Weibo Ludwig died on Easter Monday. He was an interesting character. A man who has been described as an enigma. Someone who people described as either a terrorist or an environmental hero. We moved here in 1999 from Toronto. People did not know where this town was when we told them we were moving. Weibo was in the news a lot at that time. When I told my colleagues where I was moving, they did not know where that was. I was able to use Mr. Ludwig as a point of reference to say our town is about this far in this direction from him. He was well known.
We came for a visit here in June 1999, right after 16 year old Karman Willis was killed on his property. Everyone thought that Mr. Ludwig was a nutcase at that time. They blamed him for her death. As people who were visiting from somewhere else, we didn’t fully understand all the dynamics of this situation. I wondered why young teens would be driving around his property in the middle of the night? Why would they be there when things were so tense between the Ludwigs and the rest of the community? Why would they be driving on anyone’s property at that hour?? I’ve since come to learn that it is broad daylight at 4:00 in the morning at that time of year, in this part of the country. So, it wasn’t dark. Never-the-less, it is still not a time when people visit each other. I am not blaming Karman for her death though. The situation was complicated.
As the years have progressed, attitudes towards Wiebo and his family have softened in some quarters. First Nations’ groups in the area have had the same complaints against the oil industry that he and his family have had. The oil companies seem to be more environmentally conscious, though I’d say they still have a ways to go yet….. At any rate, Wiebo served some time for blowing up wells. He seemed to have changed his tactics as well. For the record, I am not commenting on his guilt or innocence. Frankly, I’m not sure that is possible given the circumstances.
I had the honour of meeting Wiebo last summer at the Sweetwater Festival in Rolla, BC. This is a hippy gathering on someone’s farm, and is a great event. it is a time to camp, listen to music and just have fun. They showed the film “Wiebo’s War” there. They had apparently invited the producer to come, but he was unable to attend. Wiebo, his wife, a son and several daughters came to answer questions after the viewing. Mr. Ludwig was quite a presence. He was larger than life in some respects. I was surprised that he was not a big man, only about 5’6″ or so tall. He answered questions frankly, even the tough ones. One woman in the audience had trouble with his not accepting responsibility for Karman Willis’ death, even though he explained the situation several times. Frankly, I came to understand his point.
The Ludwig family has always been described as a fundamentalist religious sect. To read the media, you would think their religious views are somewhat freakish. I was surprised at how “normal” their views were. Yes, they are rather conservative. At the same time, their views seemed relatively mainstream, in an odd sort of way. I got the sense that they had a strong sense of social justice, and that this was informed by their beliefs. It was also part of the driving force for their activism. When Wiebo was asked about obeying the law, or something like that, he commented about bad laws. He described the people who hid Jews in Holland during WWII, and how they were breaking the law, but that it was the right thing to do. That analogy helped me to understand how a man born during WWII in Holland would have such strong views. When I listened to him and his family speak of their faith, I came to admire their strength. I can’t even imagine what it might be like to live their lives in the past 15 or so years, and yet, they maintain their faith and strength of character. They were surprisingly free of bitterness under the circumstances.
After the questions ended, people filed out. We stood around and spoke with his family a bit. Later, we were able to speak with Wiebo on the grounds of the festival. I thanked him for sharing his story. I told him I was glad he was able to make it instead of the producer. He seemed surprised by this. When I said it was his and his family’s story to share, he seemed to understand.
I am glad that I had the chance to see Wiebo’s War, and to meet the Ludwigs. It made me wonder whether I would ever have the strength of conviction they show. They stood firm in their views in spite of police searches, ostracism and hatred. They stood firm in spite of a jail sentence. I’m not sure I could handle it as well as they have.
“It’s a deeper thing than that. It’s what psychologists might mock as denial or something. I don’t. I see it as something much more integral.… My sense of responsibility is always not toward men, but toward God,” ~ Wiebo Ludwig