Eco-terrorism refers to acts of violence committed in support of
ecological or environmental causes, against persons or their
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Bureau of Investigation 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." The FBI credited
eco-terrorists with US$200 million in property damage between 2003 and
2008. A majority of states in the US have introduced laws aimed at
1 Application of the term
2 Philosophy of eco-terrorism
3 Examples of tactics
4 Individuals accused/convicted of eco-terrorism
5 Groups accused of eco-terrorism
5.1 Organizations in the United States
6 US governmental response
7 See also
9 Further reading
Application of the term
Eco-terrorism is a form of radical environmentalism that arose out of
the same school of thought that brought about deep ecology,
ecofeminism, social ecology, and bioregionalism. "Eco-terrorism" is
a controversial term.
Eco-terrorism is closely related to civil disobedience and sabotage in
the name of the environment. There is debate on where to draw the
lines between the three. Some of those labelled as eco-terrorists
do not commit violence against humans, but only against property. This
has led to a debate that touches on whether or not to classify these
actions as "terrorist". In the United States, the FBI's definition
includes acts of violence against property, which makes most acts of
sabotage fall in the realm of domestic terrorism.
Sabotage involves destroying, or threatening to destroy, property, and
in this case is also known as monkeywrenching or ecotage. Many
acts of sabotage involve the damage of equipment and unmanned
facilities using arson.
Some "eco-terrorists" are people fighting to preserve their
environment with the belief that they are preserving their existence.
Examples of such "ecoterrorists" include tribal ethnic minorities such
as the Waorani.
Philosophy of eco-terrorism
The thought behind eco-terrorism rises from the radical
environmentalism movement, which gained currency during the 1960s.
Ideas that arose from radical environmentalism are "based on the
belief that capitalism, patriarchal society, and the Judeo-Christian
tradition were responsible for the despoliation of nature". Radical
environmentalism is also characterized by the belief that human
society is responsible for the depletion of the environment and, if
current society is left unchecked, will lead to the ultimate complete
degradation of the environment.
Like deep ecologists, eco-terrorists subscribe to the idea of
biocentrism, which is described as "a belief that
human beings are just an ordinary member of the biological community"
and that all living things should have rights and deserve protection
under the law. Some eco-terrorists are motivated by other aspects
of deep ecology, like the goal to return the environment to its
"natural", i.e., pre-industrial, state.
Examples of tactics
There are a wide variety of tactics used by eco-terrorists and groups
associated with eco-terrorism. Examples include:
Tree spiking is a common tactic that was first used by members of
Earth First! in 1984.
Tree spiking involves hammering a small spike
into the trunk of a tree that may be logged with the intention of
damaging the chainsaw or mill blades and may seriously injure the
logger. Only one case of serious injury has been widely reported.
Arson is a tactic most associated with recent activity in the Earth
Liberation Front (ELF). The ELF has been attributed with arsons of
sites such as housing developments, SUV dealerships, and chain
Bombing, while this tactic is rare, on some occasions explosives have
been used by eco-terrorists. For example the
site was attacked with anti-tank rockets (RPG-7).
Individuals accused/convicted of eco-terrorism
Wiebo Ludwig – accused several times for sabotaging oil and gas
wells in Alberta, Canada
David Lukas MacNeil – convicted of conspiracy to commit what the FBI
labeled an eco-terrorist plot
Daniel McGowan – convicted of participation in an arson at a lumber
Paul Watson – For his direct action against whale and seal hunters,
Watson was labeled a terrorist by Japanese and Canadian politicians as
well as Greenpeace.
Groups accused of eco-terrorism
Organizations accused of eco-terrorism are generally grassroots
organizations, do not have a hierarchal structure, and typically favor
direct action approaches to their goals.
Stefan Leader characterizes these groups, namely ELF, with having
"leaderless resistance" which he describes as "a technique by which
terrorist groups can carry out violent acts while reducing the risk of
infiltration by law enforcement elements. The basic principle of
leaderless resistance is that there is no centralized authority or
chain-of-command." Essentially this consists of independent cells
which operate autonomously, sharing goals, but having no central
leaders or formal organizational structure. Those who wish to join are
typically encouraged to start their own cell, rather than seek out
other members and jeopardize their secrecy.
Organizations in the United States
Organizations that have been accused of eco-terrorism in the United
States include the
Animal Liberation Front
Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the Earth
Liberation Front (ELF), Greenpeace, the Sea Shepherd Conservation
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Earth
First!, The Coalition to Save the Preserves, and the Hardesty
Avengers. In 2010, the FBI was criticized in U.S. Justice
Department reports for unjustified surveillance (and placement on the
Terrorism Watchlist) between 2001 and 2006 of members of animal-rights
groups such as
Greenpeace and PETA.
In a 2002 testimony to the US Congress, an FBI official mentioned the
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in the context of
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society intervenes
against whaling, seal hunting, and fishing operations with direct
action tactics. In 1986, the group caused nearly US$1.8 million in
damage to equipment used by Icelandic whalers. In 1992, they
sabotaged two Japanese ships that were drift-net fishing for squid by
cutting their nets and throwing stink bombs on board the boats.
