Monday, August 29, 2011

To the Murderer(s) of My Friend Matt Coleman

Dear Killer(s):

My name is Mat Thomas, and Matt Coleman was my good friend. A professional environmentalist and passionate protector of the natural world, Matt Coleman worked as a conservation steward, volunteer coordinator and wildlife population surveyor for the Mendocino Land Trust during the past six years. You probably only knew Matt Coleman as the tall, bulky stranger you shot to death in a barrage of bullets on Thursday, August 11th while he was doing restoration work at Cape Vizcaino, a remote 400-acre coastal forest reserve near Westport, California owned by the Save the Redwoods League. I, on the other hand, knew Matt Coleman personally as a close friend, confidant and housemate for several years, as well as a fellow literature lover, activist, outdoor enthusiast and creative collaborator on the Magnificent Glass Pelican radio program. We met when I was a freshman at the State University of New York, New Paltz, and remained friends for more than two decades. A fortunate few knew and loved him as son, brother or life partner; still others knew and respected him as colleague, community member, role model or mentor. All of us miss him terribly. 

Unlike you, we all know what kind of man Matt Coleman was: a strong, caring, compassionate, generous, funny, intelligent, energetic, noble one who’d found meaning and purpose in working to make Earth a better planetary home for people and wildlife alike. Inspired by his heroes Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Edward Abbey, and George Washington Hayduke, Matt Coleman followed their giant footsteps into the wilderness. He was only 45 years old, and probably had several good decades of life left in him. Yet you selfishly robbed Matt Coleman of his life and stole him away from us. What we want to know now is why.  

Seriously: you owe all those who knew and cared about Matt Coleman an explanation, because you had no right to kill him, and you inflicted severe emotional, existential and spiritual trauma on us when you did. We are stricken with shock, struggling to make some semblance of sense out of his apparently pointless murder. Yet we find this far more difficult to do than we would if we knew why someone decided to brutally eradicate this unique, irreplaceable individual from existence. In the depths of our psyches, we wonder: what possible scenario could there be to morally justify murdering Matt Coleman? What non-self-serving motive could you conceivably offer in your own defense? 

And Just Who the Hell Are You?*

Are you part of an armed mercenary militia force employed by a marijuana cartel, and did Matt Coleman discover your illegally-grown pot plantation (as the most plausible hypothesis maintains)? If so, how does it feel knowing that you permanently obliterated a singular human being’s consciousness for something so crass as money, and to protect yourself/selves and your fellow felons from detection? 

Or are you some unknown enemy who nursed a grudge against Matt Coleman and decided to take your petty revenge for some perceived slight? If so, how do you feel now that the deed is done? Does your vengeance taste as sticky-sweet as you’d imagined, or has it already turned to bitter ashes in your mouth? 

Or are you just some random crazyperson who stalked a lone defenseless caretaker into the woods as an easy victim? If so, I pity your chemically-distorted dementia 
(which is no doubt mentally agonizing). Yet, despite your disability, I cannot forgive your mortal trespass. 

Whoever you are, did you get a thrill when you pulled the trigger? Did killing a man make you feel powerful, invincible, Godlike? Among the most troubling questions about Matt Coleman’s death for those of us who knew him is whether his last moments were filled with the terror of knowing that his life was about to end. The police have not publicly released such details as how many bullets you blasted into his torso, whether you shot him from the front or back, or any incriminating evidence they may have discovered at the crime scene or on your victim’s corpse. I assume the cops have kept this information classified to maintain the upper hand against you in their investigation. In this unfortunate situation, the best we can hope for is that our dearly departed companion died quickly, and that you, his killer(s), at least had the basic human decency not to taunt your prey or ridicule his sudden infirmity and helplessness as his precious lifeforce drained away in a pool of warm blood on the ground. 

Regardless of the exact circumstances of Matt Coleman’s murder, and whatever your reasons or reactions might have been, I cannot forgive you for killing him: not yet, anyway. Because, to even begin healing the wounds afflicting our grieving souls, you owe us—Matt Coleman’s surviving kith and kin—more than a mere explanation: you owe us justice. For our sake, as well as the sake of your own deliverance from evil, I urge you to turn yourself/selves over to the authorities now so that you can be held accountable for your abominable actions and spare yourself/selves the Hell of your own personal torment.

