Earth Liberation Front (ELF)
Earth Liberation Front (ELF)
LEADER: Craig Rosebraugh
USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Worldwide
Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is an eco-terrorist (environmental extremist) movement founded in Brighton, United Kingdom, in 1992, as a spin-off from Earth First! ELF has since been involved in numerous cases of arson, bombing, sabotage, vandalism, and tree spiking. Tree spiking consists of the insertion of a long iron nail inside tree trunks to cause chain saws to break when loggers are cutting it. Tree spiking is not only harmful for trees and chain saws, but also causes serious accidents, hurting or maiming workers.
During the First U.K. Earth First! meeting in 1992, in Brighton, England, a group of activists decided that the movement was not radical enough to impact environmental policies. Judy Bari, Earth First!'s leader, felt that Earth First! should adopt a non-violence code and do civil disobedience blockades, while other more aggressive acts (e.g., arson, sabotage, and vandalism) might be done by Earth Liberation Front (ELF). She also mentioned that the England's Earth First!, although sympathizing with the ELF's activities, were not directly engaged in them, and the same should be done by Earth First! elsewhere, including in the United States. Therefore, it seems clear that the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is a branch of its mother-organization, the Earth First! radical environmentalist organization, being formed to carry out the most violent "direct-action" agenda, while the Earth First! gradually changed its public image into a "more moderate" environmental organization.
ELF's activists have initially dedicated themselves to the sabotage of bulldozers, while its propaganda incited others to join in and start their own cells of radical "direct action." In the mid-1990s, the American ELF cell (or cells) was very active in several regions of the United States, breaking into fur and horse farms, releasing animals, and setting fire to buildings, as well as wrecking veterinary offices that provided services to those enterprises. The movement quickly became an umbrella and an excuse for a variety of troublemakers and vandals who could give a "noble face" (as being environmentally concerned) to their personal rage, anti-American feelings, or those in search for a rush of adrenaline.
ELF's disclaimer in its publication states that, "Because the ELF structure is non-hierarchical, there is no centralized organization or leadership. There is also no 'membership' in the Earth Liberation Front…. Individuals who choose to do actions under the banner of E.L.F. do so only driven by their personal conscience. These have been (sic) individual choices, and are not endorsed, encouraged, or approved of by the management, contributors, or readers." In contradiction to the first sentence, they also acknowledge an existing "management." After the fashion of Earth First! propaganda, they also publish a list of activists who have committed arson, property destruction, and vandalism on behalf of environment defense—many of them being prosecuted or already convicted.
The list of felonies committed by ELF's activists is long, starting in 1996. They claimed responsibility for numerous acts. But, in spite of ELF's claims of being a loose, decentralized, and leaderless movement, some militants have acted more directly now and then, either as ELF's spokesperson, webmaster, or recruiter.
PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS
The main ideology behind the escalation of violence by ELF's cells seems to derive from Rosebraugh's doctrines in favor of a violent revolution against the U.S. government and private enterprises, also targeting wealthy communities and upper-middle-class people, who symbolize the American way of life. Rosebraugh's discourse is full of contradictions becasue he advocates in his writings bloody revolution, murder, rape, and pillage, stating that "terrorism can be okay, can be justified." Nevertheless, he also claims that he respects human life, stating that he struggled to present a non-violent philosophy on behalf of ELF, although he personally questioned "… if there is credibility involved in non-violence at all." A message released by ELF in 2002, containing information about arson and sabotage, also informed that they would no longer hesitate to pick up the gun to implement justice. Another ELF activist, Phillip Dawdy, said during a speech in 2003 that "The threat to the life of the planet is so severe that political violence must be understood as a viable option."
