Closing Range

Her Monkeywrencher’s Heart

Tracy Stone-Manning has always been, and always will be, a radical

By Dave Skinner

Tracy Stone-Manning, President Biden’s pick for director of the Bureau of Land Management, is catching serious flak, now from both sides.

Why? Simple … Tracy Stone-Manning has always been, and always will be, a radical with a monkeywrencher’s heart. Long-buried documents place her in the inner circle of notorious and violent Earth First!, so dedicated she wound up barely avoiding federal charges and prison.

While always-exclamation-pointed Earth First! (EF!) now inhabits the irrelevant fringe of environmentalism’s margins, from about 1988 to 1992, Earth First! enjoyed a peak of violent infamy. Critically, Tracy Stone-Manning willingly played her part during EF!’s peak, until 1993 when federal law enforcement made an offer she couldn’t refuse.

Earth First! began innocently enough, spun off the plot line of a 1975 eco-fantasy novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, written by the late Edward Abbey.

Abbey’s bizarre tome follows the exploits of four merry-but-misanthropic monkeywrenching misfits, led by Vietnam vet George Hayduke. Amazon explains the “gang” is “dedicated to the destruction of […] the system” under the creed “peaceful coexistence be damned.” The book ends when their “monkeywrenching” causes a giant dragline crane to tumble over end into a canyon. Yay!

Gang sold mildly well (Google today calls it “light [,,,] plane or beach” reading) and is now a “cult classic.” Trouble is, certain maladjusted teens and young adults adopted Monkey Wrench Gang as holy writ, the “bible” of their new cult.

Earth First! was born in a bar in 1979, begat by wilderness-worshipping, Marine Corps-reject Dave Foreman. Their 1981 public debut was harmless enough, an “action” unfurling a banner of plastic (symbolizing a crack) down the face of Glen Canyon Dam. Trouble was, the banner was too short and the wind didn’t cooperate. Yawn.

EF!’s lame symbolism wasn’t working. So EF!’s monkeywrencher converts took the lessons of their “bible” more and more literally, dropping symbolism in favor of for-real felony-level criminal sabotage, including multiple spectacular arsons.

EF! went public with tree-spiking in 1984. Ringleader Mike Roselle countered concerns about inflicting unwarranted risk with a declaration “there are no innocent bystanders” and further: “This is jihad, pal.” Yep, “monkeywrenching” had become flat-out “ecoterrorism.”

In summer 1988, Maryland film-and-TV graduate Tracy Stone (not yet Manning) came to the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies masters’ program. Some of her fellow students were EF! members, and EF! was the “in” extracurricular activity. She joined.

The next spring, one of Stone’s roommates handed her his tree-spiking letter. Rather than tell him to lick a stamp himself, or hand the letter to police, what did she, daughter of a U.S. Navy submarine commander now buried at Arlington, do?

She chose to deliberately break a criminal evidence chain by renting a UM typewriter in order to create and then mail a fingerprint-clean copy. Her gambit failed. The Feds showed up, giving her (and several close friends) an epic grilling. But she didn’t flip, or quit.

Rather, Stone-Manning (newly Mrs.) was later listed proudly on Earth First! Journal’s “editorial collective” masthead. Further, she used EF!-allied sources in her 1992 master’s thesis, Into the Heart of the Beast, which in turn lays out how “the tool of advertising can foil our corporate-consuming culture.”

Besides writing copy that refers to children as an “environmental hazard,” having an actress say “smart people like Bob and me should be the people having kids,” and copy stating “the earth can’t afford Americans,” Stone-Manning covered topics pertinent to her nomination: Her ad mockups address at least three aspects of the Bureau of Land Management’s multiple use mission (mining, forestry and livestock grazing), with the advertising mock-ups advocating for major reductions and eventual elimination of all three. You can request access to her thesis here. As I write this, Beast is not public, I have a bootleg because my request was denied.

Into the Heart of the Beast should be public, because it reveals Tracy Stone Manning’s true core beliefs, before she was scared straight. She’s cleaned up her act, but her monkeywrencher’s heart still burns bright. If confirmed, she’ll burn down the Bureau of Land Management.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.