US hounds eco-terrorists


Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, with FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III behind him, announces the indictment of 11 animal rights and environmental activists on arson and other charges.

Attorney
General Alberto R. Gonzales, with FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III
behind him, announces the indictment of 11 animal rights and
environmental activists on arson and other charges. (By Joshua Roberts — Getty Images)

After its members allegedly set fire to
the office of the Boise Cascade wood products company in Monmouth,
Ore., on Christmas Day in 1999, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) sent
out a communique saying, “Early Christmas morning elves left coal in
Boise Cascade’s stocking.”

In Washington, the Justice Department
called the indictments a breakthrough in what prosecutors said has been
a long and difficult investigation of the animal rights group and the
environmental organization, which organize themselves in small,
Maoist-style cells and advocate “direct action” against those who abuse
animals or Earth.

“Today’s indictment proves that we will not
tolerate any group that terrorizes the American people, no matter its
intentions or objectives,” Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said at
a news conference.

Joining Gonzales, FBI Director Robert S.
Mueller III said: “Investigating and preventing animal rights and
environmental extremism is one of the FBI’s highest domestic
priorities.”

There are 188 open investigations of crimes claimed
by the two groups, dating to 1987, according to Carl J. Truscott,
director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives. He said 25 to 30 of those cases are being actively being
pursued — about half of them in the Pacific Northwest, California and
Utah.

In Oregon, where a federal grand jury handed up the
indictments, U.S. Attorney Karin J. Immergut said that it took a long
time for federal, state and local authorities to gain investigative
traction in the arson cases because the 11 alleged conspirators, who
referred to themselves as the “family,” had taken an oath to protect
each other. A key break occurred, she said, when informants were found.

“Getting inside information was one of the critical components of being able to crack the case,” she said.

Investigators
said that most of the 11 people indicted have lived in and around the
university town of Eugene, Ore. Eight of them have been arrested — six
in December in locations across the nation and two this week in Eugene.
Three are at-large and believed to be outside the country.

Immergut predicted that the indictments “will put a significant dent in the movement.”

This
week, though, the ELF claimed another arson — a mansion under
construction on an island in Puget Sound was destroyed by a fire. The
ELF has claimed responsibility for burning down a number of big houses
being built in Washington state in the past two years, and no arrests
have been made. In California in recent years, the ELF has also claimed
responsibility for arsons in housing developments and attacks on SUV
sales lots.

“Our law enforcement has a lousy record of catching
these people,” said Gary R. Perlstein, a professor of criminology and
criminal justice at Portland State University in Oregon.
“Unfortunately, I think the message you can take away from these
indictments is that you can get away with these kind of crimes for a
long time.”

The ALF was created in the mid-1970s in Britain as a
radical outgrowth of the animal rights movement. The group became
active in the United States in the late 1980s. Its Web site says that
one of its primary goals is “to inflict economic damage to those who
profit from the misery and exploitation of animals.”

The ELF
emerged in Britain in the mid-1990s, and its organization and tactics
are modeled after those of the ALF. Members of the two organizations
often work together, Perlstein said.

“These people have the
ability to hide and stay away from law enforcement in a way that
traditional criminals are not able to do,” Perlstein said. Among those
arrested in connection with the 17 attacks are college students from
Virginia and Arizona, a firefighter from Oregon, and a woman who works
in a group home for the developmentally disabled.

The defendants
were listed as Joseph Dibee, Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, Sarah Kendall
Harvey, Daniel McGowan, Stanislas Meyerhoff, Josephine Overaker,
Jonathan Christopher Mark Paul, Rebecca Rubin, Suzanne Nicole “India”
Savoie, Darren Todd Thurston and Kevin Tubbs. Dibee, Overaker and Rubin
have not been arrested.

An unindicted co-conspirator in the case
— William C. Rodgers, 40, who was arrested in December in Arizona on
related arson charges — killed himself shortly after his arrest.

Staff writer Dan Eggen in Washington contributed to this report.

By Blaine Harden

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 21, 2006; Page A03

Read the full story in the Washington Post 

 

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