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Fringe Eco-Radicals Growing More Violent

Radical environmentalist and animal rights groups step up violent rhetoric and action in a series of bombings, arsons, and the first such death threat.

The far fringe of the animal rights and environmental movements, already marked by rising violence, has ratcheted up its terror to new heights.

In the last few months, eco-radicals have bombed several buildings, torched a $50 million housing complex and several other major targets, opened up a whole new urban theater of war, and even threatened to bomb their enemies' homes and vehicles.

On Aug. 1, an unfinished 206-unit condominium complex in San Diego County was burned, causing more damage than any eco-attack yet recorded in the United States. The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) claimed credit for the attack.

In the weeks that followed, a whole new level of violent attacks seemed to begin. Large Hummer and SUV dealerships were torched in California and New Mexico. A biology lab at Louisiana State University was wrecked. A man was arrested for allegedly loosening the bolts on eight electrical transmission towers in four West Coast states.

But most dramatically, a previously unheard of group, the Revolutionary Cells, claimed credit for bombing the San Francisco Bay area offices of Chiron Corp., the nation's third largest biotechnology firm, and the nearby offices of Shaklee Corp., a cosmetics firm.

Four days after the late September attack on Shaklee, a communiqué from the Revolutionary Cells issued the first direct death threat against humans from one of the eco-radical groups.

"You never know when your house, your car even, might go boom," the message said.

It added that companies that do business with Huntington Life Sciences, an animal-testing firm linked to Chiron and Shaklee, were legitimate targets, as were their employees. And it promised to double the size of all future bombs "until your buildings are nothing but rubble."

"No more will all of the killing be done by the oppressors, now the oppressed will strike back," it continued. "We will be nonviolent when ... these people are nonviolent to the animal nations."

FBI officials say that the eco-attacks, which once were centered in remote and highly rural areas, are now more focused on urban areas. They also are increasingly targeting "capitalism and the mind-set that allows it to exist," in the words of the ELF, rather than their more specific environmental goals.

At the same time, the rhetoric from even aboveground radical environmental and animal rights groups has grown significantly more violent.

All of this has put real pressure on mainstream environmental groups to distance themselves from the escalating violence. "The ELF are not environmentalists," Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, told The Associated Press. "They are arsonists."