Fresno, Calif. -- A conference for environmental activists that includes two groups allegedly responsible for hundreds of cases of ecoterrorism is raising the ire of lawmakers, ranchers and farmers in this agriculture-rich area of central California.
"Revolutionary Environmentalism: A Dialogue Between Activists and Academics'' at California State University, Fresno -- which is spending $3,400 for the two-day event -- began Thursday.
Among the panelists are Rodney Coronado, a former Animal Liberation Front member, who spent four years in prison for a 1992 firebombing of animal research laboratories at Michigan State University. Also attending was a member of the Earth Liberation Front.
The organizations are allegedly responsible for more than 600 cases of ecoterrorism around the country, ranging from spray-painting buildings and breaking windows to firebombing fur farms and research centers, according to the FBI, which lists them as domestic terrorist groups.
"It's a terrorism conference,'' said John Harris, one of the San Joaquin Valley's largest beef ranchers. " We would be fine if they had an environmental conference, but we feel that this is a one-sided opportunity for known ecoterrorists to present their platforms without a balance to the program.''
Gary Yourofsky, of Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow, said, "Those who torture for profit are the real terrorists.''
Officials at Fresno State defended the forum, saying discussion of the groups' tactics could bring understanding about why those methods are used in a bid for social change.
"The presence of some of the invited participants has created considerable controversy, but unless these issues are given adequate discussion and critical examination, alternative means to address their positions will never be fostered,'' Provost J. Michael Ortiz said in a statement.
Republican state Sens. Dennis Hollingsworth and Roy Asburn are asking that Fresno State's funding be cut by the amount it spends on the conference.
"They should be all behind bars, not feted at taxpayers' expense,'' said Hollingsworth.
Earlier Thursday, state park rangers near Fresno arrested a man they said was carrying a pass to the conference -- as well as a loaded concealed weapon without a permit.