Ron Arnold

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Ron Arnold is the Executive Vice-President of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise (CDFE) from 1984 to present. He is considered the father of the Wise Use movement.

Documents Contained at the Anti-Environmental Archives
Documents written by or referencing this person or organization are contained in the Anti-Environmental Archive, launched by Greenpeace on Earth Day, 2015. The archive contains 3,500 documents, some 27,000 pages, covering 350 organizations and individuals. The current archive includes mainly documents collected in the late 1980s through the early 2000s by The Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy and Research (CLEAR), an organization that tracked the rise of the so called "Wise Use" movement in the 1990s during the Clinton presidency. Access the index to the Anti-Environmental Archives here.


Ron Arnold was born in Houston, Texas and studied business administration at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Washington. After graduation, he worked as a technical writer for Boeing from 1961 to 1971; when he founded the Northwood Studio. In 1974 he began contributing to the Western Conservation Journal, and began his public opposition to environmentalism. Between 1978 and 1981, Mr. Arnold was a contributing editor of Logging Management Journal. His 1979 magazine series, "The Environmental Battle", was the winner of the American Business Press 1980 Editorial Achievement Award.

In 1981, he wrote the authorized biography of Interior Secretary James G. Watt, who served under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1983. In 1988, he was one of the catalysts for the founding conference of the Wise Use movement in Reno Nevada and published its policy wish-list, the "Wise-Use Agenda". The movement is comprised of a loose-knit coalition promoting expansion of private property rights and reduction of government regulation.[1]

Mr. Arnold is a former Dow Chemical consultant. He was also head of Washington State chapter of the American Freedom Coalition, the political arm of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church from 1989-91. [2]

Wise use movement

Since the late 1980's, CDFE has been at the center of the Wise Use Movement.

Alan Gottlieb, a former tax felon, [3] founded CDFE in 1974, along with two anti-gun control groups; the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and the Second Amendment Foundation. Other Gottlieb ventures include the Free Enterprise Press (book publisher), the American Press Syndicate and the American Broadcasting Network. CDFE's Free Enterprise Press has published several books by Ron Arnold, including Ecology Wars (1987) and Ecoterror: The Violent Agenda to Save Nature, the World of the Unabomber (1997). [4]

In the last days of the 1992 presidential campaign, George H.W. Bush denounced "environmental extremists". At the heart of this imagined green conspiracy was the "Ozone Man", Senator Al Gore Jr., author of Earth in the Balance. Bush's attack on environmentalism failed to save his candidacy, but it was a high water mark for the wise use movement, a network of loosely allied right-wing, astroturf and corporate interest groups which attack environmentalism in order to promote unfettered resource exploitation. They are often funded by timber, mining, and chemical companies. In return, they loudly claim that the well-documented hole in the ozone layer doesn't exist; carcinogenic chemicals in the air and water don't harm anyone and trees won't grow properly without (government subsidized) clear cutting. Proponents were temporarily slowed by Bush's defeat and media exposure of the movement's founders' connections to Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church network. However, it quickly rebounded with relentless disinformation campaigns about the purpose and meaning of environmental laws in every state. According to wise users, environmentalists are pagans, eco-nazis and communists to be fought with shouts and threats. [5]

What's in a name?

The term was appropriated from the moderate conservationist tradition by Ron Arnold. In 1910, Gifford Pinchot, first head of the U.S. Forest Service, called for national forestry policies based on the wise use of America's trees and minerals. This triggered a simmering feud between Pinchot and Sierra Club founder John Muir; who wanted to the wilderness valued for its own sake, as the spiritual center of the world. The current U.S. system of combining resource extraction of national forests with wilderness areas managed for recreation, is a compromise to this debate.

Biography of James Watt

Ron Arnold's big career break coincided with the coming of the Reagan administration and his own rapid swing to the right. In 1981, he co-authored At the Eye of the Storm, a flattering biography of James Watt that the former Secretary of the Interior helped to edit. Mr. Watt's attempts to dismantle environmental regulation and open federal lands to logging and mining produced short-term gains for corporate interests; with the long term result public revulsion and the explosive growth of the environmentalism in the 1980's.

