The Ruckus Society was founded in late 1995 by two giants of the radical environmentalist movement: Mike Roselle and Howard “Twilly” Cannon. Roselle was a founder of Earth First! (of 1980s tree-spiking fame), the group which spun off the domestic terrorist Earth Liberation Front in 1992. He also co-founded the radical Rainforest Action Network. Cannon built his extremist credentials as a front-line activist and ship’s captain with Greenpeace’s French and Russian anti-nuclear campaigns.
Ruckus is turning into a violent version of Forrest Gump, grooming the footsoldiers of the “protest industry” for every major newsworthy protest event since its founding. Activists descending on San Diego for the 2001 “biodevastation” demonstrations (railing against life-saving food technology) looked to Ruckus leaders for planning, logistics, media attention, and physical tactics. The same can be said for the massive and violent protests against Philadelphia’s 2000 Republican Convention, and the aggressive anti-World Bank demonstrations in Washington, DC, during that same year. In these two latter cases (as with Seattle), serious damage was done to private and public property alike. In Philadelphia alone, 23 police cars were damaged and 15 officers were injured.
Whether the target du jour is biotech foods, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, or globalization in general, the organization recruits, trains, transports, and houses the army of militants needed to earn media coverage and make life difficult for the rest of us. Some observers have even claimed that Ruckus paid protesters to show up in Seattle. Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, wrote that one protester there told a colleague, “Sorry, I’ve got to go. If I don’t get to the finish line of the march I don’t get paid.”
Ruckus itself has no problem getting paid, reaping six-figure grant awards from the likes of Ted Turner and the “caring capitalists” at Ben & Jerry’s. When the multinational corporation Unilever bought the ice cream maker in 2000, it agreed to continue Ben & Jerry’s bizarre flavor of philanthropy for the foreseeable future. The Turner foundation has also contributed heavily to Ruckus, including over $150,000 in grants made via The Ecology Center, Inc., a Montana group where Ruckus’ first slate of officers met in the mid-1990s.
Ruckus’s primary contributions to the activist agenda are its “action camps”: weeklong boot camps for leftist protesters, usually held a few weeks prior to a major organized demonstration. A few hundred young Ruckus recruits typically attend each camp, where they are trained in the finer points of “police confrontation strategies,” “street blockades,” “urban climbing & rappelling,” “using the media to your advantage,” and “learning to lock your head to something” (among other things). Predictably, food served at the activist camps is vegetarian all the way. One 1998 camp chef told The Washington Post that “people here have some serious views on food, but that’s to be expected.” A participant in the same event adamantly insisted to a CNN camera crew: “Absolutely no meat whatsoever; no meat products, by-products, whatsoever.”
If you’ve heard of Ruckus Society at all, it was probably in relation to the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. Americans watched in horror as organized hoodlums ran roughshod over the city’s commercial district, smashing windows, setting fires, overturning vehicles, ransacking a Starbucks coffee shop and a McDonald’s restaurant, and generally putting lives at risk. It’s no coincidence that the Ruckus Society staffers were in the middle of the melee, giving on-the-record quotes to national media figures. Nor was it an accident that Ruckus director John Sellers represented the protesters when the terms of their arrest were being negotiated with Seattle police. The Ruckus Society is generally credited with organizing the whole Seattle spectacle in the first place. When the dust had settled, Sellers smugly told USA Today, “We kicked the WTO’s butt all over the Northwest.”
Despite the organization’s ties to well-documented acts of violence and its officers’ connections with domestic terror groups, the group constantly claims to limit itself to “non-violent” protest in the spirit of 1960s civil disobedience. But the trail of economic damage wrought by these organized thugs (to say nothing of the broken windows and injured policemen) would suggest otherwise.
This, too, is no coincidence. The Ruckus Society was Mike Roselle’s brainchild; by the time the idea got off the ground, Roselle’s other projects had already matured. The most notable is Earth First!, a loosely organized gang of eco-criminals who pioneered the tactics of “monkey-wrenching” (intentionally damaging logging equipment) and “tree-spiking” (driving 11-inch nails into tree trunks in order to mangle approaching chain saws).
Ruckus clings desperately to the image of Martin Luther King, Jr. (featuring him prominently on their web site), and to words like “non-violence” and “civil disobedience,” but drawing such lines of comparison is an insult to the 1960s generation of social activists. While Dr. King was more than willing to stand up, give his name, and accept the legal consequences for his civil disobedience, Ruckus activists are generally known for wearing masks, assuming aliases, giving false names to arresting police officers, and other cowardly dodges (sometimes for no reason other than the disruption of the judicial system).
Another direct tie between the Ruckus Society and unlawful activity is Cathie Berrey, the group’s “blockades trainer.” Berrey helps to run the Ruckus camps and teaches attendees how to link arms, chain themselves to immovable objects, block traffic, and keep law enforcement from getting where they need to be. She is also the North Carolina coordinator for Earth First!, and a longtime spokesperson for the Direct Action Network, another violent protest umbrella group. Berrey is a self-described anarchist with connections to the now-infamous, violent “black bloc” that has descended on Seattle, Washington, Genoa, Montreal, and other modern protest sites. Nadine Bloch, another Ruckus camp trainer, has been linked to the “black bloc” faction that attempted to disrupt the 2001 presidential inaugural in Washington, DC. FBI countertelligence deputy Terry Turchie has told Congress that “Anarchists working within movements such as the ‘black bloc’ committed much of the property damage accompanying these protests.”
Nearly half of Ruckus’ roster of camp “trainers” proclaims membership in Earth First! as well.
Overall, the Ruckus Society is doing exactly what it set out to do. It used to be that activists became more outrageous in order to gain the attention of TV cameras. By breaking laws, escalating conflicts between police and protesters, and operating military-style training camps, Ruckus is upping the ante for other environmental activist groups who wish to be taken seriously within the movement. The effect is that of redefining the cutting edge of the anti-consumer movement, by sanctioning violence and engaging in organized conflict with law enforcement.
The Ruckus Society seems to have no compunction about breaking laws when they become inconvenient to “the cause.” John Sellers himself has been arrested over 40 times, most notably outside the 2000 Republican National Convention, where he was held on a $1 million bond until the event had concluded. While radicals claim that Sellers was railroaded by law enforcement, it’s worth noting that police officers confiscated a variety of weapons from protesters at the scene of Sellers’s arrest, including piano wire and gasoline-soaked rags tied to chains.
Why do Mike Roselle, John Sellers, Han Shan, and others organize willing twenty-somethings and teach them how to raise hell in the streets of America? To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it’s the global economy, stupid! To hard-core environmentalists like those at the helm of Ruckus, the worldwide spread of free trade and the modernization of third-world economies must be bad things if they are the result of genetically improved foods, franchised restaurants, logging, mining, and drilling for oil. And the instrument of the world’s demise is the multinational corporation. The damage done to Starbucks and McDonald’s during the Seattle riots in 1999 is one good indicator of the level of visceral hatred and violence involved.
Never mind that biotech foods will save lives. Set aside the fact that one out of every 15 Americans has his or her first job at a McDonald’s. And forget that globalizing the food chain will do a lot more to narrow the gap between rich and poor than can be accomplished by parading protesters wearing monarch butterfly costumes, or by the violent trashing of American cities. They continue to grab headlines with outrageous behavior, gaining additional foolish and impressionable converts along the way. To date, Ruckus has held over two dozen “action camps” in the United States; as the group’s profile grows, so does the waiting list of young activists who will do just about anything to participate.