing attacks from the likes of al-Qaida, the agency has not let up in its battles against the ELF and similar groups, Thornton said.

“It’s a huge part of what we do,” she said.

The FBI has had some successes against the ELF. Across the country, at least eight people with suspected ties to the group have been arrested over the past few years.

According to Canadian officials, Arrow was captured when he took bolt cutters from a home improvement store in Victoria and a check of his fingerprints showed he was wanted by the FBI.

Arrow is among four activists charged with setting logging trucks on fire outside Portland on June 1, 2001, to protest a planned timber cut on Mount Hood. Three other suspects were captured after one of them, Jake Sherman, told a girlfriend about the crime, according to arrest papers. The girlfriend’s father is a deputy state fire marshal.

Dropped out of university
Arrow grew up in Florida. He was a wrestler and art club president at Martin County High School in Stuart, Fla., said former wrestling coach R. J. Costillo.

“He was a real hardworking kid,” said Costillo, who described Arrow as clean-cut and popular.

Arrow lifted weights, jogged and surfed, developing a strong physique — something that later proved a boon during days when he would participate in anti-logging “tree sits” and eluded officers by leaping from tree to tree.

After dropping out of Florida State University he decided he had to “put my own body between the chain saws and the ancient forest.” He moved to Oregon in 1996 to join other environmental activists.

Arrow was indicted in August 2002 for the firebombing attacks a year earlier.

And now, he is sitting inside a Canadian jail where he eagerly denounces what he considers the militarization of U.S. society, cruelty to animals and corporations.

“Corporations need to be held accountable for endangering the lives of humans and making a profit off it,” he said.

So far, it is unclear when Arrow will be sent back to the U.S. to stand trial. The Canadians could drop the shoplifting charges against him, and extradite him.

“I don’t care about me. We’re talking about ancient forest that doesn’t grow back in a couple of years. We’re talking about a planet that cannot be replaced,” he said. “That to me is far more important than one person’s individual case.”