S.U.V.'s, Golf, Even Peas Join Eco-Vandals' Hit List


Mar 11, 2001
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Saturday June 30 02:30 PM EDT

S.U.V.'s, Golf, Even Peas Join Eco-Vandals' Hit List


Federal authorities report a growing pattern of eco-sabotage, or vandalism, that its anonymous perpetrators claim to have started in defense of the environment.
SEATTLE, June 30 The fire at Joe Romania Chevrolet in Eugene, Ore., started just before 2:45 one morning in the spring. Nearly 30 Chevrolet Suburbans and Tahoes were destroyed in the blaze, the second time in nine months that vehicles in the dealership's sport-utility lot had been burned.

The fire at Ray A. Schoppert Logging Inc., in Eagle Creek, Ore., also occurred between 2 and 3 a.m. This one, on June 1, near the site of a disputed timber sale in a federal forest, burned three logging trucks.

Sometime in the night of June 10, someone broke into a research farm owned by Seminis Inc., near Twin Falls, Idaho, and ripped out hundreds of genetically altered pea plants.

These incidents share more than the fact that none has resulted in an arrest. All three appear to be part of what federal authorities describe as a growing pattern of eco-sabotage, or vandalism, that its anonymous perpetrators claim to have started in defense of the environment.

Many of these attacks, which the authorities say are especially prevalent here in the Pacific Northwest, are relatively small-scale and fail to attract much attention. Many go unreported, for the companies involved are often reluctant to generate publicity that might make them a target all over again.

But even if less noticed than major acts of eco-sabotage like the recent fire at a University of Washington genetics research laboratory, the vandalism has quietly reshaped life for many small businesses, forcing a need for safety measures that would have once been unthinkable.

"We've had to beef up security so it looks like a prison around our greenhouses," said Crystal Fricker, president of Pure-Seed Testing Company in Canby, Ore., which grows all kinds of grass seed. The company installed a chain-link fence with razor wire, motion sensors and an alarm system after vandals broke into greenhouses on its 110-acre property last June.

The intruders destroyed several research projects, stomped on the grass, spray-painted slogans like "Nature bites back" and left behind golf balls marked with the letter A, the international anarchists' symbol. Pure-Seed was apparently singled out because of its experiments with a genetically modified form of grass that could be used for putting greens on golf courses.

A few days after the incident, an e- mail message from a sender identifying itself as the Anarchist Golfing Association claimed responsibility for the vandalism, which caused roughly $500,000 in damage.

"Grass, like industrial culture, is invasive and permeates every aspect of our lives," the message said. "While the golf trade journals claim that `golf courses provide suitable habitat for wildlife,' we see them as a destroyer of all things wild."

In a sign of the growing fears, even companies that say they do no genetic-engineering research whatsoever are taking precautions.

At its plant in Tangent, Ore., Barenbrug U.S.A., a company that sells alfalfa and other turf and forage grasses, took down all signs that had the word "research" in them, even though the company conducts only traditional cross-breeding.

"It kind of bothers you when you feel you've got to keep out of the public eye," said Bob Richardson, supply manager at Barenbrug and president of the Oregon Seed Trade Association, an industry group.

"But there are people out there who don't understand what's going on here," Mr. Richardson said. "They think we're working on some alfalfa plant that's going to expand and explode and eat downtown Tangent."

The attacks are causing consternation not only for businesses, university researchers and law enforcement authorities but for mainstream environmental groups as well, who fear that the vandalism is undermining legitimate grievances.

"I loathe S.U.V.'s; I have deep concerns about genetic engineering," said Chip Giller, editor of gristmagazine.com, the online journal of the Earth Day Network, based in Seattle. "I understand the anger."

"But these attacks aren't constructive," Mr. Giller said. "They're not winning any converts to the cause. They're not environmentalism. They're vandalism."

State and federal authorities say that in addition to the recent fires at the University of Washington and on an Oregon poplar farm, they are investigating at least a dozen other incidents of suspected eco-sabotage in the Northwest in recent months.

Many of the acts are thought to be tied in some fashion to the Earth Liberation Front, a loosely organized network of protesters.

After the fire at the car dealership in Eugene, Craig Rosebraugh, who calls himself a spokesman for the North American Earth Liberation Front press office, said he had received an "anonymous communiqué" from someone who claimed responsibility for the fire.

"Gas-guzzling S.U.V.'s are at the forefront of this vile, imperialistic culture's caravan towards self-destruction," said the statement, which Mr. Rosebraugh said had been delivered to him electronically. "We can no longer allow the rich to parade around in their armored existence, leaving a wasteland behind in their tire tracks."

