Environmental radicals and animal rights activists say it's "ludicrous" for the FBI to call them the No. 1 domestic terror threat. But their rhetoric and increasingly extreme criminal actions are making the "eco-terror" label stick.
A Chicago insurance executive might seem like one of the last people who'd be opening a letter with this succinctly chilling message: "You have been targeted for terrorist attack."
But that's what happened last year, when a top official at Marsh USA Inc. was informed that he and his company's employees had landed in the crosshairs of an extremist animal rights group. The reason? Marsh provides insurance for one of the world's biggest animal testing labs.
"If you bail out now," the letter advised, "you, your business, and your family will be spared great hassle and humility."
That letter — and the harassment campaign that followed, after Marsh declined to "bail out" — was another shot fired by Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC).
This British-born group, now firmly established in the United States, is waging war on anyone involved with Huntingdon Life Sciences, which tests drugs on approximately 70,000 rats, dogs, monkeys and other animals each year. In the process, SHAC is rewriting the rules by which even the most radical eco-activists have traditionally operated.
In the past, even the edgiest American eco-warriors drew the line at targeting humans. They trumpeted underground activists' attacks on businesses and laboratories perceived as abusing animals or the environment — the FBI reports more than 600 incidents, causing $43 million in damage, since 1996.
But spokespeople for the two most active groups in the U.S., the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), have always been quick to claim that their underground cells have never injured or killed any people.
Since 1999, however, members of both groups have been involved with SHAC's campaign to harass employees of Huntingdon — and even distantly related business associates like Marsh — with frankly terroristic tactics similar to those of anti-abortion extremists.
Employees have had their homes vandalized with spray-painted "Puppy killer" and "We'll be back" notices. They have faced a mounting number of death threats, fire bombings and violent assaults. They've had their names, addresses and personal information posted on Web sites and posters, declaring them "wanted for collaboration with animal torture."
When cowed companies began responding to the harassment by pulling away from Huntington, many radical environmentalists cheered — even when SHAC's actions clearly went over the "nonviolent" line.
Still, the ELF and ALF insist that they remain dedicated to what their spokespeople describe as nonviolent "economic sabotage," such as tree-spiking and arson. They vigorously deny the label that increasingly sticks to them: "eco-terrorist."
Spokespeople continue to chant the public-relations mantra that the ALF's David Barbarash invoked again on National Public Radio this January: "There has never been a single case where any action has resulted in injury or death."
SHACs escalating violence is not unique. North America's most active and widespread eco-radicals — the ELF and ALF took credit for 137 "direct actions" in 2001 alone — have clearly taken a turn toward the more extreme European model of activism. The rhetoric has begun to change along with the action.
Reached by the Intelligence Report, SHAC-USA's Kevin Jonas — a former ALF spokesman — was unusually frank about the lengths to which the new breed of activists will go.
"When push comes to shove," Jonas said, "we're ready to push, kick, shove, bite, do whatever to win."
'Igniting the Revolution'
The far left has long been skirting the edge. In the 1980s, the standard-bearer of the movement was EarthFirst!, a radical group inspired by the novels of Edward Abbey, who romanticized a life of "monkey-wrenching," or sabotage, to protect the environment from rapacious corporations and developers.
Using the model of "leaderless resistance" long advocated by white supremacist tactician Louis Beam — small, independent underground cells carrying out actions, with no hierarchy for law enforcement to go after — EarthFirst! brought "direct action" to the forefront of the environmental movement.
The most controversial of EarthFirst! techniques was tree-spiking, which involved pounding metal spikes into trees to prevent them from being cut or milled into lumber. Typically, tree-spikings were accompanied by warnings designed to cut down on the possibility of injuring or killing timber workers.
But timber companies pointed out that some of the spikes would remain in trees long after the warnings had been forgotten, and said the technique put loggers and sawmill workers at risk of severe injury or even death. Such tactics resulted in the first references to environmentalists as terrorists.
