The most notable departure that eco-extremism has undertaken in the past year is its increased clarity in organization. While its manner of attack has always been small, disperse, and secretive; and while it has always renounced revolutionary discourse or discussion of a “movement,” only a stark break could make clear that the ethos of eco-extremism is different from that of anarchists and other radical terrorists. In place of the activist, the eco-extremist seeks to emulate the criminal. Instead of the Party, the nihilist individualist builds a “secret society” (often secret even among themselves). Instead of a Movement, those who carry out the extreme defense of Wild Nature advocate a Mafia. If the emergence of eco-extremism signaled the crossing of the bridge to leave the Land of Progress and Enlightenment, the new stage of the management of savagery is setting fire to that bridge and watching it burn.
There are of course theoretical reasons for this. To carry out eco-extremist actions, the actors themselves require utmost autonomy and anonymity, just like criminals. The liberal, the leftist, the anarchist, and the anarcho-primitivist all advocate actions that others can emulate and proclaim along with the Crucified in the Gospel: “Go and do likewise.” They want to “mass produce” a course of action and behaviors developed to fit every possible situation and contingency. Everything is “open source” and out for everyone to see. This meets their need for the democratic ethos, their Faith in the People, their Dogma of the Fundamental Goodness of Human Nature. Even the most sympathetic hyper-civilized readers engage eco-extremist literature and ask, “But what should I DO? How can I apply it to MY OWN LIFE? Etc,” If you have to ask, then there is no answer in your case.
The eco-extremist is an opportunist. He is an individualist. There is no cookie-cutter eco-extremist like there is a cookie cutter communist or anarchist or primitivist. Each one is different, just like each crime is different. The modern activist seeks to limit chaos and contingency: the eco-extremist counts on it, even thrives off of it. The masses of hyper-civilized activists, from pacifists to the Black Bloc, seek to move like a Napoleonic column of troops, with discipline, a common goal, and a State-like force confronting the State in a “dual power” situation. These are only as strong as their weakest link. Eco-extremist action is guerilla warfare in the full sense of the term: not just in practice, but also in purpose. The eco-extremist, just like the criminal, fights only for himself, for his own benefit, and with those who fight similarly if far away; those who laud his actions and seek to emulate them in their own circumstances.
This is why eco-extremism is the “stone of stumbling, and a rock of scandal, to them who stumble at the word.” (1 Peter 2:8) Even those who sympathize, those leftist cheerleaders who want to be a little more militant and think that a few words in support of ITS boost their credibility as “post-leftists,” don’t understand this eco-extremist first principle. Eco-extremism is not about a few militant words that stimulate conversation, or a slightly more violent form of the passive pessimism that pervades progressive if honest intellectual circles. Eco-extremism is about conspiratorial complicity, violent affinity, and sympathy that leads to illegality. Eco-extremism is not yet another ideological idol that one has on one’s altar along with insurrectionary anarchism, anarcho-primitivism, eco-anarchism, passive nihilism, etc. Eco-extremism is the smashing of idols, even the idol of one’s own “self-realization” and “autonomy” within putrid techno-industrial civilization. It is the holy zeal of the fanatic in the face of the blasphemies against Wild Nature, the covetous lust for violence against the hyper-civilized victim, and the singular patience needed to strike at the enemy at the opportune time. Any similarities to ideologies that came before it are superficial at best.
In order to draw this out further, we will take some lessons from the life of a modern day guerilla raider / criminal, one who had come to similar opinions concerning the legitimacy of criminal activity in a corrupt society. We speak here of José Vigoa, ex-Spetsnaz commando, possible Cuban intelligence officer, drug dealer, and casino robber who was a terror on the streets of Las Vegas during the years 1999 and 2000. During this time, he and his small crew successfully robbed some of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas, including the MGM and the Bellagio. Vigoa also killed two armored car guards who were trying to play hero during a robbery. We will not dwell on biographical details of Vigoa here, but rather quote passages from John Huddy’s fascinating account, Storming Las Vegas: How a Cuban-Born, Soviet-Trained Commando Took Down the Strip to the Tune of Five World-Class Hotels, Three Armored Cars and Millions of Dollars, and comment on these as appropriate. By this we seek to learn from his rules of engagement and shed light on how individualist attack will happen from now into the future. The future, as much as one can speak of it, belongs to the individualist, to chaos, and to a-morality.
