Man sentenced to seven years for ecoterrorism fires

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - Declaring that a fire set at a tree farm was terrorism because it was intended to influence legislation, a federal judge sentenced a New York man Monday to seven years in prison for his part in arsons claimed by the Earth Liberation Front.

Daniel McGowan was the ninth of 10 people to be sentenced after pleading guilty to conspiracy and arson for their parts in a string of 20 arsons from 1996 through 2001.

He also was ordered to pay his share of $1.9 million in restitution.

Responsibility was claimed by a Eugene-based cell of the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front called The Family. Damage totaled $40 million.

Judge Ann Aiken told McGowan, the son of a New York city transit cop, that he was a coward for donning a mask and setting fires to scare people rather than working positively to protect the environment.

She said she doubted the sincerity of his remorse when a Web site raising money for his legal defense carried nothing from him denouncing his crimes.

"You are not a poster child for the environment," Aiken said. "You are an arsonist."

McGowan had pleaded guilty to conspiracy and arson in fires set at the Superior Lumber Co. office in Glendale in January, 2001, and the Jefferson Poplar Farm in Clatskanie in May 2001.

Judge Aiken declared the tree farm fire to be terrorism because the communique issued afterward made reference to potential legislation to curb radicals, but cut one year from the eight-year sentence recommended by prosecutors in recognition of McGowan's help getting other defendants to plead guilty.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer said McGowan joined The Family in 2000 after taking part in anarchist riots in Seattle to protest World Trade Organization meetings.

Primarily interested in stopping genetic engineering, McGowan helped a Midwest cell of the Earth Liberation Front attack a U.S. Forest Service laboratory in Wisconsin in 2000, but has not been charged in that case, Peifer said. He said McGowan also spiked trees on a timber sale in Oregon, but was not charged.

Defense attorney Amanda Lee argued that McGowan had put radicalism behind him, retiring from The Family in 2002 and returning to New York, where he was born, and was working for a women's advocacy law firm and doing volunteer work for the homeless.

Peifer questioned whether McGowan had left radicalism behind, citing news stories in which McGowan was quoted as the leader of a group trying to disrupt the Republican National Convention in 2004 by posting on the internet hotels where delegates were staying and restaurants where they were eating.

McGowan also found an old copy of a manual for building timers for incendiary devices written by William "Avalon" Rodgers, the leader of The Family, and planned to send it to distributors of radical materials, Peifer said.

McGowan was tripped up by Jacob Ferguson, a fellow arsonist who had agreed to wear a wire for investigators and seek out his old friends. Ferguson has yet to be charged, but is expected in court this month.

In excepts of those recordings played in court, McGowan said he checked news accounts on Google on the anniversaries of major fires set by The Family, and was encouraged that they reported no hard evidence against them.

He told Ferguson that as long as everyone kept his mouth shut and no one turned Judas for money, they could all lead normal lives.

"That's uh, that's a, that's a joke that they're going to pay," Ferguson replied.

Asked by Ferguson if he ever thought the fires were for nothing, because nearly everything was rebuilt, McGowan disagreed.

"That should never be the barometer of the victory man," McGowan said. "The victory is like the (expletive) publicity. That's what it is. It's the putting it on the map, man."

McGowan added that an arson at a Vail, Colo., ski resort, which was done by others in The Family, had spurred recruitment for the ELF and raised their activities to a new level.

"It got people's attention, man," McGowan said. "It totally changed the extreme of eco-resistance. It made tree-sits look calm, you know."

McGowan's wife, who married him after his arrest, made a tearful plea for mercy, saying she was shocked to learn of his past, which was so different from the man she loved.

McGowan added his own statement, saying he got sick to his stomach before the arsons, but took full responsibility for his actions and regretted them. At the same time, he felt threats to the environment were dire.

Outside the courtroom, McGowan, who is free on bail, was given a round of applause by supporters after saying former Vice President Al Gore's efforts to stop global warming were ineffective, old growth forests were still being cut down and genetic engineering was still going on.