The Earth Liberation Front, an international underground movement devoted to techniques of ecoterrorism to protect the environment, has recently embarked on a series of attacks on citizens in western Pennsylvania involving economic sabotage and property destruction.
The group, which encourages citizens to commit acts of arson to further its environmentalist agenda, has taken credit for numerous crimes in Pennsylvania, including the destruction of several SUVs, damage inflicted on construction vehicles and a show home in a housing development, extensive damage on a U.S. Forest Service laboratory, the complete destruction of the contents and structure of a feed barn located on a mink farm, the release of several foxes and the removal of breeding information at a fox ranch, the destruction of two GMO corn test/demonstration crops, and the torching of a $500,000 construction crane at a bridge work site and driving of 9-inch spikes into nearby trees.
These examples of ecoterrorism suggest that the Earth Liberation front has singled out western Pennsylvania as a key target for its activities. In particular, Erie County appears to be a very important focus area for its terrorist acts. According to an article posted on pittsburghpulp.com, "Erie County is the site of operations for one of the most active terrorist cells in the U.S. Members of Earth Liberation Front."
Although law enforcement officials have tried to crack down on the domestic terrorism of the Earth Liberation Front, the individuals behind the arson cases have consistently escaped capture. According an article at pittsburgchannel.com, "So far, federal agents have been largely unsuccessful in solving ELF attacks across the nation. Experts said that's because, like Al-Quaida, ELF members operate in small cells."
These cells operate independently of the national organization known as the Earth Liberation Front; they inform the ELF Press Office following their execution of an act of ecoterrorism. According to the organization's website, "By operating in cells (small groups that consist of one to several people), the security of group members is maintained. Each cell is anonymous not only to the public but also to one another. This decentralized structure helps keep activists out of jail and free to continue conducting actions."
Moreover, any citizen who takes it upon him or herself to commit an act of economic sabotage through the destruction of property can be considered a part of the Earth Liberation Front. The website states, "There is no official 'membership.' Individuals who choose to do actions under the banner of the E.L.F are driven only by their personal conscience or decisions taken by their cell while adhering to the stated guidelines."
The guidelines of Earth Liberation Front call for inflicting "economic damage on those profiting from the destruction and exploitation of the natural environment," revealing and educating the public on "the atrocities committed against the earth and all species that populate it," and taking "all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human."
If an individual or group of individuals decides to plan and execute an arson or act of vandalism, the action is organized and carried out independently. A member of the cell anonymously sends a communiqué to the ELF Press Office to be distributed to the public.
While the group has avoided inflicting bodily harm on humans or animals, it has committed actions that have damaged and destroyed private and government property, resulting in the loss of over $30 million since 1997. The FBI considers the organization to be one of the nation's most prolific sources of domestic terrorism.
At 5:30 AM on January 1, 2003, the Earth Liberation Front damaged or destroyed several SUV's and other vehicles at Bob Ferrando Ford Lincoln Mercury Dealership in Erie, Pennsylvania, costing approximately $90,000. According to an Associated Press article posted on cnn.com, "Jugs of gasoline were set ablaze under three vehicles, engulfing them and a nearby car in flames Three other vehicles also had jugs of gasoline set under them but failed to ignite."
The group communicated its aversion to the moneymaking goals of commercialism and industry that contribute to the pollution of the environment. However, another article for cnn.com suggests that the group's action actually contributed to the pollution of the environment: "Ferrando said the group had probably harmed the environment by burning vehicles."
On December 28, 2002, the organization launched an attack against urban sprawl and the development of "luxury homes." According to an anonymous letter to the ELF Press Office, "middle-aged, long-time residents of Philadelphia/the suburbs who [were] tired of seeing the earth destroyed for money" were responsible for the incident.
The anonymous letter listed the acts of vandalism that occurred. "We went to the site and attacked construction vehicles however we were able to - glued locks, sugared gas tanks, disconnected hoses, spray painted vehicles, broke windows. Also we attacked the 'sample house' on Rhawn St. - the first house built, to attract buyers. We covered the walls in spray paint, glued locks, and broke many windows."
