Ecoterrorist Hate Crimes on the Increase

BACKGROUND: The Earth Liberation Front is taking responsibility for arson fires at three construction sites in an area in San Diego that had been used for agricultural purposes.1 This is the fifth arson attack against construction sites for which ELF has claimed responsibility in 2003.2

ELF claims to have caused $100 million in damages to private property since 1997.3 A single August 1 action in San Diego, an arson attack on a condominium complex, caused approximately $50 million in damages.4

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: These attacks by domestic terrorists are morally wrong. If attacks continue, it is only a matter of time before someone is killed.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: Environmental activists need not resort to violence to get attention for their political views. Environmental advocates enjoy substantialcoverage from the mainstream news media and have access to influential alternative media. Environmental activists are frequently called upon to testify before Congress and state legislatures; indeed, many elected officials are afraid to disagree with them. Even if these facts were not true, however, as Dr. Martin Luther King and the mainstream civil rights movement showed, civil disobedience need not be violent to be effective.

DISCUSSION: In addition to attacks on home sites, domestic ecoterrorists also have attacked SUVs. As National Center for Public Policy Research Senior Fellow Bonner Cohen writes in a September National Policy Analysis paper, “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. In August, vandals set fire to 20 Hummers in West Covina, California, causing at least $1 million in damages. 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. 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.”5

Adds Cohen: “How safe can America’s 24 million SUV owners feel knowing that their vehicles have attracted the ire of arsonists?”

Domestic ecoterrorist attacks are not only unethical, but also counterproductive. Will SUV owners be more or less sympathetic to environmentalist arguments if they increasingly associate environmentalism with attacks on them personally? Will upper-income persons, who contribute disproportionately to environmentalist groups, be more or less likely to continue to do so if environmentalists are associated with the firebombing of upper-income neighborhoods?

Fairly or not, ecoterrorists risk tarring all environmentalists with an extremist reputation. Mainstream environmental organizations would do well to step-up their condemnation of violence, and to avoid using overly-emotional accusatory rhetoric — which can mislead the overzealous into concluding that anyone who disagrees with environmentalists is evil — in place of reasoned arguments during public policy debates.

Furthermore, any level of government that insists on the dubious practice of designating certain crimes against persons and property as “hate crimes” should include ecoterrorist acts among their number.

Some liberal elected officials normally allied with the environmental movement have expressed frustration with ELF-style attacks, confirming that these actions set back the environmental movement’s agenda. For example, following August attacks on California SUV dealerships, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), said “How am I supposed to fight for a [fuel economy] standard if I get lumped in with these lunatics?”6 Said Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA), “[The ecoterrorists] did not empower their cause.”7


Gregory Alan Gross and Irene McCormack Jackson, “Unfinished Homes Destroyed; Banners Point to Militant Environmental Group ELF,” San Diego Union-Tribune, September 20, 2003, available online at

Bonner R. Cohen, “Ecoterrorism a Real Threat to Homeland Security,” National Center for Public Policy Research National Policy Analysis #488, September 2003, available online at

Lisa Friedman, “Lawmakers Ponder Dealing with ELF Vehicle Vandalism,” Pasadena Star-News, September 9, 2003, available online at,1413,206%257E22097%257E1621776,00.html

“Elf Strikes Against Urban Sprawl in San Diego: Four Houses Burned to the Ground in Action Against ‘Development Destruction,'” ELF Press Release, September 19, 2003, available online at

“Diary of Actions,” Earth Liberation Front, downloaded from the ELF website at

by Amy Ridenour
The National Center for Public Policy Research

Contact the authors at: 202-507-6398 or [email protected]
The National Center for Public Policy Research
20 F Street NW, Suite 700 Washington, D.C. 20001

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.