When Robert Eringer first saw Craig Rosebraugh in the news, he knew his professional contacts would be very interested in the young man’s story. A masterful account of Mr. Rosebraugh’s life as a radical environmentalist — not to mention his connections with domestic terrorists — would certainly impress the people who paid Mr. Eringer.
He was a pro at getting people to reveal intimate details of their lives in the memoirs he helped them produce. He would reach out to Mr. Rosebraugh and get him to write a book, to tell his story in all of its specifics.
That story had begun in the blink of an email one evening in 1998, as Mr. Rosebraugh, a tall, thin environmentalist, was making dinner. Alone in his one-bedroom apartment in Portland, Ore., he spotted an encrypted message in his inbox and decoded it to find a communiqué, addressed to him, from the Earth Liberation Front.
Two days earlier, on Oct. 19, 1998, eight fires had torched a mile-long stretch of Vail Mountain in Colorado, burning through a ski-patrol building, several chairlift towers and the immense Two Elk Lodge. The arson caused $26 million in damages, then the costliest act of eco-terrorism in U.S. history. The E.L.F. claimed responsibility.
The shadowy saboteurs had targeted the construction project because it intruded on the habitat of the Canada lynx, a wildcat that the U.S. government would designate 17 months later as a threatened species. “This action is just a warning,” the saboteurs wrote. “We will be back if this greedy corporation continues to trespass into wild and unroaded areas.”
Mr. Rosebraugh, then 26, would recall gasping as he read.
“I knew this was a step up for the movement,” he said. “It raised the stakes. It was quite exciting and quite scary, to be honest.” He also feared, quite correctly, that the Vail fires would put him in the F.B.I.’s cross hairs.
With his heart pounding like a deadline reporter, Mr. Rosebraugh punched out a laudatory news release and emailed it to newsrooms across North America. Journalists lit up his phone for days.
“It was only a short time later that The New York Times did the piece on me labeling me ‘the face of eco-terrorism,’” he said.
For more than four years, he served as the primary spokesman for the E.L.F., presenting its firebombings as a moral guerrilla war against run-amok corporations busily plundering the planet. He generated ink and airtime for such issues as suburban sprawl, deforestation and global warming, when mainstream environmental groups like the Sierra Club, which denounced the E.L.F., sometimes did not. All the while, the F.B.I. put Mr. Rosebraugh through the investigative ringer, working countless hours to determine whether his duties extended beyond his role as the mouthpiece for domestic terrorists.
The Earth Liberation Front could scarcely be called a traditional terrorist organization. The group’s guidelines, posted online, instructed its all-volunteer corps not to kill or injure anyone, though their operations certainly risked that possibility. Instead, members were told to slip underground and inflict maximum damage on corporate and government actors who despoiled the natural world. The front’s crimes would cause roughly $100 million in economic damages from 1996 to 2004, without ever taking a life.
Mr. Rosebraugh assured reporters that he did not know the identities of the saboteurs. But not everyone believed him, including the F.B.I. agents who put him at the center of their investigation and surveilled him relentlessly.
Also watching him from afar was Robert Eringer, who would later sign Mr. Rosebraugh to one of the most peculiar book deals in American history.
Person of Interest
Mr. Rosebraugh’s entry into eco-sabotage came in 1997, when a cell of the Animal Liberation Front sent him a letter taking responsibility for freeing nearly 10,000 minks from a ranch near Portland. The saboteurs, looking to publicize the crime, did not have to look far: Mr. Rosebraugh served as executive director of Portland’s militant Liberation Collective, a group that had publicly supported such sabotage. After receiving the communiqué, he held a news conference outside a local fur shop. Eventually, the E.L.F. also sent Mr. Rosebraugh anonymous claims of responsibility for its crimes.
The F.B.I. called the E.L.F. one of America’s top domestic security threats.
But federal agents pursuing the E.L.F. found themselves skunked time after time, a yearslong run of futility that one of the F.B.I.’s domestic terrorism chiefs once likened to “grasping at smoke.” Bereft of suspects, the F.B.I. zeroed in on Mr. Rosebraugh, as evidenced in more than 5,000 pages of F.B.I. files that he acquired under the Freedom of Information Act.
The records, shared by Mr. Rosebraugh with The New York Times and verified by the Department of Justice, provide a glimpse at the extraordinary efforts taken by the F.B.I. to keep tabs on its target.
According to the documents, agents searched Mr. Rosebraugh’s home, workplaces and vehicles on several occasions, carting off paperwork, desktop computers and other electronics. They secretly picked through his bank records, rummaged in his garbage, tracked his outgoing phone calls and tailed his vehicles The F.B.I. watched Mr. Rosebraugh’s home so habitually that an exasperated supervisor urged agents to consider mounting a camera on a utility pole in front of the dwelling.
