Although these terrorists aren't the typical evildoers, what's known as "special-interest extremism," or "eco-terrorism," is a very real terrorist threat.
Environmental and animal-rights activists preach peace and love, but the FBI classifies the Animal Liberation Front, for example, as a terrorist group, and describes it as "one of the most active extremists elements in the United States."
The FBI classifies the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) with ALF as the two main groups that characterize special-interest extremism. In fact, ELF is actually modeled after ALF.
As of February of this year, the FBI estimates that the ALF and ELF have committed more than 600 criminal acts in the U.S. since 1996, resulting in damages in excess of $43 million. The FBI said last year that eight of what the law enforcement group deemed "terrorist incidents" during 1999 were attributed to either ALF or ELF.
ELF operates in cells, all of which are anonymous to each other and the public. The group's goals, according to its Web site, is "to inflict economic damage on those profiting from the destruction and exploitation of the natural environment; to reveal and educate the public on the atrocities committed against the earth and all species that populate it; to take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human."
ALF, which says it is non-violent, consists of small autonomous groups of people who consider themselves vegetarians or vegans. The group's Web site says its short-term aim "is to save as many animals as possible and directly disrupt the practice of animal abuse." The group's long-term goal is "to end all animal suffering by forcing animal abuse companies out of business."
In recent years, a string of crimes shows the distinction environmental and animal-rights activists have traditionally observed - between targeting property and targeting people - is breaking down.
Groups like ELF and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have begun giving financial support to some very violent individuals.
For example, PETA gave $7,500 to Fran Trutt, who was convicted of attempted murder after he planted a radio-controlled nail bomb to kill the president of a U.S. medical company that used animals to research the use of staples in human operations. No one was hurt.
PETA also gave $20,000 to Rodney Coronado, convicted of burning a research lab at Michigan State University, and $5,000 to Josh Harper, who was convicted of assaulting police. PETA has also donated money to ELF-sponsored acts. PETA funding of such violent acts has even caused critics of the group to push for an end to its tax-exempt, non-profit status.
And in Britain last year, the managing director of a drug-testing facility that experiments on animals was beaten by three masked men with baseball bats. An executive for the same company based in the United States was subjected to repeated harassment.
These kinds of attacks are back in the news lately following a vandalism spree against about 40 SUVs in central Virginia, which caused an estimated $45,000 worth of damage. Since July 2002, the SUVs were treated with glass-etching cream, had their tires slashed or have been subject to other damaging activity. Damage to just two of the vehicles was estimated at $15,000, according to ELF.
"We're looking around, checking people, suspicious characters, you know, just trying to keep an eye on the neighborhood and everything," said one of the victimized drivers. "I really think it's unfair - people damaging other people's property like that. It really upsets me that someone wants to do that to other people."
ELF acknowledged that the SUV attacks likely were carried out by member cells in the Richmond, Va., area.
"SUVs have not only added tremendous amounts of pollution to our environment, but have also contributed to increased congestion on roadways and higher death rates in auto accidents," the ELF Web site says. "ELF actions are a reminder to SUV owners of how their personal choices affect the society and environment in which they live."
Just one of the many other destructive acts ELF claimed responsibility for was an Aug. 11 arson attack on the U.S. Forest Service Northeast Research Station in Irvine, Pa. The laboratory there was set ablaze, causing more than $700,000 in damage and destroying portions of 70 years worth of research.
ELF threatened similar facilities with other destruction. These groups have also hit fast-food chains and other similar establishments.
Those in the movement call themselves "eco-defense activists."
"If we really believe that animals have the same right to be free from pain and suffering at our hands, then of course we're going to be blowing things up and smashing windows," PETA's vegan outreach director said recently. "I think it's a great way to bring animal liberation, considering the level of suffering, the atrocities. I think it would be great if all of the fast-food outlets, slaughterhouses, these laboratories and banks that fund them, exploded tomorrow."
Last year, a member of ELF spoke with Fox News about his group's ends and means, and why members perpetrate such crimes.
"It sends out a threat to those who assault environment that we will escalate tactics," ELF spokesman Leslie James told Fox in May 2001. "Because we only have one Earth, we need to protect it with everything we have."