Effectiveness of Ecoterrorism and Law Enforcement Response

By financial standards, ecoterrorists have been very effective. ELF's campaign of property destruction has cost some $43 million since 1996, including the 1998 firebombing of the Vail, Colorado, ski resort that resulted in $12 million in damage. It has also generated considerable media attention in order to air its grievances. However, ELF has been less successful at stopping or slowing the development it seeks to prevent. In fact, those who have had property destroyed often feel a renewed resolve to continue with their projects so as "not to give in to terrorists." Of the sixteen major actions taken by the ELF in 2001, none have resulted in the permanent closure of a business or facility. The Vail ski resort, in fact, was rebuilt on a larger scale.

Very few ELF activists have been caught so far, due in large part to the anonymous and decentralized structure of ELF. Each cell operates individually and anonymously, and only notifies the ELF press office after an action has occurred. This strategy has frustrated the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, who have referred to the ELF as the nation's number one domestic terrorist threat. Although ELF claims that one of its primary rules of engagement is to cause no harm to any human or animal, the FBI Counterterrorism Division has argued that the frequency and intensity of its actions are increasing, and it is only a matter of time before someone is killed. The FBI may have some fears on that ground: ELF, along with a British group called Stop

Eco Terrorism

Arson damage at a ski resort in Vail, Colorado. (© Affleck Jack/Corbis Sygma. Reproduced by permission.

Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), has openly espoused more violent actions and stated that they may no longer hold the line against harming humans. In addition, congressional hearings chaired by Rep. Scott MacInnes of Colorado on February 12, 2002, called on mainstream environmental organizations to disavow ecoterror groups like ELF.

The FBI has also formed joint terrorism task forces with local police around the country to investigate ELF actions. However, although COIN-TELPRO, the official FBI domestic counterintelligence program, was moth-balled in 1971, some environmental groups feel that they have been harassed by FBI investigations of their legal activities, such as demonstrations and protests. Furthermore, they assert that the FBI has intentionally bungled its investigations of violence against environmentalists, such as the 1990 Oakland car bombing of former Earth First! activists Judi Bari and Darryl Cher-ney. In June 2002, a federal jury agreed, awarding $4.4 million to Cherney and the estate of Bari, who died of cancer in 1997. Whether the new Department of Homeland Security will inherit the COINTELPRO mantle remains to be seen.

A new nonprofit group, Stop Eco-Violence, formed in Portland, Oregon, to demonstrate the harm of ecoterrorism to communities where it occurs. Stop Eco-Violence hopes to expose the terrorists and their funders, and assist law enforcement agencies by serving as a public clearinghouse to track ecoterrorism cases.

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