They're the different folks who put the that-ain't-right into community journalism.
They come in all shapes, sizes and levels of loony, armed with wheelbarrows, old dogs, bagpipes, conspiracy theories, mystery billionaire backers, and pocket crusades (but strangely, rarely a tinfoil hat). Government, WCB, city hall, the police, the Vatican, the CIA, and the Freemasons are out to get them, they've got the papers to prove it - and if you've got four hours worth of five minutes, they'll tell you all about it.
Most of the time they're harmless and more of the time their pet-peeve-cum-cause-du-jour never grows enough legs to merit anything more than a desperate byline on a nothing news day. But sometimes their stories grow into a self-fulfilling freakshow - and in northern B.C. it's the circus-on-demand that is Wiebo Ludwig.
The big-bearded big top was again handed the centre ring last Friday as police descended on his Hythe, Alberta compound looking for evidence directly linking Ludwig to threatening letters and six bombs that targeted EnCana oil and gas facilities in the Tomslake area. Given his colourful history with EnCana's predecessor, the Alberta Energy Corporation, which resulted in a 2000 conviction for a campaign of violence, it wasn't surprising that Ludwig's name - some would say legend - would crop up in this latest string of crimes.
What is surprising, however, is the strange relationship between the RCMP and Ludwig in the months leading up to Friday's arrest. According to Paul Joosse, a sociologist who studies radical environmental groups and has had extensive contact with Ludwig, police and the convicted eco-saboteur engaged in a series of talks aimed at enlisting the latter in some sort of effort to catch the bomber. While backseat driving an ongoing police investigation is never advisable, it's hard not to question why a unit like the RCMP's Intergrated National Security Enforcement Team, which is a key facet of the pipeline-bomber probe, would engage in discussions that, by design or no, stoked the ego of a personality as volatile as Ludwig's.
Judgment must likewise be reserved for the rather awkward search, arrest, then release of Ludwig without charge between Friday and Saturday. One sympathizes with the RCMP because few things in this province generate such a volume of media churn like Ludwig's name; whatever they did was guaranteed to produce nitpicking scrutiny. But police didn't exactly shy away from the spotlight with their massive, dramatic outlay of men and equipment in the search of Ludwig's Trickle Creek farm nor did they err on the side of caution by sweeping up Ludwig without apparently having enough evidence to warrant a charge in B.C.
It's quite the gamble - if the weekend operation produces a charge against Ludwig, all will be forgiven. But if it doesn't, the only conclusion one can draw is that the entire farce was a cynical and grotesque animal act, combining the flimsiest of fishing expeditions with a taxpayer-funded dog-and-pony show. Should that be the case, Joosse's opinion - that the search and arrest smacks of an elaborate stunt to produce the semblance of progress in the pipeline case with the purpose of allaying image concerns of domestic terrorism before the Olympics and obscure the subsequent drain of police resources towards the lower mainland that event will inevitably produce - will acquire distressing weight.
And the RCMP's sin won't be missing the mark on Ludwig so much as further recklessly inflaming the legend of man whose myth already burns insufferably.