Washington -- The former spokesman of an extremist underground environmental group subpoenaed to testify before Congress Tuesday pleaded the Fifth Amendment so many times in response to members' questions that he was soon likened to embattled Enron CEO Kenneth Lay.
"Are you in any way related?" asked Rep. George R. Nethercutt Jr., R-Wash., who testified about the varying degrees of so-called eco-terrorism inflicted upon private and federal properties in his state.
Lay also pleaded the Fifth Amendment on Capitol Hill Tuesday to avoid testifying about the collapse of energy giant Enron Corp.
Though refusing to answer any questions relating to the Earth Liberation Front, a clandestine organization that has taken credit for several bombings and acts of arson, the former spokesman of the group, Craig Rosebraugh, did make a statement in which he said he came to form his views after his "innocence was torn away" when the United States went to war against Iraq during the Persian Gulf War in 1990.
Sitting alone at the witness table with his attorney Stuart Sugarman behind him, Rosebraugh referred the House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health to his written testimony, in which he spoke at length about what he called a liturgy of crimes that the U.S. government has committed against nature and people over two centuries, including Native Americans, blacks, women, countries of South and Central America, Africa, Iraq, Yugoslavia and now Afghanistan.
"I fully praise those individuals who take direct action, by any means necessary, to stop the destruction of the natural world and threats to all life," he said in his statement. "Long live all of the sparks attempting to ignite the revolution!"
"Let's call the ELF and the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) for what they truly are - terrorist organizations," charged Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., likening the works of the groups to those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. "It is imperative to treat all acts of terrorism equally."
Rosebraugh denies having participated in dozens of "direct actions" by ELF - mostly firebombing - against federal land management buildings, research facilities, the fur and logging industry and even urban sprawl, but he didn't get much sympathy from a number of industry representatives and public employee advocates who testified about losses resulting from ELF activities.
A few dozen protesters outside, who were expected to rally simultaneously with protesters in other cities in support of Rosebraugh, carried signs and placards mimicking Rosebraugh's words.
But despite the youthful looks of the bespectacled 28-year-old, not everyone was buying Rosebraugh's line today.
"It would be a big mistake to call them all misguided youth, or trust fund babies with nothing to do," said Chairman Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., whose district includes Vail ski resort, a victim of an ELF arson attack. "They are hardened criminals."
McInnis said the committee would submit its questions in writing and allow Rosebraugh to answer in writing. If he continues to resist, members will decide if they can find him in contempt of Congress.
Though ELF has not injured or killed anyone, members of the subcommittee said they are ready to start passing laws to crack down on organizations before someone gets hurt.