Radical groups leave mark across country

Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)/January 15, 2004
By Joseph Frazier

Portland -- From a $50 million arson at a San Diego condominium to four chickens liberated from a California egg farm, radical environmental groups had a busy year - but with a difference.

While the Pacific Northwest was their focus for years, they now seem to have virtually abandoned the region, spreading their violent political action through the rest of the country, according to a list of actions released Wednesday by the groups.

The FBI considers the two largest groups, the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front, to be terrorist organizations.

"All I can tell you is that they are moving out around the country,'' said Paul Bresson, an FBI spokesman in Washington, D.C.

In an e-mail sent to news media, the radical groups listed actions from Maine to California and from Louisiana to Alaska.

The groups claimed responsibility for 75 actions in 2003. Only one - 10,000 mink freed from a fur farm in Sultan, Wash., by the Animal Liberation Front - was in the Pacific Northwest. No ELF actions were near the Northwest forests where the group had flourished since it was founded.

Until last year, the fronts struck often against logging operations, Forest Service facilities, fur farms, slaughterhouses and other targets in the region.

Tactics last year varied widely, from graffiti on cars of a circus train to dirt in gas tanks to arson of condominiums and firebombing of new Hummer SUVs.

About a fourth of their actions were against targets thought to have ties to a British company, Huntingdon Life Sciences, which tests drugs and chemicals on animals.

The groups claim Huntingdon kills hundreds of animals a day and treats them cruelly for unnecessary research. Huntingdon's Web site says its research saves human lives and that it is a supporter of the Fund for Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments, which says the level of animal experimentation is too high but that the immediate elimination of it is not practical.

The largest hit claimed by the groups in 2003 was an August arson fire that destroyed a five-story condominium under construction in San Diego, possibly part of what the ELF has called a campaign against urban sprawl. Damage was estimated at $50 million.

Phil Celestini, the agent in charge of the FBI's domestic terrorism operations unit in Washington, said after the San Diego fire that it was "sheer dumb luck and providence that someone has not been killed. You set a fire that big, there's no way of predicting what the ultimate consequences will be.''

The FBI lists the ELF as its No. 1 domestic terrorism priority. It split off from another hard-line group, Earth First!, in 1997.

Mainstream environmental groups have taken pains to distance themselves from the ELF.

"The ELF are not environmentalists. They are arsonists,'' Carl Pope, head of the Sierra Club, said last year.

Craig Rosebraugh of Portland, who used to act as a spokesman for the ELF, but who denied having ELF membership, no longer plays that role. The list of last year's illegal acts was e-mailed Tuesday, and there was no response to questions sent to the e-mail address in the ELF statement.

While arrests have been few, authorities had at least some success in getting inside the ELF in the Northwest in 2002, the year before it curtailed activities in the area.

Four activists charged with setting logging trucks on fire in a 2001 protest of the Eagle Creek timber sale near Portland were captured after one of them told a girlfriend about the act, according to arrest papers. The girlfriend's father is a deputy state fire marshal.

Three pleaded guilty and one of them, Jacob Sherman, 20, cooperated and named the fourth, Michael Scarpitti, better known as Tre Arrow, as the leader. Scarpitti remains at large.

In Virginia, three men with ties to the Earth Liberation Front have pleaded guilty to arson and other charges.

Splinter groups with ties to the two larger organizations include the Frogs, the Animal Liberation Brigade, the Vegan Dumpster Militia and the Direct Action Front.

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