One of the best-known animal rights activists in the Pacific Northwest is heading to prison today to begin a 51-month sentence. Jonathan Paul was arrested almost two years ago as part of the so-called Green Scare, when federal agents detained 10 activists connected to the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. His sister Caroline Paul recently summarized his activism like this: "He crept into animal laboratories to free dogs. He dismantled corrals to release wild mustangs. He impersonated a fur buyer to film the treatment of minks. He put himself between whales and whalers despite warnings that his boat would be impounded and that he would be jailed." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: One of the best-known animal rights activists in the Pacific Northwest is heading to prison today to begin a 51-month sentence. Jonathan Paul was arrested almost two years ago as part of the so-called "Green Scare," when federal agents detained ten activists connected with the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front.
In November, Paul pled guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of arson for his role in the 1997 fire at the Cavel West horsemeat slaughterhouse in Redmond, Oregon, that destroyed the plant and led to its permanent closure. Even though no one was injured in the fire, federal prosecutors described it as a "classic case of terrorism."
In court filings, Paul’s attorneys said the objective of the fire was to end the "inhumane treatment of horses and the commercial trafficking in horsemeat." For Jonathan Paul, the fire was just the latest in a string of direct actions taken in the name of saving animal lives.
His sister, [Caroline] Paul, recently summarized his activism like this. She said, "He crept into animal laboratories to free dogs. He dismantled corrals to release wild mustangs. He impersonated a fur buyer to film the treatment of minks. He put himself between whales and whalers despite warnings that his boat would be impounded and that he would be jailed."
Jonathan Paul has remained an animal rights activist but says he has since disavowed the use of arson as a tactic. In recent years he has worked as a firefighter and emergency medical technician in Oregon.
Later today, Jonathan Paul begins his 51-month sentence at the medium security Federal Correctional Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. He joins us now from Phoenix for his first broadcast interview since his arrest.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jonathan Paul.
JONATHAN PAUL: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts today as you head to jail?
JONATHAN PAUL: Well, you know, it’s kind of relative, because my feelings have been so mixed over the last couple years, but, you know, I’m OK, and I’m ready to do my sentence, you know? It’s a long time, but it could have been worse for me, so, you know, I’m going in for a reason, for a cause that I believe in. And, you know, I’m ready to go in and do my time.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about a quote that you made, you said in 1999. You said, "We compare ourselves to the Underground Railroad, to some guerrilla movements that are trying to free themselves from oppressive governments. The only thing that’s different about us is that we expand our thinking to other species and to the planet as a whole." This is a quote that you made to The Oregonian. Do you still agree with that position?
JONATHAN PAUL: Well, yeah. I mean, we are a — I mean, you know, groups like the Animal Liberation Front, we definitely feel like we are the Underground, because we’re rescuing animals that are being tortured by humans. So, yeah, I still feel that way.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your views of arson as a tactic? Since 1999, you’ve become a volunteer firefighter in Oregon. Your sister Catherine sic was the first female firefighter in San Francisco. Your other sister — unrelated — Alexandra Paul, star of Baywatch. But what about arson?
JONATHAN PAUL: Well, first, I’ll correct you: her —- my sister’s name is Caroline, it’s not Catherine. But -—
AMY GOODMAN: Sorry.
JONATHAN PAUL: Yeah, I mean, you know, arson is inherently dangerous on some level — on a lot of levels, because it could hurt someone. And that was — after the Cavel West incident, I chose — I decided that I wouldn’t do this kind of tactic anymore, because I was concerned about the — that it could hurt a firefighter or a responder or anyone in the area, although in this particular incident the building was thoroughly checked to make sure there was no people around or animals in the building itself. So — but after that, I — you know, it just — arson as a tactic, it just doesn’t really sit with me very well.
I don’t personally care about the structures or the building. The government seems to care more about property than anything else, it seems. But in the sense of the use of fire, although it was a successful tactic in this case especially, I walked away from that, just because I felt really uncomfortable, because I felt like if someone actually did get injured or killed in this, that that would go against everything that we believe. So that’s kind of where I went with that.
And, you know, there’s really nothing weird about the sense that I became a medic and a firefighter. It more became, because it — to me, being a firefighter and an EMT was a way of being an activist on a daily basis and helping people who are in need. And that’s why I chose to do it. It’s not in any way that I have — that I’m fascinated by fire, I’m a firebug or anything like that. So that was why I chose to go that way.
AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan, I wanted to go back to 1997, to the Cavel West horsemeat slaughterhouse. What exactly did you do? What was the slaughterhouse, and where was it?
JONATHAN PAUL: Well, it was in Redmond, Oregon, and this facility was owned by the Belgian Mafia. It was exporting its meat to Europe and Japan. And they were killing up to about 500 horses a week. And I’ve seen — you know, I saw the videos and saw what was going on there, and it was really horrendous. It was a hell of an area. They were using any kind horse, whether it was a pet horse or a retired workhorse or wild horses that the BLM had been rounding up off — you know, off the lands in the United States. So it was actually — it was a very — it was a horrible place. I mean, this place needed to go.