Exorcise Your Demons

I figure there is a good chance that you, Matt Coleman’s killer(s), may read this open letter at some point. I say this because you are probably doing what most felons do: scouring the Internet for information about your crime—whether it’s to determine if the police have uncovered any damning forensic evidence, or to satiate a narcissistic hunger for media attention (anonymous as it is). Furthermore, based on what I recently learned about search engine optimization, I’ve strategically used the term “Matt Coleman” 32 times betting that Google will prominently feature this letter near the top of its browser results. 

You probably don’t want to give yourself/selves up because you’re afraid of going to prison. But you know what? You’re already in prison, whether you realize it or not. You took a human life, and somewhere deep down you know that this was wrong—religiously speaking, a mortal sin even. No matter how tough you think you are or how hardened your black heart(s) may be, guilt and shame are festering inside your guts, eating away at the calluses that have calcified around your conscience(s). You may presently be too emotionally crippled and desensitized to be fully conscious of the disgraceful state of your soul(s), but understand that you will remain trapped in cages of your own remorse until you acknowledge and pay the price for the grave damage you’ve done to others.

Has someone you loved ever died? Was that person murdered by another human being? If so, then perhaps you know the pain that we, Matt Coleman’s survivors, feel burning inside us. Maybe you’ve buried that anguish, that suffering, beneath layers of denial and self-deception, but at least some part of you knows it’s still there, controlling your life/lives, and ultimately can’t be avoided. And it’s going to drive you to kill again unless you deliberately disrupt your destructive pattern—especially if Matt Coleman was not your first murder victim. Nevertheless, whether he was or wasn’t, I’m fairly certain that he won’t be your last. 

You think you can quit killing anytime you want? I seriously doubt it. Don’t take my word for it: listen to someone who knows. In 1997, Matt Coleman turned me on to Ani DiFranco & Utah Phillips’ album The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere. On the track “Anarchy,” Phillips had this to say about violence (quoting the wisdom of Ammon Hennacy, Phillips’ halfway-house manager in the 1950s after he’d returned home from the Korean war):

“You know, alcoholism will kill somebody, until they finally get the courage to sit in a circle of people like that and put their hand up in the air and say, 'Hi, my name’s Utah, I’m an alcoholic.' And then you can begin to deal with the behavior, you see, and have the people define it for you whose lives you’ve destroyed.” (Hennacy) said, “It’s the same with violence. You know, an alcoholic, they can be dry for twenty years; they’re never gonna sit in that circle and put their hand up and say, 'Well, I’m not alcoholic anymore' – no: they’re still gonna put their hand up and say, 'Hi, my name’s Utah, I’m an alcoholic.' It’s the same with violence. You gotta be able to put your hand in the air and acknowledge your capacity for violence, and then deal with the behavior, and have the people whose lives you’ve messed with define that behavior for you, you see. And it’s not gonna go away: you’re gonna be dealing with it every moment in every situation for the rest of your life.

So you see, dear murderer(s), you’re addicted to violence, and you’re not gonna be able to stop killing on your own…especially if you continue down the cruel path that led you to murder Matt Coleman in the first place. Your humanity—the very core of one’s Self—has already been corrupted and corroded by murdering Matt Coleman and perhaps others. Do you really want to make it worse by committing even more murders?

Your only chance for salvation from your current malady, and an even more horrifying fate than you’re already burdened with, is to surrender yourself/selves to the police. Taking responsibility for your crime will definitely be difficult, but at least you will have finally broken out of your vicious cycle and begun to purify your poisoned soul(s). However, if you refuse to confront your demons by honestly answering for the murder of Matt Coleman, your inner torture will never cease, but rather magnify exponentially until it has completely consumed whatever shriveling remnants of your humanity still remain.  

Coleman Lives! 

By murdering Matt Coleman, you may have decimated his body, terminated his brain functions, ceased his sentience and extinguished his essence, but there is still one vital part of him that you could not kill: his spirit, which will live on forever inside the hearts of all those who knew him. Matts family, friends and colleagues will therefore always remember him as a martyr to the critical cause of protecting Earth from human greed and exploitation. Inspired by his courage and resolve, others will continue Mattenvironmental protection work where he left off with renewed effort, and carry the torch of progress for him now that he has departed this world.  