Late one night, investigators made off with his pickup to secretly equip it with a GPS tracker. Mr. Rosebraugh said he had witnessed the operation and, believing that his truck was being stolen, called 911. He later found the vehicle on a police impound lot.
The records also show that the F.B.I. dispatched undercover agents and informants to attend Mr. Rosebraugh’s speaking engagements around the country. At an event in Seattle, Mr. Rosebraugh recalled, he spotted a blond woman dressed utterly out of place in the audience of black-clad anarchists. When she sidled up and asked him out, Mr. Rosebraugh calculated the social metrics and, smelling a rat, declined her offer.
“It was just a little too over-the-top,” he said.
In January 2001, Oregon’s top F.B.I. official, Dave Szady, appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” to dispute Mr. Rosebraugh’s claim that he was merely E.L.F’s messenger: “I believe he knows the membership.”
One early morning that May, two teams of E.L.F. arsonists began the group’s first multistate arson operation — a strike against genetic engineering that caused $4.3 million in damages. One team hit the Jefferson Poplar Farm in northwestern Oregon, while another struck the office of a professor at the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Mr. Rosebraugh read a draft of the two-part claim of responsibility and soon decided it was a hot mess. The previous owners of the farm had, indeed, grown genetically engineered trees, but the current owners were growing the trees the old-fashioned way — as natural hybrids.
“I knew it would be a major P.R. catastrophe,” Mr. Rosebraugh recalled. So he edited the communiqué to justify the arson while keeping to the provocative tone of the original: “We torched Jefferson Poplar because hybrid poplars are an ecological nightmare threatening native biodiversity in the ecosystem. Our forests are being liquidated and replaced with monocultured tree farms so greedy, earth raping corporations can make more money.”
Mr. Rosebraugh sent the edited communiqué to reporters, but his edits infuriated the E.L.F. saboteurs behind the attacks. Through an intermediary, they threatened to hunt him down. He seethed at their ingratitude.
“I felt the least that these individuals could do was have a respect and appreciation for everything I had gone through to represent their actions to the world,” he said. “And I felt that if I’m going to be threatened by the very people I’m risking my life and freedom for, what the hell am I doing?”
Mr. Rosebraugh never received another claim of responsibility. On Sept. 5, 2001, just six days before the attacks on the Twin Towers shifted the national conversation to a different type of terrorism, he announced his resignation.
Shortly before leaving his post, Mr. Rosebraugh received an email from Robert Eringer, the author and literary agent who thought Mr. Rosebraugh’s time with the E.L.F. would make for a great book.
“Craig was very enthusiastic,” Mr. Eringer said recently in an interview.
Mr. Rosebraugh, acutely mistrustful of strangers in those days, searched Mr. Eringer’s name online and discovered that he was, indeed, an agent and author whose books included spy novels and a nonfiction account of the Polish solidarity movement and its leader, Lech Walesa. His literary suitor clearly had ample experience to land him a book deal, but Mr. Rosebraugh declined initially.
Mr. Eringer persisted, and Mr. Rosebraugh eventually agreed to consider Mr. Eringer’s offer to help him publish a book. Mr. Eringer, 17 years older and living in Santa Barbara, Calif., happily accepted him as a new client and set him to work on a book proposal.
“Hi Craig,” he wrote in an email to his protégé on Feb. 1, 2002. “I think your additional material is excellent. You are a prolific writer — and on a roll. With that in mind, my suggestion for the moment is this: Keep going with ‘Glancing at the Guerillas.’ Completed, it would make a superb sample chapter.” He asked Mr. Rosebraugh to flesh out material on logging in the Pacific Northwest and on a controversial plan to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “More about the dangers to the environment caused by both — and what activists can do on either front.”
Later that month, Mr. Rosebraugh appeared under subpoena before a congressional subcommittee during a hearing on eco-terrorism. He invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 54 times, refusing to answer all but one of the committee’s questions. Later that day, he proudly emailed Mr. Eringer to ask if he had read any news coverage of the hearing.
“I caught something on internet news,” Mr. Eringer responded. “The F.B.I. has called you the most active U.S.-based terrorist group! Can you make it down to L.A. by the 23rd?”
Mr. Eringer booked a room for Mr. Rosebraugh at the Inn at East Beach, in Santa Barbara, and met him on Feb. 23, 2002, to discuss business. He found his new client to be, perhaps like many writers, caustic and intense.
