The nation obviously has been focused very heavily on terrorism for the last three years. Unfortunately, the overwhelming attention paid to foreign terrorist threats has tended to make people complacent about homegrown, domestic terrorism. Those living in the capital area got a wake-up call last week, when it is suspected an apparent group of environmental terrorists torched a housing development under construction in nearby Charles County, Md.
Law enforcement officials have not yet determined who the perpetrators were and it is conceivable simple vandalism or other motives were at work.
But the evidence strongly suggests eco-terrorism. The development has been under attack by environmentalists for some time for allegedly disturbing a nearby wetland. Moreover, the arson — and there is no doubt that it was arson — fits a pattern of eco-terrorism seen elsewhere.
The term eco-terrorism has been used to describe two similar yet separate terrorist groups — those mainly concerned with animal rights and those primarily upset by despoiling of the land and air by technology and development. Both have been targeted by the FBI. Earlier this year, Philip Celestini, head of the bureau eco-terrorism task force, said ecological and animal rights extremists are our greatest domestic terrorist threat.
Of the two groups, the animal rights people are by far the more active and dangerous. They mainly target pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and their employees, because they often use animal testing to determine the safety and efficacy of new medicines. This is viewed as inhumane and unjustified even if it leads to cures for deadly diseases like AIDS.
Animal rights activists also target farmers and those who wear fur, even if the fur came from animals raised exclusively for this purpose. In some cases, however, their efforts have been counterproductive. Last year, for example, a few dimwits set 10,000 mink free from a farm in the state of Washington. Now without food, the mink began attacking various endangered species in the area and even devoured each other. Although most of the mink were recaptured, perhaps 1,000 died.
Animal rights kooks have been especially active in Britain, where the government views them as a greater domestic threat than the Irish Republican Army. British pharmaceutical companies now spend $130 million yearly on additional security to deal with the threat, and some estimates suggest as much as $2 billion of investment has been discouraged.
Unfortunately, those who die because of undiscovered medicines will never know their deaths resulted from a few lunatics putting animal lives ahead of theirs.
Other eco-terrorists have stepped up their attacks on sport utility vehicles, viewed as gas-guzzlers, and land development for housing and recreation. One group known for advocating eco-violence is the Earth Liberation Front. Its members have taken credit for everything from spray-painting SUVs to burning down a $50 million condominium project in San Diego.
ELF’s former spokesman, Craig Rosebraugh, recently wrote a book, “The Logic of Political Violence” (Arissa Media, 2004), in which he defends using violence to achieve the goals of animal rights and saving the environment from capitalist exploitation. He compares eco-terrorists to Jews resisting the Holocaust.
When questioned about his views by the House Resources Committee in 2002, Mr. Rosebraugh took the Fifth Amendment on all but two questions, one an admission he is a U.S. citizen.
It is too easy just to say Mr. Rosebraugh’s theory is depraved and absurd. The real problem with using violence to achieve political goals is that it works very poorly compared to nonviolent methods. Mahatma Gandhi’s efforts in achieving independence in India, Nelson Mandela’s bringing down of apartheid in South Africa, and Martin Luther King’s victory on civil rights here are testaments to the power of nonviolence to accomplish massive political and societal changes against enormous odds. Just in recent days, we have seen peaceful demonstrators in Ukraine bring about radical political changes in that country almost overnight.
By contrast, the 60-year campaign by murderous Palestinian terrorists against Israel has been a complete and total failure. The IRA campaign of bombing and assassination in Northern Ireland achieved virtually nothing except death and destruction.
Of course, some revolutionary wars have succeeded, not the least our own. And sometimes war is needed to achieve necessary change, as in the case of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. But I cannot think of any case where the sort of random terrorist violence against innocent civilians, such as used by al Qaeda or eco-terrorists, has achieved its goal.
When one pursues a strategy that is not only immoral but also doesn’t work, it might be time to consider an alternative.
Bruce Bartlett is senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis and a nationally syndicated columnist.