Matt Coleman not only lived and died doing what he loved—he lived and died for what he loved. That is, if you are in fact a member of Mendocino’s marijuana mafia, you most likely killed him because he tried to defend the forest’s fragile ecosystem against your illicit invasion. Do you even know (or care) how badly illegal pot grows damage the environment? The toxic fertilizers and pesticides used to grow pot plants pollute the ecosystem for miles around, and the tons of trash left behind (from hoses to empty propane canisters) blight otherwise pristine landscapes. Illegal marijuana farmers deprive wildlife of the natural habitat they need to survive by cutting down trees to build shelters, fencing off large swaths of land, and diverting water sources to grow cash crops. The booby traps they set with live explosives to deter nosy visitors often kill animals, and those who squat on public lands to grow or guard crops illegally poach animals for food. 

If you are an outlaw pot farm guard, then you know that your kind do not fit the mellow hippy stereotype most people associate with marijuana cultivation. The criminal cannabis underground is instead populated by vile, abhorrent thugs who ravage lands that rightfully belong to the American people and ruthlessly execute anyone who threatens their profits. To them, killing is just a cost of doing business. In fact, just today Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo was shot and killed after finding an illegal pot operation on a parcel of land he was managing. 

Though it is of limited consolation to those of us who mourn Matt Coleman, at least we know that his final moments were spent in the place that he most loved: the wild, cradled under the canopy of ancient, native trees that he dedicated himself to safeguarding. Matt Coleman was a peaceful warrior, and it is significant and symbolic that when you spilled his blood, it poured into, blended with and nourished the living soil where he fell on the environmental battlefield. We who remain can take some small comfort that, even though you took Matt Coleman’s life, you could not crush his convictions. 

I will always fondly remember my friend Matt Coleman in my own personal way. I will hear his gruff Brooklyn-accented, California-surfer-dude-inflected voice whenever I listen to The Pogues, The Clash or Bob Marley. I will think of his voracious intellect and sharp sense of humor whenever I read Gary Snyder, Ursula K. LeGuin or Zippy the Pinhead. I will see Matt
s smiling face—punctuated by his untamed lion’s mane of gray-blonde hair, grizzled beard and silver-rimmed glasses—every time I watch the sun set in radiant golden-azure glory, or the incandescent cobalt waves roll and tumble over the Pacific shoreline, or the luminous sea of distant suns impossibly floating in the infinite night sky. 

Matt, you are one with the Earth, with Creation now. Tom Waits expressed it better and more simply in his song “Take It With Me” than I could ever hope to in mere written words: “It’s got to be more than flesh and bone / All that you’ve loved is all you own.” With this parting poetic sentiment, my friend, I bid you a gloomy goodbye and wish you blissful eternity in the Heaven of your choosing. Peace out, brother.

1) In the wake of Matt Coleman’s passing, family and friends have set up two funds that you can donate to:

- Memorial Fund: An endowment has been established in Matt Coleman's memory that reflects his lifelong passions and interests. Please send donations to: The Community Foundation of Mendocino County; Matthew Coleman Fund for Environmental Education & Conservation; 290 S. State Street; Ukiah, CA 95482.

- Reward Fund: The Mendocino Land Trust founded a reward fund (now over $30,000 as of 9/23/11) in hopes of encouraging those with information about Matt Coleman’s murder to come forward. Please make checks out to "Mendocino Land Trust" and send donations to: REWARD; c/o MLT; Box 1094; Mendocino, CA 95460. Contact Jez at 707-962-0470 or for more information. Receipts will be provided for all donations, and monies will be returned to donors if no reward is paid out.

2) If you have any information potentially pertaining to Matt Coleman’s murder, please call the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office at 707-467-9159 or 707-463-4086. Callers can choose to remain anonymous. 

3) Visit my Facebook page for updates on the police investigation.

* Police killed Aaron Bassler, suspect in the murders of both Matt Coleman and Councilman Melo, on Saturday, October 1st.