Craig Rosebraugh was the spokesperson for the Earth Liberation Front during four years (1997–2001), advocating non-violence to the ELF activists. However, from 2003 on, after getting a master's degree at the Institute for Social Ecology of Goddard College in Vermont, his discourse changed. He published a book in the same year with the title The Legitimacy of Political Violence, wherein he defends bloody revolution and the use of a range of tactics, both violent (including armed struggle, bombing, and assassination) and non-violent ones. Rosebraugh has publicly defined non-violent tactics as massive property destruction, online sabotage, physically occupying buildings, and large-scale urban rioting. Other targets he incites activists to attack are the national and international media networks, such as CNN, ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC, among others. He recommends that these companies should not only have their building and offices physically occupied, but that activists should engage in strategies and tactics that knock the networks off the air. He formed a new organization, Arissa. In Rosebraugh's own words, "The primary goal of Arissa is to create a political and social revolution in the United States of America." Although officially detached from ELF, his violent doctrine was welcomed by some of ELF's activists, resulting in the shooting of a police officer in Red Bluff, California. Rosebraugh did not try to hide his sympathy for the perpetrator in the underground media.
ELF's goal is to inflict the maximum economic damage to those enterprises they consider to be destroying the environment, such as fur farms, meat packers, construction companies and urban developers, agricultural enterprises, biotechnology companies, leaders of big industries, drivers of SUVs, pharmaceutical laboratories, tourism businesses and resorts, etc.
ELF accuses capitalism of being at the root of all injustice and violence around the world, showing sympathy for the Taliban regime, Zapatista guerrilla, and leftist terrorist groups acting in the United States and in several other countries. They accuse the American people of being shallow, alienated, and selfish, always supportive of governmental policies designed to interfere with the self-determination and sovereignty of other nations, waging wars to achieve economic profit for U.S. corporations without hesitation. They keep a close relationship with another extremist spin-off from the Earth First!, the Liberation Animal Front (ALF) that is dedicated to similar violent actions on behalf of animal rights advocacy. In 2001, an ELF's spokesperson declared to the Associated Press that what kept them going was, "The realization that what the ELF and ALF are doing is correct. The realization that I support underground direct action aimed at destroying the capitalist ideology, and I want it to increase dramatically."
ELF distributes a manual, "The Nighttime Gardening Guide," providing information on how to destroy biotechnology plantations, how to break into greenhouses, laboratories, and buildings, climb fences, sabotage equipment, how to clean from any evidence the crime scene, and how to evade it without being caught.
Constant mobility of activists and a violent discourse through books and underground media seem to be the main assets of ELF. The cells seem to act independently, as small groups that use urban guerrilla tactics to sabotage, bomb, torch, or wreck buildings, crops, etc., during the night. However, investigators suspect of the existence of a small central group that recruits new activists to carry on specific attacks, especially among teenagers and young adults from small communities.
- John Hanna, who bombed seven aircraft with homemade napalm bombs at the Salinas airport, was convicted to five years in prison.
- Four of ELF's activists were arrested on charges of arson of four new homes in Middle Island and another one under construction in Miller place, and arson conspiracy to set fire to a duck farm and a McDonald's in Miller Place, in New York.
- Jacob D.B. Sherman was convicted by the arson attack against Schoppert Logging Company.
- Andrew McCrea was arrested on charges of murder of a police officer.
- Arson of several Californian auto-dealers stores and vehicles.
- Posting on the Internet of instructions on how to build bombs. Vandalism against a mink farm in Washington State, vandalism against McDonald's restaurants, and bomb attack on Chiron Corporation, a pharmaceutical research company.
- William Cottrell was convicted for torching a SUV.
- Three firebombings of residential construction sites in Sacramento, California.
Before the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health in February 12, 2002, the testimony of James F. Jarboe, Domestic Terrorism Section Chief, Counterterrorism Division, FBI, said, "During the past several years, special interest extremism, as characterized by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), has emerged as a serious terrorist threat. Generally, extremist groups engage in much activity that is protected by constitutional guarantees of free speech and assembly. Law enforcement becomes involved when the volatile talk of these groups transgresses into unlawful action. The FBI estimates that the ALF/ELF has committed more than 600 criminal acts in the United States since 1996, resulting in damages in excess of 43 million dollars."