Responding to criticism in the early 1990s, EarthFirst! members began to ponder a more moderate approach. This did not sit well with radicals, who left to found the ELF in Brighton, England, in 1992.
In its video, "Igniting the Revolution," the ELF says it realized "that to be successful in the struggle to protect the Earth, more extreme tactics must be utilized. Thus the Earth Liberation Front was born."
Coming to America
It wasn't until 1998, when one of the ELF's underground cells burned down a major part of a new ski resort near Vail, Colo., that the group became a household name. The fire caused a whopping $12 million in damage and put eco-radicalism back in the headlines.
But news reports failed to note this was not a homegrown movement. The ELF, in fact, is an outgrowth of the European animal-rights movement more than American environmentalism. Its closely linked predecessor, the ALF, got its start in Britain in 1976 before crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
And while U.S. environmental activists still have a largely positive image, with the Sierra Club's peaceful lobbying efforts setting the tone in most people's eyes, activists of the British ALF and its continental cohorts have given the European movement a very different reputation.
Eco-activists there are seen by many as dangerous and reckless criminals — and they often live up to the billing, as the SHAC campaign (along with letter bomb attacks that have maimed one secretary and injured a furrier and his 3-year-old daughter) so vividly demonstrates.
In February 2001, Huntingdon's managing director in Great Britain, Brian Cass, was badly beaten outside his home by three masked assailants swinging baseball bats. Shortly after the attack, British animal rights activist David Blenkinsop, a friend of SHAC-USA's Kevin Jonas, was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for the assault.
At around the same time, Andrew Gay, Cass' marketing director, was attacked on his doorstep with a spray that left him temporarily blinded, writhing on the ground in front of his wife and young daughter.
Ronnie Lee, one of the British founders of the ALF, applauded the beating of Cass. "He has got off lightly," Lee said. "I have no sympathy for him."
Joining in the jubilation were some American eco-radicals.
"If it happens and it works," Last Chance for Animals boss Chris DeRose said of attacks like the Cass beating, "then that's great."
A Growing Radicalism
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."
SHAC Ups the Ante
Meanwhile, SHAC was teaching other potent lessons — and getting results that have only spurred eco-radicals on.
Last year, Barclay's Bank in the United Kingdom pulled its financing of Huntingdon Life Sciences, saying it "couldn't guarantee the safety" of its employees. Charles Schwab, an American financial firm, also pulled out after protesters occupied its offices in Birmingham, England.
When Huntingdon moved to the U.S. last year, hoping to escape the wrath of U.K. activists, the violence didn't let up. SHAC-USA's Web site boasted that a company vice president here "was visited several times, had several car windows broken, tires slashed, house spray painted with slogans. His wife is reportedly on the brink of a nervous breakdown and divorce."
In July 2001, a related group, "Pirates for Animal Liberation," took responsibility for trying to sink the private yacht of a Bank of New York executive to protest the bank's connection with Huntingdon.
The Stephens Group, an investment firm in Arkansas, was subjected to a campaign of harassment after announcing a $33 million loan to Huntingdon. After backing out this February, CEO Warren Stephens said the company had been "aware of the activists, but I don't think we understood exactly what lengths they would go to."
SHAC-USA rejoiced along with its allies in the ALF and ELF.
S"If we can push this domino down," Kevin Jonas told US News & World Report, "there is no domino we can't push down."
Targeting Scientists, and Others
Scientists have been increasingly targeted — with similar success. In July, Dr. Michael Podell halted his AIDS studies and resigned from Ohio State University, giving up a tenured position and a $1.7 million research project.
Podell, who was using cats to study why drug users seem to succumb more quickly to AIDS, received nearly a dozen death threats after PETA put the experiment on its "action alert" list. Podell was sent a photograph of a British scientist whose car had been bombed. "You're next" was scrawled across the top of the photo.