Not that Jose Vigoa thinks well of the determined Brink’s guards as they spoil what could have been his retirement heist. Stupid hero bullshit! Thinks Vigoa as he takes heavy fire from the two guards and retreats to the waiting Rodeo. Vigoa is amazed that the low-paid Brink’s men fight back. If not for the heavy fire now streaming toward him and the crazy American blazing away over the hood of the trunk, Vigoa would tell the guards to their faces how foolish they are: I’m not trying to take the money away from you, or disrespect you, or steal anything from your families. I want to take the money from the fat pig casino owners who have millions and millions and exploit their employees with peanut wages. (16)
Undaunted, Vigoa conducts a debriefing and announces a new policy: “Next time we shoot first and ask no questions of nobody. I didn’t ask the guards for their fucking wristwatches and wallets. Everybody wants to be a hero in this country.” Vigoa later writes in his journal: “In my world, you are either the hunter or the hunted. Vegas makes it, Vigoa takes it. (22)
The opening of the book describes a botched armored car robbery at the Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas, when Vigoa and his crew opened fire too early on the guards making a money delivery, thus allowing them to return fire and defend themselves. This would be a theme in Vigoa’s crime spree: that poor guards who had everything to lose and nothing to gain from returning fire defended their bosses’ money anyway. Perhaps here we see that the “hyper-civilized,” far from innocent or exploited, uphold an unjust system out of some sense of pride or habit. Civilization doesn’t suppress animal instincts, but rather harnesses them to its own ends, in this case, to defend the concept of private property and the honest working man’s “job well done.” Could there be more evidence that the hyper-civilized will never turn against the techno-industrial system? (16)
The robberies and small-unit tactics used by the gang reminded police of their own swat training. Marine and army veterans recognize Special Forces guerilla war tactics. Special Agent Brett W. Shields of the FBI realizes that the gang uses classic commando doctrines: (1) clandestine insertion, (2) brief, violent combat, (3) rapid disengagement, and (4) swift, deceptive withdrawal. The cops realize they are up against an organized criminal as colorful and lethal as any old-school hoodlum, but one in possession of exceptional battlefield intelligence, modern-day firepower, and sophisticated small-unit tactics. (25)
This “militarization” of criminal activity is a common theme in our day, as we shall see later.
What Vigoa called the Fiery Demon was stirring now; it would soon be awake. Vigoa could feel its raw power and white heat gathering strength throughout his body. Once he had feared the feeling and thought that it drew him into a life of crime and brutality, but Vigoa knew better now. The Fiery Demon was his shield and salvation, the primal force that kept him alive.
It was awake and growing stronger, and it would soon be free to do its work. (104)
This passage refers to an episode early in Vigoa’s career, but like many individualists and savages before, Vigoa also had a guiding spirit in combat. To be more than what one is as a mere mortal animal, and to strike out, one often needs the inspiration of a spirit, a daemon in ancient Greek belief. It is no wonder then that Vigoa had this, and an anarchist or leftist would scoff at this, as the latter’s power comes from the people according to their humanist beliefs. Those who aspire to inhuman actions must have inhuman help.
Many dealers were also addicts and used their profits to support their habit, but Vigoa did not. His abstinence was not about morality – it was about life and death. “You have to keep the brain clear,” he warned his confederates. “You have to be alert at all times, even when you’re sleeping or making love or with your family. You have to see farther than other men and around corners. You have to see into the hearts of men. You have to read the eyes of your enemy and know they are about to strike, or someday they will try to kill you.” (106)
Vigoa teaches sobriety and vigilance for the same reason that the eco-extremists do: not out of morality but for an individualistic end. The eco-extremist end is attack, and enemies are everywhere. Sobriety and vigilance are always needed. Some would say that this amounts to asceticism: that such a life is an unnecessary embrace of hardship for some sort of inverse moral end. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is hyper-civilized man who expects to be defended by his technology, his buildings, and morality. Even the most a-moral of hyper-civilized egoists relies on civilization and its pomps for his “a-morality”. The real condition of man without civilization is one of constant vigilance: in the jungle, in the forest, on the plain, and on the seas. We are so cut off from our senses and a life of engagement with wild things that we think a life of vigilance and sobriety is one of deprivation. The alternative, however, is the life of the zoo animal: we are under no physical threat because we live in cages. At the very least, the eco-extremist resists the life of the cage, even if only to attack and return to fight another day. The alternative is to try to find freedom in the cage, which is an absurdity.
“In a way, Pedro’s vanishing act was a good thing,” Vigoa says later. “We were tested. After Pedro got chased off from valet parking, we didn’t fall apart or panic. This is the way it is in real combat. There always are surprises. Nothing ever goes the way it is supposed to go, and a plan is only a first step. There always will be an ebb and flow in the fight. It’s how you react to surprises that matter. We did well.” (146-147)
The context for this reflection is the MGM heist that Vigoa’s crew carried out, and the lesson here is obvious. We will move on then.