Ron Arnold & Alan Gottlieb

His movement building was also enhanced by joining forces with Alan Gottlieb; who seemed to possess a genius for dancing along the edge of legal business practices. He purchased the CDFE headquarters with money from two of his own non-profit foundations, then transferred the building title to his own name. He then charged his own foundations over $8,000 per month in rent.

Mr. Gottlieb also spent seven months in prison for tax evasion. [6]

Interviews & quotes on 'eco-terrorism'

New York City Indymedia & Reason Magazine

In a September of 2007 response to an on-line issue of NYC Indymedia, Mr. Arnold claimed credit for coining the term eco-terrorism in a 1982 Reason Magazine article. [7]

New Zealand Herald

In a 1986 visit to New Zealand, sponsored by the Agricultural Chemical and Animal Remedies Manufacturers, Arnold described himself as the "Darth Vader for the capitalist revolution" and defended the use of the carcinogenic chemical 2,4,5-T. He claimed that chemical manufacturers wanted to make sure their chemicals were used safely. [8]

Mr. Arnold warned New Zealanders that the U.S. was experiencing a dangerous "upsurge in eco-terrorism." According to an interview with the New Zealand Herald:

"We have had power stations blown up, bridges burned, electrical transmission towers collapsed, forest trails booby trapped with wired shotguns, attacks on forestry pesticide application crews, Forest Service officers shot to death and numerous other acts of violence in the name of the environment".[9]

War Against the Greens

In his book on the Wise Use movement, The War Against the Greens; David Helvarg reported that Arnold was subsequently cross examined on the claims he made in New Zealand, as part of an activists lawsuit against the government. According to the activists, they were being targeted as marijuana growers because of their anti-pesticide work; an industry strategy suggested by Ron Arnold. When asked in the court for his sources, he referred to a government report and claimed the incident occurred in Southern Oregon in relation to a marijuana patch. When pressed about the connection to someone involved in campaigning for the environment, he referred to an article he had written years earlier for a conservative magazine. Upon retrieval and examination, it was found that the article had no connection with marijuana or the incident. Mr. Arnold explained that the connection was the similarity between incidents like damage to logging machinery and ideological views of environmentalists who use marijuana. He eventually gave up attempting to connect environmentalists with the killing of a Forest Service official. [10]

Portland Oregonian

For a number of years, Mr. Arnold was a registered agent for the American Freedom Coalition, a political offshoot of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. The American Freedom Coalition takes credit for funding the first Wise Use conference in 1988. Aside from telling Outside he is willing to ignore facts to achieve his goals, Arnold proclaims at every opportunity that his mission is to destroy the environmental movement.

"We're mad as hell. We're dead serious. We're going to destroy them," he told the Portland Oregonian. [11]

Outside magazine

In 1991, Ron Arnold told Outside magazine that he chose the term because it was ambiguous and fit neatly in newspaper headlines. Such duplicitous and opportunistic tactics are a trademark of the movement:

"Facts don't really matter. In politics, perception is reality." [12], [13]

New York Times

According to Mr. Arnold in a December 1991 article in the New York Times by reporter Timothy Egan:

"We want to destroy environmentalists by taking away their money and their members." [14]
"We (CDFE) created a sector of public opinion that didn't used to exist. No one was aware that environmentalism was a problem until we came along."

While CDFE's IRS return states that Mr. Arnold works 20 hours a week without any compensation, Mr. Egan reported that in 1991 he charged $3,000 a day as a speaker or organizer of anti-environmental groups. For conservative fundraisers like Mr. Gottlieb, the enemies were Senator Edward M. Kennedy and gun control. However, he realized the potential financial rewards of opposing environmentalism:

"For us" said Mr. Gottlieb... "the environmental movement has become the perfect bogeyman." [15]

Toronto Star

It was a theme he re-stated within days to Toronto Star reporter Katherine Long:

"Our goal is to destroy, to eradicate the environmental movement ... We're mad as hell. We're not going to take it anymore. We're dead serious - we're going to destroy them," he said. "We want to be able to exploit the environment for private gain, absolutely ... and we want people to understand that is a noble goal."

