The War on Eco-terror

The government is cracking down on "ecoterrorists." Is it working? By Alisa Opar

Firebombing a logging company, a meat plant, an animal research facility, and an electrical transmission tower.

Six activists are scheduled to be sentenced December 14 for these and other crimes committed between 1998 and 2001 in the Pacific Northwest. They are some of the 13 members of ecoterrorism cells the U.S. government—following its “Operation Backfire” domestic terrorism investigation—charged with a string of arsons between 1996 and 2001, including the 1998 firebombing of a Vail, Colorado ski resort.

In all, the fires caused $30 million in damages in five states: Oregon, Washington, California, Wyoming, and Colorado. Despite the extensive property damage, the attacks —claimed by the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front—didn’t cause any deaths or serious injuries.

Though the government is making strides against ecoterrorism, many crimes remain unsolved, and attacks continue. Over the past few years, spurred by the Vail incident, the FBI has begun taking a closer look at the actions of environmentalists and animal activists to see if they might be planning terrorist attacks. And states and the federal government have also gotten onboard, passing terrorism legislation that carries stricter sentences for crimes already on the books, such as arson.  

In June, for instance, an ecoterrorism law went into effect in Pennsylvania. And on November 27 President Bush signed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which increases penalties for activists protesting animal research and testing. 

“We can no longer tolerate criminally based activism regardless of the cause it allegedly advances,” said Senator James Inhofe, cosponsor of the act, in a statement.

While few would  deny that doing millions of dollars worth of damage to property is destructive, not to mention illegal, some experts question whether the label “terrorist” is being misapplied, and say ecoterrorism legislation is unnecessary.

“There are already adequate federal and state laws for these kinds of activities, and they carry adequate sentences,” says says Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild. “We think the government is misusing the word ‘terrorist.’”

According to the U.S. Attorney General’s guidelines on domestic terrorism, agents can launch an investigation when there’s reasonable evidence that two or more people use violence to invoke political or social change.

“Lone wolves, like Ted Kaczynski, don’t really fit the definition,” says Brent Smith, director of the Terrorism Research Center at the University of Arkansas. Furthermore, groups like ELF have little structure, and activists tend to act alone, or in small groups, making it harder to nab them.

Eugene Hargrove, editor of the journal Environmental Ethics, suggests that the government’s clampdown on ecoterrorism is “to make the point that they’re winning the war on terror.”

 “These convictions very likely will give everybody in ELF pause, and slow them down if not stop them altogether,” says Hargrove.

But Smith warns that the convictions might not stop the movement altogether. “The issues that ecoterrorists are concerned with, they’re going to get worse, not better,” he says. “Population increase, pollution, those kinds of problems might lead to an increase in ecoterrorism.”

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My understanding is that the AETA is driving some activists underground for the first time, and the underground is getting deeper. When oppression increases to the point of infringing on human rights, it radicalizes activists or other well-meaning people.

Eric. Investigating fire bombings and sabotage to motorized vehicles on developements and bringing said "cocktail party eco-terrorists" to justice through a new law does Not sound like the infringment on human rights that you say. Those acts, as stated, are an infrigment on MY rights to enjoy the forests or medical advancements that science makes through animal research. I am more frightened by YOU who think that radical activists are "well meaning " people. More like dumbasses who should be hunted down at ALL costs and exposed for the hypocrites they are! Captain Planet was only a cartoon dude. I suggest you purchace a hunting license and learn animal tracking or take a course of forestry management in college. Logging companys and hunters know about and care for said forests far more than a bunch of burned out jadded hippies with matches. TONY

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