Steve Romania, the owner of the dealership in Eugene named for his father, Joe, said he was bewildered both by the two attacks on his business and the steps he has had to take as a result.

"I've put up a fence around the lot and had to hire extra security," Mr. Romania said. "This is a car dealership. We're not General Motors. We're just a small, family-owned business that's been in this location for 40 years. I still can't understand why we're a target."

While small-business owners are ratcheting up security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is not only offering tips on deterring potential vandalism but is doing so to an ever- growing pool of companies.

"It used to be just mink farmers and logging companies, but now the target industries are expanding," explained Beth Anne Steele, a spokeswoman for the F.B.I. in Portland. "Now it's tree farms, research facilities, housing developments, anything to do with animals."

"We tell them all they should be very aware of any unusual movements, anybody spending odd amounts of time in the area, anybody hanging around with cameras," Ms. Steele said. "We tell them to pay attention to security."

The Earth Liberation Front recently posted a primer on "the politics and practicalities of arson" on its Web site, offering tips on starting fires with timers and telling adherents that "the objective of every action should be assured destruction."

But despite searches of the home of Mr. Rosebraugh in Portland, and bringing him before a federal grand jury, the authorities have made little progress in solving the crimes. Mr. Rosebraugh says he is not involved in any of the incidents.

"These folks work in the middle of the night," said Steven Berry, a supervisory special agent for the F.B.I. in Washington, D.C. "They know how to evade security, and they know how to cover their tracks. They make sure that at the scene of a crime, little if any evidence is left behind."

In Idaho, vandals entered the test plots of Seminis Inc. (NasdaqNM:SMNS - news) and ripped out the pea plants. Genetix Alert, which describes itself as an independent news service, published a statement from those who claimed to have destroyed the plants.

"These peas weren't normal," the statement said. "They had their genes changed to make the plants stay alive when sprayed with glyphosate herbicide. These gene-altered plants can cross-breed with regular plants, and we don't know what they will do to people, animals, the soil, or anything."

Seminis, one of the largest seed companies in the world, said the vandals had destroyed important research. "Sadly, this time, the greatest damage was to a conventionally bred variety with root rot resistance," a company spokesman said.

In one of the rare instances in which a suspected eco-saboteur has been caught, the police in Eugene arrested two men in connection to the first attack on the car dealership. Eugene police officers said that the arsonists had set up jugs of camp fuel and gasoline in an unsuccessful effort to ignite a fuel truck belonging to a local oil company.

Two men, Jeffrey Michael Luers and Craig Andrew Marshall, were arrested and charged with the crimes. Mr. Marshall, 28, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit arson at the car dealership and is serving five years and six months in prison. Mr. Luers was recently sentenced to more than 22 years in prison despite pleas from his lawyer that the punishment was excessive. Mr. Luers, his lawyer argued, had taken steps to reduce any danger to people; prosecutors said the fuel truck, had it exploded, could have caused widespread damage.

Mr. Luers, 22, told the judge he had acted out of frustration "because of the irreversible damage being done to the planet our home." Mr. Luers, known as Free to some colleagues in Eugene's network of anarchists, and Mr. Marshall, known as Critter, were mentioned in the liberation front's communiqué.

"Romania Chevrolet is the same location that was targeted last June, for which two earth warriors, Free and Critter, are being persecuted," the message said. "The fire that burns within Free and Critter burns within all of us and cannot be extinguished by locking them up."

Despite the arrests of Mr. Luers and Mr. Marshall, most cases, including all the recent ones here in the Northwest, remain unsolved, even with tantalizing clues.

At Pure-Seed, the grass company attacked a year ago, the e-mail message from the presumed perpetrators was found to have come from a library in Eugene, a college town that is a magnet for self-described anarchists, but the sender had established a temporary account under an assumed name and was not found.

In any event, none of the saboteurs ever took up Pure-Seed on an offer to drop all charges if saboteurs would come forward so company officials could explain to them what their research was all about.

Law-enforcement officials are becoming increasingly concerned. While there have been no deaths or injuries so far, they say, that could change at any time.

"Sooner or later, one of these events is going to happen where somebody gets hurt," said Ms. Steele, the F.B.I. spokeswoman, "whether it's someone working late in a building somewhere or a firefighter responding to the scene."


Mar 12, 2001
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It's about time the issue received 'some' press.  I would not mind seeing the Bush-man put a fire under the FBI's toes to get out and round up a few of these home-grown terrorists.  

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