Part 1. The Violence: Eco-terrorists wage war in the West, and Oregon is at the center of it. (9/26/99)
Part 2. The Saboteurs: Who they are and why they act outside the law. (9/27/99 )
Part 3. The Effects: Damages and sustained threat have changed life in the United States. (9/28/99)
Part 4. The Debate: Law enforcement and government leaders worry about escalation. (9/29/99)

 

Crimes in the name of the environment

Part 1 of a four-part series
by The Oregonian - September, 1999

By Bryan Denson and James Long of The Oregonian
The Oregonian, Sunday, September 26, 1999

 

ECO-TERRORISM SWEEPS THE AMERICAN WEST

Escalating sabotage to save the environment has inflicted tens of millions of dollars in damage and placed lives at risk, a 10-month review by The Oregonian

Arsons, bombings and sabotage in the name of saving the environment and its creatures have swept the American West over the last two decades, and Oregon is increasingly the center of it all.

At least 100 major acts of such destruction have occurred since 1980, causing $42.8 million in damages, The Oregonian found in an examination of hundreds of crimes in 11 contiguous Western states.

In the last four years alone, the West has been rocked by 33 substantial incidents, with damages reaching $28.8 million. And one in five of all major events have occurred in Oregon.

Law enforcement agencies are for the most part baffled by the mounting phenomenon.

Just a month ago, an animal experimentation lab in Orange, Calif, was vandalized, sustaining $250,000 in damages. In May, arson destroyed a $65,000 log loader at a chip mill near Cle Elum, Wash., that draws from the Wenatchee National Forest, and arson struck a Eugene meat processor, causing $350,000 in damages.

From the 1981 torching of an herbicide-spraying helicopter on Oregon's central coast, to the 1993 pipe-bombing of a federal predator-control office in Portland, to the 1998 arson of a timber company headquarters in Medford, damage here has exceeded $13 million - more than California's $8.5 million in 30 incidents and more than in any other Western state.

The crimes are typically intended to disrupt logging, the recreational use of wilderness, or the use of animals for fur, food or research. They stymie law enforcement agents, who find aftermath scenes relatively free of clues except for spray-painted signs decrying environmental abuse. And in many cases, such as the arson nearly one year ago at the Vail, Colo., ski resort, a nameless communique is sent to a sympathetic mouthpiece.

In the case of Vail, a Portland animal rights activist, Craig Rosebraugh, called local and national media to say he did not know who sent him the message but to clearly state the purpose of the $12 million blaze: protecting lynx habitat from destruction by the ski resort's developers. Rosebraugh, laying responsibility to a group called Earth Liberation Front, had acted as messenger before but has never been linked by authorities to the crimes.

The crimes are acts of domestic terrorism - violence intended to change the behavior of individuals and institutions or to alter public policies. Environmental preservation is their cause, making them distinct from other terrorist acts, such as the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people.

But the crimes are not classified as environmental, because few agree on a definition.

Radical environmentalists contend that terms such as "eco-terrorism" and "environmental terrorism" unfairly spread blame to all who care about protecting the Earth. Some dispute even the existence of a widespread problem. Loggers, ranchers and animal researchers, however, say the crimes are acts designed to intimidate them and that they represent a dangerous, emerging epidemic.

The Oregonian examined the crimes and found the threat to humans and property in the American West to be real - and on the rise.

In its 10-month review, the first comprehensive accounting of environmental terrorism in the West by a newspaper, The Oregonian evaluated hundreds of incidents noted by the Animal Liberation Front, Fur Commission USA, the U.S. Forest Service, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Americans for Medical Progress and others. It used the Federal Bureau of Investigation's definition of terrorism - a crime intended to coerce, intimidate or change public policy - and considered only those crimes in which damage totaled at least $50,000 or that potentially put human lives at risk.

The newspaper verified or debunked each case by reviewing thousands of pages of police files court records, government reports and news accounts, and by conducting interviews with more than 200 people, including victims, police and a few convicted of the crimes.

Borderline cases that could not be convincingly linked to environmental terrorism were thrown out.

On March 11, for instance, arsonists set fire to three pieces of logging equipment near Sweet Home, a $910,000 loss for Timber Harvesting Inc. Although protests and sabotage had occurred there before, none had recently, and no one took credit for the crime. The sabotage was not included among the final 100. Neither was the 1995 sabotage of a paper mill in Camas, Wash., in which power supplies to steam boilers were shut, bringing the plant to within minutes of exploding. At the time, the company was downsizing its workforce, which might have set the stage for the attack.

Although these crimes started nearly two decades ago - some seem clearly inspired by Edward Abbey's 1975 novel, "The Monkey Wrench Gang" - they have escalated dangerously, sometimes with the use of bombs, in the last six years.

On Memorial Day weekend in 1993, a pipe bomb exploded in the window of an unoccupied U.S. Department of Agriculture predator-control office in Southeast Portland. The agency had killed coyotes, black bears and cougars that threatened livestock. Environmentalists had fought bitterly with the agency about those killings and were for the first time in the West, suspected by law enforcement officials of a bombing.

But no charges were ever filed.

Since then, bombs have exploded on logging trucks in California, on the roof of a Forest Service office in New Mexico and inside meat and feed businesses in Utah.

Even more worrisome to federal agents are large-scale arsons.

Vail's $12 million burn was preceded in 1996 by the torching of the U.S. Forest Service ranger district office in Oakridge, southeast of Eugene, a loss. now calculated at $9 million, and two federal wildlife offices in 1998 in Washington state worth $1.9 million.