The use of animals in research has decreased in the last few decades, according to government estimates — and the use of cats has dropped a whopping 66 percent since 1967. But scientists say that some research, like Podell's, cannot be done with computer modeling or with human subjects.
"It's a small number of animals to get information to potentially help millions of people," Podell told The New York Times.
But that argument did not hold water with PETA, or with the local protest group that sprung up in Columbus. Eventually, they wore down Podell.
"Scientists tend to be good targets," Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, which promotes "humane and responsible" animal testing, told the Intelligence Report. "Their temperament is such that they don't really fight back. The ALF is like the bully in the schoolyard for them."
Pumped up by their victories, eco-radicals have made it clear that their agenda is broadening in a big — and potentially dangerous — way.
If President Bush expands the nuclear-power industry, said a spokesperson for SHAC-USA, that industry will be targeted next. The ultimate target, as the ELF says in a video, is nothing short of "the entire capitalist system."
The Justice Department
While SHAC sets a new standard for eco-terrorism, another British import is making American and Canadian authorities even more nervous.
Since it sprang up in 1993, the so-called Justice Department has claimed responsibility for hundreds of violent attacks in the U.K. With an underground cell structure similar to those of the ALF and ELF, the Justice Department has made creative use of letter bombs, which have injured several people, and sent out scores of envelopes rigged with poisoned razor blades.
The London Independent called the Justice Department's attacks "the most sustained and sophisticated bombing campaign in mainland Britain since the IRA was at its height."
In January 1996, after the group became active in North America, the Justice Department claimed responsibility for sending envelopes with blades dipped in rat poison to 80 researchers, hunting guides and others in British Columbia, Alberta and around the United States.
The blades were taped inside the opening edge of the envelopes, poised to cut the fingers of anyone opening the letters.
"Dear animal killing scum!" read the note inside. "Hope we sliced your finger wide open and that you now die from the rat poison we smeared on the razor blade." The letter signed off, "Justice Department strikes again."
Authorities in Great Britain have suggested that Keith Mann of the ALF currently serving an 11-year prison sentence in Britain, founded the Justice Department, although that has not been proven.
A Taste of Fear
Just as EarthFirst! ultimately became too "tame" for the eco-saboteurs who formed the ELF, groups like the Justice Department seem to attract frustrated activists who don't want to hold the line against harming humans. The existence of such violent spinoffs, including the Animal Rights Militia, allows ELF and ALF to continue claiming ethical purity by way of comparison.
How do these groups defend their methods? "If the animals could fight back," says the Justice Department, "there would be a lot of dead animal abusers already."
The group's fact sheet — posted on an ALF Web site — makes it clear that the Justice Department thinks of itself as a more extreme version of the ALF.
"The Animal Liberation Front achieved what other methods have not while adhering to nonviolence," the Justice Department manifesto reads. "A separate idea was established that decided animal abusers had been warned long enough. ... [T]he time has come for abusers to have but a taste of the fear and anguish their victims suffer on a daily basis."
A similar thought occurred to one of America's legendary terrorists, Ted Kaczynski. And the connection is more than philosophical.
During his trial, Kaczynski admitted that he was in contact with EarthFirst! during his Unabomber days. In fact, he found at least one of his targets — Thomas Mosser, a New Jersey advertising executive, who was killed instantly when he opened a package from the Unabomber — by reading about Mosser's firm in the EarthFirst! journal.
In his manifesto, Kaczynski sounded for all the world like an eco-extremist as he took credit for Mosser's violent death: "We blew up Thomas Mosser last December because he was a Burston-Marsteller executive. Among other misdeeds, Burston-Marsteller helped Exxon clean up its image after the Exxon Valdez incident."
Officials noted that Kaczynski misspelled the company's name — it should be Burson, not Burston — precisely the same way that EarthFirst! did. They also noted that, as reported in the
Washington Post, the EarthFirst! journal got it wrong: Burson-Marsteller "never worked for Exxon on the spill." Thanks to incorrect information from EarthFirst!, Mosser was killed for something his company never did.
