Robert Hunter, Greenpeace co-founder: environmentalist and “media bomb” lover

    27 May 2021

    We strongly recommend the film “How to Change the World” which is dedicated to the first public action of the movement, which will later be named Greenpeace. The movie depicts the voyage that caused the cancellation of the American nuclear test program in the Aleutian Islands and laid the foundations for a new, active and fearless eco-activism. But, like any medal, there is a downside to this story.

    We thank FurFur for a brilliant analysis of the figure of one of the Greenpeace founders.

    Greenpeace raid became a battle of views, opinions, and egos of each of its participants. Years later, all these disagreements will spill over into undercover games and open conflicts between the co-founders of the planet’s main eco-movement. The only one who will be free from participation in intrigues is Robert Hunter, an icon of eco-activists around the world, who until the very end remained true to himself and his ideas.

    “How to Change the World” is based on Hunter’s memories, diaries and notes he took during that fateful voyage. And if today his name does not mean anything to you, then it’s time to fix it.

    The beginning

    Early 1970s, Canada, British Columbia, Vancouver. The air over the city literally vibrates with voices shouting a variety of slogans. Those, whom the common people dubbed the short word “hippies”, in fact, represent a variety of movements: radicalized students, overage Trotskyists, vegetarians, Buddhists and a whole scattering of scattered groups of eco-activists. In this electrified environment, young journalist Bobby Hunter felt like a fish in water. His articles for The Vancouver Sun and Winnipeg Tribune was filled with admiration for those who oppose the anti-environmental system, and ideas for the environment conservation.

    He, like no one else, was extremely clear that the problem of massive deforestation and the emergence of new dumps and factories in their place pales in comparison with the new threat. At the height of the Cold War, the main “entertainment” of both sides of the confrontation was the testing of large bombs, and the United States conducted its tests near Amchitka Island, Alaska.

    Such “games” of the military by themselves do not bring anything good for the environment, but they had to be carried out in a tectonically unstable area. So they could turn into a disaster. Moreover, in 1964, there was an earthquake in Alaska which is still the second strongest in the entire history of observations. The earthquake triggered several huge tsunamis that swept from California to Japan and left colossal destruction in their wake.

    Hunter was well aware of the consequences of these nuclear bombs tests, and he could not stay aside. Thanks to his connections among the hippies, he quickly found people who, like him, were against the test. The group of activists gathering in the basement of one of the churches soon became the “Don’t Make a Wave Committee”, and in addition to Hunter, it included those who were to lead and direct the Greenpeace movement in the future: Bill Darnell, Jim Bowlen, Paul Cote and Irving Stove.

    Media “bomb”

    If a small group of people, detonating a sufficiently strong bomb, can destroy the planet, so why can’t another group affect the world by detonating their own, media “bomb”? Sometimes the pen turns out to be mightier than the sword, and who, if not the journalist Hunter, was important to know about this. As a follower of Marshall McLuhan’s ideas, Bobby Hunter believed that a few people could turn the world around and influence the course of events. It was he who proposed the concept of media mindbomb – “media bombs”.

    The essence of the main weapon of the “Committee” was to correctly cover the events taking place in the press, to present them to the public so that they finally saw the horror of what was happening. The second task of the “media bomb” is to create a positive image of fighters for the environment, who fearlessly, without sparing their lives and health, rush into the epicenter of events. The desired effect was achieved due to the columns that the members of the “Committee” wrote to different publications: the publications came out very subjective, but emotional, involving the reader in the experiences and thoughts of the participants in the events. Hunter himself later ironically said that he “betrayed the profession of a journalist” with this subjectivism.

    Environmentalists decided to stop testing on the Aleutian Islands as follows: to charter a ship, enter the test area on it and stay there until the very end. In this case, the US military will have only two alternatives: to detonate the bomb and kill the members of the “Committee” or to stop testing in the area. This method of combating nuclear tests was not an invention of the “Committee”. Such floats into the center of the test site were previously hunted by Albert Bigelow, a former US Navy officer and an opponent of nuclear weapons. But Bigelow didn’t have a “media bomb”.

