In 1993 Michael Carter was arrested and indicted after two years of clandestinely cutting down billboards, spiking trees, and sabotaging road-building machinery in Montana, where clear cuts of old-growth forest were an ever-present pestilence. Since then, he’s worked on a spectrum of environmental issues—fighting timber sales and oil and gas leasing, protecting endangered species, and more. Today, he’s a member of Deep Green Resistance Four Corners, and the author of the recently published memoir Kingfishers’ Song: Memories Against Civilization.
Time is Short spoke with him recently about his actions, underground resistance, and the prospects and problems facing the environmental movement.
Time is Short: Can you give a brief description of what it was you did?
Michael Carter: This was back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The significant actions were the sabotaging of road building machinery and tree spiking. There was a lot of cutting down of billboards too, but that was less significant. If I remember right, we were doing this for about two years, probably 20-25 individual actions. My brother Sean was also indicted, and the FBI tried to round up a larger conspiracy, but nothing else stuck.
TS: What was the public reaction like?
MC: It was all regarded as vandalism, even though it was plainly politically motivated. But this was before 9/11, before the Oklahoma City bombing; the idea of terrorism didn’t have the same power that it was about to have. So even though it was unpopular, it wasn’t nearly as serious as it would be considered now. There was a big lag between when the actions occurred, when we were arrested, and then a whole other year before we were sentenced. We were charged by the state of Montana, not in Federal Court, and as far as the sentencing went we were lucky. We had to pay a lot of money but I only spent three months in county jail, and Sean got out of a jail sentence altogether.
TS: How did you approach those actions? What was the context for you?
MC: We weren’t acting in any kind of context, and we didn’t know that much. All we had was an instinctive dislike of clear cuts, and the book The Monkey Wrench Gang. And we knew that other people were doing it. We knew what Earth First! was, although we weren’t aboveground members or anything like that.
We had no strategy; we didn’t really understand the overall global situation. We understood that deforestation was incompetent, but we didn’t get the depth of its implications and we didn’t link it to other atrocities. We just thought “well, this is a forestry issue” and that we were on the extreme edge of a marginal issue. This was before anyone was seriously talking about global warming or anything; it was just much less serious twenty years ago.