What is Monkey Wrenching?

The wrench was used in 1918 in the context of industrial sabotage.

Monkey drag is a form of sabotage that aims to create serious economic harm, thereby temporarily or permanently stopping activities that the perpetrator believes are undesirable. The activity is closely associated with the environmental movement, although other causes also include monkey theft. Different saboteurs abide by different codes of ethics, and various guides to creating this type of damage have been published for those who may be looking for inspiration.

Monkeywrenching is an activity closely associated with environmental activists.

The concept of throwing a wrench into a situation to confuse it dates back to the late 19th century. In 1918, the term “throwing a wrench on the construction site” was used specifically in the context of industrial sabotage. Activists who fought for better working conditions and wages may choose to directly damage the corporate machinery in hopes of stopping factory operations. While the equipment was being repaired, the workers could place their orders. Workers also deliberately destroyed machines owned by companies with questionable practices, hoping to shut them down.

In 1975, Edward Abbey’s novel The Monkey Wrench Gang was published, and monkeywrenching became forever intertwined with environmental activism. The supposedly fictional book documented the adventures of a team of villains who wanted to stop development and expansion in the American West. For many environmental activists, the book has become a kind of bible, romanticizing this kind of sabotage while also providing practical tips and techniques. Ten years later, Dave Forman published Ecodefense, a kind of manual for monkeys that advocated “greening” to save the natural environment before it was destroyed.

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Monkey stealing acts can range from benign to potentially very dangerous. A gang may choose to attempt to permanently disable machinery and equipment, or may attempt to inflict damage that will only require repairs. In the first sense, it is intended to paralyze development, while in the second, the loss buys more time for negotiations and discussions on the subject.

Environmental activists are divided on the monkey drag issue. Some embrace it as a valid method of protest, while others believe it ultimately harms the environmental movement. Advocates may also be divided on what kinds of monkey runs are acceptable, with some people going out of their way to avoid harm to living organisms. Others are less circumspect and people have been injured or killed as a result of such sabotage activities. As a general rule, it is considered good manners to alert companies to potentially dangerous forms of jacking, such as sabotaging heavy equipment that could result in injury to the operator.

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