Yes, you read it, I just used friendly and terrorist in the phrase. If you see signs posted for meetings with the Earth Liberation Front (EFL) or Animal Liberation Front (AFL) around campus then think twice because these are not your typical environmental student groups and have been claimed to be the cause over $110 million dollars worth of damage between 1995 and 2005 (Senator James Inhofe, 2005, START OB).
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines eco-terrorism as “The use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature” (START OB). Lets look a little closer at exactly who these eco-terrorists are…
Who are they and what to they believe?
Among EFL and AFL, are also lesser known groups such as Earth First!, Earth Night Action Group, and the Environmental Life Force that have been identified in the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) and as being a part of the Radical Environmentalist Movement (REM). These extremists groups were not active until the 1970s and in a very short summary, their ideology is that humans and nature are connected, nature has intrinsic value, and cruelty to animals and humans are equal on the moral scale. Eco-terrorist groups use this ideology as a moral justification for their actions and equate their cause to civil rights and anti-slavery movements. Many blame free market capitalism and “the technologically driven, Western, consumer cultures that are cut off from the natural world” as the cause of the mistreatment of the environment and animals but also often reject “mainstream career, oriented environmentalists” as sell-outs (START OB). In an analysis done by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) on ELF and ALF bombings and arson attacks from 1995 to 2010, results stated that “45% of the incidents were motivated by the need to protect animals and/or prevent testing with animals, 23% by anti-sprawl concerns, and 20% by anti-corporation/business development views”(START ELF & AFL). These ideologies are reflected in the 60 Minutes interview with REM group members with words used such as “speciests” or people who discriminate between species of beings.
The two most active Eco-Terrorists groups according to the GTD are Earth Liberation Front (37% of attacks) and Animal Liberation Front (39% of attacks). The GTD does not identify groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) or Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), but these groups have been identified by the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) who tends to focus on animal research safety (START OB).
Statistics on Eco-Terrorist Attacks
When: As seen in Figure 1, Eco-Terrorism peaked in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Any guesses on why that is? Hint: It it NOT because all terrorism in the United States peaked during that time. If you look at all domestic U.S. terrorist attacks from 1970 to 2016 in the GTD, attacks peaked in the 1970s.
Figure 2: REM incidents by target type compiled by the Institute for the Study of Violent Groups (ISVG) from 1981 to 2009. This ISVG focused on a broad range of criminal activity by REM and therefore has more data points than the GTD which exclusively focuses on violent terrorist attacks.
Types of Attacks & Targets: The majority of Eco-Terrorist attacks target infrastructure and not people although people’s’ lives have been threatened. START’s study focusing on arson attacks and bombings only by ALF and ELF states that 62% were bombings and 38% were arsons from 1995 – 2010 (START ELF & ALF). In my research on the GTD of ELF, ALF, Earth First!, Earth Night Action Group, and Environmental Life Force, 10.1% of Attack Types were Bombing/Explosions and 88.5% were Facility/Infrastructure Attacks of which 88% were done with fire-inducing weapons. These studies are not necessarily contradictory but rather have different sample pools and definitions for attack types and weapon types which could overlap.
The START study, using the U.S. Extremist Crime Database, and my personal use of the GTD also give different pictures of the types of places that Eco-Terrorists attack which are shown in Figure 3 and Figure 4.
While these Eco-Terrorism groups have committed acts of arson and bombings, in my research, I sensed that the truly violent nature of these REM groups is debated along with the definitions of “violent” and “terrorism”. Among REM group members themselves, some say attacks are planned with intricate detail so people are not hurt while others have made statements about taking people’s lives and have targeted specific people. No deaths have been recorded on the GTD for eco-terrorist attacks in the United States and the large percentage of attacks have not harmed people although their attacks do put people’s’ lives at risk, could incite fear and psychological trauma, and destroy property (START OB, 60 Minutes). Some group members are upset with the label as “terrorists,” but these groups are currently listed in the Global Terrorism Database which means they fit GTD’s definition of terrorism found on page 9 of the GTD Codebook .
Now that you know a little about Eco-Terrorism, ask yourself some questions and post below! How does this affect policy? Do we, people with a formal environmental education, have a role in this issue? Any controversies? Feel free to post experiences, new information, or even disagree!
Want to learn more? Other Food For Thought and Useful Websites:
- Terrorist databases that are fun to play with on a rainy day:
- Curious about what is going on in the head of terrorists or their background?