We Have Seen the Enemy...
Craig Rosebraugh and Arissa—Portland’s Recipe for Domestic Terror?
By Lisa Baker
Non-violence has been the hallmark of Oregon’s protest
movement, one characterized—for the most part—by strong words rather than
But that will change if Arissa has its way.
Created by Craig Rosebraugh and partner Leslie James
Pickering late last year, Portland-based Arissa puts violence at the center of
its methodology, which calls for violent revolution as the only answer to societal
Arissa was formed as a corporation—specifically a limited
liability corporation (LLC)—but it nevertheless states its commitment to
anti-corporate, anti-capitalistic ideals.Through its Arissa Media Group arm,
the company does more than simply believe and espouse revolutionary ideas. It
promises support and provides public relations services to anyone willing to
The services, as described on Arissa Media Group’s website,
include receiving “anonymous communiques” from revolutionaries and forwarding
them to media, conducting interviews with news media “ideologically supporting
and defending” revolutionary actions, and safeguarding the secret identities of
Through these services, Arissa hopes to “educate the public
on the need for revolution” and “inspire more revolutionary activities.”
But not just any activities. Arissa reserves the right to
decide which targets would have the most impact, if attacked, according to its
website, Arissa.com. The organizers’ chilling suggestions: “the United States
government, its agencies, its symbolic monuments and cultural identifiers,
symbols of capitalism,” according to the website.
Their online manifesto states that while insurgents should
take precautions to minimize injury and death, “We understand that
unfortunately, political violence will be needed to advance any revolutionary
movement in this country.”
To that end, they include some needful items in their
catalog, including Rosebraugh’s book, “The Logic of Political Violence: Lessons
in Reform and Revolution” whose cover boasts a photo of the World Trade Center,
ablaze and smoking after the 9-11 attacks. A t-shirt for sale on the website
depicts an airplane flying at the two towers with the words, “Help stop terrorism…Join the fight against the U.S.
government.” A second t-shirt design features a silhouette of a rifle
with the words “Regime Change Begins at Home.”
Flaks for Hire
Pickering and Rosebraugh, who portray themselves as public
relations specialists, are longtime members of the Portland protest community,
although Pickering now lives in Buffalo, New York. Both served as mouthpieces
for the Earth Liberation Front, a fringe environmental group that uses
firebombing and vandalism to fight everything from agri-businesses such as fur
farming, timber cutting and genetically modified crops to industries that it
believes damage the environment: SUV-making and ski resorts.
Rosebraugh’s profile rose when he became the target of FBI
investigations into eco-terror attacks. Agents tossed his house, which at the
time doubled as ELF’s office, and carried away boxes of items. But the probes
did not lead to charges against Rosebraugh, who repeatedly told investigators
he didn’t know who was involved in various sabotage campaigns, but was only a
messenger for groups who preferred to remain anonymous.
In 2002, months after resigning as press officer for ELF,
Rosebraugh was hauled before Congress to answer questions related to ELF, which
the FBI considers a top domestic terror group. In response to each question,
Rosebraugh refused to answer, citing his Fifth Amendment right against
self-incrimination. At the same time, he submitted written testimony defending
and lauding ELF for its actions.
He has since devoted his time to the wider goals under
Arissa’s mission statement. At the same time, he has opened his own vegan
restaurant in a converted Victorian in Portland’s Hawthorne district.
Calendula, as it’s called, is an oddity among vegan eateries–it is both
expensive and semi-formal: Diners are asked to dress in business attire.
The establishment has divided Rosebraugh’s fans. Some,
writing into Portland’s self-publishing Indymedia Center, questioned
Rosebraugh’s commitment to anti-capitalistic ideology, since his restaurant exemplifies
the kind of capitalism that he and his colleagues have always scorned. One
writer, Nona Bow, said Rosebraugh “lacks any class
consciousness…If Craig is so revolutionary, why is he focusing on opening a
yuppie restaurant on Hawthorne? Perhaps becoming a capitalist and gentrifier is
a reason (that he lacks class consciousness).”
Others defended him, saying he’d earned his credibility and
his “right to be heard” long ago.
Another said: “I heard Craig eats cheese now.”