“My first impression,” he said, “was that Rosebraugh needed a hug.” But over meals, the two struck a tentative agreement for Mr. Rosebraugh to write a book manuscript that Mr. Eringer would then peddle to publishers.
“Good news,” Mr. Eringer soon wrote to Mr. Rosebraugh. “I have decided to go ahead and commission the book we discussed. Hence, I agree to an advance of $5,000 on the basis that it will take you approximately three months to write. You will write a minimum of 300 pages and cover the areas laid out in your proposal and those discussed while you were in Santa Barbara.”
Mr. Rosebraugh, unsophisticated about publishing matters, did not know that literary agents typically pitch nonfiction book proposals to publishers — not full-length manuscripts. But he signed the contract, which would pay him $1,000 for each installment he produced.
Not long afterward, Mr. Eringer let him know he would be moving to London, and he put his protégé in touch with an editor who would help shape the manuscript.
The fledgling author faced a punishing deadline that would force him to write 1,000 words a day for several months while also attending graduate school. He quickly fell behind and, by early September 2002, his editor had written to let him know that Mr. Eringer was disappointed not to have an E.L.F. manuscript to shop at the Frankfurt Book Fair the next month.
“Let your fingers sprint across the keyboard,” he wrote.
By December, Mr. Rosebraugh had knocked out 20 chapters, as well as a prologue and an epilogue, that read, as Mr. Eringer recently explained, more like a long academic paper. He decreed that the manuscript needed significant work and that his editor would fly to Portland to give it a top-to-bottom rewrite.
The news wounded Mr. Rosebraugh’s pride. He wondered how Mr. Eringer could have been so encouraging, and then suddenly so dismissive, of his work. Hoping to find answers, he searched Mr. Eringer’s name a second time.
What he found stunned him.
Since the first time Mr. Rosebraugh searched “Robert Eringer,” the results from Google had changed. The first item to appear was a two-part investigative story published the previous summer by Salon. The stories — headlined “The Greatest Vendetta on Earth” and “Send in the Clowns” — detailed Mr. Eringer’s role in a covert campaign of eavesdropping and dirty tricks against a Maryland journalist named Janice Pottker.
Ms. Pottker had angered Feld Entertainment, the family business behind the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, by writing an unflattering story about the family. She was hoping to expand that piece into a book when Mr. Eringer popped into her life as a literary agent willing to help fulfill her dream. But his actual job was to make sure she published nothing of the kind.
Mr. Eringer secretly worked for a Feld Entertainment consultant, Clair George, who was also a former deputy director of the C.I.A. Under Mr. George’s direction, Mr. Eringer edited Ms. Pottker’s manuscript, mining it for her sources and reporting them to Mr. George. Mr. Eringer skillfully diverted Ms. Pottker’s attention by helping her obtain a book deal on another subject — the family behind the Mars candy empire.
“And for years to come,” according to Salon, “Pottker would face one perplexing hurdle after another, unaware that her career was being monitored, prodded and shaped by a group of spies.”
Mr. Rosebraugh, horrified by the perfidies attributed to Mr. Eringer in Salon and unsettled by his ties to a former spook, feared for his life. That evening, he recalled, he settled in for a sleepless night with two loaded firearms, a knife and a baseball bat. The next morning, when Mr. Eringer’s editor showed up to begin working on the book, Mr. Rosebraugh pretended to be sick and unavailable.
He had no clue why Mr. Eringer had wormed his way into his life.
As it happened, Mr. Eringer had spent a portion of his long career as a professional deceiver, honing his use of artifice as an undercover journalist in the 1980s.
While toiling for the freewheeling London tabloid Sunday People — under the alias Robert Douglas — Mr. Eringer had infiltrated a South Carolina faction of the Ku Klux Klan, to expose the group’s efforts to organize in Britain.
He later developed close ties to a Maryland publishing house, National Press Books. In 1993, he signed on with the publisher to edit “Safe House,” a memoir by Edward Lee Howard, a former C.I.A. officer. Mr. Howard, who had fallen under F.B.I. investigation for espionage, defected to the Soviet Union in 1985 after cleverly evading an F.B.I. surveillance team in New Mexico.
While working with Mr. Howard on his memoir, Mr. Eringer secretly hoped to lure the turncoat to a neutral country so that the F.B.I. could apprehend him. The bureau paid Mr. Eringer handsomely, but F.B.I. leadership ultimately failed to execute the plan, he said.