A Murder in the Netherlands
Frustration with the slow pace of nonviolent change appears to be epidemic in the movement. In September 2001, ALF co-founder Ronnie Lee told Jane's Intelligence Review, "So far no one on the other side has ever been seriously harmed or killed. But that may now change."
It didn't take long for Lee to be proved right. This May, as the debate over "eco-terrorism" raged in the United States, an apparent "eco-assassination" in Europe sent shockwaves through the environmental activists and their targets.
Less than two weeks before voters in the Netherlands would choose a new government, animal-rights activist Volkert van der Graaf allegedly pumped six bullets into Pim Fortuyn, a right-wing anti-immigration candidate for prime minister. Van der Graaf may have been enraged by Fortuyn's support of pig farmers in a debate with animal rights activists.
Fortuyn's death at the hands of a veteran activist spawned a wave of "I-told-you-so" editorials in European newspapers, which have sharply criticized the escalating violence of radical activists in recent years, warning that murder was the next step.
Fortuyn, a dog lover whose environmental views were generally more moderate than his hard-right stance on immigration, had expressed similar exasperation earlier in the campaign, telling the green group Milieudefensie, "I'm sick to death of your environmental movement."
Could eco-activism spawn another van der Graaf — or another Kaczynski — in the United States? If it happens, don't expect the ALF or ELF to take responsibility.
The groups' guidelines for cell members always include a crucial escape clause, like this one in "Frequently Asked Questions About the Earth Liberation Front": "If an action similar to one performed by ELF occurred and resulted in an individual becoming physically injured or losing their life, this would not be considered an ELF action."
By refusing to take responsibility for any actions that harm humans, the ALF and ELF implicitly acknowledge that violence directed at people is a foreseeable result of the tactics they promote. Their ever-more-fiery rhetoric and increasingly brash methods could inspire future Kaczynskis and van der Graafs.
In fact, the 32-year-old van der Graaf was the founder of Zeeland's Animal Liberation Front before he went on to found Milieu Offensief (Environment Offensive). His story reads like a cautionary tale, especially now that the American ELF and ALF seem to take their cues from the Europeans.
While van der Graaf was an avowed enemy of factory farming, most of his attacks on farmers had been peaceful. Environment Offensive filed more than 2,200 lawsuits against big farming interests.
"His weapon was the law," a member of Environment Offensive told Dutch television.
But van der Graaf was apparently provoked to more drastic action by his frustration with fighting "the system." When Dutch police searched the suspect's home after Fortuyn's murder, they found documents linking van der Graaf to a recent outbreak of direct-action attacks on a mink factory and a poultry farm.
They also found that van der Graaf apparently hadn't intended to stop with Fortuyn: He had floor plans of the homes of three of Fortuyn's fellow List Party candidates for the parliament.
What happens when U.S. companies and politicians keep getting in the way of eco-radicals' goals? Peter Singer, a Princeton University philosopher and long-time darling of many eco-radicals, recently acknowledged the quandary faced by many in the movement — and the direction in which it clearly seems headed.
"We who have an affinity with non-human animals and nature," Singer told the Australian Herald-Sun, "are finding it increasingly difficult to love our fellow man."
Kevin Jonas of SHAC-USA, which is inspiring a new breed of activist, put it even more bluntly. "There's a very famous quote by John F. Kennedy," he told the Intelligence Report. "If you make peaceful revolution impossible, you make violent revolution inevitable."
Indeed, further violence seems almost inevitable. Just ask Craig Rosebraugh, the long-time ELF spokesman who recently left that post to pursue theoretical work for the movement.
Attending the Institute for Social Ecology at Goddard College in Vermont, Rosebraugh's master's thesis has a revealing working title: "Rethinking Nonviolence: Arguing for the Legitimacy of Armed Struggle."