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Saturday, August 06, 2011


Sexy Strategies for Beating the Meat (Industry)

A PETA protester attracts attention to
KFC's inhumane treatment of chickens
by dressing down in winter weather
Perhaps you’ve seen them on the streets. Bikini-clad hotties handing veggie burgers out to passerby. Circus protesters in cramped cages body-painted orange-and-black like crouching tigers. Naked cellophane-wrapped demonstrators swathed in fake blood playing dead as cuts of meat in giant Styrofoam packaging. The people performing such provocative public displays can be identified, by their very lack of clothing, as a relatively new breed of animal advocate: one that uses varying shades of nudity to save other species from suffering and death.

Of course, the nude protest itself is not a recent invention. Legend has it that nearly a millennium ago, Lady Godiva rode a horse—au natural—through the streets of Coventry, England to successfully protest an oppressive tax issued by her husband, the Earl of Mercia. Yet, despite the passage of centuries, public displays of undress still arouse passionate arguments both for and against their ethicality and propriety.

The most conspicuous contemporary champion of nude protest is probably People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). I recently spoke with the Manager of PETA’s Campaigns Division, Lindsay Rajt, about this contentious but seductive subject.
Lindsay Rajt, Manager of PETA's
Campaigs Division, dons a lettuce bikini

AR: Why does PETA use nudity as an advocacy tactic?

LR: It’s a utilitarian decision. For all of PETA’s buzz and brand recognition, we’re a non-profit organization that goes up against extremely wealthy industries that invest vast amounts of money in advertising and public relations. On our comparatively tiny budget, we have to rely on getting free publicity through media coverage of our campaigns and demonstrations, and doing audacious and controversial things achieves that aim.

How nude do PETA activists actually get?

It depends on where the demonstration is being held, because each city has its own ordinances describing, often in explicit detail, what body parts you can and cannot legally expose, and we’re careful to comply with local laws. While we can get away with thongs and pasties in most places, some do allow women to go topless. There’s also this new product we’ve just started using called a shibue that’s basically a thong without straps: it just sort of adheres to the skin. Topless with a shibue is probably about as naked as we’re going to get in public. Regarding media campaigns, our “nudest” one is our online “State of the Union Undress” video, in which a female model does a strip-tease act that culminates in full frontal nudity.

How do you measure the effectiveness of nude protests and campaigns?

Our top priority is reaching as many people as possible. For street demos, that probably amounts to several hundred people in the course of an hour, and thousands more if the event is covered by the media. We systematically analyze which demos get the most attention in the full spectrum of print and broadcast media, and how our message is conveyed. With online initiatives, we’re able to track how many people watched a video or clicked a page and whether they stayed to explore other parts of our site. What we’ve found is that people really do stick around after the eye-catching video just as people on the street will linger and have a conversation once they’ve come over to check out our colorful protests.

When did PETA first start doing nude activism?

PETA was founded in 1980, but we only did our first “naked” campaign in 1989 when we produced a benefit poster with the Go-Go’s that they sold at concerts. It was a photo of the band members standing nude behind a banner reading “We’d rather go naked than wear fur.” These sold so well that we thought, “We really need to do more of this,” and organized our first naked demo in 1991. It was at an Oscar de la Renta fashion show, and included a mostly-nude man and woman handcuffed to a “We’d rather go naked than wear fur” banner strung across the runway. When The New York Times published a photo of the protest on their front page, we knew we’d found a powerful way to make headlines for animals.

Two decades later, does nudity still have the same kind of impact in today’s oversaturated multimedia marketplace?

PETA activists protest fur at Toronto Fashion Week, 2010
Considering the vast amounts of information and stimulation thrown at us every day, nudity is still an effective way to break through the noise. While nude demos and campaigns might not be front-page news anymore, the mainstream press still regularly reports on them. But the most exciting development nowadays for these types of actions is that they can go viral. I can see though how nudity might someday become less captivating as it becomes more culturally acceptable. I think that a lot of nudity’s power is derived from its “forbidden” status, and that’s going to diminish with its increasing normalization. Also, nudity tactics seem to be catching on in different social change movements, so overexposure may dilute their efficacy, as well.

Do nude demos and campaigns effectively influence people’s attitudes about animals?

