The thrill of playacting as Darcy wears off pretty quickly for Ana as she begins to realize that the idyllic farm is a cover for sinister activity. In fact, nothing there is what it appears to be. A nearby bird sanctuary is actually a shooting range. Julius is a paranoid heavily armed control freak, demanding complete allegiance from Megan and the two homeless teenagers he picked up from a Portland squat, and muttering about “The Big One” as he obsessively prunes his hazelnut trees…
Judas Horse by April Smith
FBI Special Agent Ana Grey goes after ecoterrorists in the Pacific Northwest.
By Donna Rifkind, Special to The Times
February 22, 2008
IN two previous thrillers, FBI Special Agent Ana Grey stalked criminals through the same neighborhoods around Santa Monica where she’d been raised by her grandfather. Among the highlights of those books — North of Montana and Good Morning, Killer — were the spot-on observations about daily Los Angeles life, the keen glimpses of parallel cultures that coexist on the same streets without much connection.
The third novel in the series by April Smith, Judas Horse, also begins in Los Angeles, but its narrative propels Ana out of her native territory into a dizzying new world. This time the bureau is sending her on an undercover assignment to infiltrate a terrorist cell in the Pacific Northwest. The agent previously assigned to the case, a golden boy of the department named Steve Crawford, with whom Ana was once romantically involved, has been blown to bits by a bomb detonated on a remote alpine trail in the Oregon Cascades. Ana’s job is to find out who killed him.
It’s been only seven months since Ana was caught up in an emotionally devastating shooting incident — events that provided the climax for Good Morning, Killer — and she’s still recovering from post-traumatic stress. But the news of her colleague’s murder energizes her to seek justice on his behalf.
After a rigorous stint in undercover school at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., Ana assumes a new identity: that of a scruffy, down-and-out animal rights sympathizer named Darcy DeGuzman. As Darcy, armed only with a phony driver’s license and a specially designed Oreo-sized cellphone for contact with former partner Mike Donnato, who will serve as her “handler”, she heads to Portland to begin her mission.
Agent Crawford had been working undercover to infiltrate a radical group called FAN, for “Free Animals Now”. It’s a covert collection of ecoterrorists, linked to increasingly violent anarchist activity throughout the Northwest and probably serving as a front for a larger, looser amalgamation of assorted extremists. FAN operates through intimidation, with a particular fondness for firebombing institutions that insult its live-free-or-die ideology. The FBI’s latest intelligence suggests that FAN’s current target is a mid-level bureaucrat at the Bureau of Land Management named Herbert Laumann, whom FAN accuses of mismanaging herds of wild mustangs protected by federal law.
Searching for Laumann’s harassers turns out to be fairly simple for Ana, who shows up at the Portland bar where Crawford was last seen before his murder. Omar’s Roadhouse is a serious dive, “one of those everlasting beacons of alcoholic wretchedness that through the ages have drawn the outcasts of the world — those who suffer, shuffle, buy or sell.” There, among the bikers, meth addicts, hookers, Mexican gangbangers and female neo-Nazis, Ana meets a graying hippie in her 50s named Megan Tewksbury and her craggy, ponytailed boyfriend, Julius Emerson Phelps. Together, the couple operates a small farm outside Portland, growing hazelnuts and providing shelter for hundreds of rescued animals.
To convince her new friends that she’s a dedicated believer in animal rights, Ana (posing as Darcy) tags along on several protests, including a failed attempt to interfere with a “gather” — a government round-up of wild mustangs for the purpose of culling the weak ones. After spending a night in jail, she persuades Megan and Julius to let her stay with them at the hazelnut farm.
The thrill of playacting as Darcy wears off pretty quickly for Ana as she begins to realize that the idyllic farm is a cover for sinister activity. In fact, nothing there is what it appears to be. A nearby bird sanctuary is actually a shooting range. Julius is a paranoid heavily armed control freak, demanding complete allegiance from Megan and the two homeless teenagers he picked up from a Portland squat, and muttering about “The Big One” as he obsessively prunes his hazelnut trees. It isn’t long before Ana discovers that he too is operating undercover: He’s a former FBI agent named Dick Stone, who, after infiltrating the Weather Underground in the 1970s, “went over to the other side,” dedicating his life to terrorism and never looking back.
In this unpredictable environment, Ana soon becomes as paranoid as Stone. Has he known all along that she’s a federal agent and planned to use her as a bargaining chip in the event of a Waco, Texas-like standoff with the authorities? Can she trust her partner, Donnato, or has he intentionally sacrificed her as the only way to get to Stone? And what role does Peter Abbott, the deputy director of the FBI with political aspirations and influential Oregon family connections, play in the whole affair?
Smith has produced a genuinely scarifying thriller with a consistently vertiginous, through the looking glass mood. Every character is a hologram of sorts and every episode has the momentum of a theme-park ride. One of Smith’s cleverest tricks here is her unsettling depiction of unlikely alliances: Ana turns out to have more in common with the villain, Stone, than she might ever have imagined, and animal rights activists and white supremacists find common ground in their mutual hatred of the government.
