- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2002

DENVER — Sure, they burn down homes, firebomb universities and terrorize research labs. Even so, for the better part of a decade, the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front were seen not as anti-social thugs but idealistic young kids.
After all, the general public tended to support their broad goals: They were in favor of a clean environment and against cruelty to animals. Religious fundamentalists and militias were dangerous; groups like ELF and ALF were well-meaning, even if they sometimes got carried away and torched a ranger station.
But then came September 11. For ELF and ALF, that was the day they took joint credit for firebombing a McDonald's in Tucson, Ariz. For the rest of the nation, that was the day that terrorism suddenly ceased being cute.
"The general population is becoming a lot less tolerant toward these groups," said Rep. Scott McInnis, Colorado Republican. "The feeling is, if you're going to tolerate this, then why not tolerate the al Qaeda? We need to take away the Robin Hood mystique from these terrorists, which is what they are."
While the nation fights international terrorism overseas, lawmakers like Mr. McInnis have renewed their long-standing campaign to crack down on domestic terrorism, notably ecoterrorism. Prodded by a hearing last month on domestic terrorism, Congress is considering legislation that would, among other things, place ecoterrorists under the racketeering act.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation now ranks both ALF and ELF as the No. 1 domestic terrorism threat, surpassing the Timothy McVeigh-style militia extremists who dominated the terrorism scene during much of the 1990s, according to James Jarboe, FBI domestic terrorism section chief.
"The FBI estimates that the ALF/ELF have committed more than 600 criminal acts in the United States since 1996, resulting in damages in excess of $43 million," said Mr. Jarboe at the Feb. 12 hearing before the House Resources Commitee's subcommittee on forests and forest health.
And the threat is growing. The September 11 tragedy hasn't slowed down these groups; instead, animal and environmental activists have "turned increasingly toward vandalism and terrorist activity in attempts to further their causes," Mr. Jarboe said.
"They're all over the place they've torched so many things, you can't keep track any more," said Ron Arnold, author of "Ecoterror."
The trend has led to some ominous speculation. "At the rate they're going," said Mike Burita, spokesman for the Center for Consumer Freedom, "someone's going to get killed."

ALF and al Qaeda
Still, most Americans have never heard of these groups. Most reports of ecoterrorism never make it past the local newspaper, and only a handful have received national attention. Chief among these was the October 1998 fire at the Vail, Colo., resort that destroyed four ski lifts and a restaurant at a cost of $12 million.
"Despite the fact that we've been trying to direct attention to the problem, we haven't had much luck," said Nick Nichols, chief executive officer of Nichols Dezenhall, a crisis-management communications firm in Washington, D.C., whose clients include companies hit by ecoterrorism. "After 9/11, people are more interested in learning about our homegrown terrorists."
After years of trying to warn an apathetic public about the dangers of such extremism, critics like Mr. Nichols now find themselves wielding a potent new weapon in the war over public opinion. The FBI makes a clear distinction between domestic and international terrorism, but longtime foes of ecoterrorism are quick to draw parallels between ALF/ELF and the al Qaeda network.
"The rationalization of ecoterrorists is no different from the al Qaeda terrorists," said House Resources Committee Chairman James V. Hansen, Utah Republican.
"Both believe they are the sole proprietor of truth and righteousness. Both believe they have the right to impose their concepts of truth and righteousness on society. Both attack people who they think they have violated nature's or God's law," he said.
"Both hate Americans because we are free to make our own decisions," Mr. Hansen added.
Some environmental activists seem to invite such comparisons with statements that appear to support the Islamic terrorists who executed the September 11 airline hijackings and attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "I cheered when the plane hit the Pentagon. Those people are in the business of killing people. It was like, hey, [expletive] happens," said an ELF member in an interview in the February issue of Details magazine.
"Anyone in their right mind would realize the United States had it coming," Craig Rosebraugh, a vocal ELF member, said in the same interview.
In his testimony before the domestic terrorism hearing, Mr. Rosebraugh, who testified under subpoena, called the war in Afghanistan "the latest example of U.S.-based terrorism and imperialism" and the legislative and executive branches "the largest group of terrorists and terrorist representatives currently threatening life on this planet."
Still, efforts to draw similarities between ALF/ELF and the September 11 terrorists have drawn a sharp rebuke from sympathizers. Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in Norfolk, called the comparisons "scurrilous."
"What's really scurrilous is that they're all trying to hijack the legitimate fears people have about 9/11," Miss Newkirk said. "They are absolutely using 9/11 against people who have nothing to do with terrorism, unless you spell it 'terra.'"
David Barbarash, an ALF member who now serves as the group's North American spokesman, says the link is "way off the mark it's not appropriate at all."
"I think 9/11 is being used as a political football by those who want to pursue their own agendas against people who are challenging the practices they defend, like the dairy, meat and fur industries," he said.
He points out that in over two decades of taking "direct action" against such industries and research labs, his group has never killed or seriously injured an individual. Indeed, the group describes itself as waging a "nonviolent campaign," with activists "taking all precautions not to harm any animal [human or otherwise]."
"On the one hand, the al Qaeda is killing and maiming thousands of people. On the other hand, the people of the ALF are rescuing and saving lives," Mr. Barbarash said. "There are strict guidelines we do destroy property, but not lives."
He also objected to the FBI's characterization of ALF and ELF as terrorist groups. "I have to ask, 'Where's the suffering?'" Mr. Barbarash said. "Where are the people being tortured and killed? You can look at the right wing at the abortion-doctor killings, at the Olympic Park bombing these are attacks that should be considered terrorism."
The FBI defines domestic terrorism as "the unlawful use, or threatened use, of violence by a group or individual … committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."
Critics note that the "victimless crime" argument isn't strictly accurate: In the 1998 Vail resort fire set by ELF, for example, a firefighter had to be treated for injuries. Fire and rescue personnel are put at risk after every arson.
That the harm hasn't been more serious owes more to good fortune than good intentions, says Mr. McInnis. "They're lucky so far that they haven't injured anyone, but their luck's going to run out," he said. "It's only a matter of time before someone's hurt or injured."
Mr. Barbarash, who conducted such actions himself until his 1994 arrest, chafes at that line of reasoning. "It's easy to say it's only a matter of time," he said. "But you have to look at the facts, and the facts show that these are people who are extremely concerned about human and animal life."

