From the left or the right, eco-terror is wrong


Mar 11, 2001
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From the left or right, terror is wrong

By Todd Wilkinson, Missoula Montana

February 25, 2002

You can go on the Internet and find a press release from the Animal Liberation Front proclaiming its "accomplishments" for 2001.

The list includes physical damage caused to 10 fur stores, five research laboratories, four meat shops, three McDonald's restaurants, three Dairy Queens, three Burger Kings, three factory farms, two Pizza Huts, one Kentucky Fried Chicken, a hunting shop, a pet store, a wild horse facility and a circus animal train.

The organization claims to have no central office, no mailing address, no membership list and operates only in clandestine "cells" while exchanging information via "communiques." It boasts of breaking approximately150 windows or doors, damaging 11 vehicles and a yacht and setting four arson fires.

Similarly, at the same website, you can read from the resume of ALF's sister group, the Earth Liberation Front. Since 1997, ELF claims that its cells have carried out dozens of attacks, resulting in more than $40 million in damage, including the torching of a restaurant and equipment at the Vail Ski Resort. As the ELF structure is non-hierarchical, individuals involved control their own activities, the website declares.

Who are the people carrying out these activities? Because involved individuals are anonymous, they could be anyone. Parents, teachers, church volunteers, your neighbor or even your partner could be involved. In their guidelines, ALF and ELF assert that property destruction and economic sabotage are justified if carried out in nonviolent ways to stop environmental degradation and exploitation of living creatures.

This radical fringe of environmentalism is well organized and, so far, smarter than most law enforcement. Republican Rep. Scott McInnis of Colorado has been presiding over congressional hearings in Washington, D.C., on the troubling rash of these attacks.

For most of us, there are no words strong enough to express how wrong-headed, socially disgusting and sinister such actions are. Violence, whether directly or indirectly committed against humans, has no justification - even if done in the name of halting violence against nature.

But if McInnis is sincere in wishing to investigate the issue of terrorism as it relates to natural resources, he needs to broaden his definition. Not long ago, when he prodded mainstream environmental organizations to denounce eco-terrorism, most groups refused - though not because they favor sabotage. They were insulted by the insinuation that they could in any way be connected to groups like ALF and ELF.

They said the congressman's demand was the equivalent of asking government-bashing politicians or loggers, miners and "Wise Use" groups to prove they had no connection to the bombings in Oklahoma City by publicly condemning the actions of Timothy McVeigh.

One of the few conservation-oriented witnesses called to testify before the congressional committee is Montana resident Gloria Flora. She is the former Forest Service supervisor who spoke out when members of her staff on the Toiyabe-Humboldt National Forest were threatened by some residents of Elko, Nev.

During the 1990s in Nevada, bombs were planted near the offices and vehicles of federal employees. Dozens of public servants also reported that merely wearing their uniforms made them a target for intimidation by goonish land-users.

If McInnis is sincere in wanting to confront violence, perhaps he should be asked to go on record as opposing such behavior. He might want to condemn the antics of radio commentators who refer to conservationists as eco-Nazis, and who use the language of thuggery to stir up hate.

He might also call forth Montana Republican Gov. Judy Martz to ask for her definition of intimidation. A few weeks ago, Martz attended a logger's rally and egged on the audience by calling all environmentalists obstructionists. She divided her state into two kinds of people: us vs. them. Then she tauntingly invited any conservationist in the room to step forward.

The governor, who routinely spews incendiary rhetoric against the federal government and any citizen she doesn't agree with, looked into the crowd for any sign of a conservationist and mockingly said, "It's OK, nobody will hurt you."

Just as it is glaringly wrong for a logger to face the possibility of being permanently maimed by slicing into a tree that has been armed with a spike, so, too, is it deplorable for anyone to harass or intimidate a federal employee or citizen because they want to challenge a timber sale or enforce regulations on a livestock grazing allotment.

No matter what direction they come from, terrorism and hate, whether from the left or right, are just plain wrong.

Freelance writer Todd Wilkinson lives in Missoula, Mont., and is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News.

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