Eco-Terrorists Targeted By Get Tough State Laws
By Kavan Peterson, Staff Writer
The fire struck close to home for Oregon Rep. Lane Shetterly (R - Dallas), who lives nine miles from the office and knows the firefighters who spent Christmas morning battling the fire. Boise Cascade is an important part of Shetterly's constituency, and he attended the dedication as a special guest to celebrate the signing of two bills he co-sponsored to crack down on similar acts of destruction. The fire that destroyed the office remains unsolved.
Legislators in at least 10 other states (see related story below) are considering proposals to combat a rash of environmentally motivated crimes they believe threaten key industry, scientific research and private property.
Also known as eco-terrorism or eco-sabotage, these acts include any crime committed in the name of protecting the environment. Acts of eco-sabotage include arson, vandalism, release of captive animals, tree-spiking (driving steel or ceramic spikes into timber to damage logging equipment), malicious threats, and destruction of research equipment and facilities.
Eco-saboteurs say they target firms profiting from the exploitation of the environment. Their aim is to disrupt logging, mining or recreational use of the wilderness, or the use of animals or bio-engineered crops for research.
Eco-sabotage is a recurring problem in western states, going back to the 1970s. But recent actions have affected almost every state in the country. In September of 1999, the Oregonian newspaper investigated 100 major acts of sabotage going back to 1980. The paper estimated the attacks cost 11 western states $42.8 million. Three-quarters of the damage occurred after 1995.
The costliest single act was a $12 million fire set at Vail ski resort in Vail, Colo., October 21, 1998. Vail was targeted for expanding its operation into the habitat of an endangered lynx. ELF claimed responsibility for the fire but no arrests were made.
ELF is a militant splinter group of Earth First!, which was formed in England in 1992, and spread to North America in the mid 90s. Since 1997, Craig Rosebraugh, a spokesperson for ELF, in Portland, Or., has publicized numerous acts of eco-sabotage on the group's behalf.
Rosebraugh says he is not a member of ELF but a supporter. His website, www.earthliberationfront.com, posts "communiques" claiming responsibility for $30 million in documented acts of arson, vandalism and sabotage. The postings have landed him before a grand jury and led to searches of his home and office.The FBI believes that autonomous cells of two to six people commit most of these crimes. Their autonomy makes them very difficult to track.
"We consider their actions to be serious violations of federal law and we thoroughly investigate all of these crimes," FBI spokesperson Steven Berry said.
Some state officials blame the lack of prosecution on light penalties. Oregon outlawed tree-spiking and interference with animal research, but only as misdemeanor and class C felonies, which carry a maximum five year sentence.
"With such a low level of criminal penalty for most of these crimes it raises two questions," Rep. Shetterly said. "First, what is the level of deterrence? Secondly, on the law enforcement end... if you've got a tree-spiking event or a felony burglary, which one are you going to look at?"
Shetterly and other lawmakers moved to strengthen some laws, but rather than increase criminal penalties, they've expanded the state's racketeering statues to include acts of eco-sabotage.
The Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) act was created by the federal government to fight organized crime and was used to infiltrate the Mafia. Many states now use RICO statutes to prosecute other forms of racketeering. Under Oregon's RICO act, repeat misdemeanors and low class felonies may be punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $300,000 fine.
Last month, Oregon Governor John A. Kitzhaber (D) signed two eco-sabotage bills written by Rep. Shetterly and Rep. Bob Jenson (R-Pendleton). They place crimes like tree-spiking and interfering with animal research under the RICO act and created the crime of interference with agricultural research. Committing these crimes twice in a five year period now carries a 20 year prison sentence.
Asante Riverwind, a lifelong environmental activist, argues that laws meant to curb environmental extremists are misplaced. Riverwind has spent years protesting against logging in the Cascade mountains in Oregon, engaging in both legal litigation and non-violent protests, and believes that activists would not be compelled to risk their freedom if there were enough laws to protect the environment."If folks go outside the law, then maybe the law is what needs to be changed," Riverwind said. "Instead of putting people in jail who are acting out of respect for life, corral in those who have no respect for life, the multinational corporations, who are the real eco-terrorists, who have destroyed entire eco-systems." Other longtime environmental activists fear that these laws protect industry interests while demonizing legitimate environmental causes. Darryl Cherney of Humbolt, Calif., an Earth First! activist and a 15 year veteran of the California Redwood timber wars, said many activists are frustrated by the overwhelming opposition they face in legal activism.
"Young people see seasoned activists like myself who have put countless years into an issue, only making small amounts of progress," Cherney said. "Meanwhile, trees continue to fall and the environment goes to hell in a hand basket."
Rep. Shetterly said that Oregon's new laws will not interfere with legitimate protests or traditional civil disobedience.
"We're not trying to penalize somebody just because they have a different opinion than the timber company," Shetterly said.