Protest groups are similarly divided about Rosebraugh’s call
for violence. One, in an anonymous Indymedia Center post, called it “insane”
but others, who did not respond to requests for interviews, agreed with
Rosebraugh that only violence brings change.
For himself, Rosebraugh says he believed in the non-violent
approach until he studied successful reform movements–the civil rights crusade
and the Vietnam era anti-war movement, among others, and found that each
succeeded using some amount of political violence.
He told The Portland Tribune that the 9-11 attacks
were examples of political violence intended to send a message. As such, he
told that reporter, they were defensible. He did not respond to BrainstormNW’s
request for an interview about Arissa.
Rosebraugh was not always revolutionary.
Once, he was a regular kid.
He grew up in the affluent Bull Mountain area of Tigard,
reportedly skateboarding and playing soccer. He graduated from Tigard High
School in 1989, where his civics teacher, Joe Calpin, remembered little about
him aside from his face.
But his middle school soccer coach, Jan Pierce, remembers
“He played outside half-back. I can still remember a goal he
scored. He was about 25 yards out…It won the game,” Pierce says. Rosebraugh’s
parents were involved in their son’s activities: They hosted two soccer club
parties at their home.
By all accounts, the pre-revolutionary Craig Rosebraugh was
your average suburban kid. “He was just a normal kid, a very nice, normal,
unassuming kid,” Pierce says.
Reading about him in the newspaper, Pierce says Rosebraugh’s
current activities do nothing to recall the boy he remembers. But that’s not
unusual. “Am I surprised? Well, sure. But you know, I got some other
kids…jiminy Christmas…you wouldn’t believe them, either. Kids just grow up in
Rosebraugh’s direction changed during the first Gulf War, when as a student
at Portland State University, he watched the anti-war fervor develop around him
and began to question his upbringing, which he said had taught “a certain
absolutist support of my country and government,” according to his 2002 written
His parents, in a 1997 Willamette Week interview,
said he never showed signs of activism when he was growing up.
Less is known about Pickering. In an interview with BrainstormNW,
Pickering said he grew up an only child on a blueberry farm in East Aurora, New
York, a rural town of about 7,000 people outside of Buffalo where is father was
a building contractor.
It was watching his dad that sparked his first
disenchantment with capitalism. “I watched him working his ass off. He was the
hardest worker I ever saw, but he was laid off of job after job and there was
never enough money and he always drove a beat-up car and we always lived in the
worst part of town…One place was across the street from a dog food factory
which just smelled all the time.”
When he was 12, the family moved to a nearby suburb, and his
disillusionment grew. “Where I was from, there was this real sense of family
and community, interesting things to do. Then we moved to the suburbs and there
was no community. Community was annihilated.”
He met Rosebraugh after he became a member of Rosebraugh’s
Portland-based Liberation Collective in 1996, and his thoughts of a different
system—one based on autonomous collectives rather than national and state
structures, became clearer.
He is currently attending Goddard College in Vermont where
he is majoring in revolutionary history and community organizing.
While he shares Rosebraugh’s belief in the need for
revolution, he hasn’t carried the lifestyle as far as Rosebraugh has. For
instance, he’s not a vegan—vegans eschew any food made with animal products—or
even a vegetarian.
And he has not always spoken in favor of
physical violence. In an interview with a Minneapolis reporter in 2002,
Pickering said ELF should be spared the “terrorist” label because its adherents
do not harm people. He justified ELF’s burning of a University of Minnesota
crop research building as simple sabotage—sabotage with a message. “What they
do is sabotage property. They’ve never harmed anybody,” he said. “They never
will harm anybody because it is against their code…There is a difference
between sabotage and terrorism.”
But in March, he told BrainstormNW that
while he doesn’t want to see people harmed–especially his own family members,
“You gotta do what you gotta do. In the (American) colonies, there was risk of
death. Were they not supposed to do anything? They were being repressed on a
daily basis…Now, I could die of cancer or in a car wreck, but I’d rather die
fighting to change my world.”
Marketing the Revolution
Rosebraugh and Pickering acknowledge that U.S. citizens are
“nowhere near” embracing revolution, which is why Arissa exists, they say—to
lay the groundwork.
While they may encourage revolution and even support violent
acts, law enforcement experts say what they’re doing is not illegal. But that
doesn’t mean Arissa is being ignored.
