Ecoterrorism on the Rise

Animal Rights Activists Also Turning Up the Heat

LOS ANGELES, SEPT. 27, 2003 ( The second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks prompted reflections on the difficulties of tracking down terrorists. But it’s not only Islamic extremists who are causing trouble. Attacks by radical ecological and animal-rights groups in the United States and Britain are on the increase.

In California, extremists from the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) destroyed dozens of sport utility vehicles and Hummers in four car dealerships, the Los Angeles Times reported Aug. 23. The group claimed responsibility saying the destruction was intended to “take the profit motive” away from those responsible for pollution.

According to the newspaper, the ELF traces its origins to 1992 in Britain. The group claims to have inflicted more than $100 million damage in North America over the last six years to “entities who profit from the destruction of life and the planet.” The ELF gained notoriety in the United States after destroying five buildings and four ski lifts at the Vail Mountain ski resort in Colorado in October 1998, causing $12 million in damage.

The Washington Times on Sept. 10, 2002, cited evidence pointing to an increasing radicalization of the ELF. After destroying a Forest Service laboratory, in Irvine, Pennsylvania, a month earlier, the ELF declared in an e-mail: “While innocent life will never be harmed in any action we undertake, where it is necessary, we will no longer hesitate to pick up the gun to implement justice, and provide the needed protection for our planet that decades of legal battles, pleading protest, and economic sabotage have failed so drastically to achieve.”

James Jarboe, head of the FBI’s domestic terrorism branch, told a congressional committee last year that stopping the ELF and its associated Animal Liberation Front is difficult since they operate without practically any structure. “Despite all of our efforts,” he said in a Los Angeles Times report, “law enforcement has a long way to go to adequately address the problem of ecoterrorism.”

The FBI’s concern over the radical group was evident in the decision to offer a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the SUV attack. FBI Supervisory Special Agent Doug Beldon said the reward was being offered in part because the attack could be considered domestic terrorism, the Associated Press reported Sept. 24. He said a multiagency terrorism task force is helping to investigate the case.

The attackers struck the following month, this time in San Diego, reported the Union-Tribune newspaper on Sept. 20. For the second time in two months, arsonists set fire to houses under construction. Four unfinished houses were destroyed, two others were damaged and a condominium under construction sustained minor damage. Banners left on some of the sites claimed the acts to be the work of the ELF.

Subsequently the ELF formally claimed responsibility on its Web site for the arson attacks, according to the Union-Tribune. ELF spokesman Rodney Colorado declared on the Web site that the group was also responsible for what he termed “the largest act of environmental sabotage in U.S. history.” This claim referred to a $50 million fire in San Diego that destroyed an unfinished condominium complex Aug. 1.

Guilt by association

Animal rights extremists are also prepared to use violent means. Campaigners against Huntingdon Life Sciences, a British firm that uses animals in its research laboratories, have extended their long-running UK actions to the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported May 25.

The group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) visits the homes of people associated with the company. Earlier this year in Los Angeles an executive whose company merely sells computer software to Huntingdon was targeted by SHAC. The group put up photographs of a mutilated dog in the neighborhood, and posted his home and work telephone numbers on the Internet, and invited activists to call him day and night.

The Los Angeles Times noted that court orders in California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York; a federal grand jury investigation; and the arrests of a dozen SHAC activists in Boston last fall haven’t been able to stop activities that stray into vandalism and terrorism.

Faced with increasingly violent attacks in Britain, Huntingdon obtained a court injunction preventing animal rights protesters from approaching within 50 yards of employees’ homes, the Guardian reported April 17.

The decision follows a campaign of intimidation in which employees were assaulted, subjected to abusive phone calls, and had their cars destroyed by arson. Brian Cass, the chief executive, was beaten with baseball bats, and the firm’s auditor, Deloitte & Touche, resigned earlier this year after a series of threats against its own executives.

The court order also established that only one demonstration is permitted every 30 days in the exclusion zones outside the company’s two sites in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. As well, the injunction prohibits publication by protesters of the personal details of employees. As of last April, Cambridgeshire police had spent nearly 4 million pounds ($6.6 million) protecting the company from the extremist groups.

An editorial by the Guardian supported the injunction, which sets new precedents in Britain for restrictions on demonstrators. Both the Animal Liberation Front and the SHAC “have made it clear they are not interested in free open debate, but prefer instead intimidation, coercion and threats,” said the editorial.

Late last year British authorities successfully put an animal welfare terrorist behind bars. David Blenkinsop was sentenced to five and a half years in jail for a bombing campaign, the London daily Times reported Dec. 13. His targets were an Oxfordshire abattoir (or slaughterhouse) and the Cambridgeshire premises of Huntingdon. Blenkinsop was already serving four and a half years for attacking Huntingdon executive Brian Cass. Blenkinsop placed bombs under abattoir trucks and cars of Huntingdon employees in 2000, as part of an Animal Liberation Front campaign.

Duck-liver liberators

Animal liberationists are now extending their action to include purveyors of foie gras, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Aug. 19. Local chef Laurent Manrique has had his home spray-painted, his car splashed with acid, and has received threatening letters and videotapes.

Foie gras — fattened goose or duck liver — is the target of protests because its production involves force-feeding. In mid-August vandals broke into the new foie gras specialty store and restaurant that Manrique and his partners had planned to open, causing about $50,000 of damage.

This and other acts of vandalism and theft are part of an escalation of violence by animal rights extremists around California, the New York Times reported Sept. 24. On Aug. 28 two pipe bombs exploded at Chiron, a biotechnology company in Emeryville. Two groups, the Revolutionary Cells and the Animal Liberation Brigade, later claimed responsibility, citing Chiron’s connections to a New Jersey company that uses animals to test pharmaceuticals.

FBI data show that the ELF and the Animal Liberation Front have been responsible for more than 600 acts of terrorism in the United States over the last seven years, said Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a think tank in Washington, D.C. Cohen’s analysis of ecoterrorism, published this month by the center, affirmed that it is a mistake to dismiss these actions as mere vandalism.

The attacks have yet to claim any lives. Yet, “these groups’ willingness to use arson, firearms and pipe bombs to deliver their message tells us all we need to know about their respect for life and property,” Cohen warned. Not a comforting message for a country still recovering from Sept. 11.

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