    Of course, none of the members of the “Committee” had money for the charter of the ship. But the saying “don’t have a hundred coins, but have a hundred friends” showed itself in all its glory: group decided to raise money as part of a charity concert. And, finally, the committee members had more than a hundred friends – the event was attended by 16 thousand people.

    On September 11, 1971, a team of eleven mustachioed, bearded and hairy people in strange clothes, boarded a rusty phyllis Cormack vessel. Under the disapproving glances and contemptuous grins of local sailors, the ship nevertheless left the port. “The Committee“ Don’t make waves”” went to war.

    Like any endeavor, sailing turned out to be far from ideal. Widespread press coverage of the trip to the epicenter of the impending nuclear explosion played against the activists themselves. Halfway to the scene, the ship was blocked by an American warship, whose captain, in an ultimatum, demanded that the “damn hippies” have to turn around and get away. The members of the “Committee” had no choice but to follow the demands of the military. However, this defeat ultimately turned out to be a victory for them.

    An underground nuclear explosion on the Aleutian Islands did take place, causing irreparable damage to the environment: the coastline of Amchitka Island was destroyed, thousands of marine animals died. When information about this got to the press, the action of the “Committee”, what was considered as a joke previously, suddenly was highlighted in completely different colors. Media turned it into a suicidal attempt to prevent the blast of the most powerful weapon in the world.

    The radical attitude of the Greenpeace team, who literally woke up famous, was transmitted to others who were not indifferent. The number of dissatisfied with the tests in the Aleutian Islands grew by leaps and bounds, and the press literally bombarded the American government with more and more media bombs. Such a massive attack led to the fact that by the end of 1971 the nuclear test program in the Aleutian Islands was curtailed. The courage and bravery of a handful of people, backed by the right coverage in the press turned out to be stronger than the entire military power of an entire nuclear power.

    Warrior of the rainbow

    This raid became significant for several more reasons: during the voyage, the Phyllis Cormack ship received a new name, which will soon become known to everyone on the planet – Greenpeace. At the same time, something happened to Bob Hunter that seriously affected his life.

    Going on a voyage, Hunter took with him a small booklet given to him by a wandering Canadian Indian. As the traveler argued, this collection of Native American myths and legends could truly change lives, but Hunter, with his journalistic cynicism characteristic at the time, only grinned in response. The book would have lain at the bottom of Bobby’s box if one of the rainy nights he hadn’t stumbled upon it in his search for readings for the evening. As Hunter wrote in his book Warriors of the Rainbow, the book literally jumped into his hands. Bobby started reading and after finish he became a completely different person.

    The story that changed Hunter’s outlook on life was told by an old Cree woman, Fire-Eyes, to her grandson. The ancestors of the Indians foresaw that the time would come when the materialism of the white man would deprive the earth of natural resources and put all life on the brink of extinction. But before this happens, the Great Spirit will return and resurrect the souls of the brave men of bygone times, so that they teach the white man to respect and revere the Earth. Such brave men are called the warriors of the rainbow.

    The next decade turned out to be hot for Hunter. The “Committee” organically turned into Greenpeace NGO and began to grow with new activists at a cosmic speed. This was another consequence of the competent use of “media bombs”. Hunter himself, becoming the first head of the movement, seriously expanded the scope of his activities. If everything was conceived as a confrontation to the atom – it does not matter whether this industry is peaceful or military – now Greenpeace activists have begun to deal with less global, but no less important problems.

    Bobby Hunter truly believed that when he died, he would be resurrected by the Great Spirit to continue fighting the enemies of the Earth.

    And here Hunter has always been at the forefront. Walking in front of the hunting groups and constantly risking being killed by bullets, in the pack ice of Newfoundland, he painted seal seals with paint to make them unattractive to hunters. One cannot sell the skin spoiled in this way. In the Pacific Ocean, on a tiny inflatable boat, he wedged himself between the harpoons of whalers and whales. The demonstrations grew and multiplied, forcing the governments of the countries in whose sphere of interest Greenpeace was intruding into an inadequate response to the actions of Hunter and his followers. For example, Canada has banned any action other than killing with seal cubs. Curiously and once again plays into the hands of ecologists.