He claimed that spotted owls weren't on the verge of extinction but preferred regrowth forests. He suspected the hole in the ozone layer had always existed:

"If chlorflourocarbons really destroy ozone, why isn't there a hole over chlorflourocarbon factories? As for the greenhouse effect, he was emphatic. "There isn't any such thing".[16]

Boston Globe

While he denies the reality of environmental problems, he does not aim to persuade the middle ground. Rather, he aims to mobilize those receptive to his polemical rhetoric which equates policy to wars. According to an January 1992 interview with the Boston Globe:

"We are sick to death of environmentalism and so we will destroy it. We will not allow our right to own property and use nature's resources for the benefit of mankind to be stripped from us by a bunch of eco-facists." [17]


While he often expressed his "fear" that someone will be hurt as a result of 'eco-terrorism', he doesn't shy away from inflammatory rhetoric. In a May 30, 1993 interview with CNN, he described the role of a wise user as akin to a warrior weilding a sword. "And that sword has two purposes: to carve out a niche for your agenda, to reshape the American law in your image; and, kill the bastards." When asked to describe how he would like to be thought of, he replied:

"People in industry, I'm going to do my best for you. Environmentalists, I'm coming to get you. ...We're out to kill the fuckers. We're simply trying to eliminate them. Our goal is to destroy environmentalism once and for all." [18]

Conservative News Service

When a small group, Green Anarchists, organized a tour in 2002, Arnold latched on to their support of people such as the imprisoned 'Unabomber' Ted Kaczynski as a 'political prisoner' to call for the FBI's Domestic Terrorism Program to investigate the group. Arnold told the Conservative News Service (CNS) that the tour:

"presents probable cause for investigation. You do have people here recommending violence, murder, property damage, everything you can think of." [19]

The following year Mr. Arnold, long considered a fringe player, landed a role as an "expert consultant on ecoterrorism" to a University of Arkansas Terrorism Research Center project to study terrorism cases in the US. The project was funded to the tune of $343,885 by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). [20]

Playboy magazine

In a 2004 interview with Playboy, Mr. Arnold recounted key policies:

"Number one was educate the public about the use of natural resources. Immediately develop petroleum resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Cut down remaining old-growth forests on public lands and replace with new trees. Cut down 30,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest each year to promote economic forestry practices. Open all public lands, including national parks, to mining and oil drilling. Construct roads into all wilderness areas for motorized wheel chair use. Stop protecting endangered species, such as the California condor, that were in decline before man arrived. Force anyone who loses litigation against a development to pay for the increase in costs for completing the project, plus damages. But the idea of wise use has become embedded. It's no longer a list like that. [21]

In Arnold's view, the threat of 'eco-terrorism' warrants more far-reaching investigative powers for law enforcement agencies than were even allowed for under the Patriot Act. According to a 2004 interview with Playboy magazine:

"It's easy to throw rocks at industry, because everybody can think of a corporate abuse. But there are also problems with eco-terrorism, both in giving too much and not enough power to law enforcement. Under the Patriot Act the FBI can't keep a database of people suspected of being subversive or working with enviro-terrorists unless they've been convicted. Some nonprofits have assembled databases on ecoterror. The mink farmers have done it. We want to be able to make this information accessible to police. [22]

Ron Arnold & "rural cleansing"

More recently Arnold coined the term 'rural cleansing' in an attempt to starkly portray environmental movement campaigns as being only in the interests of urban elites. Arnold explained 'rural cleansing' as being:

"The deliberate use of environmental laws - by appeals, lawsuits and administrative actions - to remove all the resource workers from rural America. All of them. It's essentially an effort to dismantle rural America so that there no longer are loggers, miners, fishermen, ranchers or farmers, with the intent of "off shoring" these jobs and industries to other nations. [23]

