- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

A radical environmental group is believed to be responsible for a recent vandalism spree that has damaged more than 25 sport utility vehicles and construction sites in central Virginia, according to police.
The Earth Liberation Front, or ELF, is known nationwide for using destructive methods to draw attention to its political ideology. The group has claimed responsibility for 35 acts of vandalism since 1996, including arson and the destruction of homes, offices, crops, logging equipment and SUVs. Members say they have done more than $30 million in damages.
However, if the group is responsible for the estimated $45,000 worth of damage in at least four incidents in Henrico and Goochland counties over the past five weeks, it would be its deepest foray into the Southeast.
Most of their activity during the past six years has focused on the Western United States.
"We definitely feel like it's the ELF, based on the identifiers that were left on notes," said Sgt. Tom Shumate, Henrico Police Department spokesman.
In an e-mail to The Washington Times, the group declined to claim responsibility for the recent vandalism in Virginia but said it was "consistent with actions done by ELF members."
No arrests had been made.
According to the ELF Web site, the group wants to "inflict economic damage on those profiting from the destruction and exploitation of the natural environment." The site also states that members "take all necessary precautions" against harming humans and animals.
Police became aware of the problem in the area Sept. 28 when 25 Ford and Mercury SUVs at an Henrico County car dealership were permanently damaged with glass-etching cream. One vehicle had the word "ELF" sprayed on it, said Sgt. Shumate. The damage was estimated at $25,000.
Also that morning, vandals used the cream to spray the word "ELF" on the windows of one Burger King and two McDonald's restaurants in Henrico County.
On Oct. 6, two vehicles in residential areas were severely damaged by vandals using an ax. They caused about $9,000 worth of damage to a 1996 Toyota SUV and about $5,000 to a 1995 Ford SUV. Notes at the crime scenes stated ELF members were responsible.
In Goochland County, about two months ago, vandals opposed to an upscale neighborhood burned a house under construction and damaged construction equipment, Goochland Sheriff James Agnew told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The FBI is working with Henrico and Goochland county police to investigate the incidents, said Lawrence Barry, spokesman for the FBI's Richmond office.
ELF has roots in a group known as Earth First! and in 1992 began ecoterrorism in Oregon.
In 1998, an ELF fire at a ski resort in Colorado caused $12 million in damage. ELF has also claimed responsibility for an April 2000 fire at a Eugene, Ore., auto dealership that destroyed 30 SUVs.
Several ELF members, including four New York teenagers and one Indiana man, have been arrested since 2001. But authorities have had difficulty apprehending other "elves," who operate in cells independent of hierarchy or leadership.

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