Words As Weapons interview with Leslie James Pickering

Posted by Laura Duquette on

by Greg Bennick, 10/29/2016, http://wordsasweapons.com/interview-with-leslie-james-pickering/

Since the time he served as spokesperson for the Earth Liberation Front Press Office between the late 90’s to the early 2000’s Leslie James Pickering has been continually active as an advocate for the earth and the autonomy of its creatures.

He has recently been under government surveillance along with his family and business, being branded as a domestic terrorist threat by the FBI.  Here, in his own words, he describes his ideas, the background of his case, and discusses his upcoming speaking tour on which he will explore the nature of the claims against him and the implications they have for us all.

1. For those who are unfamiliar with you, your work as spokesperson for the ELF Press Office, and so on, can you give us an overview about who you are and why you’re you?

LESLIE JAMES PICKERING: I was just one of the young people drawn into the struggles for environmentalism and animal liberation during the 1990s.  I grew up here in Buffalo, skateboarding and listing to punk, hardcore and hip hop, and just soaking up all these ideas about how screwed up our society was.  I wasn’t into the American Dream thing so much.  My lesbian, counterculture aunt took me to a Bad Religion show in the 8th grade and things just kept snowballing.  At 15, I picked up some issues of Holocaust and Dressed In Black at an Earth Crisis show.  Those zines taught me about the Animal Liberation Front, and I was completely won over.  At 16, I moved to SF with a potential future skateboarding, but I found something there much more compelling.  I hooked up with this group of people that were obsessed with getting arrested for protesting animal experimentation.  We were running around at night, climbing buildings with ski masks and radios… It was wild.  It felt like a calling or something.  At 17, I dropped out of school, left home and submerged myself in struggles for social justice.  I barely worked, got arrested a couple dozen times and was just doing whatever I could to fight for wilderness and autonomy.  I kept at it, and one thing led to another.  The Earth Liberation Front formed and started sending us their communiqués.  I guess I was just in the right place at the right time, but I also worked to put myself there.  My friend Craig and I formed the Earth Liberation Front Press Office, so that we could put all our energy into PR work for the ELF and better spread the word.  The ELF just blew up, became the FBI’s “#1 domestic terrorist priority.”  We were doing this crazy amount of national press and were getting regularly subpoenaed to federal grand juries and harassed and raided by the FBI…  Now I’m back here in Buffalo, have a family and we run Burning Books and the FBI’s saying that our bookstore is a front to form a 9-person eco-terrorist cell, and that I’m its “mastermind sociopath.”  For me, and a lot of our allies, this is just life.  We’re not looking to retire or anything.  Not expecting to get wealthy or appreciated.  We’re just in the struggle because that’s what you do.  When your people and your relations are being killed, oppressed and imprisoned, when the Earth is being ravaged like it is…that’s your calling.  You just find a way to answer it.

2. Why is everyone scared of Leslie James Pickering? 

LESLIE JAMES PICKERING:  Are they?  If the people in power are afraid of anything it’s being held accountable for the crimes they’ve committed against the rest of us.  Our movements threaten those kinds of consequences, but I like to think I’m a pretty nice guy.  I love my family, our communities and allies, the wilderness…  It seems silly to think that anyone would be afraid of me.  I am more than happy to be playing a role in this struggle, however.  There’s really nothing I’d rather do with my life.

3. What do you think has been the most important project or initiative you’ve been involved with?

LESLIE JAMES PICKERING: I’m always trying to figure that out, because I want to make the most of life and the future’s looking too grim to take lightly.  Asking that question was what moved Craig and I to form the Earth Liberation Front Press Office, and I think that was a pretty good project.  I’m really into Burning Books.  We’re working to build something solid that supports and legitimizes the struggle.  Its grueling work at times, but we need strong movement institutions if we want new and powerful formations to keep sprouting up.  The support work that we do for Seth Hayes, Jalil Muntaqim, David Gilbert and other political prisoners is important in the same way.  My support for political prisoners largely comes from my support of what they’ve contributed to the struggle.  How can we expect anyone to consider fighting today or tomorrow if we neglect our allies that are in prison for fighting yesterday?  I also see the more confrontational protests I got involved in early on as really important.  Learning is largely experiential, and those experiences shaped a generation of us that are still at it.  We really don’t have any time to waste.  Start a campaign.  Go to Standing Rock.  Throw yourself out there, follow your passions, but be smart.  The future is what the people struggle to make it.

4. Can you tell us why you are not a “domestic terrorist”?

LESLIE JAMES PICKERING: No, not really.  The way I see it, this is an international resistance movement against oppression.  I could try to claim to just be an activist who exercises free speech and other activities protected under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but what does that imply about our underground allies?  My work is a component of the overall struggle.  The goal is liberation, not to find an easy or comfortable way to simply voice a level of dissent.  If the Informal Anarchist Federation, ELF, ALF, Black Liberation Army, United Freedom Front, George Jackson Brigade, Weather Underground, AntiSec… are “terrorists,” then we should at least happy to be in good company.  There should be nothing new or surprising about being called nasty names by the system that we’re fighting for liberation from.

5. What is your upcoming tour about and what are the key messages you hope to convey?

LESLIE JAMES PICKERING: I’ll be showing a bunch of newly unclassified FBI documents and walking audiences through the 2-year attempt to frame Burning Books up on a fictitious eco-terrorism conspiracy.  Informants, federal grand juries and a wide array of
surveillance activities will be brought to light, detailing how repression works against our movements.  It should be pretty eye-opening.  It’s one thing to know about this stuff abstractly, but another to really see it up close.  I’ll emphasize how repression should be expected and needs to be resisted, but I’ll also stress how our own fear is the most powerful outcome of repression.  If you walk away simply afraid of the government, I’ve failed.  I got into this struggle because I was inspired by underground direct action.  The FBI focuses on our movements because we are so strong, because we have the potential to change the world.  My message is always that we can fight back.

6. When you consider the state of the world today environmentally, what are the issues you see as most dire (bonus question only if you have time: might you offer any ideas for how we can correct those situations?)

LESLIE JAMES PICKERING: There’s no time to waste when it comes to issues like the environment, police murder of people of color and incarceration, etc.  We already have plenty of examples of how we can fight and win.  We just have to start looking at them, and start acting on them much more intensely.  Whenever powerful movements sprout up, the state responds with repression and violence.  But it’s really our own apathy and fear that keep us down the most.  If we organize with the understanding that repression is an inevitable result of progress, and we really commit ourselves to the struggle, there’s nothing that can stop us.



7pm, Friday, November 4, 2016 = Artrage, 505 Hawley Avenue, Syracuse, New York – https://www.facebook.com/events/361648534181227/

7pm, Saturday, November 5, 2016 = Plainfield Co-op, 153 Main Street, Plainfield, Vermont

6pm, Sunday, November 6, 2016 = Dreamship Cooperative Community, 15 Boynton Street, Portland, Maine – https://www.facebook.com/events/347244938953207/

7pm, Thursday, November 10, 2016 = Wesleyan University, PAC 107, Middletown, Connecticut

5pm, Friday, November 11, 2016 = IWW Union Hall, 375 Smith St, Providence, Rhode Island – https://www.facebook.com/events/1117813588297496/

7pm, Saturday, November 12, 2016 = Democracy Center, 45 Mt Auburn Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts – https://www.facebook.com/events/1134358393324836/

2pm, Sunday, November 13, 2016 = WESPAC, 31 Mamaroneck Avenue, Suite 403, White Plains, New York

LEARN MORE AT: http://www.lesliejamespickering.com