In May 2004, three years after the firebombing of the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture, a $50,000 reward was posted by the FBI for information leading to the perpetrators. According to investigators, the incendiary devices and arsonists' style were identical to those of an arson at an Oregon tree farm, where the initials "ELF" were left as a signature. Investigators strongly suspect that an ELF cell may be responsible for the arson in Washington. ELF and ALF are considered by the FBI among the most dangerous domestic terrorist groups.
Eco-radicals: Environmental Faction Decides to "Pick up the Gun"
It looked like business as usual for America's eco-radicals when a U.S. Forest Service research station in Irvine, Pa., was torched on Aug. 11.
Certainly, no one familiar with the movement was surprised when the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) claimed responsibility for the $700,000 arson. Like the attack, the press release was standard operating procedure for the ELF, a loose-knit group of individual activists and tiny cells that has claimed responsibility for millions of dollars in damage.
But this communiqué was anything but routine. While the ELF and its sister group, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), have been tagged by the as America's top "domestic terrorism" threat, their activists have always insisted that the "terrorist" label is wrong.
The two groups openly promote economic sabotage and other "direct actions"—they're blamed for more than million in property damage since—but have consistently cautioned followers to steer clear of harming people. The's manual for new members requires them "to take all necessary precautions to ensure no one is physically injured."
It may be time to rewrite the manual. The Sept. 3 statement claiming the Pennsylvania attack made it clear that some of the ELF's operatives have decided to trade in property attacks for terror.
"[S]egments of this global revolutionary movement are no longer limiting their revolutionary potential by adhering to a flawed, inconsistent 'non-violence' ideology," the communiqué said.
"While innocent life will never be harmed in any action we undertake, where it is necessary, we will no longer hesitate to pick up the gun to implement justice [emphasis added]."
Lest this chilling message be misunderstood, the statement went on: "The diverse efforts of this revolutionary force cannot be contained, and will only continue to intensify as we are brought face to face with the oppressor in inevitable, violent confrontation. We will stand up and fight for our lives against this iniquitous civilization until its reign of TERROR is forced to an end—by any means necessary."
This dramatic ideological shift toward violence reflects, at least in part, the potent influence of a British-born group called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). Since it brought its openly terroristic approach to the United States in 1999, members have participated in its campaign of harassment against employees of companies who do business with Huntingdon Life Sciences, one of the world's largest animal-testing firms.
Source: Southern Poverty Law Center, 2002
The FBI advised in its 2000–2001 Review that the criminal activities perpetrated by environmental extremists have increased in both frequency and intensity in that period, with the escalation of such practices encompassing arson, bombing, harassment of individuals and businesses, death threats, and hate mail. The Review also said that ELF has targeted laboratories and research facilities, fur farms, horse ranches, meat-processing plants, forest service research centers, and logging companies.
The FBI 2000–2001 Review also cited ELF's self-definition as an "international underground organization consisting of autonomous groups of people who carry out direct action according to E.L.F. guidelines, such as 1), to inflict economic damage to those who profit from the destruction and exploitation of the natural environment; 2), to reveal and educate the public on the atrocities committed against the environment and all the species which cohabitate in it; and 3), to take all the necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non human."
The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) denounces the dangers posed by ELF and other extremist environmentalist groups, and the contradictions between their discourse of respect for all life forms and their violent acts against property and individuals. Moreover, they mention ELF's propaganda and statements to the press, saying that as "global revolutionaries," they must no longer adhere to a "flawed, inconsistent, nonviolent ideology." CCF also reported in a 2002 article that the Forest Service Officials have alerted loggers in Montana that the many out-of-state activists in their area were trained in vandalism, arson, and bomb-making, informing the loggers that many of such activists were associated to the Earth Liberation Front. CCF also draws attention to the violent discourse and actions by ELF activists as an indication of the risk of an escalation in violence in the near future.
Earth Liberation Front activities are currently under intense scrutiny by state and federal agencies, and the increase in arrests and convictions of recent years seems to have exerted an impact on the group's activity. However, terrorist and extremist environmentalist groups tend to support each other in many ways such as sharing information, giving financial support, hiring lawyers, and organizing a network of safe houses for activists.
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