After some youthful but tragically misguided decisions cost her almost four years in prison, a Crested Butte woman tries to rebuild her life—one scoop at a time.
Soon after Tankersley joined the movement, though, the police presence at protests began to increase, as did their aggressive tactics. Now, instead of merely monitoring the demonstrations, officers forcibly peeled back protesters’ eyelids and blasted them with pepper spray. They used cherry pickers to tear protesters out of trees and dragged them away in strangleholds before sending them to jail.
The activists grew increasingly angry and disheartened as their civilly disobedient practices—trying to use the courts to stop loggers, in addition to the protests—failed one by one. The grief of returning to those once beautiful, now clear-cut tracts of land was so devastating to Tankersley, the memory still makes her pause while describing it. “I knew people who, in the face of those same losses, were able to keep a level head and have good faith in the work they were doing,” she says.
But for many, when the political became personal, “grief to rage was an easy transition.”
That transition would turn out to be her biggest regret. “I look at the moment that I and some of the activists turned toward violent retaliation and property destruction as a big, childish tantrum,” she says now. “Most of the people in the movement were young, privileged white kids who were used to getting what they wanted. That was the case for me: Somebody took away my beautiful thing that I loved, and I was pissed.”
Goading her on was Ferguson, the charismatic leader who had wooed the quiet, somewhat geeky Tankersley. She didn’t yet realize he was the mastermind behind ELF’s destructive reign—until years later when he became an FBI informant and ratted out the group to avoid prison. (He later wound up imprisoned anyway, on drug charges.)
Ferguson preached to Tankersley about the cathartic healing of arson. It’s destruction of property—not even close to killing living things. It’s the great American tradition of protest—just look at the Boston Tea Party! You wouldn’t even have to do anything—just let me know if someone is coming. Today, Tankersley is clearly ashamed of this period of her life. She was young and impressionable—and, Tankersley hesitantly admits, she just wanted to impress a magnetic man. After federal officers rousted her on that morning in December 2005, Tankersley’s transgressions would cost her 41 months at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, Florida.