The Auburn Journal ran an article on March 20 about accused arson Ryan Lewis, 21, who remains in jail in Sacramento while awaiting a trial on federal arson and conspiracy charges.
Lewis, you might remember from our previous coverage of his case, allegedly planted incendiary devices at several sites near Sacramento, most of which failed to ignite. Lewis did allegedly cause about $50,000 in fire damage at an apartment complex that was under construction, but the quick response of the fire department limited damages.
At the site of the attacks, Lewis allegedly claimed the acts in the name of the Earth Liberation Front, allegedly painting “ELF” at two of sites hit by arson.
So the article is a bit odd — the gist of it is that Lewis’ family insisting that he is not a terrorist but simply a low-level vandal.
According to the paper, Lewis’ relatives have been flooding the newspaper with letters making their case that poor Ryan Lewis is simply misunderstood. For example, Lewis’s aunt, Monique Lewis, penned this bit of wisdom about the arsons,
In the ’60s events such as those that Ryan is being accused of would have been considered ‘protesting,’ but now it is labeled ‘terrorism.’
Okay, maybe in parts of the South it might have been considered non-violent to firebomb a Black church or home, but in the rest of the civilized world, such acts were always considered acts of violence. Does Monique Lewis really expect to believe that if someone tried to firebomb her domicile, that she’d just pass it off as nothing more than political protest?
Ryan’s father, Greg, excuses the arsons as simply “political and environmental protest gone awry.” Huh? The only thing that went awry is that most of the devices Lewis planted failed to ignite.
Ryan’s family tries to downplay his connection with any sort of broader Earth Liberation Front conspiracy, but Ryan’s own statement to FBI puts lies to their statements. According to the affidavit filed by the FBI agent investigating the case,
After initially denying any knowledge of the arson attempts, Ryan Lewis admitted to transporting to the Auburn arson scene, components of the incendiary devices knowing that the would be used to commit an arson. These components included six, white, five-gallon buckets containing a mixture of red diesel and gasoline. Ryan Lewis also admitted to having stolen the red diesel fuel from four construction sites in the Auburn area. He also admitted to knowing and being in contact with the individuals who committed the attempted arsons prior to the arsons.
Ryan claimed that he did not have any involvement with the Lincoln arson attempt and that he does not know the identity of the persons who committed that crime or who used his components to commit the Auburn attempted arson. He claimed that following the Lincoln arson attempt, he communicated with the perpetrators of that crime who directed him to deliver the components to the Auburn location.
The statements of Ryan’s friends link him solidly to the first attempted arson, and his own statements link him not only to the other arsons, but to a wider conspiracy involving as-yet-unindicted individuals. By Ryan’s own statements, he’s not some loose cannon running amok by himself, but rather participated in a relatively sophisticated criminal conspiracy that included layers of secrecy to insulate and protect the identities of those involved. Sorry, Greg, but that’s not just “protest gone awry,” but rather a young adult making all the wrong choices.
The Auburn Journal notes that while in prison Ryan has reached out to other extremists,
A posting on the Earth Liberation Prisoners Support Network Web site, www.spiritoffreedom.org.uk, claims “Eco-defense remand prisoner” Lewis has contacted the North American ELP confirming that he welcomes letters of support.
From other information in the affidavits against Ryan Lewis and his friend, it seems Lewis became infatuated with a violent strain of anarchism and saw himself as some sort of modern-day revolutionary doing his part to overthrow “the system.”
It is understandable that Lewis’ family is concerned about his welfare and future, but the bottom line is that people who run around firebombing buildings out of political animus are a menace, and must be dealt with harshly in order to deter those who might think about emulating them. Lewis had numerous opportunities open to him for genuine political protest, but instead chose arson as his means of expressing his discontent. His family asks us to consider mitigating circumstances and try to understand Ryan — something Ryan himself refused to do for others while he was busing fill plastic jugs with gasoline and spray painting “ELF” on his targets.
Assuming he is found guilty, a long prison sentence is more than justified in his case.
Questions still remain around arson suspects. Penne Usher, Auburn Journal, March 20, 2005.