Federal officials on December 7, 2005 arrested and indicted six suspected eco-terrorists for crimes dating back to 1998. The suspects, some of whom are college students in their late 20s, are believed to have acted together in planning and carrying out some of the attacks.
Terrorists Coordinated Attacks
From 1998 to 2001, terrorists in Oregon and Washington launched a series of very similar attacks on tree farms and botanical research centers. In what officials have described as sophisticated fire-bombing techniques, the terrorists constructed fire bombs out of gasoline, road flares, batteries, and digital timers. Some of the attacks occurred simultaneously at different locations, indicating collaboration.
In most of the attacks, the terrorists left graffiti announcing Earth Liberation Front (ELF) or Animal Liberation Front (ALF) involvement, or the ELF or ALF Web sites claimed responsibility.
Targets included a government animal and plant health inspection site in Olympia, Washington, set ablaze on June 21, 1998; a U.S. Forest Industries facility in Medford, Oregon, torched on December 27, 1998; and an electricity transmission tower near Bend, Oregon, destroyed on December 31, 1999, the date the U.S. public feared Al Qaeda strikes coinciding with the millennial celebrations.
Other targets were a family-owned timber company in Glendale, Oregon, where terrorists set a veneer and plywood plant on fire on January 2, 2001; a University of Washington horticultural facility, set afire on May 21, 2001; and the University of Washington botanical research facility, destroyed by a fire bomb on May 21, 2001.
Victims Relieved by Arrests
“I’m gratified that the FBI has been diligent in their pursuit of these people,” Steve Swanson, president of the family-owned timber company Superior Lumber in Glendale, Oregon, told the New York Times for a December 9, 2005 article. The attack caused $500,000 in damage and left him wondering when the terrorists might return. “If left unchecked these are the kind of crimes that could really hurt someone,” Swanson said.
Although terrorist attacks in Oregon and Washington have become less frequent in the past few years, attacks are becoming more common in California and in Rocky Mountain states. Terrorists have targeted ski facilities, homes, and condominiums.
“It certainly took them long enough to make these arrests, which is both a good thing and a bad thing,” said Ron Arnold, author of the 1997 book Eco-Terror: The Violent Agenda to Save Nature. “It is discouraging that it took federal law enforcement officials so long to apprehend the suspects. Yet it is encouraging that they took these crimes seriously enough to never give up on what at first appeared to be unsolvable crimes.
“While these arrests certainly remove violent and dangerous criminals from society, the arrests hardly make a dent in ongoing eco-terrorist operations,” Arnold pointed out. “Web sites continue to recruit hate-filled, disgruntled people and instruct them on how to engage in terrorist acts. Ringleaders continue to travel from state to state like traveling evangelists, recruiting local activists for local attacks, then moving on to the next community to do the same, while the prior attackers melt back into the community. There is still a long way to go in reining in these hate-filled acts of violence.”
In 2005 testimony before the U.S. Senate, FBI officials stressed the clear and present danger posed by eco-terrorist groups such as ELF and ALF. Branding such groups the number one domestic terrorism threat, the FBI reported 1,200 crimes from 1990 to 2004 in which eco-terrorists had voluntarily asserted responsibility.
The agency still has 150 open investigations of eco-terrorist crimes committed since 1990.
The attack at the University of Washington botanical research facility was the most severe and perhaps most misguided. The firebomb destroyed the facility, caused $7 million in damage, and killed numerous endangered native plants the university was cultivating with the intention of eventually reintroducing them into the wild. With the loss of the research facility and its botanical specimens, endangered native plants suffered an untimely and devastating setback.
“If they’re guilty, I hope they lock them up and throw away the key,” University of Washington botanical researcher Toby Bradshaw told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for a December 9, 2005 story.
The attack focused attention on the benefits of the botanical research center and led to construction of a more comprehensive, and more protected, research facility.
“If it had worked out any better for me, I would have been a leading suspect,” Bradshaw quipped.
Groups Are Top Threat
“Terrorism is terrorism, regardless of motivations,” explained Sterling Burnett, senior fellow of the National Center for Policy Analysis. “When terrorist groups start firebombing targets, and especially places where people come and go, they need to be severely punished.
“These arrests are good news, but the government still has a long way to go in reducing this terrorist threat,” Burnett said. “When the FBI lists a particular group or groups as the nation’s number one domestic terrorist threat, we are clearly dealing with something far more serious and far more pernicious than small groups of misguided pranksters.”
James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
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