Earth Liberation Front

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Earth Liberation Front

Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is a grassroots environmental group that the Federal Bureau of Investigation labeled "a serious terrorism threat." Since 1996, ELF and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) committed more than 600 acts of vandalism that resulted in more than $43 million in damage, an FBI terrorism expert reported to Congress in 2002.

James Jarboe, the FBI section chief for Domestic Terrorism, told Congress that it was hard to track down ELF and AlF members because the two groups have little organized structure. According to the ELF link on the ALF Web site, there is no designated leadership nor formal membership. ELF and ALF claim responsibility for their activities by e-mail, fax, and other communications usually sent to the media.

In 2002, media information was provided by the North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office. Spokesman Leslie James Pickering wrote that he received anonymous communiqués from ELF and further distributed them.

ELF describes itself as an international underground organization dedicated "to stop the continued destruction of the natural environment." Members join anonymous cells that may consist of one person or more. Members of one cell do not know the identity of members in other cells, a structure that prevents activists in one cell from being compromised should members in another cell become disaffected. People act on their own and carry out actions following anonymous ELF postings. ELF actions include sabotage and property damage.

ELF postings include guidelines for taking action. One guideline is to inflict "economic damage on people who profit from the destruction and exploitation of the natural environment." Another guideline is to reveal and educate the public about the "atrocities" committed against the environment . The third guideline is to take all needed precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human.

ELF is an outgrowth of Earth First! , a group formed during the 1980s to promote environmental causes. Earth First! held protests and civil disobedience events, according to the FBI. In 1984, Earth First! members began a campaign of "tree spiking." to prevent loggers from cutting down trees. Members inserted metal or ceramic spikes into trees. The spikes damaged saws when loggers tried to cut down trees.

When Earth First! members in Brighton, England disagreed with proposals to make their group more mainstream, radical members of the group founded the Earth Liberation Front in 1992. The following year, ELF aligned itself with ALF.

The Animal Liberation Front was started in Great Britain during the mid-1970s. The loosely organized movement had the goal of ending animal abuse and exploitation of animals. An American ALF branch was started in the late 1970s. According to the FBI, people became members by participating in "direct action" activities against companies or people using animals for research or economic gain. ALF activists targeted animal research laboratories, fur companies, mink farms, and restaurants.

ELF and ALF declared mutual solidarity in a 1993 announcement. The following year, the San Francisco branch of Earth First! recommended that the group mainstream itself away from ELF and its unlawful activities. ELF calls its activities "monkeywrenching.", a term that refers to actions such as tree spiking, arson, sabotage of logging equipment, and property destruction.

In a 43-page document titled "Year End Report for 2001," ELF and ALF claimed responsibility for 67 illegal acts that year. ELF claimed sole credit for setting a fire that year that caused $5.4 million in damage to a University of Washington horticulture building. The group also took sole credit for a 1998 fire set at a Vail, Colorado ski resort. Damage totaled $12 million for the arson that destroyed four ski lifts, a restaurant, a picnic facility, and a utility building, according to the FBI.

ELF issued a statement after the arson saying that the fire was set to protect the lynx, which was being reintroduced to the Rocky Mountains. "Vail, Inc. is already the largest ski operation in North American and now wants to expand even further...This action is just a warning. We will be back if this greedy corporation continues to trespass into wild and unroaded areas," the statement said.

In 2002, ELF claimed credit for a fire that caused $800,000 in damage at the University of Minnesota Microbial Plant and Genomics Center. ELF targeted the genetic crop laboratory because of its efforts to "control and exploit" nature .

"Eco-terrorism" is the term used by the FBI to define illegal activities related to ecology and the environment. These activities involve the "use of criminal violence against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented group."

Although ELF members are difficult to track, several arrests have been made. In February 2001, two teen-age boys pleaded guilty to setting fires at a home construction site in Long Island, New York. In December of that year, a man was also charged with spiking 150 trees in Indiana state forests. In his Congress testimony, Jarboe said that cooperation among law enforcement agencies was essential to respond efficiently to eco-terrorism. As of 2002, the FBI has joint terrorism task forces in 44 cities and the bureau plans to have task forces in all 56 of its field offices by the end of 2003.

[Liz Swain ]



Alexander, Yonah and Edgar H. Brenner. U. S. Federal Responses to Terrorism. Ardsley, NY: Transnational Publishers, 2002.

Newkirk, Ingrid and Chrissie Hynde. Free the Animals: The Story of the Animal Liberation Front. New York, NY: Lantern Books, 2000.


Society of American Foresters. "Legislator Focuses on Ecoterrorism McInnis Asks Environmental Groups to Denounce Violence." The Forestry Source (January, 2002).


Federal Bureau of Investigation, 935 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC USA (202) 324-3000, , <>

North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office, James Leslie Pickering, P.O. Box 14098, Portland, OR USA 97293 (503) 804-4965, Email: [email protected], <>