Primer tells how to practice eco-terror

Los Angeles Times/June 10, 2001
By Kim Murphy

It is a primer on "the politics and practicalities of arson." And the techniques explained in this new handbook of the radical environmental movement have been used at least three times over the past month, to firebomb a university horticulture center, a tree farm and three logging trucks.

"Guarantee destruction of the target through careful planning and execution," says the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) guide on setting fires with electrical timers. "Take no shortcuts.

"Never be satisfied with possible destruction or probable destruction. The objective of every action should be assured destruction. The risks are too high for anything else."

The guide was published recently on the radical group's Web site, amid a growing wave of arson attacks against targets in the Pacific Northwest. Federal law-enforcement officials are convinced that the fires are the work of a single, cohesive terrorist group.

And FBI officials believe they can establish the existence of an identifiable hierarchy within the ELF, a group that claims to operate chiefly through independent cells united only by ideology. "There is a certain core, or central organization, that knows what is going on throughout the country," said Phil Donegan, acting special agent in charge of the FBI in Portland. "That's part of the criminal case that we're building."

Until now, authorities have arrested only a handful of individuals linked to the ELF, a group whose attacks are thought to have caused damage totaling more than $40 million since 1995.

Their environmental targets had appeared to be widely scattered and essentially unrelated - from luxury housing on Long Island and in Colorado to logging facilities and equipment in Indiana and Oregon. By far the largest concentration of ELF activity has been in the Pacific Northwest. Earlier this month, the ELF claimed responsibility for two May 21 arsons - occurring at roughly the same time - that targeted purported genetic engineering projects at the University of Washington and at a tree farm in Clatskanie, Ore.

The target in Oregon was a poplar tree farm along the Columbia River, where two buildings and more than a dozen vehicles were destroyed. In Seattle, the Center for Urban Horticulture at the UW sustained $5.4 million damage.

Although the fire there destroyed a rare plant-conservation program, a master-gardener program and an urban food-gardener program, the target, the ELF said, was associate professor Toby Bradshaw's work in poplar research. Bradshaw had been targeted before the World Trade Organization talks in 1999, when 12 poplars and 188 red alders he was studying were destroyed by a group calling itself the Washington Tree Improvement Association. Poplar farming, a relatively new style of forestry that looks to promote the trees' rapid-growth genetic characteristics, has been a frequent target of activists.

A June 1 communique from the ELF media office in Portland, said that Bradshaw "continues to unleash mutant genes into the environment that is (sic) certain to cause irreversible harm to forest ecosystems."

The ELF's public face is a vegan baker in Portland, Craig Rosebraugh, who runs the group's media office and distributes its communiques. Rosebraugh claims not to be a member and to be unaware of the identity of the activists, although he sympathizes with their actions.

Federal authorities say they have been stymied because of the "opportunistic" nature of the attacks. "It gets to the shadowy nature of the group," said Art Ahrens, supervisor of the arson and explosives unit of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Seattle.

"One day they're spiking trees. The next day, they're part of the Revenge of the Trees. The next day they're doing some kind of chicken release. Three days after that they're burning mink farms.

"When they keep changing their targets and their motive, it's tough for us to react that quickly. Because as soon as you figure out what they're doing and develop a plan to address it, then they're on to something totally different. It just drives us nuts."

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