    In all his actions, Hunter in the field invented a completely new image of an eco-activist: fearless and ready to sacrifice his life for a good cause. Not really bothering with theoretical work, he rushed headlong to where, in his opinion, a threat to the environment was found, and already there acted according to the circumstances. Each time, going to the next raid, Bobby risked his life, but fate clearly favored him.

    It seemed that Bobby Hunter really believed that, when he died, he would be resurrected by the Great Spirit in order to continue the fight against the enemies of the Earth. Former Greenpeace CEO Geard Leipold once called Hunter “a shaman and a mystic,” and this one really was. All his behavior, his whole life was akin to the Indian stories of the trickster raven, who, with his mind and cunning, easily and simply defeats his superior enemies. Likewise, Hunter, with the help of well-thought-out actions, over and over again defeated the hulking colossus, turning over billions of dollars and armed with the most advanced weapons. Bobby Hunter brought humor to serious, sometimes even hysterically serious environmental work, demonstrating that fighting windmills is not only rewarding, but also fun.


    Greenpeace’s fun and turbulent decade was drawing to a close. The organization, having gained impressive weight, became bronze and turned into a serious institution with colossal income. The founding fathers suddenly exchanged inflatable boats for comfortable chairs in spacious offices, and the rubber of wetsuits for expensive fabric. Everyone, but not Bob Hunter.

    Realizing that meetings and negotiations are not a substitute for direct action, he resigned, began writing books and broadcasting television on Canadian TV. It seemed that the warrior of the rainbow was exhausted, went on a well-deserved rest, and no one, in the light of his past great achievements, would have turned his tongue to reproach him for this. But, as it turned out, the champion of the Great Spirit just took a short break.

    In 1992, the ships of the expedition in honor of the anniversary of the discovery of America were stopped by a whole flotilla of Indian canoes. The long-haired, bearded man who led this strange fleet demanded from the captains of the ships an apology for all the troubles that the white man brought to the indigenous population of America. The hype in the press that arose after this action drew attention to the problems of the indigenous population of Canada and the United States, and also forced again to pay attention to whoever started it all. This man, of course, was Robert Hunter.

    Leaving Greenpeace, he did not abandon the idea of another, better world at all. As a consultant and sometimes a speaker, he continued to cooperate with the organization, maintaining good relations with all the Founding Fathers, even with those who had long since stopped talking for various reasons. He was the rebellious spirit of the organization, inspiring young people and reminding veterans of where they came from and what it was all about.

    Hunter’s influence extended beyond Greenpeace. Participants of other environmental protection organizations, who prefer not only to shout slogans, but to be in the thick of things, were equal to him. So, Bob remained, until the end of his days an adviser and friend of Paul Watson, a member of Greenpeace expelled in 1977, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. It remains until recent days one of the most successful eco-movements of our time.

    Hunter even founded his own religion, a kind of mockery of Christianity, which he called the “Church of the Whole Earth”, where the main postulate was the protection and conservation of the environment. “We believe that the Earth is God. And any form of life that goes against the laws of interconnectedness and interdependence of all things, loses the state of grace, called ecological harmony,” says the Church’s manifesto. There is no hierarchy in the Church, and each of its members automatically becomes a minister and guardian of the Earth, bearing responsibility for the preservation of nature.

    Always on the edge, constantly putting his life in danger, Robert Hunter died very quietly, even unnoticed. Neither the harsh sea storms, nor the harpoons of whalers and the guns of the seal hunters could take the life of this man. Cancer killed him.

    More than ten years have passed since the death of Robert Hater, but, as the founder of Greenpeace believed, death was not terrible for him. The Great Spirit really resurrected him – in the hearts of all those brave people who are ready to risk themselves for the sake of saving the Earth, those who will always be against the unfair treatment of nature and the unreasonable use of its resources. Robert Hunter is dead, long live Robert Hunter.

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