Add eco-terrorism to list of threats faced by Americans

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WASHINGTON — In August, radical environmentalists apparently burned down an apartment complex under construction in San Diego, California.

A couple weeks later, eco-terrorists attacked four SUV dealerships in West Covina, another Southern California suburb. Federal agents have arrested a 25-year-old member of a co-op supposedly dedicated to peace and environmentalism for the latter crime.

These attacks were likely perpetrated by the Environmental Liberation Front, which has boasted of committing arson and bombings. Early last year ELF issued “an open call for direct action.” It later took responsibility for torching a Forest Service lab in Pennsylvania.

The Animal Liberation Front is similar. The two groups are blamed for causing $45 million worth of damage in a campaign involving at least 600 arsons and other incidents going back to 1996. ALF’s spokesman explained: “It’s a war.”

Eco-terrorism first gained attention in the early 1970s. The group Environmental Action published a self-help guide, “Ecotage!” in 1972. Edward Abbey later romanticized eco-terrorism in his novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang.”

In 1981 Dave Foreman, a former lobbyist for the Wilderness Society, founded Earth First! Foreman, later convicted for conspiring to sabotage nuclear power plants in three states, argued that monkey-wrenching “is morally required” as “self-defense on the part of the Earth.”

Aspiring “ecoteurs” imagined even more. The publication Earth First! ran a letter that declared: The only way to stop all the destruction of our home is to decrease the birth rate or increase the death rate of people. . . . What we need is a wholesale operation. . . . The simple expedient: biological warfare!

Luckily, Earth First! never initiated biological war. Now ELF and ALF have moved to the fore, using arson as their weapon of choice.

Mainstream environmental groups have done little to discourage ecoteurs. Years ago David Brower, one-time Sierra Club executive director and later chairman of Friends of the Earth, gave office space to Earth First! He explained: “I’m certainly not going to be against civil disobedience.” “Earth First! makes Friends of the Earth look reasonable,” he added. “What we need now is an outfit to make Earth First! look reasonable.” ALF and ELF do that.

The vegan campaign coordinator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, Bruce Friedrich, said in 2001: “If we really believe that animals have the same right to be free from pain and suffering at our hands, then, of course we’re going to be blowing things up and smashing windows.”

Rick Berman of the Center for Consumer Freedom points to financial ties between PETA and ALF/ELF. The former made a direct contribution to ELF in 2000, and has underwritten the activities of ALF/ELF activists since 1995, including aiding the defense of Rodney Coronado, convicted of arson in 1992.

Existing law does not target organizations fomenting eco-terrorism. Observes the American Legislative Exchange Council, which works with state legislators: “making no legal distinction between the common thug who vandalizes a public park and an organized eco-terrorist . . . allows for a significant circular turnover rate, where criminals return to their organizations to commit further crimes in other locations or jurisdictions.”

Thus, ALEC has proposed model legislation to prohibit acts of support for environmental terrorism, set penalties for violators, allow victims to sue for treble damages, target organizations that promote eco-terrorism, and allow forfeiture of property used in such offenses.

The experience of industrialized countries demonstrates that higher standards of living makes it easier to protect the environment, but some trade-off between ecological and economic values is inevitable. And in a democratic society, such disagreements are fought with words, not guns.

But extremists have decided to use violence to get their way. They, like al-Qaeda, threaten people’s lives and property.