Actor/comedian David Cross shows his
funny bone in a humorous PETA ad
Yes, because nudity is a fun way for many people to engage about difficult subjects. Showing people a photo of an animal who’s been skinned alive for her fur scares and saddens them, and most people don’t want to deal with the emotions that conjures up. But if you put, say, a man and woman in their underwear lying in bed together on the street underneath a poster that says “Fur Out, Love In,” then people are attracted rather than repelled by your message. By the way, that’s a real demo we did around Valentine’s Day this year, inspired by John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1969 “Bed-In” against the Vietnam War.

The John-and-Yoko connection is interesting because they were friends with Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman at that time, and many of PETA’s tactics seem to bear the Yippies’ distinctive “street theater” influence.

Like the Yippies, PETA recognizes the power of engaging people with humor. Nudity and comedy are a potent combination because while nudity has an initial attention-grabbing advantage, amusement can sustain that attention. Plus, people feel more comfortable approaching and talking with activists when they can share in the joke.

PETA also uses nudity to shock people into awareness, as in the “meat tray” demos. What’s the typical reaction to such “horror” protests?

One of PETA's macabre “meat tray” demos
While some people might be affected by our humorous demos, others might need to see pictures of how animals suffer on fur farms or in slaughterhouses or one of our “darker” protests before they are compelled to help animals. PETA’s “meat tray” demos and others like that really impact people on a visceral level. For instance, in one of our demos, an activist lays naked on a giant barbeque grill with char marks on her body, while a “butcher” in a fake-blood-spattered apron stands nearby sharpening a large plastic prop knife looking very cross. This makes people’s jaws drop because it’s often the first time they’ve consciously considered their connection with animals who they eat.

Does PETA also use nudity to show people that vegans are fit, healthy and sexy?

Owain Yeoman, co-star of The Mentalist,
 strikes a pose for PETA's veg campaign
Yes, especially because people really want to achieve their optimal weight and be attractive, and we’re always eager to prove, by “modeling” the results of a plant-based diet, that being vegan will help them do that. Plus, going vegan will likely lower your cholesterol and blood pressure while reducing your chances of suffering heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and various cancers. We even have a sexual health campaign called “Vegans Make Better Lovers” emphasizing that cholesterol and animal fat slow the flow of blood to all the body’s vital organs—not just the heart.

PETA persuades many celebrities to strip, mostly for media campaigns. How much does celebrity involvement enhance the message’s impact?

People who admire particular celebrities want to learn everything about them, and when famous people speak out about a cause, their fans listen. So many people have told me over the years, “I went vegetarian because I heard that so-and-so is veg.”

Switching gears, how do you respond to charges that PETA’s use of nudity for animal advocacy exploits women?

PETA appropriates the misogynistic image made iconic
by the cover of Carol J. Adams' landmark feminist
critique of carnivorism, The Sexual Politics of Meat
Using one’s own body of one’s own free will as an instrument for social and political change is freedom of speech and expression. Speaking as a woman and a feminist, I think it’s sexist to tell women they need to put their clothes back on. I’ve passed out veggie dogs in a lettuce bikini, been painted like a tiger and put in a cage, and stood naked on a bridge painted like a snake. Rather than making me feel exploited, these experiences were among the most personally empowering, liberating and transformative of my life. They gave me a new perspective on the hang-ups that almost all women have about their physical appearance. Exposing my body to make a statement about something important made me realize, for instance, just how silly it was to worry about whether my butt looked big in those tiger stripes. PETA also features just as many men in our nude protests and campaigns as women.

Critics might counter that men still have power over women in most societies, and objectifying females therefore perpetuates sexual victimization of women and girls.

I know from personal experience that such concerns are well-intentioned. I used to volunteer at a battered women’s shelter and have family members who’ve been in domestic violence situations, so I take this issue very seriously. So does PETA, and we would never do anything that we thought could degrade or endanger women or girls.

What about those who say nude protests are simply lewd?

In this day and age, that just seems prudish. I mean, go to any beach and you’ll see people revealing more skin than most PETA activists. These types of criticisms just take different forms in different time periods, whether they’re directed at PETA or society at large. Only a few decades ago, women were told it was disgraceful to show their knees in public or wear their hair down to their shoulders because it was too suggestive. Priggish complaints about nude social justice campaigns will soon seem just as laughable as admonitions about bare knees and flowing hairstyles do today.

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