While targets burn, FBI searches for way to strike back Federal investigators in the Northwest are facing increasingly sophisticated and violent eco-terrorists whose trail often vanishes at the building they've torched or the farm they've raided.
They burn and break in by night, melt into the mainstream by day. They work alone or in tiny cells motivated not by profit but by passion. The Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front -- the groups most associated with eco-terrorism -- seem to exist only in cyberspace.
Authorities have made few arrests. At least 45 such crimes in Washington and Oregon remain unsolved, including a multimillion-dollar arson May 21 at the University of Washington. "We don't have an organizational structure to attack -- no finances, no membership list, no meetings," said Special Agent in Charge Charlie Mandigo of the FBI's Seattle Office.
This environmental and animal-welfare jihad has left its victims emotionally battered and worried about the next attack. Businesses otherwise open to the public and research at state-owned universities have been forced to go underground. The Seattle Fur Exchange, a frequent target of protests, won't list its number in the telephone book. And now, according to above-ground activists who sympathize with their shadowy ELF and ALF cohorts, the level of violence likely will increase and the number of targets expand to include even nuclear-power plants.
"Pols like Bush are ensuring an escalation of tactics," said Josh Harper, a Seattle animal rights activist who was hauled before a federal grand jury in Portland this year. If President Bush sparks a renaissance in the nuclear-power industry, "they will be targeted," Harper predicted. If the nuclear plants are too heavily fortified, he said, the cross hairs will shift to the plant executives' homes -- or the executives themselves.
Leaders of groups formed to oppose radical animal rights and environmental movements have been tracking eco-terrorism in the region. They say attacks are on the rise and becoming more serious. Firebombing a corporate office has replaced gluing the locks of a butcher shop. Sport-utility vehicles have been destroyed, fast-food restaurants and Starbucks outlets vandalized. Fields of genetically engineered wheat have been cut down. Chicken farms and mink ranches have been raided and the animals released.
ELF operatives put on a display of tactical sophistication when they torched the UW's Center for Urban Horticulture and a tree farm in Oregon almost simultaneously. It was the first time such attacks were so closely coordinated across state lines. Fires have been set with precision. ELF's Web site gives details on how to set a fire with a timing device and how to get the most damage without leaving much evidence for investigators to follow. Despite the crescendo of destruction, no one has been hurt in any ALF/ELF incidents.
In Washington and Oregon in the past four years, more than a half-dozen major arsons linked to eco-terrorism have caused damage exceeding $10 million at targets that include government buildings, a Seattle Gap store and a packing plant where horses were slaughtered. There are about 30 unsolved eco-terrorism cases in Oregon, and half that many under investigation in Washington, according to federal investigators. Around the country, the array of targets is growing.
Last week, outside Tucson, Ariz., four luxury homes, each worth nearly $1 million, were torched because they were being built near mountain preserves. Environmental extremists in Arizona took credit. One day later, the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front took credit for vandalism, including glued locks, graffiti and smashed windows, at five branches of the Bank of New York on Long Island. The bank's offense: ties to an English company involved in animal research.
ELF, ALF and other radical groups fight against scientific advances, technology and loss of wilderness. They also commit crimes in the name of battling meat-eating, fur-wearing and tree-cutting. "When you see the loss of 9 billion (animal) lives each year, it's inappropriate to hold a sign or pass out a petition," Harper said. "It's appropriate to go out and burn down the factory farm."
"These folks are against government, against capitalism and against pretty much the way we do everything," said Patti Strand, president of the National Animal Interest Alliance. The alliance is a Portland-based group with a membership that includes representatives from the farming, trapping, rodeo, dog-breeding and fur-farming industries.
The groups cloak their activities in the language of a crusade. One ALF Web site invokes fighting the Holocaust and slavery in justifying arsons and other crimes, equating what it does to the Underground Railroad and U.S. soldiers liberating Jews from Nazi death camps. Today, it's common for ALF and ELF to both claim credit for an arson or other political crime. The watershed event, Strand said, was in October 1998, when fire destroyed seven buildings, ski lifts and other facilities in Vail, Colo., causing more than $12 million in damage. ELF took credit, mentioning environmental concerns and protection of habitat for an animal: the lynx. It is considered the most destructive act of eco-terrorism in U.S. history.
"The average activist is under 30 years old," said Joe Haptas, coordinator of Northwest Animal Rights Network. "There is a lot of youthful energy and enthusiasm in the animal rights movement, a lot of young, passionate people." The animal rights network conducts legal, above-ground actions against the fur industry, factory farming and animal research, he said. Last Saturday, the group picketed at Emerald Downs race track in Auburn.