Hard to find
Within the underground world of ALF/ELF, Mr. Barbarash's views aren't unusual, but something else about him is: Unlike the vast majority of members, he was ultimately caught. Since ALF began conducting its "direct actions" in 1979, hundreds of activists have joined the group, but only a couple dozen members in the United States and Canada have ever been apprehended.
Not even ALF/ELF organizers know the identity of all their members, who operate in semiautonomous cells. They receive training from groups like the Ruckus Society and by reading the how-to manuals available on ALF and ELF Web sites.
Members also tend to be better educated than the average vandal, meaning that they rarely make rookie mistakes such as leaving fingerprints at the scene.
So confident are ALF/ELF leaders of their secrecy that they actually list their actions on their Web sites, and publish an annual report of their activities, "like they were IBM," said Mr. Nichols.
"[L]aw enforcement has a long way to go to adequately address the problem of ecoterrorism," admitted Mr. Jarboe. "Groups such as the ALF and the ELF present unique challenges."
To make matters worse, the attacks have inspired some copycats. Residents of Phoenix feared they were under siege by ecoterrorists when eight homes in an upscale development were torched from April 2000 to January 2001.
A group calling itself the Coalition to Save the Preserves took credit for the arsons. As it turned out, however, the culprit was a 50-year-old unemployed public-relations executive named Mark Warren Sands, who lived in the neighborhood and began his life of crime when he found a new home blocking his favorite jogging path.
Another problem is that the ecoterror strikes are often handled by local law enforcement, whose resources are limited and whose deputies don't always share vital information with other jurisdictions. To make communications among law enforcement easier, Rep. Darlene Hooley, Oregon Democrat, has proposed a bill that would create a national clearinghouse on ecoterrorism and bulk up federal assistance at the local level.
The FBI has tried to grease the lines of communication with the establishment of Joint Terrorism Task Forces, teams that bring local and federal agents together to brainstorm on domestic-terrorism strikes. Launched in 1999, the agency now has task forces in 44 cities, and plans to have one for each of its 56 field offices by 2003.
Despite the elusive nature of its prey, law enforcement can point to some significant arrests:
cIn February 2001, one adult and three teen-agers pleaded guilty to a series of arsons committed at a Long Island, N.Y., housing development. One of the teen-agers, Jared McIntyre, said the arsons were committed in solidarity with the ELF movement.
cIn January 2001, Frank Ambrose was arrested and charged with timber-spiking, in which spikes are nailed into trees to stop them from being cut down. He is suspected of spiking 150 trees in the Indiana state forests, a crime for which ELF took credit.
In November 2000, Justin Samuel was sentenced to two years in prison for releasing minks from a farm in Wisconsin in 1998.
In June 1997, Douglas Joshua Ellerman pleaded guilty to firebombing a fur breeders' co-op in Sandy, Utah. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. Ellerman said he was a member of ALF.
In July 1995, Rodney Adam Coronado pleaded guilty to setting fire to an animal-research laboratory at Michigan State University, an attack for which ALF claimed credit. Sentenced to 57 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $2 million, he has since been released.
ELF and ALF claimed 137 direct actions last year in North America. What is most compelling about this list is the lack of success by law enforcement in tracking down the perpetrators of these acts. Even the Vail fire, which received international attention, has yet to result in a single arrest.
Making law enforcement's job more difficult is the indirect financial support offered by some of the nation's leading foundations. The Turner Foundation contributed $50,000 to the Ruckus Society, which has trained activists from ALF and ELF, before pulling the plug on funding in 1999.
"Many of us share their values we all want to breathe clean air but there are many ways to go about accomplishing that, and burning down buildings isn't one of them," said foundation President Michael Finley.
Mainstream environmental groups like the Wilderness Society and Sierra Club have condemned the ecoterrorists' tactics. On the animal rights front, however, PETA leaders have applauded ALF's actions while insisting that their organization takes no part in them.
PETA, which receives grants from the Pond Foundation and the Helen Brach Foundation, has further raised eyebrows by helping pay the legal fees of ALF members. In the case of Rodney Coronado, a convicted arsonist, PETA paid over $45,000 to his legal defense fund, according to the Center for Consumer Freedom.
Miss Newkirk says her organization has done nothing shady. "All we've done is help some decent people who deserved legal representation," she said.