The book’s nervous, paranoid energy is at once its greatest strength and most significant weakness. Important plot elements — the fate of the mustangs, hints of a cult-like religion Stone has imposed at the farm — fall away too quickly, replaced by an oncoming rush of pop-up perils. The reader has nothing to latch onto, no emotional hand-rail to clutch during the wild ride — which is doubtless part of the point. Judas Horse is not so much an entertaining read as a headlong, unnerving thrill.
Donna Rifkind, a Los Angeles-based reviewer, also writes for the Washington Post and the New York Times.
Judas Horse, An FBI Special Agent Ana Grey Mystery
Alfred A. Knopf: 318 pp., $23.95US
Meanwhile, in the real world, Jeff ‘Free’ Luers, imprisoned since June 2001 and currently serving a 22 and a half year sentence (266 months) for ecotage (burning three SUVs), has had his appeal for a resentencing hearing pushed back from February 21 to sometime this week.
See also :
Support for Daniel McGowan: an environmental and social justice activist from New York City, charged in federal court on counts of arson, property destruction and conspiracy, all relating to two actions in Oregon in 2001.
Support Eric McDavid!: Eric was found guilty of conspiracy to commit crimes, partly on the basis of testimony provided by a government agent. He is being sentenced on March 6, 2008, and faces a term of between 5–20 years. Eric is also a vegan, a fact which authorities are naturally using against him, and which forced Eric to undergo a hunger strike in order to be provided with adequate meals.
Obviously, these three cases are merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of government repression. For more general information on the US state’s war on radical environmentalists, see GreenScare.org. For more information on US Political Prisoners, see Political Prisoners in the US (current as of March, 2007).
Speaking of informants, in Aotearoa/New Zealand, a “private investigation firm” named Thompson & Clark Investigations Ltd (TCIL) — “New Zealand’s leading security, corporate intelligence and protection agency” — appeared before the Registrar of Private Investigators and Security Guards in the Christchurch District Court on Wednesday 20th and Thursday 21st February. The company employed a man named Ryan Paterson-Rouse to infiltrate the Save Happy Valley Coalition (SHVC) and a woman named Somali Young to infiltrate the Wellington Animal Rights Network (WARN) and Peace Action Wellington (PAW). (Paterson-Rouse was apparently given a cellphone and paid over $3700 by TCIL for providing information.) TCIL was in turn contracted by Solid Energy, and elements of the NZ biotech industry and NZ Defence Industry Association. Not unexpectedly, TCIL boss, Gavin Clark, hasn’t been the most co-operative of witnesses, and is far from being a happy camper.
On Anna the FBI informant, see The Raw Story, FBI confidential informant also said to be provocateur, Jennifer Van Bergen, June 8, 2006 | Have Wire, Will Travel — “Anna the Medic, one of the FBI’s top informants, has cut a wide swath through the antiwar and animal rights movements” — New Times: Broward-Palm Beach, June 22, 2006 | “My name is Anna, and I’m an FBI informant.” “Hi Anna!” (September 25, 2007) | Eric McDavid found guilty; ecoterror plot foiled; US citizens and planet breathe easy (September 28, 2007)
RESOLUTION FOR THE 1990’s:
BOYCOTT COP CULTURE!!!
IF ONE FICTIONAL FIGURE can be said to have dominated the popcult of the eighties, it was the Cop. Fuckin’ police everywhere you turned, worse than real life. What an incredible bore.
Powerful Cops–protecting the meek and humble–at the expense of a half-dozen or so articles of the Bill of Rights–“Dirty Harry.” Nice human cops, coping with human perversity, coming out sweet ‘n’ sour, you know, gruff & knowing but still soft inside–Hill Street Blues–most evil TV show ever. Wiseass black cops scoring witty racist remarks against hick white cops, who nevertheless come to love each other–Eddie Murphy, Class Traitor. For that masochist thrill we got wicked bent cops who threaten to topple our Kozy Konsensus Reality from within like Giger-designed tapeworms, but naturally get blown away just in the nick of time by the Last Honest Cop, Robocop, ideal amalgam of prosthesis and sentimentality.
We’ve been obsessed with cops since the beginning–but the rozzers of yore played bumbling fools, Keystone Kops, Car 54 Where Are You, booby-bobbies set up for Fatty Arbuckle or Buster Keaton to squash & deflate. But in the ideal drama of the eighties, the “little man” who once scattered bluebottles by the hundred with that anarchist’s bomb, innocently used to light a cigarette–the Tramp, the victim with the sudden power of the pure heart–no longer has a place at the center of narrative. Once “we” were that hobo, that quasi-surrealist chaote hero who wins thru wu-wei over the ludicrous minions of a despised & irrelevant Order. But now “we” are reduced to the status of victims without power, or else criminals. “We” no longer occupy that central role; no longer the heros of our own stories, we’ve been marginalized & replaced by the Other, the Cop.