Steve Peifer, assistant U.S. attorney in Portland, said that
since Sept. 11, “We’re more sensitive to these kinds of things.”
He said that while there are laws that prohibit “certain
invitations to armed rebellion,” a successful prosecution would rest on whether
that invitation constitutes an imminent threat. But such a threat can only be
proven “if someone fulfills what you’re encouraging,” Peifer says. “There is a
requirement that there be a receptive audience that’s going to carry it out. If
I did this on my back porch with a couple of friends who didn’t have any intent
of carrying it out, then Constitutionally, there’s probably no violation.”
The U.S. Patriot Act, while generally making it easier to
gather evidence against terrorist groups, does nothing to waive this
That’s not to say that legal actions over threatening speech
have not succeeded. In 1999, a federal jury in a Portland lawsuit ruled against
the creators of an anti-abortion website called The Nuremberg Files, which
featured names, pictures and addresses of abortion doctors on “wanted”-style
posters. The jury found that the website constituted an imminent threat and
awarded the plaintiffs $109 million.
The state Department of Justice had little to say about
Arissa’s activities, other than to describe them as “rabble rousing,” in the words
of department spokesman Kevin Neely. “I wouldn’t say there’s no interest on our
behalf. Obviously, our office and other agencies are always looking into
questions about any sort of potential illegal activity.”
Also watching Arissa are the enemies of Rosebraugh and
Ron Arnold, of the Center for the Defense of Free
Enterprise, a Bellevue-based pro-industry group, is one who is keeping tabs on
the group. “Rosebraugh seems to have widened his mission. It’s not just animals
and the environment now, but total political takeover.”
He says he isn’t surprised that that the Patriot Act doesn’t
stop Rosebraugh’s attempted revolution. “I looked at what the prosecutor was
looking at. Let’s say we investigate for inciting armed insurrection, and we go
to court. The judge will say, ‘What did he do?’ And, the answer is, ‘Well, he
talked.’ That’s just not good enough.”
Arnold says he doesn’t mind that prosecutors aren’t going
after Rosebraugh. “He’s got a big mouth, but he’s a coward at heart. He will
not put himself in the way of real danger.”
All the same, Teresa Platt, director of the San Diego-based
Fur Commission USA, believes groups like Arissa are advocating treason under
the protective cloak of corporate legitimacy. Something, she says, should be done.
“I didn’t know you could get an LLC for advocating
revolution. Working for the overthrow of the government is illegal. A
corporation cannot be structured to protect something that’s illegal,” she
says. “Or, can you now form a corporation whose mission is having Luigi beat
people for not carrying your product? No? So, where is the Oregon Corporation
Neely answers that while Arissa is registered with the
Secretary of State’s Corporation Division, that department does not have an
enforcement function and does not investigate the missions of those registered.
“The Secretary of State’s office basically takes the money and signs ‘em up.”
Whether prosecutable or not, should Oregonians worry that
Arissa’s activities will result in a real attack?
Gary Perlstein, a Portland State University criminologist
who studies terrorism, said “We should be concerned. They are…without coming
out and saying it…advocating armed violence targeting humans.”
Whether rhetoric or reality, Perlstein believes that it’s
only a matter of time before someone in the protest movement, frustrated by
lack of progress through other means and energized by Arissa, will resort to
There is evidence, he says, that the protest movement is
moving beyond speech, and even beyond property damage. Animal rights groups in
recent years have sent threatening razor-rigged letters to researchers at
Oregon Health Sciences University’s primate research center. Platt herself has
received such letters.
But soon, Perlstein believes, activists will no longer be
happy with paper cuts. He says the ingredients for more radical action are
there: frustration, anti-war sentiment on college campuses where young radicals
are often hatched, and the galvanizing help of organized labor.
Moreover, inside the groups, Perlstein says, a more militant
anti-U.S. faction–like the kind that prompted seven Portlanders in 2001 to come
to the aid of Islamic radicals in Afganistan—is gaining influence.
“The Malcolm Xers are becoming more dominant in these
movements than the Martin Luther King Jr. contingent…We could be looking at the
possibility of a domestic version of the Portland Seven.”
BrainstormNW - April 2004