Ron Arnold takes aim at philanthropic foundations

Where in earlier years Mr. Arnold worked on rallying the 'Wise Use' movement against Clinton administration environmental policies, more recently he has taken aim at foundations that fund environmental campaigns. He complains that as a result of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations against corporate foundations, 'self-dealing' corporations also fund environmental groups:

"That's why the wise-use movement gets almost nothing from industry, and why the total corporate donations received by the whole wise-use movement - all 3,000 or 4,000 grass-roots groups - is not as much as one environmental group gets in that same year."

Mr. Arnold's complaint is not that foundations funding is out of touch with the American public, but that they are in tune with them; depriving right wing groups of resources.

"It's also a result of the overall liberal cast of American society, which has thoroughly permeated many big foundations, so you find that $3 out of every $4 given by foundations go to left-leaning groups rather than to right-leaning groups."[24]

In his testimony before a U.S House of Representatives committee in February 2000, Arnold invoked Newt Gingrich's "iron triangle" analogy (originally coined to describe Congressional liberals helping advocacy groups gain federal funds) to portray the environmental movement as doing the bidding of foundations.

"The foundations direct their funds to the second leg of the triangle, environmental groups with insider access to the third leg, executive branch agencies. This powerful 'iron triangle' unfairly influences federal policy to devastate local economies and private property."[25]

Mr. Arnold is viewed favorable by other conservative think tanks as well. In April of 2004, the "Earth Day Information Center", a project of the National Center for Public Policy Research; listed Arnold as one of eight "public policy experts" available for interviews for Earth Day. According to the media alert:

"Arnold is an expert in eco-terrorism, the funding of the establishment environmental movement, the Endangered Species Act, federal land management and property rights." [26]

His last book attacked foundations funding environmental groups. For his next book, he stumped around energy industry conferences to tout 'Freezing in the Dark - The Green Energy Plan for Your Future'. In May of 2004, he addressed the GasMart 2004 conference in Denver. According to a media release prior to the conference:

"An elite group of foundations is creating hysteria in the general public over environmental issues and undermining development of the energy infrastructure".

According to the release, Arnold would advise participants that the energy industry was not doing enough to aggressively counter environmental groups:

"Industry is not doing anything but defense, and in football, the defensive team doesn't score any touchdowns. Anything you do that isn't aimed at putting these groups out of business is a total waste of time. You cannot fight this huge amount of money if you don't frontally attack," the media release stated.[27] At the actual conference Mr. Arnold was reported as stating that industry needed to "point the finger" at activist groups responsible for shutting down an gas and oil projects. Natural Gas Week reported Arnold warned companies against developing 'partnerships' with environment groups. "Instead, he said, the energy industry must learn to develop a corps of supporters, mobilize them when the time comes, and learn 'to fight when it comes to fight'." [28]

According to the December 2003 edition of Oil & Gas Investor, Mr. Arnold spoke to the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), warning them against foundation funding of environmental groups in the U.S. and overseas:

"You may say 'Thank God we're going overseas.' Well, you won't be alone," the magazine reported. Arnold warned that in Russia there are more than 90 environmental activist groups.

Arnold told the IPAA that its plans for a PR campaign to allow exploration in the Rockies wouldn't be easy.

"You are a day late and a dollar short. Who loves big corporations? You don't hug trees. You don't even kiss babies."

Mr. Arnold advised that it would need professional assistance if it was going to win in the Rockies:

"If you think you're going to do this with just your friends, count your friends. [29]

Ron Arnold & Teresa Heinz Kerry

See also Ron Arnold and Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Ron Arnold & animal rights

See also Conservatives target the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.