Inspired by Edward Abbey,
Earth First! began in 1980. Although the
group has been credited with becoming more mainstream, its use of tree
spiking during campaigns has been associated with the origins of
eco-terrorism. In 1990,
Earth First! organizers
Judi Bari and
Darryl Cherney were injured when a motion-detecting pipe bomb
detonated beneath Bari's driver seat. Authorities alleged that the
bomb was being transported and accidentally detonated. The pair sued
investigators, alleging false arrest, illegal search, slanderous
statements and conspiracy. In 2002, a jury found that FBI agents and
Oakland police officers violated constitutional rights to free speech
and protection from unlawful searches of
Earth First! organizers.
The Earth Liberation Front, founded in 1992, joined with the Animal
Liberation Front, which had its beginnings in England in 1979. They
have been connected primarily with arson but claim that they work to
harm neither human nor animal. A recent example of ELF arson was
the March 2008 "torching of luxury homes in the swank Seattle suburb
of Woodinville". A banner left at the scene claimed the housing
development was not green as advertised, and was signed ELF. In
September 2009 ELF claimed responsibility for the destruction of two
radio towers in Seattle. The FBI in 2001 named the ELF as "one of
the most active extremist elements in the United States", and a
"terrorist threat." The Coalition to Save the Preserves was
mentioned in FBI testimony as a group that was responsible for a
series of arsons in Arizona. Using similar tactics to the ELF, they
have caused more than US$5 million in damages.
Media reports have tied Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, to
environmental activists, and say that the 23 injuries and three deaths
through letter-bombs were the acts of an independent eco-terrorist.
Among those making such accusations were ABC, The New York Times, Time
magazine, and USA Today.
A number of "local" organizations have also been indicted under US
Federal laws related to eco-terrorism. These include, among others,
the group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. Another example is the
Hardesty Avengers who spiked trees in the Hardesty Mountains in
Willamette National Forest
Willamette National Forest in 1984.
In 2008 the
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Bureau of Investigation said eco-terrorists
represented "one of the most serious domestic terrorism threats in the
U.S. today" citing the sheer volume of their crimes (over 2,000 since
1979); the huge economic impact (losses of more than US$110 million
since 1979); the wide range of victims (from international
corporations to lumber companies to animal testing facilities to
genetic research firms); and their increasingly violent rhetoric and
tactics (one recent communiqué sent to a California product testing
company said: "You might be able to protect your buildings, but can
you protect the homes of every employee?").
National Animal Interest Alliance
National Animal Interest Alliance in their animal rights extremism
archives compiled a comprehensive list of major animal rights
extremist and eco-criminal acts of terrorism since 1983.
US governmental response
Spiking trees became a federal offense in the
United States when it
was added to the Drug Act in 1988.
Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992 it became a federal
crime to "cause more than $10,000 in damage while engaged in "physical
disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise by intentionally
stealing, damaging, or causing the loss of any property […] used by
the animal enterprise." In 2006, this was updated and renamed the
Terrorism Act by the 109th congress. The updated
act included causing personal harm and the losses incurred on
"secondary targets" as well as adding to the penalties for these
In 2003, a conservative legislative lobbying group, the American
Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), proposed the "Animal and
Terrorism Act" which defined an "animal rights or
ecological terrorist organization" as "two or more persons
organized for the purpose of supporting any politically motivated
activity intended to obstruct or deter any person from participating
in an activity involving animals or an activity involving natural
resources." The legislation was not enacted.
The FBI has stated that "since 2005…investigations have resulted in
indictments against 30 individuals." In 2006, an FBI case labeled
"Operation Backfire" brought charges of domestic terrorism to eleven
people associated with the ELF and ALF. "The indictment includes
charges related to arson, conspiracy, use of destructive devices, and
destruction of an energy facility."
However, the Bush Justice Department, including the FBI, was
criticized in 2010 for improper investigations and prosecutions of
left-leaning US protest groups such as Greenpeace. The Washington Post
reported that the "FBI improperly opened and extended investigations
of some U.S. activist groups and put members of an environmental
advocacy organization on a terrorist watch list, even though they were
planning nonviolent civil disobedience, the Justice Department said
A report, filed by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, found the FBI to
be not guilty of the most serious charge — according to the Post —
that "agents targeted domestic groups based on their exercise of First
Amendment rights." The investigation was conducted in response to
allegations that the FBI had targeted groups on such grounds during
the Bush Administration. The Post has more:
"But the report cited what it called other "troubling" FBI practices
in its monitoring of domestic groups in the years between the
September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and 2006. In some cases, Fine
said, agents began investigations of people affiliated with activist
groups for 'factually weak' reasons and 'without adequate basis' and
improperly kept information about activist groups in its files. Among
the groups monitored were the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh peace
group; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; and Greenpeace
USA. Activists affiliated with
Greenpeace were improperly put on a
terrorist watch list, the report said.
Eric McDavid was convicted of plotting to attack several
targets including a fish hatchery, a dam, power stations, and cell
phone towers. An undercover FBI agent exposed the plan. In addition to
McDavid, two others were also convicted. On March 6, 2008 Eric
McDavid was sentenced to 20 years in prison for "conspiracy to damage
or destroy property by fire and explosive."
United States Attorney
McGregor W. Scott stated: "Today's severe punishment of nearly 20
years in federal prison should serve as a cautionary tale to those who
would conspire to commit life-threatening acts in the name of their
Earth Liberation Prisoners Support Network
Ecoterrorism in fiction
Operation Backfire – FBI operation
THERMCON – FBI operation against the "Evan Mecham Eco-Terrorist
International Conspiracy" (EMETIC)
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List of topics
Bright green environmentalism
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