Former Ecosaboteur Returns for Ecstatic Dance Fundraiser

Chelsea Gerlach
Chelsea Gerlach

Chelsea Gerlach was sent to prison in 2007 for her participation in ecologically motivated sabotage with the Earth Liberation Front. Gerlach is now out of prison and on probation, and she is returning to Eugene to guest DJ “Chance to Dance,” an ecstatic dance at the WOW Hall March 22 that will raise money for Gerlach’s 3-year-old nephew Malachi, who has cerebral palsy.

Gerlach and her fellow ecosaboteurs convicted in what the FBI called “Operation Backfire” were largely based in Eugene, and their activities ranged from burning a ski resort building project in lynx habitat to tipping over a BPA transmission tower.

Gerlach told EW in a statement that “returning to Eugene, I carry some shame for the anger and fear I have invoked — both through my acts of property damage and through my cooperation with the government.” But she adds, “Music and dance can be a powerful conduit for healing and personal transformation. In light of that history, I offer this event, a journey of liberation through movement.”

Cooperating with the government in its investigation caused a schism among many in the environmental community, who also objected to the government labeling the ecosaboteurs as terrorists. Eugene-based Civil Liberties Defense Center and others have called the government’s targeting of eco-activists across the country the “Green Scare.”

When Gerlach was released to a halfway house in Portland, the Earth First! Newswire posted an update that read, “Gerlach should be shunned for her participation in sending others into the [A]merican gulag. If spotted at community spaces that cater to activists, the working poor, people of color and other segments of society who are frequently abused by the government she works with, she should be asked firmly to leave.”

Gerlach says she studied Buddhism while serving three years in a maximum-security prison in Texas. After she was sent to Florida to finish her sentence, she “got involved in a vibrant Christian community, strongly influenced by the black church and the Spanish-speaking church,” she says. “I was in a group there that did choreographed dance that brought together the Spanish and English congregations.” Those congregations were polarized by racial tension, she says.

Gerlach now studies at Portland State University and plans to pursue a graduate degree in divinity. She says, “During my prison time, I found spiritual practice to be a source of life, peace and positive transformation.” She says that, as an activist, “I was trying to change the world, basically by brute force, but I’ve learned that true change requires a change of heart, and that comes from within.”

Chance to Dance runs 7 to 9 pm Saturday, March 22, at WOW Hall. Tickets are $7 and a portion of the proceeds will go to paying for movement therapy for Gerlach’s nephew, Malachi. For more on Malachi and his condition go to

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