The ELF Press Office has claimed responsibility based on the nature of the graffiti found at the crime site, which connected the incident with the organization.
In the early hours of November 26, 2002, individuals acting in the name of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front, another organization notorious for ecoterrorism, started a blaze in a barn at the Mindek Brothers Fur Farm in Erie County. The feed barn and its contents were completely destroyed, and a communiqué several days later threatened the destruction of the rest of the farm if the owners did not close down the farm immediately.
According to the communiqué, "Working together, cells from A.L.F. & E.L.F. demolished this feed facility due to it's [sic] role in the systematic torture and killing of thousands of innocent creatures yearly." An article the Fur Commission suggested the futility of ELF efforts, stating that the "press release [acknowledging the incident] arrived just as the rest of Pennsylvania was donning fur coats for the coldest day of the year to date (temperatures hovered about 11 degrees)."
In the early morning of August 11, 2002, a cell of the Earth Liberation Front set fire to an experimental laboratory called the Northeast Research Station located in Allegheny National Forest near Warren, Pennsylvania, causing $700,000 in damages and resulting in the loss of irreplaceable research. The lab had been studying black cherry trees in the area.
A communiqué from the terrorist cell that committed the arson stated, "This lesson in 'prescribed fire' was a natural, necessary response to the threats posed to life in the Allegheny Forest by proposed timber sales, oil drilling, and greed driven manipulation of Nature."
The ELF communiqué also stated, "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."
Apparently, the group believed that the research performed in the station would have led to increased activity in timber sales, which turns out not to be the case. According to animalrights.net, Susan Stout, project leader at the laboratory, stated, "We perceive ourselves as doing research to promote sustainable stewardship of hardwood forests in Pennsylvania and surrounding states. It seems like an agenda people should be in favor of."
In June 2002, another anonymous cell visited a fox farm in Erie, Pennsylvania, opening 16 fox pens and removing breeding information; ironically, of the 10 foxes that left the farm, five were killed by cars and one was shot by a game warden.
The Earth Liberation Front also claimed responsibility for razing two test crops for genetically modified corn in Northwestern Pennsylvania, and for making sure that none of the seeds were could be saved for future planting. The cell that committed the deed stated that "the proliferation of Genetically Modified Organisms and the increased deployment of toxic pesticides in our bioregion presents an unrivaled threat to the biological integrity and diversity of our ecosystem, and has begun to be met with appropriate resistance."
Finally, on March 24, 2002, according to an article by Northeastern Pennsylvania News, "a $500,000 construction crane at a bridge work site in Erie was torched and in the preceding weeks, a dozen 9-inch spikes were driven into several trees." The vandalism was committed in an attempt to stop construction on a $31 million highway project. The article continued, "[ELF] said construction would threaten the biological health of the Lake Erie watershed."
The crane itself was set on fire in an attempt to foil the building of a bridge over Wintergreen Gorge near the Behrand campus of Penn State. In addition, according to the Environmental Reporter of Green Works Radio, "The spikes [driven into the trees] can cause chainsaws to get stuck - and turn back on their operators. According the ELF release, workers attempting to cut down the trees should be aware that 'the trees can now fight back.'"
As of April, 2002, contractors planned to continue work on the highway project, which is designed to connect I-90 with the Erie Bay Front, as scheduled, but with increased security.
Investigators have been largely unsuccessful in apprehending the criminals involved in these acts of arson and vandalism. Pennsylvania state and local law enforcement officials have begun to cooperate with federal agents in an effort to stop the reign of terror by the ALF and the ELF, whose combined efforts have resulted in damages exceeding $45 million. Moreover, the FBI has created Joint Terrorism Task Forces to combine "the national and international investigative resources of the FBI and the street level expertise of local law enforcement agencies."
The FBI has given the illegal activities the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front a main priority in domestic terrorism.
Although the Pacific-based Earth Liberation Front has traditionally
been associated with attacks on commercial logging mostly in the
Northwest, law enforcement officials and the media now warn that
the Earth Liberation Front has multiplied its efforts to include
attacks against urban sprawl in the Northeast.