Although not the most lucrative robbery, the Mandalay Bay heist will be the gang’s model heist- blazing fast, without resistance, and exactly according to plan. The actual robbery of the two Brink’s guards takes less than one minute, and the getaway even less time. By the time police arrive, the gunmen are long gone. No one can agree in which direction the suspects fled, descriptions of the getaway vehicle vary, some witnesses describe the bandits as black men, and there’s no ballistic evidence or fingerprints. (186)
This is a good summary of Vigoa’s crew’s tactics, which emphasized speed and precision in carrying out robberies and getaways.
Like the shark, Vigoa thought he was driven by a primal urge, even addiction, beyond his control. Perhaps his robberies were not about good or evil, money, revenge for past injustices, or even family. They were about power, violence, danger, and the thrill of the hunt. The sharks did what they did without remorse, and so did Vigoa. The police could not possibly comprehend this, Vigoa thought. They have no idea who or what they are dealing with. (158)
It is odd that all of the “green anarchists”, in spite of their efforts at “re-wilding” and anthropological studies of primitive peoples, cannot understand what a common criminal learned so well. That is, violence was not a means to an end in “primitive” life, but often an end unto itself: a way of life. The thrill of the hunt and the raid is not taken up by the re-wilding hippy in our day and age, but by the criminal and the thug, with all of their contradictions and selfishness.
All in all, maybe the Vigoa crew could never function with the precision of the Spetsnaz commandos, but they could be taught to obey simple orders and execute Vigoa’s well-drawn plans. Later he would write: “One of my special skills, in war and in crime, was to drill my men hard by simulating the mission again and again, sometimes twenty or thirty times. There was no room for error. The police and military find this out all the time, Even when you train well, there will be mistakes. In my business, I can commit five successful robberies, but if I make one small mistake or allow my men to become careless and undisciplined, then we will all die or go to prison with long elephant sentences. (161)
This begins a crucial part of the book where Vigoa begins to describe his methodology in more detail. Here we see that Vigoa, because he is a man of action, has no problem with wielding authority. Although eco-extremists tend to be individualists, they have no problem with authority, as it is conceivable that a situation might emerge where a small group will form to carry out a particular action. Unlike the anarchist or leftist, organization is not a function of ideology but of effectiveness in an ad hoc situation where speed and precision are of the utmost importance. Thus, there is no problem with authority in eco-extremism.
And by now the team could recite the Vigoa’s Rules almost word for word:
- No talking during a job, except when “freezing” the victim (ordering him to stop and drop his weapon). Absolute silence among unit members.
- Plan A: Disarm the guards. Plan B: Kill them without hesitation if they resist.
- Vigoa, and Vigoa alone, gives the orders when to retire to the getaway car.
- The second getaway vehicle (technically known as the first lay-off car) will be within running distance of the job because the armored car driver has been taught to use the truck as a battering ram and could damage the first car at the crime scene.
- A minimum of three lay-off cars per job. These vehicles, plus the first getaway car – the one whose license plate number everyone writes down in great excitement – make a total of four cars per job.
- Speed is essential – one minute and out. (When Suarez starts to protest that it will take this much time just to gather up the loot, Vigoa cuts him off: “This is not the movies, chico, people have cell phones, they call 911, and the stupids [the police] will race out of their doughnut shops for a little action.”)
- No lay-off cars to be stored in casino lots, because security has been writing down plate numbers. Use apartment lots.
- Chaos is key. (Vigoa to crew: “Who knows what modus operandi means?” Silence. “Good, because we don’t have one. Be unpredictable. This is war. Predictability gets you killed.”)
- Leave nothing behind.
- Ski masks and dark clothing. Always wear gloves. Leave the masks on until we reach the third getaway car. (165-166)
In these rules, we see again the emphasis on authority, speed and precision. But we also see a nod to chaos. Eco-extremists seek to be chaos, or Wild Nature, in a domesticated and artificial society. They too have no modus operandi. They want nothing from society except to lash out, so their methods are not that different from their ends: they attack for the sake of attack. This allows them to be unpredictable just as Vigoa sought to be.
I don’t want to kill nobody in my robberies. I didn’t want to kill the guards at the shopping center. But after the Desert Inn, I realize that every American has to be a cowboy. I call this the hero bullshit. You gotta be John Wayne and Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis, and you do stupid things and force me to do what I do, which is not stupid at all because to survive I will blow your fucking brains out. I will send you on the train to hell on a whim. My whim. (223)
This passage describes what happened when Vigoa and his crew attempted to rob an armored car and had to kill both of the security guards because they decided to fight back. Again, the hyper-civilized defend civilization even when it is not in their material interests. Call them what you want, but they are not the friends of the individualist, or of Wild Nature for that matter.
