- Trains radical activists in "direct action" techniques
- Sparked violence in Seattle WTO protests
The Ruckus Society's mission is to provide "environmental, human rights, and social justice organizers with the tools, training, and support needed to achieve their goals." Toward this end, it trains activists in "direct action" and "guerrilla communication" techniques for the promotion of radical agendas. Viewing the United States as a nation rife with "injustice and oppression," the Ruckus Society "struggle[s]" to "prioritize the voices and visions of youth, women, people of color, indigenous people and immigrants, poor and working class people, lesbian, gay, bisexual, gender queer, and transgendered people, and other historically marginalized communities."
A spin-off of Earth First!, the Ruckus Society was formed in the San Francisco Bay area in 1995 by Howard "Twilly" Cannon, who was on the front lines of sea-going confrontations for Greenpeace, and Mike Roselle, a co-founder of both the Rainforest Action Network and Earth First!
The Ruckus Society's logo features two large meshed gears of a machine with a monkey-wrench wedged into their teeth to stop them -- signifying the group's endorsement of "monkey-wrenching," a term meaning the sabotage of logging or construction equipment. In 1995, after President Clinton signed into law the Timber Salvage Rider, a pro-logging bill, Roselle and Cannon conceived of a training program where aspiring environmental activists could learn effective tactics to counter such political moves. They organized a training seminar called "Forest Action Camp" -- which provided training in tree climbing, blockades, forest monitoring, media, and communications -- in the summer of 1995 in Oregon's Mount Hood National Forest. Out of that, the Ruckus Society was born.
Since its inception, the Ruckus Society has trained thousands of activists in the use of "agitation and disruption techniques." The training sessions contain "cerebral elements as well as physical, classroom-style instruction for action planning, communicating with the media, building leadership and political analysis, and nonviolent philosophy and practice." Among the topics taught are "street blockades," "police confrontation strategies," and "using the media to your advantage." Trainees learn ways to goad police into overreaction and to cause problems for those they target. Dozens of leftist groups send their elite protestors to Ruckus Society trainings. Many of the trainees are members of Earth First!, the Earth Liberation Front, and the Rainforest Action Network.
Ruckus Society trainings take place in two venues: Action Camp and microRuckus. Action Camp is a week-long, intensive training program where “participants split their time between theoretical and strategic workshops focusing on a wide array of advanced campaign skills and hands-on technical training in tactics for nonviolent actions.” MicroRuckus is a “one-to-four-day training created in partnership with local organizations in key areas of the U.S. and Canada.”
Ruckus Society training includes several program areas:
(a) The Indigenous Peoples' Power Project: "As much as ninety percent of the world's remaining natural resources are on indigenous peoples' lands. The extraction of those resources promises nothing but continued genocide for native people, as the land is stripped bare and the people left destitute and disenfranchised ... so that a few can profit from water dams, uranium mines, nuclear waste dumps and coal, gas and oil extraction projects."
(b) The Not Your Soldier Project: This counter-recruitment campaign "gives youth the tools they need to stop the military invasion of their schools and their communities." Condemning "the corporations that profit off of war," the project is a collaborative effort with the American Friends Service Committee, Code Pink, the National Network Opposing Militarization of Youth, the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, and the War Resisters League.
(c) The Jumpstart Ford Campaign: A joint venture with Global Exchange and the Rainforest Action Network, this program seeks to break America of its "deadly addiction to oil." Says the Ruckus Society, "We are demanding that Ford increase the average fuel efficiency of its fleet to 50 mpg by 2010 and that they reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2020."
The Ruckus Society played a major role in the 1999 riots in Seattle protesting a World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting there. Many Ruckus-trained activists smashed store windows, set cars ablaze and did millions of dollars in property damage. "Violence to me is [only] against living things," Ruckus' Executive Director John Sellers once told Mother Jones magazine. "But inanimate objects? I think you can be destructive, you can use vandalism strategically. It may be violence under the law, but I just don't think it's violence." On another occasion Sellers declared, "Anarchism has gotten a really bad rap, like communism."
The Ruckus Society's Action Planning Training Manual endorses property destruction as a patriotic means of making a political statement, in the tradition of the Boston Tea Party, which it calls "[o]ne of the most famous direct actions ever." "As activists,” says the manual, “we often have a more sophisticated understanding of an issue than the general public."
The Ruckus Society was a signatory to a petition of so-called "civil society" organizations that opposed globalization, big business in general, and "any effort to expand the powers of the World Trade Organization through a new comprehensive round of trade liberalization."
At the 2000 Republican Convention in Philadelphia, Ruckus-trained leftists planned to bring the city to a halt with rioting. Police stopped them, and in the process seized improvised weapons, gasoline-soaked rags, and piano wire that the protestors intended to string across streets to trip police horses. In the melee 23 police cars were damaged and 15 officers were injured. More than 400 protestors were arrested.
The Ruckus Society is a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition . The Ruckus Society also endorsed a May 1, 2003 document titled "10 Reasons Environmentalists Oppose an Attack on Iraq," which was published by Environmentalists Against War.
Financial backers of the Ruckus Society include the Ben & Jerry's Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the Foundation for Deep Ecology, the Tides Foundation, the Turner Foundation, and others.