A Congressional hearing earlier this month chaired by Congressman Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) focused attention on the growing problem of terrorism committed by environmental and animal rights extremist groups around the United States. Actions by these groups clearly fit the FBI definition of terrorism as "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce" the government or civilian population.
Everyone has the right to work peacefully in favor of a worldwide ban on killing animals, in support of outlawing research that would make crops more resistant to disease, and to make it a crime to ever cut down a tree or drill for a drop of oil.
If these ideas were proposed for public discussion, society could debate whether it was worth abandoning medical research designed to find cures for cancer, AIDS, heart disease and other illnesses in order to avoid killing laboratory rats. We could argue the merits of prohibiting people from eating meat and fish. We could discuss whether it was worth stopping the building of homes, furniture and other products now made with wood. And we could argue over whether we should all be ordered to stop driving our oil-consuming cars.
But the fanatics who have caused tens of millions of dollars in damages with terrorist violence to support these fringe positions don't want to debate - they want to dictate to us all. They are terrorists with an al Qaeda mindset.
Certainly, the crimes of these domestic terrorists are dwarfed by the mass murders and terrible destruction of Sept. 11, but that doesn't make the crimes legal or inconsequential.
One of the most active eco-terrorist groups, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), boasts on its website
that "in North America alone since 1997, the ELF has caused over $40 million in damages" in its attacks. A Year-End Direct Action Report for 2001 issued by a related group -- the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) -- states that ALF, ELF and their sympathizers committed at least "137 illegal direct actions in North America in 2001." ALF and ELF are both classified by the FBI as terrorist organizations.
Like many foreign-based terrorist groups, many eco- and animal rights terrorist groups receive encouragement, support and funding from groups that are perceived to be legitimate charities. In the United States, charitable organizations classified as 501 (c)(3) groups under the tax code benefit from taxpayer subsidies, government grants and foundation philanthropy. This classification can bring enormous financial benefit to extremist groups.
In light of Sept. 11 and the need for intensified homeland security, our law enforcement agencies should investigate and prosecute environmental and animal rights terrorism with the same vigor and intensity as directed against foreign terrorists.
In addition, Congress should consider having the FBI collect information about eco-terrorist and animal rights terrorist actions; requiring recipients of government grants and groups that seek tax-exempt status under section 501 (c)(3) of the tax code to disclose more information about their operations so those involved in the support of terrorism can be identified; and classifying actions designed to intimidate individuals through the explicit or implicit threat of violence or property destruction as terrorism.
ELF says it is responsible for a $12 million arson at a Vail, Colorado ski resort; a $1 million arson at the Boise Cascade lumber company in Monmouth, Oregon; a $5.4 million fire last year at the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle; a fire that destroyed a U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station in Eugene, Oregon; a $700,000 arson at a cotton gin in Visalia, California; a fire at a federally owned wild horse barn in Susanville, California; a $1 million fire at a meat-packing plant in Redmond, Oregon; a fire in January at a University of Minnesota greenhouse in St. Paul; a $1.5 million fire at a U.S. Department of Agriculture facility in Olympia, Washington; plus the burning of homes, sport utility vehicles, logging trucks and many buildings around the country.
ALF claims responsibility for attacking 10 fur stores, seven bank offices, 13 fast food restaurants, five research labs, four animal breeders, four meat stores, and numerous other targets last year alone.
Authorities fear it is only a matter of time before fires set by these terrorists destroy lives as well as property - either as accidental "collateral damage," or in a deliberate escalation of violence. Firebombs don't check for innocent bystanders before going off.
There have been a number of close calls, where deaths were narrowly averted in these domestic terrorist attacks.
To cite just one example, environmental terrorists attacked a car dealership in Eugene, Oregon and set up jugs of camp fuel and gasoline around a fuel truck belonging to an oil company. Fortunately, the effort to start a massive and potentially deadly explosion failed. Arsonists later destroyed 30 sport-utility vehicles in a blaze at the dealership.
Terrorism is terrorism, not heroism, no matter how noble the cause in the terrorist's fanatical mind. Just as President Bush has responded to Usama bin Laden by saying his brand of murderous terrorism is intolerable, our government must tell law breaking environmental and animal rights terrorists that their brand of terrorism is intolerable as well.
Nick Nichols is CEO of Nichols-Dezenhall Communications Management Group in Washington, D.C., and author of
Rules for Corporate Warriors: How to fight and survive attack group shakedowns.