Justin Franchi Solondz, a fugitive American environmental radical, was convicted Thursday in Dali, China on charges of manufacturing drugs according to the New York Times. Solondz was living in Dali, a backpacker haven in the Yunnan Province, as part of a multiyear flight from US authorities.
After the 3 years Solondz will serve in a Chinese prison, he will be extradited back to the US to face charges surrounding his involvement in a series of 2001 arson attacks that he and the Earth Liberation Front (or ELF), are thought to have perpetrated. Since Solondz purportedly had 33 lbs. of marijuana and a "drug lab" at his residence in China, the 3 year sentence is considered light; this, according to the Times article, is most likely a US-Chinese diplomatic arrangement so Solondz can face charges in the States.
In May of 2001, Solondz is thought to have made incendiary devices that destroyed a horticultural research facility run by the University of Washington. He is also linked to burning down buildings and cars at an Oregon tree nursery as well as being linked subsequent arson attacks in California. Solondz fled the US in 2005 shortly before the FBI indicted him in absentia in 2006. At the time of his arrest, he was on the FBI's most wanted list.
The University of Washington and Oregon attacks were chosen because of their development of genetically modified trees. For example, the University of Washington laboratory was working on ways to maximize commercial output by creating more branches to harvest for paper.
A Times article written right after the attacks reported that a great deal of the research at the University's lab had nothing to do with producing genetically modified trees--that much of the research had to do with environmental preservation. The article also stated that the poplar nursery attacked contained no genetically modified trees (it was supposedly targeted because its former owner had been affiliated with Poplar Molecular Genetics Cooperative).
Solondz, who was a college student when the attacks transpired, possessed some of the crucial qualities of zealotry: unfettered ideology and youth. This is not to diminish his and ELF's good intentions; even though much good work may have been churned out by the University lab, it may also have been partly responsible for introducing potentially harmful species of trees. This is not even to diminish the merits of radicalism; when done right, radicals, by setting new extremes of behavior, can make moderates look conservative and "tree-hugging liberals" look far more sensible. The problem is the execution. Even though no one died or was hurt in Solondz's attacks (likely a combination of planning and luck), violence can't be the way to affect change. Violence doesn't inform anyone because usually people are too pissed by the damages to care about your perspective. And violence is the hallmark of impetuousness (often possessed by, but not limited to, the young). Sure, a violent incident will get a rise out of people, but ultimately it is the easy route. Violence trades a quick reaction for patient and steady progress.