I mean, Redmond, Oregon, the people of Redmond, Oregon, hated that place, because apparently, you know, it smelled bad. There was blood coming out of the sewers all the time. And people didn’t want that place to be there. And it’s not anymore.
But the company also has another horse facility over in Illinois, but, as far as I know, that place got shut down, because horse slaughter is now not allowed within the U.S. But the problem, what’s happening now, is that all these horses are now being shipped to Canada or Mexico, which is a big concern for horse activists and animal activists. So that’s kind of what happened. But at least there’s been a move to stop this unnecessary slaughter of these animals within the United States. But, unfortunately, like I said, now they’re just moving them to Mexico.
AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Paul, if you had it to do again, would you set fire to the slaughterhouse in Oregon?
JONATHAN PAUL: Yeah, right now, I wouldn’t. But I would do everything I could to shut the place down. Like I said —
AMY GOODMAN: How else do you think you could have done it?
JONATHAN PAUL: Well, legislation and doing that kind of stuff doesn’t always necessarily work. So, you know, people have been trying to stop the horse slaughter in the United States for many, many, many years, and it just actually got some headway right now, where the House and, you know, the Congress has voted to pretty much stop it within the U.S.
But, you know, I think ultimately what I would prefer to have done is I wish I could have pulled up a trailer and taken every horse out of there and given them good homes, although, you know, that wouldn’t have stopped the company itself from continuing its horse slaughter, but it would have directly saved those horses there. But, you know, this place — at that time, I felt that this was the best tactic, because this was the best way to shut this facility down 100 percent, which we did. But if I had to do it again today, no, I wouldn’t start a fire. It’s just too dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about Robert Jordan, the FBI special agent in charge for Oregon, and his quote. He said, "These people claim they did what they did to protect the environment. Along the way, they destroyed more than $30 million worth of resources. They spent year after year using violence to try to intimidate you and your government into their twisted way of thinking." Your response?
JONATHAN PAUL: Well, I mean, the governments — you know, they need to kind of look in a mirror and look at themselves, because they, themselves, do that same thing, but when they do it, that’s OK. For instance, Iraq or, you know, what they’re doing there. But, you know, you have to understand that right now the planet is in peril. There are so many things that are going that it’s a dire situation, and I think because the government is doing absolutely nothing about the issue of the environment, that people will want to tend to decide to take the next step, which is crossing the line to do what we call direct action. So in that sense, the government, themselves, by calling people like me a terrorist, which, just so you know, I did not get the terrorist enhancement — I was one of the two people that did not get the terrorist enhancement — but the government has to look at themselves and the corporations, too, because the corporations are the ones that rule the government. And, you know, these corporations are continuing to destroy the environment for their bottom line, which is profit. And it’s really, really hard to get these corporations to change.
Now, if everyone in America stood up and told them we want change in this country, we want a Manhattan-style project to change our energy, to change how we treat the environment, to deal with population, to deal with all these issues, I don’t think groups like the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front would exist, because they wouldn’t need to.
I also just want to mention to you also that when I was in my sentencing, the prosecutor came up to my attorney — and I was sitting right next to him — and said that the reason why Daniel McGowan, who you had interviewed a few months ago — said that the reason why he didn’t get his extension so he could self-surrender to prison was because he was on Democracy Now! and because he had a website. And he was basically indirectly warning me or threatening me, that if I went on, they would not give me an extension so I could self-surrender into prison. But I am self-surrendering in today, and I’m during the interview with you, because I feel like it’s my First Amendment right to talk about what my case is and what my side of the story is.
AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Paul is just about to surrender today to prison. He will be serving a 51-month prison sentence. Jonathan, I wanted to ask you, talking about the prosecutors and your defense attorneys, they squared off over the issue of whether you are a terrorist, whether you targeted the government. Looking at a piece now in the Mail Tribune, it says, "Federal prosecutors claim the arson was to intimidate the Bureau of Land Management into disbanding its program of rounding up and selling wild horses off BLM lands. And Cavel West was targeted as the largest purchasers of those horses, whose meat was sold for human consumption and pet food." The government says, "Although the government was not a direct victim, it was nonetheless a federal crime of terrorism because of the offenders’ motivation." Your defense team, however, claimed you "joined three others in the $1.2 million arson solely to put the company out of the horse-slaughtering business, not as an attack on the BLM." What are your thoughts about the U.S. government and its role?
JONATHAN PAUL: Are you talking about its role in the horse slaughter issue?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, and overall this issue of the definition of terrorism, that it would be terrorist if you were targeting the U.S. government.
JONATHAN PAUL: Oh, well, you know, the government throws out the terrorist term like it’s candy. I mean, to them, anyone who opposes them could be a terrorist, you know. I am not a terrorist, and legally I wasn’t found to be a terrorist, because they could not find a connection between the Bureau of Land Management and Cavel West. But, you know, that doesn’t mean that the horses that were being slaughtered there were wild horses. They were probably just brought there through middlemen through auctions. But it is an issue about what the BLM is doing with the wild horses, you know, all over the US and, you know, gathering up and selling them to — they do have adoption programs. Many of them go to the slaughterhouses. So, you know, they weren’t able to do that.