Some experts on domestic terrorism believe that the media and law enforcement have blown eco-terrorism way out of proportion. David W. Hunt, a retired Army Colonel and founder and president of D.A.R., Inc., an international security consulting firm based in Scarborough, Maine, believes that not all extremist groups are terrorists."An organization is terrorist if it hurts innocents for a political statement," Hunt said. "Do we really have security threats in this country from terrorists? Yeah, but not from a bunch of guys letting wild horses out of their corrals," he added.
Cherney agrees with Hunt and argues that the environmentalist cause is being misrepresented by both the media and by a small number of extremists committing illegal acts.
"I know of no human being ever being harmed by environmentalism and yet they try to lump us in the same category as those people who blow airplanes out of the sky and cut people's heads off," Cherney said.
Supervisory Special Agent Berry, however, says he is surprised no one has been seriously injured or killed by these acts. He contends that radical environmentalists constitute a serious terrorist threat because they engage in the unlawful use of force and violence to promote political objectives.
"It is just a matter of time before someone gets hurt," Berry said.
Cherney argues that the FBI uses inflammatory language about terrorism to justify abusing environmentalists' civil rights, and to infiltrate and disrupt their organizations, as they did the Black Panthers and student activists groups in the 1960s.
"Millions of people who are engaged in time consuming and complicated legal and activist work have been swept into this eco-terrorist box that the FBI and the industry have put us in," Cherney said. "But that doesn't make us more cautious about defending the environment and putting the earth first."
STATES CONSIDER ENVIRONMENTALLY MOTIVATED CRIMES LEGISLATION
Many states are considering enacting laws like Oregon's to stiffen the penalties for eco-sabotage crimes.
Wisconsin legislators are working on a bill to expand RICO statutes to include crimes against animal and agricultural enterprises. Another law would make it a criminal act to infect an animal with a disease deliberately. This was motivated by the disastrous outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in England.
Wisconsin Sen. Sheila Harsorf (R-River Falls) is drafting a law making it illegal to threaten to infect animals. Harsdorf admits such a law might violate the First Amendment, but she claims there should be some recognition of the damage that can occur simply by making such threats.
In California , Assemblywoman Helen Thomson introduced a bill that passed last year focused on the destruction of university research. Under the new law, anyone caught destroying university research facilities or experimental crops can be sued for twice the value of the damage.
"The purpose is to make a statement that there are severe penalties for this kind of behavior," said Craig Reynolds, Thomson's chief of staff. "There isn't a whole lot of sympathy for what they're doing,"
The Florida legislature recently sent a similar measure to Gov. Jeb Bush and Nebraska is also considering a measure that would double damages for destroying agricultural research. The Florida law would double penalties for destroying bio-engineered crops and would make trespassing on lands used for testing and research punishable by up to three years in prison.
In Iowa , the penalty for causing $10,000 in damage to agricultural property is 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Utah , Kansas and Indiana also increased the penalties for crimes committed against animal enterprises and Pennsylvania is considering a bill to define the offense of eco-terrorism.
ECO-SABOTAGE ACTS CLAIMED BY THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT
May 21, 2001, Seattle, Wash. and Clatskanie, Ore. A fire destroyed the office of a genetically-engineered tree researcher at the University of Washington while a simultaneous fire destroyed 13 trucks at a hybrid poplar farm in Oregon. Damage estimated at $3 million.
January 1, 2001, Glendale, Ore. -- The Superior Lumber Company offices were destroyed in a $400,000 fire.
July 21, 2000, Rhinelander, Wis. One million dollars worth of experimental poplar trees were uprooted at the U.S. Forest Service Forest Biotechnology Laboratory.
November 27, 2000, Longmont, Colo. A $500,000 home in a new subdivision was burned. ELF said the fire was set in response to the defeat of a statewide ballot measure to control growth.
December 31, 1999, East Lansing, Mich. A fire destroyed the offices of Catherine Ives at Michigan State University. ELF said Ives was targeted for researching genetically engineered crops for Monsanto Corp., intended to assist developing countries. Damage was estimated at $900,000.
December 25, 1999, Monmouth, Ore.A fire destroyed the Timber and Wood Products Division of Boise Cascade Inc. Damage estimated at $1,000,000.
October 26, 1998, Menominee County, Mich. Five thousand mink released from the Upper Peninsula Pipkorn Mink Farm.
December 26, 1998, Medford, Ore.-- US Forest Industries offices destroyed in a $700,000 fire.
October 19, 1998, Vail, Colo. -- Several structures were destroyed at the ski resort owned by Vail Inc. The fires were allegedly motivated by a prolonged legal battle that failed to halt development by Vail into the threatened habitat of an endangered lynx. Damage exceeded $12 million.
June 21, 1998, Olympia, Wash. ELF and the Animal Liberation Front both claimed responsibility for setting fire to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Damage Control center. Damage estimated at $1.4 million.
November 29, 1997, Burns, Ore. Four hundred and eighty-eight wild horses and 51 burros were released from Bureau of Land Management facility and a barn and tack-room were burned, causing $450,000 in damage.
Sources: http://www.earthliberationfront.com http://www.oregonlive.com/news/99/09/st092620.html