An irony is that the acts of destruction could work against the environment and animal welfare. The CUH fire harmed work to save endangered plants and efforts to find trees that can be used instead of old-growth stands. And fur farmers say releasing mink doesn't save their lives; it hastens their deaths. The animals often can't survive in the wild.
Arrests and convictions of eco-terrorists are rare. Prison terms are rarer still. Those who get arrested simply are too brazen. Prosecutors say two Washington state activists -- Justin C. Samuel of Snohomish and Peter D. Young of Mercer Island -- were responsible for raids on Wisconsin farms in 1997 in which 3,600 mink were released.
It was just before farmers began killing the animals for their pelts. As the raids continued, farmers began alerting each other about a vehicle they saw and a description of its possible occupants. Police caught Samuel and Young casing a fur farm. A farmer recognized their car. A federal grand jury indicted them on charges of violating a law passed in 1992 to stop animal rights extremism.
The FBI tracked Samuel down in Belgium, where he was arrested in 1999. He pleaded guilty in August 2000 and was sentenced to two years in prison. Young is still a fugitive. Even bolder was a rare daylight raid on a Snohomish County mink farm in February 1999. The event began with a protest at the Seattle Fur Exchange. About 15 protesters split off and ended up at the farm. Covering their faces with ski masks or hoods, they jumped over the farm's barbed-wire fence.
Some cages were smashed, and about a hundred animals were released. But two undercover police officers on the scene interrupted the raid. They arrested two adults and three juveniles. Burglary charges against the adults were dropped, however, when the undercover officers not wanting to blow their covers declined to talk with defense attorneys. The juveniles received community-service sentences.
Mandigo, the Seattle FBI chief, believes aggressive prosecution of people for less serious crimes such as releasing mink will deter those who have progressed to more dangerous actions, such as arson. Some federal investigat ors, however, question how effective they can be without more resources to track down and prosecute eco-terrorists. Several states have adopted special penalties for eco-terrorism. In Oregon this year, crimes against research, livestock and agricultural facilities were made part of the state's racketeering laws -- punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
In Washington, Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, introduced a bill this session that would define eco-terrorism as "criminal sabotage," carrying a penalty of five years in prison. The bill gained new life after the UW arson, and he promises to introduce the bill again this year if it doesn't pass. In Congress, Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Spokane, introduced a bill this month that would provide for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for eco-terrorist arson attacks. The bill also would let prosecutors seek the death penalty should anyone die in such attacks.
Phil Donegan, acting special agent in charge of the FBI's Portland office, is heading a nationwide investigation that includes local police, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The goal is to take down ELF and ALF. Earlier this year, a federal grand jury in Portland called above-ground activists, including Harper and Craig Rosebraugh, who acts as ELF's media spokesman, to testify. The investigation is continuing.
To Donegan, Rosebraugh's emergence as a spokesman suggests the structure of an international terrorist group. "They may not have a powerful leader, but maybe they have committees," he said. "We believe that this type of structure exists. We'd like to take down the organization whether it's above or below ground."
Actions of animal-rights activists and eco-terrorists have been charted in Washington and Oregon at least from the early 1990s. At first, the incidents centered on the fur industry. In 1991, a co-operative in Edmonds that supplied mink food burned down. The Animal Liberation Front claimed credit, as it did later that year when research labs were raided at Washington State University in Pullman. By the mid-1990s, a second group appeared in Oregon: the Earth Liberation Front. In several incidents, both the ALF and ELF have claimed credit. The groups have no leaders, no bank accounts, no membership lists. They are believed to operate in small groups.
Among the incidents since 1996 in Washington and Oregon are:
March 23: Mercer Island -- Animal Liberation Front paints animal-rights slogans on four buildings, including "Milk is Torture" at an espresso stand.
March 24: Seattle -- ALF vandalizes a cage meant to capture sea lions at the Ballard locks.
April 24: Mercer Island -- ALF paints "McDeath" on a McDonald's.
April 28: Mercer Island -- ALF targets Subway shop, gluing locks, breaking a window and painting slogans.
June 12: Snohomish -- Fur farm break-in. Sixty animals taken.
June 25: Mercer Island -- ALF graffiti found at a McDonald's, Subway and Baskin-Robbins.
Sept. 1: Seattle -- ALF glues locks at Ruddy's Meats. Vandalizes a second butcher shop and meat locker.
Sept. 30: Mercer Island -- More vandalism at McDonald's.
Oct. 5: Mercer Island -- Baskin- Robbins and Kentucky Fried Chicken targeted. "Dairy is Rape" and "All meat is murder" are painted at the restaurants.
Oct. 8: Bellevue -- Windows are smashed and slogans left at store that sells hams.
Oct. 10: Bellevue -- Animal-rights slogan painted at Starbucks.
