Scott Tibbs
Published in Hoosier Review, 07-15-2002

Back to opinion page.

Pedigo Bay arson ignites community debate

HANNITY: Last question. Do you think human beings are raping and pillaging the planet?

ENGLERT: Some human beings are, yes, and they have names and addresses.

This snippet is from a July 12th, 2001 interview on the "Hannity and Colmes" program on FOX News, where Sean Hannity interviewed former tree-sitter Michael "Moss" Englert. Until this week, "Moss" was listed as Democratic County Council candidate Lucille Bertuccio's treasurer on her campaign Web site.

This statement is disturbing in light of the arson of developer Steve Smith's home in Pedigo Bay. Smith recently came under heavy criticism for breaking environmental regulations by cutting trees near Lake Monroe. Smith was issued a heavy fine and local environmentalists have harshly criticized his record. Given the history of eco-terrorism in Monroe County over the last two and a half years and the fact that the project was so environmentally sensitive, this arson was likely an act of eco-terrorism. (The Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for burning local resident Vince Scott's home, destroying $500,000 worth of construction equipment and attempting to burn down the headquarters of the Monroe County Republican Party.) A recent arson at Sims Poultry by the Animal Liberation Front (the ELF's sister organization) is evidence eco-terrorists are still active locally. If Smith was personally targeted by eco-terrorists, then Englert's statement merits further review.

In other news on the Pedigo Bay arson, local resident Kevin Shiflet dropped a bomb at the July 9 Monroe County Council meeting by passing out a notarized affidavit alleging that Council member Scott Wells (D-at-large) told Shiflet that "he knew this thing was going down (in reference to the fire) and that he had called 'deep throat number one, two and three'." Wells immediately denied making the statement, saying that Shiflet had "misconstrued" a personal conversation and that many of the statements in his affidavit were "fictitious" and "false". Shiflet says he went to the FBI before making any public comment on this matter.

Whether Shiflet or Wells is being untruthful on this matter is not something I can address at this time. As this story gets more play in the media, we will learn more and may be able to reach an informed conclusion on which of these two individuals is presenting an accurate version of the events. It is entirely possible we may not be able to know which version of the conversation is accurate.

Shiflet has been harshly criticized for making this public, most notably in a July 11th staff editorial in the Bloomington Herald-Times. The editorial writer opines: "But now an elected official can't even have what he thinks is a private conversation with a seemingly sympathetic person without the person using it to ambush them in public."

However, there are problems with the argument presented by the H-T. If someone expresses to someone else that he or she knew about an act of terrorism before it happened and did nothing to stop it, then that statement ceases to be a private conversation and becomes a matter that others should know about. This is especially true if that individual is an elected official, in which case the citizens he or she represents should definitely know about it. There are serious implications if what Shiflet says is true. Nobody should seriously expect a "private" statement that he or she had prior knowledge of an act of terrorism to remain private. Certainly, anyone who has prior knowledge of a crime of violence is at least morally obligated to do what he or she can to prevent it if it can be done safely.

The editorial also raises questions about the Herald-Times itself. It has been established that H-T reporter Kurt Van der Dussen writes many of the staff editorials for the paper, and he wrote the July 11th editorial. Is it appropriate for someone to write a news article on events of a public meeting and then write an editorial condemning the participants in it? If Van der Dussen is writing both news articles and editorials, it raises questions about his objectivity in straight news reporting.

The editorial complains that a reporter was tipped off that something big was going to happen at the meeting. Should members of the community expect to be attacked (though not named) in a staff editorial of the city's largest newspaper for letting a reporter know something is going to happen? Will this have a chilling effect on people bringing significant news stories to the paper? And, again, is it appropriate for a reporter to be given a tip and then write a staff editorial criticizing those who gave him the tip?

However this story turns out it is sure to make serious waves in Monroe County over the next few weeks, and maybe into the November elections. Much more will certainly be said and written about this, and we can expect the rhetoric about it to be heated to the boiling point, before this is all over.