FBI: Eco Extremists Are Top Domestic Terror Threat

Published July 1, 2005

Extremist environmental activist groups are the nation’s top domestic terrorism threat, John Lewis of the Federal Bureau of Investigation told a Senate committee on May 18.

With environmental activist groups increasing the frequency and severity of terrorist activities, they have surpassed “right-wing extremists, KKK, anti-abortion groups, and the like,” said Lewis.

“The FBI estimates that the [Animal Liberation Front/Earth Liberation Front] and related groups have committed more than 1,100 criminal acts in the United States since 1976, resulting in damages conservatively estimated at approximately $110 million,” Lewis testified.

FBI Notes Disturbing Trend

Although environmental activist groups have resorted to physical violence and even murder in Europe, eco-extremists in the United States have so far limited their tactics to violence against property and personal harassment and intimidation that has stopped short of personal physical violence.

However, “the FBI has observed troubling signs that this is changing,” Lewis told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “We have seen an escalation in violent rhetoric and tactics. Attacks are also growing in frequency and size.”

“There is nothing else going on in this country over the last several years that is racking up the high number of violent crimes and terrorist actions,” said Lewis.

Innocent People Targeted

On May 9, the Washington Post reported that earlier this year Animal Liberation Front (ALF) activists targeted the wife of a pharmaceutical company executive for particularly alarming harassment. The activists followed the woman to her workplace, broke into her car, and stole her credit cards. Earlier, the activists had painted the words “Puppy Killer” on the couple’s home and posted on the Internet the couple’s home telephone number, license plate numbers, and bank account numbers.

Attacks also have been made against 30 other employees of the company, according to the FBI. ALF has since threatened to target more innocent people with even the most tenuous connections to the company. “Anybody who does business with this company, they become a legitimate target for the campaign,” ALF spokesman Jerry Vlasak told the Post.

“We all have things we believe in, but do we set bombs and light cars on fire?” asked the executive’s wife. “We live in a country where people shouldn’t live like that.”

“When most Americans hear about environmental activists, they think about picket signs and street corner protests,” said David Martosko, research director for the Center for Consumer Freedom. “But there is a disturbing underbelly to these activist groups that believes that detonating bombs, making death threats, physically assaulting people, and terrorizing through stalking are justified means of confronting people with whom they disagree.”

“According to an FBI spokesman,” added Steven Milloy, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, “this statement was recently made by one extremist: ‘If someone is killing, on a regular basis, thousands of animals, and if that person can only be stopped in one way by the use of violence, then it is certainly a morally justifiable solution.'”

“It is about time the federal government begins taking such terrorism seriously and begins prosecuting this unlawful behavior,” Martosko said.

PETA Funds Terror Groups

While ALF and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) openly promote and perpetrate such terrorist acts, a more “mainstream” activist group is also having to defend its encouragement of ecoterrorism.

On the frequently asked questions page of its Web site, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was asked to respond to the question, “How can you justify the millions of dollars’ worth of property damage by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF)?”

PETA responds: “Throughout history, some people have felt the need to break the law to fight injustice. The Underground Railroad and the French Resistance are both examples of people breaking the law in order to answer to a higher morality.”

“PETA may be willing to equate medical researchers with slaveholders and Nazis,” observed Milloy, “but that’s quite a leap in logic and morality for most people.”

During the 1990s, PETA made grants and loans totaling $70,990 in support of a self-described ALF member later convicted of committing arson at Michigan State University, noted Martosko in the Senate hearings. PETA also has advertised that its leader, Ingrid Newkirk, “speaks for the Animal Liberation Front,” testified Martosko.

ALF Member Advocates Murder

Martosko notes on the Center for Consumer Freedom Web site, “In 2003, self-appointed ALF spokesman Dr. Jerry Vlasak, while acting as a spokesperson for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), openly endorsed the murder of doctors who use animals in medical research, saying, ‘For 5 lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million non-human lives.’ When a member of his audience objected, comparing Vlasak’s approach to that of abortion-clinic bombers, he replied, ‘Absolutely. I think they had a great strategy going.'”

According to Martosko, “In 2001, PETA made a direct contribution of $1,500 to the North American Earth Liberation Front (ELF) to ‘support their program activities.’ Among its long list of crimes, ELF claimed credit for the 1998 firebombing of the Vail Colorado Ski Resort, resulting in $12 million in damage.

“The public must realize that terrorist groups such as ELF and ALF receive support and funding from groups like PETA and the Humane Society of the United States,” Martosko said. “The underbelly of these more respected groups will continue to put on their ski masks unless their actions are called to the attention of the public.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

May 18 testimony by John E. Lewis, David Martosko, and others before the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee is available online at http://epw.senate.gov/hearing_statements.cfm?id=237836.