I wasn’t high or drunk, but I was confident. Too confident. It was the mood of the party. I felt good and mellow, almost in a trance. I felt invincible and it was then that I let my guard down. Just like the hotels did when the soft wealthies, lawyers, and accountants took over from the tough Italian gangsters. (248-249)
Vigoa here describes how being off-guard led to his downfall. During his robbery of the Bellagio, Vigoa wore the wrong hat and was identified by security cameras, leading to his face being shown all over the news. This is also a warning against the double-life: Vigoa was a family man and he let a family party relax him too much and make him lose his focus. Ultimately, this is why he was caught: one part of his double life contaminated the other.
On June 3, 2002, I was ready to touch down, to take off from the Clark County Jail at nighttime. It was to be a good and final gift from me to all the law enforcement people, not to mention publicity for the DA and something to keep the news people busy. But something unexpected and unplanned happened. A friend of mine got caught with prison-made wine. The police asked me if they could come into my cell for a second because someone got caught with wine, and the police wanted to know if I had some. They looked around, and they didn’t find nothing. I had been working that day on the window, doing my last work, but I did not have the metal plates attached very well or disguised, because the cell search was so sudden, and I was so close to checking out – and the new correction officer without experience discovered my work by accident. It was one lucky shot. (335)
After Vigoa was caught, one of his crew was prepared to testify against Vigoa in exchange for leniency. This person, however, ended up hanging himself in his cell under mysterious circumstances. In spite of being on lockdown most of the day, Vigoa was trying to saw through the bars of his windows and escape. This testifies to Vigoa’s indomitable spirit: even when he was on the verge of being condemned to life in prison, he still found it possible to attempt to escape.
The tone of our first and subsequent interviews is businesslike and even cordial. But when Vigoa compares the Ross gunfight and tragic deaths to war, I interrupt. “Robbing people at gunpoint is not war,” I say. “Robbing people at gunpoint for self enrichment and then shooting them when they resist is murder.”
Vigoa’s face darkens. He gives me a hard look, and we lock eyes. There’s a long pause, then he sighs. “You’re right, it’s not war,” Vigoa says. “Well, maybe a little bit like war. In war we kill not only soldiers but innocent people too. But sometimes a man has no choice.” Vigoa is still stunned that the guards at the Desert Inn and Ross risked their lives for someone else’s money. (354-355)
When interrogated by the author of the book, Vigoa resists hyper-civilized morality, and refuses to exclude the “innocent” in his indiscriminate attacks. Again, it is very telling that he understands what so many “learned” people fail to get: that the innocent are not all that innocent, and the person “doing his job” is precisely what is upholding civilization.
“Jose Vigoa is an example of the criminal to be most feared in the future,” Sheriff Bill Young said. “We in American law enforcement know exactly how to deal with the homegrown street thug but are way behind the curve with the foreign born and trained, who are smart and not committing crimes because they are addicted or need money for drugs. We’re seeing more and more of these types in Vegas, particularly from the Middle East, the Baltic states, and South America. Their values are far different from ours, and the ruthless side they display leaves many American cops stunned. Many of these guys have military backgrounds and are sophisticated and well read. It’s going to take a concerted effort on our part to effectively deal with the Jose Vigoas of the world.”
The story of Jose Manuel Vigoa Perez, it turns out, is very much the story of our times. (364)
Thus ends John Huddy’s book on a great individualist prisoner who will spend the rest of his life in a U.S. prison. From this passage, it is clear that Jose Vigoa was a trend-setter: a foreshadowing of things to come. It is my belief that eco-extremism shares many of the same characteristics that the sheriff describes here: people who are trained (even if self-trained), indiscriminately violent, well read, and committed to the criminal enterprise. As the fabric of society continues to unravel, violence and those who commit it will become increasingly atomized, disorganized (in the institutional sense), and ruthless in their methods. This is not so much a prediction as it is a reading of the inevitable. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…”
The eco-extremist is one who has given him or herself over to the chaos that threatens techno-industrial civilization. They will learn from Jose Vigoa, from primitive tribes, from fellow terrorists, and from whoever can offer examples on how to carry out a personal war in extreme defense of Wild Nature, even if this defense is merely exacting an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
Huddy, John. Storming Las Vegas: How a Cuban-Born, Soviet-Trained Commando Took Down the Strip to the Tune of Five World-Class Hotels, Three Armored Cars, and Millions of Dollars. New York: Ballantine Books, 2008