Oct. 11: Bellevue -- Windows broken at Golden Steer Meats.
Oct. 14: Eugene, Ore. -- Locks glued and a slogan painted at a Chevron station. Similar vandalism occurs at a public-relations company that does work for Weyerhaeuser, McDonald's and other companies. The Earth Liberation Front takes credit.
Oct. 16: Grants Pass, Ore. -- ELF vandalizes a McDonald's.
Oct. 17: Cottage Grove, Ore. -- ELF hits another McDonald's.
Oct. 28: Detroit, Ore. -- A Forest Service pickup truck is torched, and an incendiary device is found on the roof of a ranger station. ALF and ELF take credit.
Oct. 30: Eugene, Ore. -- ALF and ELF claim responsibility for a fire that destroys a U.S. Forest Service ranger station. In Kirkland, slogans painted on trucks and building at a meat-distribution company.
Dec. 14: Snohomish -- Mink ranch targeted in June is raided again. Cages smashed and 50 mink released.
Dec. 21: Seattle -- "Murderer" and "scum" painted on buildings and trucks at Markethouse Corned Beef and Ruddy's Meats.
Jan. 11: Seattle -- Windows and a sign destroyed at the Butcher Shoppe in Ballard. A meat locker and Ruddy's Meats also are hit.
Jan. 15: Kirkland - Windows broken and trucks vandalized at a meat distributor.
Feb. 15: Seattle -- Slogans painted at Eilers Furs.
March 14: Willamette National Forest, Ore. -- Trees spiked. ALF and ELF take credit.
March 23: Seattle -- A chicken slaughterhouse vandalized.
April 6: Seattle -- "Meat is murder" painted on a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse billboard. Eilers Furs and Markethouse Corned Beef hit again.
April 23: Snohomish -- Twenty mink stolen from a farm.
May 30: Mount Angel, Ore. -- More than 9,000 mink released at a farm. Damage: $750,000.
July 5: Cle Ellum -- ALF takes 2,000 mink from farm. Damage: up to $50,000.
> July 21: Redmond, Ore. -- A meat-packing plant where horses are slaughtered is torched. AFL and ELF claim credit for $1 million in damage.
Nov. 29: Burns, Ore. -- ALF and ELF take credit for burning corrals for wild horses and releasing at least 400 horses. Damage is at least $450,000.
June 21: Olympia -- ALF and ELF set a fire at U.S. Department of Agriculture buildings, which house a division responsible for killing problem animals. Damage: more than $1.5 million.
Sept. 8: Burlington -- Activists raid the Broadview Egg Farm and free 11 chickens.
Dec. 27: Medford, Ore. -- Arsonists attack the headquarters of U.S. Forest Industries. Damage: $700,000.
Feb. 23: Snohomish -- Activists raid fur farm, releasing 80 animals. Five activists arrested.
May 9: Eugene, Ore. -- ALF sets a fire at Childer's Meat Co. on Mother's Day, saying it honored "Mother Earth and all the cows who have their babies stolen from them."
Oct. 24: Bellingham -- Activists steal rats and rabbits and vandalize labs at Western Washington University.
Nov. 1: Seattle -- The Gap is firebombed. The FBI believes ALF is responsible.
Nov. 20: Puyallup -- A WSU poultry lab is targeted. Windows, computers and microscopes destroyed.
Nov. 27: Puyallup -- One hundred eighty raspberry bushes, which are mistaken for hybrid poplar trees, destroyed.
Dec. 25: Monmouth, Ore. -- ELF torches of ce of timber company, Boise- Cascade. Damage: $1 million.
Jan. 5: Stanwood -- R&R Research is broken into and 23 rabbits are stolen.
Jan. 29: Monroe -- 60 mink released from farm.
May 7: Olympia -- Arson destroys an of ce of timber company Holbrook Inc. In Burlington, more than 200 chickens are taken from Dai-Zen Farms.
Aug. 1: Dusty -- Vandals destroy an eight-acre field of wheat and canola that Monsanto had used to test methods of farming that use little tillage.
Jan. 2: Glendale, Ore. -- Arson causes $400,000 in damage at Superior Lumber Co. ELF takes credit, saying in the new year it hopes to "see an escalation in tactics against capitalism and industry."
April 15: Portland -- ELF torches three cement trucks at Ross Island Sand and Gravel.
April 30: Snohomish -- Two hundred mink freed at farm targeted in 1996 and 2000.
May 21: Seattle and Clatskanie, Ore. -- ELF takes credit for simultaneous arsons at the Oregon tree farm and the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture. UW replacement cost: $5.4 million.
June 1: Near Mount Hood, Ore. -- A logging site in a national forest erupts in arson. One logging truck is destroyed and two others are damaged.