Phone: 425-454-9470 [30]

Articles & sources

SourceWatch articles


  1. Ron Arnold, Absolute Astronomy, accessed January 2009
  2. Center for Defense of Free Enterprise, Spin Profiles, accessed January 2010
  3. Jim Halpin, Paul de Armond Alan Gottlieb: The Merchant of Fear, Sweet Liberty, 1994, 1995
  4. Center for Defense of Free Enterprise, Spin Profiles, accessed January 2010
  5. William Kevin Burke The Wise Use Movement: Right-Wing Anti-Environmentalism, The Public Eye, 1993
  6. William Kevin Burke The Wise Use Movement: Right-Wing Anti-Environmentalism, The Public Eye, 1993
  7. The Birth of a Buzz-Word: Eco-Terrorism" (Ron Arnold response to article), Indymedia, September 2007
  8. 2,4,5-T comprised half of the chemical mixture found in the notorious Agent Orange, the other being 2,4,D Agent Orange and other chemicals, Digger History, accessed January 2010
  9. "'Green campaign just cover' says 'Hit man'", New Zealand Herald, March 19, 1986
  10. David Helvarg The War Against the Greens: The Wise-Use Movement, The New Right, and the Browning of America, pg, 407-8, May 2004, ISBN 978-1555663285
  11. William Kevin Burke The Wise Use Movement: Right-Wing Anti-Environmentalism, The Public Eye, 1993
  12. Outside Magazine, December 1991
  13. William Kevin Burke The Wise Use Movement: Right-Wing Anti-Environmentalism, The Public Eye, 1993
  14. Timothy Egan Fund Raisers Tap Anti- Environmentalism, New York Times, pg 2, December 19, 1991
  15. Timothy Egan Fund Raisers Tap Anti- Environmentalism, New York Times, pg 1, December 19, 1991
  16. Katherine Long, "A grinch who loathes green groups: our goal is to destroy the environmental movement' says affable Ron Arnold, champion of Wise Use'", Toronto Star, December 21, 1991
  17. New, militant antienvironmentalists fight to return nature to a back seat., Boston Globe, January 13, 1992
  18. David Helvarg The War Against the Greens: The Wise-Use Movement, The New Right, and the Browning of America, pg 7, May 2004, ISBN 978-1555663285
  19. Marc Morano Eco-Terror Expert Calls For Inquiry of Green Anarchists",, July 18, 2002
  20. Ron Arnold named as ecoterrorism expert in major study: Researchers will examine planning and preparation of terrorist attacks", Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, 2003
  21. Dean Kuipers, "Guru of Wise Use: the spiritual father of the Bush Administration's environmental policies says we shouldnlt be timid about timber", The Playboy Forum", May 1, 2004.
  22. Dean Kuipers, "Guru of Wise Use: the spiritual father of the Bush Administration's environmental policies says we shouldnlt be timid about timber", The Playboy Forum", May 1, 2004.
  23. Sean Paige Arnold Pulls Back the Veil of 'Green' Tyranny, Insight on the News, October 16, 2000
  24. Sean Paige Arnold Pulls Back the Veil of 'Green' Tyranny, Insight on the News, October 16, 2000
  25. Ron Arnold, Ron Arnold Testimony: U. S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health", 106th Congress, 2nd session, February 15, 2000
  26. Earth Day Information Center: Free 'Earth Day Interview Locator Service' and Earth Day Fact Kit Available to Journalists: Experts Available for Earth Day 2004", U.S. Newswire, April 19, 2004
  27. 'Undue Influence' Author to Address GasMart 2004 audience - hosted by Natural Gas Intelligence", Media Release, Businesswire, March 23, 2004
  28. John A. Sullivan, "Strong Message Needed to Fight Greens' Anti-Industry Agenda", Natural Gas Week, May 21, 2004.
  29. Nissa Darbonne, "Oil industry launching anti-development counter-campaign", Oil & Gas Investor, Volume 23, No. 12; December, 2003, page 9. ISSN 07445881
  30. The Birth of a Buzz-Word: Eco-Terrorism" (Ron Arnold response to article), Indymedia, September 2007

External articles

External resources

Books & Publications by Ron Arnold