Mike Roselle, terrorist? No defender of the Earth, yes!
The beard is graying. The hair is clipped military-short. He is a large man,
oddly shaped, like a cross between a grizzly and a javelina. It's Roselle,
of course, Mike Roselle - the outside agitator. He and a fellow activist
have just spread an anti-coal banner in front of a growling bulldozer in
West Virginia on a cold February morning in 2009. He's in this icy and
unforgiving land to oppose a brutal mining operation and will soon be
arrested for trespassing. Massey Energy, the target of Roselle's protest, is
the fourth largest coal extractor in the United States, mining nearly 40
million tons of coal in Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee each year.
The arrest was nothing new for Roselle, who cut his teeth in direct action
environmental campaigns decades earlier as a co-founder of Earth First!, top
campaigner for Greenpeace US and later as the wit behind the tenacious
Ruckus Society. Unlike most mainstream environmentalists, you are not likely
to see Roselle sporting a suit and lobbying Washington insiders on the
intricacies of mining laws - you are more apt to see this self-proclaimed
lowbagger (one who lives light on the land, works to protect it and has few
possessions to show for their hard work) engaged in direct, but nonviolent,
confrontations with the forces of industrialization, using tactics honed
during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. And his dissent in
West Virginia is more than justified.
The mountaintops of the Appalachia region, from Tennessee up to the heart of
West Virginia, are being ravaged by the coal industry - an industry that
cares little about the welfare of communities or the land that it is chewing
up and spitting out with its grotesque mining operations.
The debris from the mining pits, often 500 feet deep, produce toxic waste
that is then dumped in nearby valleys, polluting rivers and poisoning local
communities downstream. Currently, no state or federal agencies are tracking
the cumulative effect of the aptly named "mountaintop removal," where entire
peaks are being blown apart with explosives, only to expose tiny seams of
the precious black rock.
On December 22, 2008, a coal slurry impoundment at the Tennessee Valley
Authority's Kingston coal fired power plant in Harriman, Tennessee, spilled
more than 500 million gallons of toxic coal ash into the Tennessee River.
The epic spill was over 40 times larger than the Exxon Valdez in Alaska.
Approximately 525 million gallons of black coal ash flowed into tributaries
of the murky Tennessee River - the water supply for Chattanooga and millions
of people living downstream in the states of Alabama and neighboring
Kentucky. The true costs - environmental and social - of the spill are still
As a result of the ongoing destruction of this forgotten region of
Appalachia, Roselle and others affiliated with his latest group, Climate
Ground Zero, have set up shop and vow not to end their actions until this
mining practice has been outlawed. But the West Virginia media, long in the
pockets of Big Coal, has not depicted Roselle as a nonviolent activist who
has been pushed to act because his conscience has forced him to. On the
contrary, Roselle has been portrayed as a potential eco-terrorist and a
threat, not only to jobs in the region, but to human life as well.
"A quick search of Roselle's name on the internet produces pages of
accusations that he will go to any length for his cause, vandalism that
could put lives in danger," reported WSAZ-TV on February 11, 2009.
Fox affiliate WCHS-TV8 went even further in a story they aired on the same
date stating, "Roselle has been called an 'eco-terrorist' by some because of
his tactics. He's someone we think you should know about. Tomorrow night
don't miss the 'Roselle Report' when we'll take a closer look at how this
man's radical methods of protest may put lives at stake in West Virginia."
Being labeled a terrorist isn't a new accusation for Roselle, who has been
at the forefront of dozens of nonviolent direct action environmental
campaigns throughout the past several decades. "I have been arrested over
forty times in twenty states," Roselle remembers with a smirk. "My longest
time in jail is four months in South Dakota for an action on Mt. Rushmore
against acid rain."