Mr. Eringer said he later targeted a U.S. fugitive named Ira Einhorn, known as the Unicorn Killer, who in 1977 murdered his girlfriend in Philadelphia, fled to Europe and fought extradition. He contacted the killer and cut a deal with him to edit “Cantor Dust,” Mr. Einhorn’s novel-in-progress. According to Mr. Eringer, his real mission was to report Mr. Einhorn’s plans to the F.B.I. With his help, Mr. Eringer said, the United States successfully extradited Mr. Einhorn to Pennsylvania in 2001. (The F.B.I., which has a standing policy of not commenting on informants, declined to comment about Mr. Eringer specifically.)
The premise of Mr. Eringer’s book ruse, as he calls it, is that everyone wants to publish one.
“It’s irresistible,” he said.
According to Mr. Eringer, the F.B.I. took him up on the plan to deploy the ruse on Mr. Rosebraugh, hoping to learn what its target was thinking, doing or thinking of doing. According to Mr. Eringer, he kept in touch with Mr. Rosebraugh by phone and email and dutifully read through the manuscript pages, passing everything to F.B.I. agents. Mr. Eringer said he hoped his target would cough up the “mother lode” — the identities of the E.L.F. saboteurs, perhaps even a confession from Mr. Rosebraugh — but such prospects soon dimmed.
“I just didn’t get the sense that this is a guy who goes out in the middle of the night and tries to burn stuff down,” Mr. Eringer recalled.
After the Salon articles were published, Mr. Eringer said, the F.B.I. shut down his Rosebraugh sting operation.
On Feb. 23, 2003, after he had hired a lawyer, Mr. Rosebraugh terminated his publishing contract with Mr. Eringer and paid back the $4,000 he had received in advances — still unaware that the funds had come from the F.B.I.
“He could have kept that money,” Mr. Eringer said with a laugh. “They would have never expected it back.”
The details of the F.B.I. investigation of Mr. Rosebraugh are corroborated by files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, emails provided by Mr. Rosebraugh and by law enforcement officials familiar with the case. F.B.I. declined to comment on the specifics of the case.
A month after Mr. Rosebraugh ended his book deal, he bought a .45-caliber handgun and a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, fearful, he said, of federal agents, the E.L.F. saboteurs who had threatened him and Mr. Eringer. The F.B.I. secretly monitored his gun purchases.
The Next Chapter
Mr. Rosebraugh first learned of Mr. Eringer’s ploy in interviews for this story. “It was nice to have a bit more closure,” he said recently, describing the ruse as a colossal waste of taxpayer money.
Mr. Eringer disagreed. “From my perspective, it was actually quite inexpensive for an undercover operation,” he said. “As far as I could tell, the F.B.I. got more intelligence from me on what made Craig Rosebraugh tick than what they had amassed in two years.”
The next year, the government’s Operation Backfire investigation — entirely separate from Mr. Eringer’s efforts — indicted 19 men and women for roles in 20 major acts of E.L.F. and A.L.F. sabotage, including the Vail ski resort arson. It turned out that Mr. Rosebraugh was acquainted with three of the culprits, but, operating in an anonymized, cell-terrorist manner, none had ever told him about their crimes.
“He was a dupe,” said Greg Harvey, a retired police detective in Eugene, Ore., who played a key role in apprehending the gang. Mr. Harvey confirmed that the saboteurs had never revealed their identities to Mr. Rosebraugh because they had not trusted him. “They used him,” he said. “Then they kicked him to the curb.”
Today, Mr. Rosebraugh is scarcely a militant. He’s a 50-year-old documentary filmmaker in Pasadena, Calif., a family man with a wife, two children and a pair of law degrees, and he still doesn’t eat meat. His 2012 film, “Greedy Lying Bastards,” executive produced by Daryl Hannah, poked Big Oil by exploring corporate misinformation campaigns against global climate change.
Mr. Rosebraugh long ago renounced the E.L.F.’s firebombing as ineffective, noting that the Vail ski resort was up and running not long after the 1998 blaze.
“The fact remains that the group was very motivated to protect the very things we need to live, the very things we care about today,” he said. “Stopping climate change. Making sure we have clean water. Making sure we have clean soil. Making sure we have trees that act as they should in our ecosystem.”
He added: “I still think that people had a right do something.”
For Mr. Rosebraugh, one of those things was to actually find a way to publish the story he first unwittingly cobbled together for the F.B.I. In 2004, Lantern Books published his book, “Burning Rage of a Dying Planet: Speaking for the Earth Liberation Front.”
When he thought back on those years, though, Mr. Rosebraugh recalled how paranoid the F.B.I., the E.L.F. and Mr. Eringer had made him — furtively looking out his window, sleeping with a gun nearby. Yet he wondered if one could even call it paranoia.
“Everything I was paranoid about — and more — actually happened.”
The post The Case of the Eco-Terrorists and the Book Deal appeared first on New York Times.