Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty Threatens Terrorist-Style Attack
Radical environmental and animal-rights groups have always drawn the line at targeting humans. Not anymore.
When longtime ELF spokesperson Craig Rosebraugh was called to testify before Congress about domestic terrorism this February, he invoked the Fifth Amendment with gusto. But Rosebraugh did answer written questions from a congressional subcommittee, and he didn't mince words.
Asked whether he feared an ELF action could one day kill someone, Rosebraugh sounded a lot like Ronnie Lee.
"No," he wrote, "I am more concerned with massive numbers of people dying at the hands of greedy capitalists if such actions are not taken."
Connections between the ALF and ELF run deep. From the start, they made pledges of solidarity, and they clearly shared a coterie of hard-line activists. They were also structured similarly, with a handful of activists designated as spokespeople who would announce and encourage "direct actions."
Essentially, anyone who carried out one of these actions — whether or not they were acquainted with the groups' aboveground spokespeople — became, in effect, a member.
The structure is remarkably similar to that of the so-called Army of God, a violent anti-abortion "group" that is "joined" by simply carrying out an attack and claiming credit. Although there is no real "membership," these groups can appear large because every attack undertaken in their name generates significant publicity.
At the Hilton, Violence is Cheered
Rosebraugh signed on to the movement after spending a night in jail with a prominent ALF activist in 1997. Eleven weeks later, he delivered his first message on behalf of the ALF: Activists had broken into a mink farm and released hundreds of animals, costing the business some $300,000.
The next year, Rosebraugh switched to the ELF, proudly announcing the Vail arson on the ALF's Web site. (The ELF didn't set up its own site until 2001.)
To this day, the ELF has much more in common — sharing both members and tactics — with the ever-more-radical ALF than with any other environmental group in the U.S.
ELF activists like Rosebraugh are regularly invited to speak at the animal rights conference held every year in the Washington, D.C., area on the week of July 4. The event is funded by several animal-rights groups, the most prominent of which are People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, and the more moderate Humane Society of the United States.
The conference setting is surprisingly highbrow, held for the past two years in the marble-clad McLean Hilton, which employs a well-known Vegan chef. But the discussions are down and dirty, dealing forthrightly with the role of violence in the fight for animal rights. At last year's conference, PETA's Bruce Friedrich was candid enough.
"If we really believe that animals have the same right to be free from pain and suffering at our hands," Friedrich told a panel, "then of course we're going to be blowing things up and smashing windows. ... I think it's a great way to bring about animal liberation, considering the level of suffering, the atrocities. I think it would be great if all of the fast-food outlets, slaughterhouses, these laboratories, and the banks that fund them, exploded tomorrow.
"I think it's perfectly appropriate for people to take bricks and toss them through the windows. ... Hallelujah to the people who are willing to do it."
The assembled activists applauded. And as they milled around between speeches and panels, there was still more evidence that the edge of American eco-advocacy is becoming even edgier.
Representatives from the ALF, ELF and SHAC — all of whom claim to be independent groups — shared a table, handing out their pamphlets and T-shirts. On the back of one of the shirts was a typical slogan: "Words Mean Nothing ... Action is Everything!"
'Devastate to Liberate'
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, did not dampen the enthusiasm of America's eco-radicals for direct action. But something did change when those attacks brought down the World Trade Center: Americans' tolerance for anything that smacks of terrorism.
So when the ALF set a $1 million fire at a primate lab in New Mexico on Sept. 20, and when an ELF cell set a University of Minnesota genetics lab ablaze this Jan. 29, corporate groups, members of Congress, conservative commentators and the FBI joined in a chorus decrying the acts as "eco-terrorism."
The targets of these acts couldn't have agreed more.
"These are clearly terroristic acts," said Charles Muscoplat, dean of agriculture at the University of Minnesota. "Someone could get hurt or killed in a big fire like we had."
Activists continued to insist that the eco-terror label was "ludicrous," and that law-enforcement officials were engaged in a witch hunt cheered on by corporate interests.
"I mean, what was the Boston Tea Party," ALF spokesman Barbarash asked rhetorically on NPR, "if not a massive act of property destruction?"
Barbarash went on: "Property damage is a legitimate political tool called economic sabotage, and it's meant to attack businesses and corporations who are profiting from the exploitation, murder and torture of either humans or animals, or the planet. ... [T]o call those acts terrorism is ludicrous."
Their case was bolstered in June, when a San Francisco jury found that law-enforcement officials (including three FBI agents) violated the civil rights of EarthFirst! activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney — to the tune of $4.4 million in damages.
Bari and Cherney were on their way to an EarthFirst! rally in 1990 when a pipe bomb exploded in Bari's Subaru station wagon. Authorities claimed that the two were planning to use the bomb, but Bari and Cherney consistently denied any knowledge of the explosives, saying they had been falsely pegged as eco-terrorists and in fact were the victims of an assassination attempt.
Though the Bari/Cherney verdict was a setback for those decrying "eco-terrorism," the similarity between eco-radicals' methods and those of more stereotypical "terrorists" has made the comparison seem natural to more and more observers. The increasingly inflammatory rhetoric of the groups hasn't helped.
Last year, the ELF put up two new manuals on its Web site — "Setting Fires With Electrical Timers: An Earth Liberation Guide" and "Arson Around With Auntie alf." An ELF communiqué went even further, saying the group was now targeting "FBI offices and U.S. federal buildings," "liberal democracy" and even "industrial civilization" itself.
For its part, while it advises non-violence, the ALF's "Beginner's Guide to Direct Action for Animal Liberation" opens with the slogan, "Devastate to Liberate."
The booklet goes on to offer handy tips for relatively mild sabotage — gluing locks, spray-painting slogans and threats, smashing windows, "rippin' shit up" — but it also includes easy-to-follow instructions for "a few simple incendiary devices" like Molotov cocktails.
A more detailed "ALF Primer" has three single-spaced pages devoted to arson. "As dangerous as arson is," the primer advises, "it is also by far the most potent weapon of direct action."