Thus the Cop Show has only three characters–victim, criminal, and policeperson–but the first two fail to be fully human–only the pig is real. Oddly enough, human society in the eighties (as seen in the other media) sometimes appeared to consist of the same three cliche/archetypes. First the victims, the whining minorities bitching about “rights”–and who pray tell did not belong to a “minority” in the eighties? Shit, even cops complained about their “rights” being abused. Then the criminals: largely non-white (despite the obligatory & hallucinatory “integration” of the media), largely poor (or else obscenely rich, hence even more alien), largely perverse (i.e. the forbidden mirrors of “our” desires). I’ve heard that one out of four households in America is robbed every year, & that every year nearly half a million of us are arrested just for smoking pot. In the face of such statistics (even assuming they’re “damned lies”) one wonders who is NOT either victim or criminal in our police-state-of-consciousness. The fuzz must mediate for all of us, however fuzzy the interface–they’re only warrior-priests, however profane.
America’s Most Wanted–the most successful TV game show of the eighties–opened up for all of us the role of Amateur Cop, hitherto merely a media fantasy of middleclass resentment & revenge. Naturally the truelife Cop hates no one so much as the vigilante–look what happens to poor &/or non-white neighborhood self-protection groups like the Muslims who tried to eliminate crack dealing in Brooklyn: the cops busted the Muslims, the pushers went free. Real vigilantes threaten the monopoly of enforcement, lèse majesté, more abominable than incest or murder. But media(ted) vigilantes function perfectly within the CopState; in fact, it would be more accurate to think of them as unpaid (not even a set of matched luggage!) informers: telemetric snitches, electro-stoolies, ratfinks-for-a-day.
What is it that “America most wants”? Does this phrase refer to criminals–or to crimes, to objects of desire in their real presence, unrepresented, unmediated, literally stolen & appropriated? America most wants . . . to fuck off work, ditch the spouse, do drugs (because only drugs make you feel as good as the people in TV ads appear to be), have sex with nubile jailbait, sodomy, burglary, hell yes. What unmediated pleasures are NOT illegal? Even outdoor barbecues violate smoke ordinances nowadays. The simplest enjoyments turn us against some law; finally pleasure becomes too stress-inducing, and only TV remains–and the pleasure of revenge, vicarious betrayal, the sick thrill of the tattletale. America can’t have what it most wants, so it has America’s Most Wanted instead. A nation of schoolyard toadies sucking up to an elite of schoolyard bullies.
Of course the program still suffers from a few strange reality-glitches: for example, the dramatized segments are enacted cinema verité style by actors; some viewers are so stupid they believe they’re seeing actual footage of real crimes. Hence the actors are being continually harassed & even arrested, along with (or instead of) the real criminals whose mugshots are flashed after each little documentoid. How quaint, eh? No one really experiences anything–everyone reduced to the status of ghosts–media-images break off & float away from any contact with actual everyday life–PhoneSex–CyberSex. Final transcendence of the body: cybergnosis.
The media cops, like televangelical forerunners, prepare us for the advent, final coming or Rapture of the police state: the “Wars” on sex and drugs: total control totally leached of all content; a map with no coordinates in any known space; far beyond mere Spectacle; sheer ecstasy (“standing-outside-the-body”); obscene simulacrum; meaningless violent spasms elevated to the last principle of governance. Image of a country consumed by images of self-hatred, war between the schizoid halves of a split personality, Super-Ego vs the Id Kid, for the heavyweight championship of an abandoned landscape, burnt, polluted, empty, desolate, unreal.
Just as the murder-mystery is always an exercise in sadism, so the cop-fiction always involves the contemplation of control. The image of the inspector or detective measures the image of “our” lack of autonomous substance, our transparency before the gaze of authority. Our perversity, our helplessness. Whether we imagine them as “good” or “evil,” our obsessive invocation of the eidolons of the Cops reveals the extent to which we have accepted the manichaean worldview they symbolize. Millions of tiny cops swarm everywhere, like the qlippoth, larval hungry ghosts–they fill the screen, as in Keaton’s famous two-reeler, overwhelming the foreground, an Antarctic where nothing moves but hordes of sinister blue penguins.
We propose an esoteric hermeneutical exegesis of the Surrealist slogan “Mort aux vaches!” We take it to refer not to the deaths of individual cops (“cows” in the argot of the period)–mere leftist revenge fantasy–petty reverse sadism–but rather to the death of the image of the flic, the inner Control & its myriad reflections in the NoPlace Place of the media–the “gray room” as Burroughs calls it. Self-censorship, fear of one’s own desires, “conscience” as the interiorized voice of consensus-authority. To assassinate these “security forces” would indeed release floods of libidinal energy, but not the violent running-amok predicted by the theory of Law ‘n’ Order.
Nietzschean “self-overcoming” provides the principle of organization for the free spirit (as also for anarchist society, at least in theory). In the police-state personality, libidinal energy is dammed & diverted toward self-repression; any threat to Control results in spasms of violence. In the free-spirit personality, energy flows unimpeded & therefore turbulently but gently–its chaos finds its strange attractor, allowing new spontaneous orders to emerge.
In this sense, then, we call for a boycott of the image of the Cop, & a moratorium on its production in art. In this sense . . .