Expanding agenda
What really worries foes of ecoterrorism is that the agenda appears to be growing. The latest victims are labs that conduct genetic-engineering research. Last May, the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture was burned to the ground because its scientists were attempting to improve the hardiness of urban forests and wetlands.
At Michigan State University, a research lab was firebombed after it was found that it was using genetic engineering to grow a sweet potato hardy enough to thrive in the parched soil of famine-stricken Africa. In a communique, ELF took credit for the December 2000 action.
Two months ago, ELF took credit for bombing a construction site at the University of Minnesota at St. Paul for a microbial and plant genomics research center. In its communique, ELF called the lab an attempt "to exploit and control nature to the fullest extent under the guise of progress."
Greg Conko, director of food-safety policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, predicted ELF's latest campaign will ultimately erode its claim to the moral high ground.
"It's a lot easier to sympathize with people who've burned down developments in Long Island or Arizona. That doesn't have the same salience," Mr. Conko said. "But when you're talking about crops that could improve the lives of people in desperate poverty, the fact that you're hindering this type of research is morally akin to taking a life outright."
Longtime ecoterror watchers also see a disturbing trend in the level of violence. Both ALF and ELF have their roots in peaceful, nonviolent protest, and later graduated to liberating animals and spiking trees. Arson and vandalism are their latest permutation, but it probably won't be their last, said Mr. Arnold, who is also executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise in Belleview, Wash.
"ELF and al Qaeda are fanatics in the same technical sense. They don't care what their victims think," said Mr. Arnold. "Al-Qaeda espouses violence, and ELF will get there. It's already there in the United Kingdom."
At the same time, their critics are growing more vocal. Earlier this month, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Nichols Dezenhall hosted an anti-ecoterrorism conference in the District aimed at exposing the problem to business leaders and policy-makers.
Among the panelists was Kelly Stoner, executive director of the Stop Eco-Violence, a 2-month-old Oregon-based group aimed at "turning public apathy into unified outrage."
A communications specialist, she says she decided to become involved after the March 2001 bombing of Joe Romania Chevrolet, a Eugene, Ore.-based car dealership. The attack destroyed 35 sport utility vehicles and caused $1 million in damage.
In its communique, ELF declared that "gas-guzzling SUVs are at the forefront of this vile imperialist caravan toward self-destruction." But what Miss Stoner saw was the destruction of a family owned business that had contributed to the Eugene economy for 40 years.
"They put a real sense of fear in the community," she said. "And there's no telling how far these groups will go."
Laura Hudson contributed to this report



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