Ecoterrorism a Real Threat to Homeland Security

As the nation pauses to commemorate the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Americans have once again been reminded that unbridled zealotry can beget a ghastly human toll.

Of the many questions asked in the aftermath of the carnage of 9/11, one of the most prominent was: “Why didn’t we see this coming?” After all, the World Trade Center had been targeted by al Qaeda as early as 1993, and attacks on American embassies in Africa and on the USS Cole followed in the ensuing years. In retrospect, there was ample warning that trouble was in the making.

In contemplating how to prevent future terrorist attacks on the United States, we should bear in mind that the Islamic terrorism of Osama bin Laden isn’t the only threat to life and property posed by extremist groups. For years, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) have been carrying out acts of violence all across the United States. The FBI believes that the two organizations have committed over 600 acts of terrorism over the past seven years.1

In 1999, ELF set fire to a ski resort at Vail Mountain in Colorado, inflicting an estimated $12 million in damages.2 Arson also was the vehicle of choice when, earlier this year, ELF activists torched an apartment complex under construction in San Diego, California, causing $50 million in damages.3 Meanwhile, ALF activists trespassed on a mink farm in Washington state and “liberated” some 10,000 minks.4

This year has also seen a dramatic rise in attacks on automobile dealerships around the country. An SUV dealership in Erie, Pennsylvania was assaulted by ELF activists in January who targeted SUVs with arson.5 In August, vandals set fire to 20 Hummers in West Covina, Calfornia, causing at least $1 million in damages.6 In September, an SUV dealership in Houston, Texas was struck by domestic terrorists who shot out windows on 22 vehicles and slashed dozens of tires.7 The use of firearms against the Houston dealership marked a stark escalation in the level of violence perpetrated by the self-proclaimed defenders of the environment.

While some might try to dismiss these actions as mere “vandalism,” best left up to the local police, the attacks carried out by ecoterrorist are occurring nationwide by groups determined to strike anywhere, anytime. Their targets range from resorts and restaurants to farms, medical facilities, and vehicle dealerships. How seriously we should take them is best seen in their own words. When ELF’s website was still accessible, the group said it “uses direct action in the form of economic sabotage to stop the destruction of the natural environment.”8

Even more threatening is an e-mail sent to Bite Back magazine from ALF warning Chiron Corporation, a California-based biomedical research firm, that, “This is the endgame for the animal killers and if you choose to stand with them you will be dealt with accordingly. There will be no quarter given, no more half measures taken.”9 Two pipe bombs had already been detonated near the company’s corporate headquarters.10

While the recent wave of attacks has to claim any lives, these groups’ willingness to use arson, firearms, and pipe bombs to deliver their message tells us all we need to know about their respect for life and property. How safe can America’s 24 million SUV owners feel knowing that their vehicles have attracted the ire of arsonists? The beast of ecoterrorism walks among us. It’s time for the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and state and local law-enforcement officials to deal with this threat before lives are needlessly lost.

Bonner Cohen is a senior fellow of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to [email protected].


1 Gretchen Randall, “American al Queda Pursuing ‘Green’ Agenda,” Issue Alert from Winningreen, September 2, 2003.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Mike Davis, “Who’s Sponsoring the SUV Wars?”, September 8, 2003, available at as of September 15, 2003.

6 “ELF Claims Credit for Calif. H2s,” Greenwire, August 25, 2003.

7 “SUV Owners of America Statement in Response to Vandalism of SUVs in Houston,” press release, SUV Owners of America, Washington, D.C., September 2, 2003.

8 Randall.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

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