But, you know, it’s offensive to me to be — to calling me a terrorist, you know. You know, and like I said before, I mean, the government needs to look in the mirror. They need to look at how they terrorize people all over the world and they terrorize animals and the planet itself. So, you know, it’s hard for me to take this government seriously at all, really. I mean, they’re a joke, especially when it comes — go ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead. What were you going to say?
JONATHAN PAUL: Oh, I was just going to say, especially, you know, when it comes to the environment, I mean, our government is not doing a thing about it. They may have a — you know, they may do some moderate changes or do their doublespeak on TV about how they’re improving the environment, but they’re really not, because these corporations — like I said, bottom line is money, and the people in these corporations are going to continue doing what they’re doing, you know, whether it’s deforestation or fossil fuel extraction or chemicals and pollution and all that stuff. It’s like it’s all about bottom line, which is profits.
And, you know, I would really like people to really understand that, you know, these corporations that are raping this planet, I mean, maybe they should be looked at as the eco-terrorists. I mean, the government propaganda that went out against us was excessive, calling everyone who got arrested here "the Family," or whatever, which they’re trying to refer us to be like the Manson family or something, you know. And all the — I mean, that — "the Family" was a term that was made up by the government, which they used broadly in order to make us look like a bunch of freaks, a bunch of — but we’re — you know, I am not. You know, I’m pretty — I see what’s going on here, and I chose many times during my life to, you know, in other words, to break the law.
And arson is not something I — you know, most of the stuff I did was like liberations, you know, liberating animals and freeing them, maybe some economic sabotage. Arson wasn’t something that was at the top of my list of a tactic. But, you know, the government, if — like I said before, if the government stopped doing this stuff and really like looked and saw that we need to improve our environment, because we are at the tipping point right now and — I don’t think I can express, you know, how dire the situation is. It’s very concerning.
AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Paul, what do you mean by "economic sabotage"?
JONATHAN PAUL: Well, economic sabotage is basically affecting their bottom line, which is affecting money. If you go into a lab and take their animals and you destroy all their equipment and computers, it costs them a lot of money, and that’s what everything is all about in the industries that abuse animals, is money. So, by hitting them in the pocket, that’s a tactic that has been used by dissident groups, underground groups, for generations.
AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan, I wanted to ask you about the role of informants in helping the federal government built its case. On Friday, Jacob Ferguson pled guilty in federal court to arson and attempted arson. He was the informant who helped convict you, as well as others. His sentencing is set for January 10.
JONATHAN PAUL: Mm-hmm. Well, Jacob Ferguson was — you know, the government relies in all their cases on all levels on informants. And some of the worst of the worst come out and become informants, whether to save themselves or for whatever reason. Jacob Ferguson obviously chose to do that, to become an informant and to be paid $150,000 to tape everyone and eventually lead to a number of people’s arrest. Now, most of the people in this case, Amy, I didn’t know them. I mean, I overlapped in 1997 with a few of these people, but that was it. Most of these people — in fact, I didn’t even know who these people’s names were or even some of the things that had happened by the time I got arrested.
The only person — and I, like Daniel McGowan, who ended — him and I became friends, because Daniel McGowan, Nathan Block and Joyanna Zacher and I were the only four people that took a plea deal, which was a non-cooperation plea deal, which basically we weren’t snitches. But everyone else turned and turned on each other and became informants in order to get a better sentence. That was a little bit disconcerting to me, the attitude of some of these activists. But, you know, Jacob Ferguson is going to walk away from this. He’s probably just going to get probation and no restitution, and he was involved with over 15 arsons.
AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan, do you have word for people who are out there, perhaps underground, who still believe in arson as a strategy? What’s your message to them?
JONATHAN PAUL: Well, my message to them is that you should — when it comes — if you’re thinking about doing this kind of tactic, you should really think hard about it, because for — number one, like I mentioned before, if someone got hurt in one of these things, that would be the downfall. I mean, that would be against everything that people like me believe in: the sanctity of life, you know, respecting life. And whether or not you dislike a person or not, someone being killed or hurt in an action like this would not be a good thing. And so, I think that people should probably stray away from that kind of action and turn to other things. Now, I’m not saying just protesting or legislation, but, you know, when it comes down to the use of arson, it’s a risky thing.
And I think the problem was, in this case, with a number of the people — I’m not talking about everyone; I’m actually excluding right now the people in the non-cooperation group, because — but a lot of these people, they were just on a rampant rage, and it just — I don’t know if these — I don’t know these people, like I said, but I think that they — I don’t know if they were really think — [connection cut off]
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll have to leave it there. We only had the satellite 'til 30, but I want to thank Jonathan Paul for being with us, the longtime animal rights activist. He's in Phoenix now. He’s about to turn himself in today to begin a 51-month prison sentence for his role in the burning down of a horse slaughterhouse in Oregon in 1997.