11 Indicted in Cases of Environmental Sabotage

New York Times/January 21, 2006
By Michael Janofsky

Washington -- A federal grand jury in Eugene, Ore., has indicted 11 people on charges that they committed acts of domestic terrorism on behalf of two shadowy environmental groups, the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front.

Federal officials said Friday that the defendants were responsible for 17 incidents in five Western states from 1996 to late 2001.

The indictment, which was returned on Thursday and unsealed on Friday, listed 65 charges, including arson, sabotage and conspiracy in attacks against government facilities, research centers and private businesses.

In one of the groups' most damaging acts, the indictment says, an electricity transmission tower near Bend, Ore., was destroyed on Dec. 30, 1999, although power supplies were not interrupted.

Six of those indicted were arrested on other federal charges last month, and five remain in custody; two others were arrested this week. Officials said the authorities were looking for the remaining three defendants, who were believed to be outside the United States.

In announcing the indictment, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said the defendants referred to themselves as "the family," coordinating their efforts and sometimes publicizing them, "to influence the conduct of government and private businesses through the use of coordinated force, violence, sabotage, intimidation and coercion."

The director of the F.B.I., Robert S. Mueller III, who appeared with Mr. Gonzales, said one of the bureau's "highest domestic terrorism priorities" was prosecuting people who commit crimes "in the name of animal rights or the environment."

Both groups cited in the indictment make no secret of their purpose or tactics in fulfilling their vision of protecting the environment and animals used for research - or in their desire for secrecy. The indictment charges that each member of "the family" takes an oath never to reveal to the authorities the identity of a co-conspirator.

The Earth Liberation Front, or ELF, describes itself as an anonymous, leaderless cell organization and says on its Web site, "Any individuals who committed arson or any other illegal acts under the ELF name are individuals who choose to do so under the banner of ELF and do so only driven by their personal conscience."

People identifying themselves with the Animal Liberation Front, or ALF, often convey information through a separate organization called the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, whose Web site says actions carried out in ALF's name may be "illegal under a current societal structure that fails to recognize the rights of nonhuman animals to live free of suffering."

Jerry Vlasak, a spokesman for the press operation, said that because ALF was "an underground organization" of no known members, "law enforcement is rounding up known activists."

"They simply have no idea who the members of ELF and ALF are," Mr. Vlasak said. "They have received a lot of negative publicity about unsolved arson cases, so they round up people they do know and squeeze them for information on other people."

He said none of the individuals named in the indictment had anything to do with the incidents cited, "and we feel they will be exonerated."

Defense lawyers for several people charged in the indictment said their clients were innocent and unfairly accused by unsavory government informants.

"The informants are unreliable," said Craig Weinerman, the federal public defender in Oregon who represents Chelsea Gerlach, 28. "They are serial arsonists whose claims and purported testimony should not be believed by anybody."

Marc P. Friedman, a lawyer for another defendant, Kevin M. Tubbs, 36, declined to comment on the case.

Federal investigators told the Senate Environment and Pubic Works Committee last year that environmental and animal sabotage groups like ELF and ALF represented the nation's leading domestic terror threat and might account for many of the 150 open investigations of 1,200 crimes from 1990 to 2004 that eco-terrorist groups have claimed responsibility for.

Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the committee chairman who has compared ELF and ALF to Al Qaeda, said Friday that he applauded efforts that led to the indictment and said Congress needed to provide law enforcement more tools to investigate and prosecute groups like ELF and ALF.

Gary Perlstein, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Portland State University, did not dispute Mr. Inhofe's characterization of ELF and ALF members.

"These are extremely dedicated people ideologically," Mr. Perlstein said. "They are true believers, and this is not going to deter people who are as dedicated as they are. For some, the indictment is a reason to join the cause, fight harder and destroy more property."

Mr. Mueller of the F.B.I. disagreed with Mr. Perlstein's assessment, saying the indictment reflects "a substantial blow" to eco-terrorist campaigns. "If you read the indictment and you see the listing of the actions that have taken place at the hands of this group over a period of time, you get some understanding of the impact of this investigation and this indictment," he said.

The indictment charges that the group used homemade incendiary devices made from milk jugs, plastic buckets, petroleum fuels and timers to destroy buildings, vehicles and other targets, including a meatpacking company in Deschutes County, Ore.; a ski center in Vail, Colo.' and a family-owned timber company in Douglas County, Ore.

Most of the incidents cited were in Oregon. Others were in Washington, Wyoming, Colorado and California.

"The trail of destruction left by these defendants across the Western United States caused millions of dollars in damage to public and private facilities," Mr. Gonzales said. "Today's indictment proves that we will not tolerate any group that terrorizes the American people, no matter its intentions or objectives."

The six defendants arrested last month were Sarah Kendall Harvey, 28; Daniel Gerard McGowan, 31; Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff, 28; Darren Todd Thurston, 34; Ms. Gerlach and Mr. Tubbs. Ms. Harvey was released on bond.

The defendants arrested this week were Jonathan Mark Christopher Paul, 39, and Suzanne Savoie, 28. The three still at-large are Joseph Dibee, 38; Josephine Sunshine Overaker, 31; and Rebecca Rubin, 32.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.