If there is a singular issue for the Biden administration, it is rooting out domestic terrorism purportedly perpetrated by right-wing extremists. Nonetheless, Biden nominated as Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) an unrepentant, honest-to-goodness, fear-inducing, caught-red-handed domestic terrorist—one Tracy Stone-Manning, who in 1989, engaged in eco-terrorism, which the FBI labeled as one of the nation’s primary domestic terrorism threats at the time. Despite indisputable evidence of her culpability in a federal felony, Biden continues to support her confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
President Biden should withdraw her nomination; failing that, the Senate must reject it.
In 1989, Tracy Stone-Manning was a graduate student at the University of Montana in Missoula. She joined Earth First!, a radical environmental group that proclaimed, “No compromise in defense of Mother Earth” and that engaged in “monkeywrenching,” which involved the sabotage of equipment used in logging, mining, construction, and livestock grazing. In fact, according to the federal official who investigated her, Stone-Manning “was not only a member of Earth First!, but she played an active role in Earth First! hierarchy” and “wielded significant influence among its members.”
Stone-Manning lived in a house filled with fellow Earth First! acolytes and edited its local newsletter, the Wild Rockies Review. In the late winter or early spring of 1989, one of her “roommates” and part of her “circle of friends,” John P. Blount, conspired with her to spike trees that were part of the Post Office Timber Sale in the Clearwater National Forest in nearby Idaho. She agreed to mail the warning letter to the U.S. Forest Service on Blount’s behalf. To be clear, driving metal spikes into these trees was both a federal crime and an act of eco-terrorism. It was intended to prevent the sale of timber by terrifying the loggers and millworkers who could be injured or even killed if their saws hit the metal spikes as they attempted to harvest the spiked trees.
Blount, who was convicted in 1993 of the tree spiking and sentenced to 17 months in prison, stated that Stone-Manning “knew about [the tree spiking plot] far in advance, a couple of months before we headed out.” In fact, he said Stone-Manning “agreed to mail the letter well in advance. She was supposed to mail the letter from Billings [Montana] where she had planned on going in two or three more days, so that it wasn’t postmarked ‘Missoula.’ That was the agreed-upon plan.”
Instead, Stone-Manning retyped the letter because, as she later explained, her “fingerprints were all over the original,” and she even rented a typewriter because she did not want the letter on her personal computer. Then she mailed it—from Missoula.
The U.S. Forest Service, on receipt of the letter, verified that indeed some 284 trees had been spiked with 340 “bridge construction-type spikes” in the Clearwater National Forest. Forest Service Special Agent Michael Merkley undertook an investigation, which led him and other federal authorities to the house where Stone-Manning and Blount resided. Seven of the house’s residents, including Stone-Manning, were served with subpoenas to appear before a grand jury and to provide hair and handwriting samples and fingerprints.
Stone-Manning refused to provide the required samples—that is, until threatened with arrest and prosecution. Her cooperation ended there. According to Merkley, in a letter he sent to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Stone-Manning refused to answer his questions; she also failed to testify truthfully to the grand jury of her knowledge and role in the tree spiking. Worse yet, she copped an attitude with the special agent. Merkley said, “Stone-Manning was extremely difficult to work with; in fact, she was the nastiest of the suspects. She was vulgar, antagonistic, and extremely anti-government.”
Despite her contemptuous behavior, Stone-Manning portrayed herself as the victim, telling an interviewer in 1990 that the investigation was “degrading. It changed my awareness of the power of government [to do] bad things sometimes.”
As a result of Stone-Manning’s failure to tell what she knew, the case was stalled in 1989. Assistant U.S. Attorney George Breitsameter would later write in a Pretrial Memorandum that by the end of 1989, “the criminal investigation did not develop any substantial evidence as to the identity of the individuals involved in the spiking.”
Three years later, Blount’s former girlfriend contacted federal authorities and reported that Blount had done the tree-spiking, and Stone-Manning had mailed the letter. Federal authorities then contacted Stone-Manning. She hired a lawyer, who obtained an immunity deal, and she testified that Blount had given her the letter to mail.
Thus, Stone-Manning, according to Blount and Merkley, was an accessory before the fact and, by her own admission, an accessory after the fact. Nonetheless, she refused to cooperate with federal law enforcement authorities in 1989, which delayed prosecution for four years. As a result, she may have aided and abetted the commission of a felony. Moreover, over the next 32 years, in various newspaper interviews, Stone-Manning lied about or otherwise misrepresented her role in the tree spiking crime in the Clearwater National Forest.
In 2013, she was similarly opaque or untruthful before the Montana State Senate after her nomination to lead the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. Finally, this year, as Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) pointed out, she lied to the Senate when she declared that she had never been the subject of a federal investigation.
Before all her lies were exposed, Stone-Manning asserted that she did the right thing by mailing the letter as Blount requested. She did not do the right thing. The right thing would have been to contact the FBI or the U.S. Forest Service or the U.S. Attorney for Idaho. Now we know that her obligation to contact law enforcement began not when Blount handed her the letter–if, in fact, that event ever took place—but when Blount and the others began planning the tree spiking in February of 1989.
The BLM and its nearly 10,000 employees are responsible for 245 million acres of public land, 99.99 percent of which lies in the 11 western states and Alaska—10 percent of the country’s land mass—and for 700 million acres of mineral estate throughout the country. Some 65 million acres of that is managed for timber harvesting, a lawful activity with which Stone-Manning criminally interfered. Moreover, the BLM has 300 law enforcement rangers and special agents, like the Forest Service special agent whom she rebuffed, upbraided, and, who out of fear of Earth First!, including death threats against him and threats to harm his family, was forced into early retirement. Finally, some 155 million acres of BLM-managed land is devoted to livestock grazing, an economic activity Earth First! condemned and attacked with “acts of vandalism and violence.”
Westerners, the American public, and the dedicated public servants of the BLM deserve better.
William Perry Pendley, a Wyoming attorney, led the Bureau of Land Management in the Trump administration. He is the author of Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s Battle With Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today.