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Tre Arrow Rides Away An Almost Free Man

After a year in federal prison, four years in Canadian detention, and two years on the run before that, admitted eco-saboteur Tre Arrow rode a bicycle out of the Portland airport Monday night, an almost free man. 

Arrow’s story is a snapshot of environmental tactics – and the law enforcement response – over the last decade. Rob Manning reviews Tre Arrow’s case, and others like it.

Other than having to abide by certain conditions the U.S. Bureau of Prisons have put on him, Tre Arrow is basically free now.

Tre Arrow Returns To Portland - Photos by Rob Manning

Tre Arrow:  “I mean what do you think, it’s fabulous. It’s great to be surrounded with all the love and all the great people who have been so supportive through this whole ordeal. So, I’m very grateful to be back in Stumptown, and be surrounded by all the love from the community.”

Arrow spoke shortly after arriving back in Portland Monday. Arrow rose to fame — or infamy, depending on your perspective —  in 2000, when he scaled the U.S. Forest Service building in downtown Portland. He was protesting a controversial timber sale in the Mount Hood National Forest by living on the building's ledge for 11 days.

A year after Arrow rappelled back down from the Forest Service building, the FBI implicated him in the torching of cement and logging trucks. Soon after, Arrow fled – and he was gone, eluding authorities for two years, with the label of “FBI’s Most Wanted” dogging him.

Then, Arrow was caught shoplifting in British Columbia. Arrow fought extradition and sought asylum north of the border. From Canadian detention in August 2005, Tre Arrow proclaimed his innocence.

Tre Arrow: “I am innocent, and this is a politically motivated extradition, and that this is just one of many pieces of this big puzzle that the FBI likes to be part of in terms of neutralizing dissent.” 

Arrow’s tune changed, however, when his attempts to avoid prosecution failed. U.S. authorities gave Arrow a choice: fight us, or take a deal. In a Portland courtroom a year ago, Arrow pled guilty to two arson charges. Afterwards, his attorney, Bruce Ellison explained Arrow’s thought process.

Bruce Ellison: “He was facing up to life in prison on these charges, and when a person makes a decision whether or not to go to trial, they take into consideration everything. And certainly, a potential life sentence is something not to be taken lightly.”

Tre Arrow needed only look to the case of another eco-saboteur in Oregon to see what happens when the feds throw the book at you.

Jeffrey Luers: “I think maybe in part, I cracked too many jokes in front of the judge.”

That’s Jeffrey Luers in an interview with the Portland Independent Media Center that he posted on his website in 2004. He was four years into a long prison sentence.

Jeffrey Luers: “I am currently a prisoner at Oregon State penitentiary. I have been incarcerated since June 2000 for eco-sabotage arson at a car dealership, and I’ve been sentence to 22 years and eight months for that action.”

Jeffrey Luers actually had his sentence reduced following that interview. He will be released later this year.

Tre Arrow left the Herlong Federation Correctional Institution near Reno, Nevada Monday, and a few hours later, he was laughing with supporters about what it was like at the Reno ticket counter.

Tre Arrow: "I walk up and the guy's like 'did you book this flight with an agent?' I'm like, 'I'm not sure'. And he said 'are you a frequent flier member?'. 'And I was like I don't think so.' Alright I need to see your ID…"

Arrow can laugh now, a nearly free man, after being behind bars for five years - mostly  in Canadian detention. The FBI built its case against Arrow with the help of three confessed accomplices, who were sentenced to nearly three and a half years.

At the same time the FBI was working on Arrow's case, officials were looking for more eco-saboteurs, working under the banner of the Earth Liberation Front.The feds caught 13 members of a group out of Eugene called "the family."

Some of them are serving long sentences. One of them helped gather evidence, and got probation instead.  But four of them are on the run — as Tre Arrow was, five years ago.

Last fall, the FBI's  Deputy Assistant Counter-terrorism, Michael Ward, held a press conference in D.C., asking for international help in finding the four fugitives.

FBI tape: "Their criminal actions included vandalism, animal releases, arsons and attempted arsons, across Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado. Specifically, this cell was responsible for at least 25 domestic terrorism criminal actions totalling over $48 million."

Federal authorities say there haven’t been any breaks in those cases since that press conference last November. Officials believe the two men and two women have ties to different parts of the world - some as far away as China and Syria.

Tre Arrow, for his part, is still technically in the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons, but he's in Portland and looking for a job. He's set to leave the halfway house by early December.

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