The Earth Liberation Front and Environmental Terroris

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THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT AND ENVIRONMENTAL TERRORISM Stefan H. Leader* Peter Probst Introduction In the wake of September 11, 2001, Americans can be forgiven for thinking that terrorist threats come from abroad and have a distinctly Islamic character. In fact, homegrown terrorists of all kinds continue to flourish in the US. Case in point: The Earth Liberation Front (ELF). ELF has become the most active and the most destructive environmental terrorist group in the United States. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Earth Liberation Front, together with its sister organization, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), in the past 6 years has committed more than 600 criminal acts that have resulted in more than $43 million in damages.1 Moreover, attacks have been perpetrated in virtually every region of the US against a wide variety of targets. Origins The Earth Liberation Front was established in 1992 in Brighton, England and dedicated to saving the environment. It was founded by the more radical members of the activist environmental group,” Earth First!” who believed criminal acts would better advance their environmentalist agenda than would legal protest. The American branch announced its creation in October 1996 with an arson attack on a US Forest Service truck in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest. The decoupling of ELF from Earth First enabled the two organizations to focus on their respective constituencies. Earth First recruits those who believe in peaceful, non-violent protest. The ELF, in contrast, draws those who favor direct action and revolutionary violence. The goals of the two groups are similar. They differ primarily in the means to be employed. The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) was formed in Great Britain in the 1970s as an outgrowth of groups such as Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherds Conservation Society. It predates ELF and is predominantly concerned with animal rights issues. Over the years, ALF has become increasingly radical and violent. Traditionally, the agendas of the two groups have overlapped and, in an open 1993 communiqué, ELF declared solidarity with the ALF.2 Since then, increasingly, there has been a convergence of leadership, membership, agendas and funding. * Author biographies at end of paper. 1

Organization, Ideology and Goals Leaderless Resistance: ELF’s web site describes the organization as an “international underground movement consisting of autonomous groups of people who carry out direct action according to the E.L.F. guidelines.”3 [Emphasis added.] In fact, ELF, like some other terrorist groups, adheres to the principal of “leaderless resistance.” Developed by Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and Aryan Nations activist Louis Beam, leaderless resistance is a technique by which terrorist groups can carry out violent acts while reducing the risk of infiltration by law enforcement elements. The basic principle of leaderless resistance is that there is no centralized authority or chain-of-command. The various cells are linked by shared ideology but otherwise are autonomous, for the most part unconnected and unknown to each other.4 The ELF web site, which plays a vital role in the organization’s communications with its members, advises prospective members not to try to join existing cells, as such efforts would be fruitless and could threaten the organization, but, rather, to form their own cell and proclaim membership in ELF by attacking the property of those who seek to despoil the environment. Moreover, the web site says this about the organization’s operating philosophy: “By operating in cells (small groups that consist of one to several people), the security of group members is maintained. Each cell is anonymous not only to the public but also to one another. This decentralized structure helps keep activists out of jail and free to continue conducting actions.”5 This lack of formal organization makes it extremely difficult for law enforcement to penetrate the ELF, as, in...
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