Environmentalist Daniel McGowan has been released to a New York City halfway house after spending five-and-a-half years in prison for his role in two acts of arson as a member of the Earth Liberation Front. In 2007, McGowan was sentenced to a seven-year term for setting fires at a lumber company and an experimental tree farm in Oregon. The judge ruled he had committed an act of terrorism, even though no one was hurt in either of the actions. McGowan appeared on Democracy Now! just before he went to jail.
Daniel McGowan: “I definitely have regrets. I have regrets that I, you know, employed arson as a tactic. I don’t think morally I’m wrong about what I did, but I do think, strategically and tactically, it was an unwise decision. I wish that I had people in my life at the time to kind of guide me back to a different path. But, you know, I was very disenchanted and very upset about what I saw. I think those feelings are legitimate, and I think young kids that have these feelings right now, and not-so-young kids, are — you know, they’re legitimate thoughts, and we have to — we have to come up with ways of dealing with this crisis and stop ignoring it. And that was my message to the media that day, after sentencing, was we have to stop pretending this is all about crime and punishment and start dealing with, like, real issues, like global climate change.”
McGowan was jailed for nearly all of his term in secretive and highly restrictive prison units known as Communication Management Units, or CMUs. Most prisoners held in CMUs have been Muslim men, but the units have also held non-Muslim political activists. A documentary film about McGowan, “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front,” was nominated for an Oscar. McGowan was released from prison in Indiana Tuesday and flew back to New York with his wife, Jenny.