Long problematic career
Ben White, 53, died on July 30, 2005, in Friday Harbor, Washington, after a six-month struggle against abdominal cancer.
White “cut open dolphin-holding nets in Japan, scaled buildings to hang anti-fur banners, jumped in front of naval ships in Hawaii to stop sonar tests, and slept atop old-growth trees to protest logging,” recalled Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter M.L. Lyke. “In Seattle, he protested the capture of sea lions at Ballard Locks by locking himself to the cage used to hold them. In 1999, he marched as head turtle at the 1999 World Trade Organization protests [in Seattle] The turtle costumes became the international emblem of opposition to the WTO.”
White claimed to have informed on the Ku Klux Klan for the FBI at age 16, while still in high school. He joined the 1973 American Indian Movement occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs offices in Washington D.C., and traveled for a time with the Rolling Thunder medicine show, which popularized Native American causes and spirituality during the 1970s and 1980s. He was accused of fomenting strife within both AIM and the Rolling Thunder entourage.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
In 1981 White joined the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
“He participated in the Sea Shepherd invasion of Soviet Siberia to get evidence of illegal whaling,” recalled Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson. In February 1982 Ben participated in a Sea Shepherd raid on the Grenada Zoo to release abused monkeys into the jungle.
“In 1983,” Watson added, “Ben was aboard the Sea Shepherd II voyage to blockade the harbor at St. Johns, Newfoundland, to prevent the Canadian sealing fleet from leaving. In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Ben was at the helm as we did a high-speed pass by two sealing ships, bouncing them about so badly that the sealers fled for port. The next night, Ben joined me, Paul Pezwick and Bernard Carlais in a 13-mile trek over broken ice to Cape Breton Island. Our plan was to get ashore and steal the Sea Shepherd II back,” after it was inevitably impounded the following morning.
The strategy did not work. All 24 crew members were arrested.
Later Sea Shepherd missions
Watson said White was ‘instrumental” in 1985 “in helping to map out” the area where two Icelandic whaling ships were docked, enabling Sea Shepherd members Rod Coronado and David Howitt to scuttle both ships and extensively damage a whale meat processing plant in November 1986.
“Ben sailed on from Iceland to the Faeroe Islands, where Sea Shepherd initiated the first high-profile campaign against the slaughter of pilot whales,” Watson continued. “In 1987, Ben organized a Sea Shepherd campaign in the North Pacific on the Divine Wind. The expedition,” described by Watson as a failure in his 1985 book Ocean Warrior, ‘focused attention on destructive drift netting by the Japanese and Taiwanese fishing fleets. In 1989, Ben participated in the voyage of the Sea Shepherd II to the Eastern Tropical Pacific to confront dolphin killing tuna boats,” Watson added.
“Ben assisted operations in the Caribbean to oppose drift net fishing, and helped to organize the early North Pacific drift net campaigns in 1990 and 1992.”
Nearly ousted Paul Watson from helm
But there was another side to White’s work. In 1990-1991, White led dissidents who came within a vote of ousting Watson from the Sea Shepherd helm. Though Watson praised White posthumously, he scathingly detailed their conflicts earlier.
Employed by In Defense of Animals after his Sea Shepherd involvement, White left that post and in May 1994 helped Friends of Animals lead a protest against the Greenpeace position of not opposing whaling “in principle,” if whale populations are recovered.
While at Friends of Animals, White was also involved in the 1994-1995 breakup of the Sugar Loaf Dolphin Sanctuary in the Florida Keys. Founded to rehabilitate ex-Navy dolphins and ex-performing dolphins for release, the sanctuary failed amid infighting often fomented by one “Rick Spill,” who was marine mammal consultant for the Animal Welfare Institute from 1994 to 1997.
White worked closely with “Spill,” whom ANIMALS 24-7 suspects was the same individual also known as nonprofit lawyer and fundraiser Bill Wewer. Long involved in both far-right and animal advocacy causes, Wewer was founding attorney and direct mail fundraiser for the Doris Day Animal League, 1986-1990. His wife Kathleen Marquardt formed the now defunct anti-animal rights group Putting People First in 1989.
Documents produced as result of a PETA lawsuit against Feld Entertainment established that Putting People First in 1989-1992 received documents stolen from PETA and the Performing Animal Welfare Society by agents of the private security firm Richlin Associates, who were supervised by former CIA deputy operations director Clair George.
Wewer boasted in a 1997 fax to ANIMALS 24-7 that he had again infiltrated the animal rights movement, under deep cover.
Days later, “Spill” quit AWI on short notice, after ANIMALS 24-7 outed him to founder Christine Stevens and current AWI president Cathy Liss, who said they doubted the identification.
White replaced “Spill” at AWI, having been fired by FoA in January 1997, according to FoA memos obtained by ANIMALS 24-7, for acts including leaving a threatening message on the Sea Shepherd answering machine. Telephone records showed that more than a third of White’s calls billed to FoA were made to “Spill.”
Wewer reportedly died in San Francisco on April 1, 1999, but the San Francisco coroner’s office never saw the body. “Spill” reappeared once thereafter, with White, at the November 1999 Seattle anti-WTO protest.
A man named Rick Spill, whose appearance and biographical details resembled those of Wewer, died in Vallejo, California, in October 2014.
White mostly kept a low profile after joining AWI, but was involved in the fall 1999 break-up of the Sea Defense Alliance (SeDnA), founded a year earlier by Jonathan Paul. After Paul was voted off the board by the other two board members, they resigned and White took one of the open positions. Paul then formed Sea Defense Alliance, Oregon.
In November 1999 Paul sued White and the other new board members, seeking dissolution of the original organization. SeDnA appears to be long defunct. Paul’s organization is now called Ocean Defense International.