Sympathy for the Rebel

Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.

Dispatches, July 1997


Sympathy for the Rebel

Celebs try to free the Sea Shepherds’ captain — and option the movie rights
By John Galvin

For The Record

He Will Build It. Will You Come?
“I don’t expect thousands of people to traipse into town for this,” admits James Dicke, the new owner of the world’s finest bicycle collection, which he plans to exhibit by opening an as-yet-unnamed museum this fall in New Bremen, Ohio. “But luckily, we’re right off I-75. It’ll be like pulling over to see the world’s biggest ball of string.” While even this may seem
optimistic, Dicke is starting to gain a reputation for making things happen. The head of a forklift company in the town of 2,700 near Dayton, Dicke shocked vintage-bike collectors at a Chicago auction last April when he spent $500,000 to nab 158 of the Schwinn family’s antique bikes — in the process earning the respect of the man peddling the steeds. “I’m quite
happy someone’s starting a new museum,” says Richard Schwinn, whose own Bicycle Museum of America failed last year. “It was hard to get noticed in a place like Chicago, but in New Bremen, well, there’s not a lot else going on.” Evidently, given Dicke’s initial idea for drawing the tourists in. “We were thinking about a forklift museum, but then we figured maybe bikes
would have more appeal.”

‘We can’t stand back and let this happen,” exclaims the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Lisa Distefano, bemoaning the plight of her group’s founder, “Captain” Paul Watson. At press time, the noted eco-saboteur was pacing a tiny Dutch prison cell, fighting extradition to Norway. And his admirers, aware that Watson is none too popular in
that blubber-hungry nation, are quite concerned. “Look at Steven Biko, look at Ken Saro-Wiwa — they both were killed for political reasons,” Distefano continues. “It’s not hard to see how Paul could go the same way.”

Happily, relief may be close at hand. It seems a cadre of Hollywood luminaries — Jane Seymour, Pierce Brosnan, A Nightmare on Elm Street director Wes Craven, and of course Steven Seagal — are riding to Watson’s rescue, using not only such traditional methods as letter-writing campaigns, but also a scheme far beyond the means of your
average activist. They hope to bring Watson’s saga to celluloid life, in a project to be produced by Craven and rumored to be starring, among others, noted planetary savior Mick Jagger as the Cap’n himself. Says Distefano, “These busy people are coming together because they know if Paul is extradited, he will be harmed or killed.”

While this may be a bit overstated, it’s true that the Norwegian animosity toward Watson goes way back. The current troubles began in 1992, when someone sabotaged the whaling vessel Nybrenna by releasing a valve that flooded the ship’s engine room. Not amused, the Norwegians tried and convicted Watson in absentia and sentenced him to four months in
prison — a tangle he was able to avoid until this April, when shortly after setting foot in Amsterdam, he was carted off to jail.

At which point Tinseltown jumped into the fray.
“Despite my movies, I believe in some form of law and order,” says Craven. “And I don’t typically like the idea of people doing such aggressive things as ramming ships. But the fact that Watson does these things in a bold and surgical way … He’s a very fascinating guy.”

Illustration by Robert Kopecky

promo logo