None of these cases has been solved.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, prompted by the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, set up task forces throughout the United States to look into domestic terrorism. Some of those forces, including a multi-agency group that meets monthly in Oregon, have spent many hours sharing leads in environmental terrorism cases.

But those investigations have been spotty and unsuccessful. Fewer than 20 of the 100 major cases have been solved.

Eco-terrorists frustrate investigators by hitting remote targets, often at night, and leaving little evidence but charred ruins.

About the only time police catch the terrorists is when clues are delivered to them. The rest of the time, the terrorists have remained anonymous while identifying their group or left such a trail of circumstantial evidence as to draw attention to their cause.

Blind luck has led to the arrest and conviction of some.

In early 1997, militant animal-rights activists tried to set fire to an Ogden, Utah, trapping supply store with a night watchman inside. Nolan Horton saw youths dousing his building with gasoline and chased them away. Later, he described their pickup's garishly customized wheels, a clue that helped to solve several cases.

Federal agents caught Rodney Coronado, 33, who moved to Eugene in March after serving 3 1/2 years in an Arizona prison for fur industry arsons, after he used an expired Federal Express account number. The package contained a video linking Coronado to a $1.2 million arson at a Michigan State University lab. The evidence helped solve several cases.

And in the late 1980s, an undercover FBI agent infiltrated a radical Arizona group calling itself the Evan Mecharn Eco Terrorist International Conspiracy. The group, jokingly named after the conservative car dealer who'd been elected governor of Arizona, sabotaged ski resorts and electrical transmission towers. The agent gained access only after an insider blabbed to the FBI. The case put four people behind bars.

But the vast majority of the crimes have gone unpunished.

Typical is the toppling of three 345,000-volt power poles on July 4, 1981, near Moab, Utah - an incident that occurred while the radical environmental group Earth First! was conducting its second annual Round River Rendezvous six miles, to the south. Whoever cut down the poles planted a tiny U.S. flag in the sand. No charges were ever filed.

Until recently, terroristic crimes in the name of environmental protection had limited, local impact and drew little attention because they were spread over two decades and such vast territory. But targets have grown larger in recent years.

Larger targets meant more damage. And more damage meant more attention, said Special Agent James N. Damitio, a veteran U.S. Forest Service investigator in Corvallis.

"The objective of these people is to bring attention to their cause for change," Damitio said. "And if they don't feel like they're getting that attention, they try something else."

Environmental terrorists have taunted authorities by taking convincing but nameless credit for 67 of the 100 major crimes identified by The Oregonian. They have routinely passed anonymous notes and encrypted computer e-mails to people such as Rosebraugh and to news services such as The Associated Press.

In the summer of 1997, terrorists took credit for torching a $1.3 million slaughterhouse in Redmond on behalf of the Animal Liberation Front. They passed a communique to the ALF press office in Minnesota and to Rosebraugh, who disseminated specific details: The activists drilled holes in the walls of the slaughterhouse and poured 35 gallons of homemade napalm inside, then set three electrically timed incendiaries to "bring to a screeching halt what countless protests and letter-writing campaigns could never stop."

Police recognized the claim as credible and accurate but have yet to arrest anyone.

The "tagging" of such crimes infuriates them.

But it reveals a pattern about the perpetrators: Anyone who commits an act of environmental terrorism and claims credit on behalf of the Animal Liberation Front or the Earth Liberation Front, or other underground groups, is automatically a "member." There are no membership rosters, no boards of directors, just a collective sentiment that is enough to inspire certain people to commit life-threatening crimes against society.

Police believe the perpetrators are typically ad hoc bands of two to six individuals who focus on hitting specific targets.

Coronado certainly was one, though he denies he is a terrorist. Instead, he says he and his comrades were militant environmentalists and animal-rights activists who were interested only in financially crippling enterprises they accuse of plundering nature for profit.

He says the term eco-terrorism was thought up by corporations and applied to a variety of small-time pranks such as sitting in trees to prevent logging or throwing animal entrails on public officials to protest hunting.

"I personally consider myself an anti- terrorist, because everything I oppose I see as acts of terrorism," said Coronado, who writes for the radical Earth First! journal, published in Eugene. "When I think of eco-terrorist, I think of corporate executive officers in high-rise buildings."

Serious environmental terrorism started to mount in the late 1980S as conservationists fought to prevent loggers from cutting ancient trees that provided habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl. Taking pages right out of a 1985 sabotage manual - "ECODEFENSE: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching" - terrorists damaged dozens of bulldozers and other logging equipment in timber-rich Oregon, Washington, Northern California and Montana.

At the same time, arsonists in California struck butcher shops, meat packing plants, a cattle yard and university labs in an attempt to persuade such enterprises to stop using animals for food and research.

A decade later, in 1996, underground environmentalists and animal-rights activists were working together to save forests and animals from what they saw as the ravages of humankind.

The Earth Liberation Front ' an English offshoot of Earth First!, and the Animal liberation Front spent the Columbus Day weekend vandalizing gas stations and fast-food restaurants along Interstate 5 between Eugene and Grants Pass.

Less than two weeks later, someone spray painted "ELF" and "STOP RAPING OUR FOREST" on the side of the Detroit ranger district headquarters in Oregon's heavily logged Willamette National Forest, and set fire to a Forest Service pickup. An unburned incendiary device was later found on the roof of the ranger station.

Two nights later, 75 miles south in the same national forest, the Oakridge ranger district headquarters went up in flames.

The next year, in March 1997, ALF declared an official alliance with ELF in a letter to the supervisor of the Willamette National Forest.

"Solidarity between these two movements is the worst nightmare of those who would abuse the Earth and its citizens," the note warned. "Leave the forests alone, and no one gets hurt."

What followed was the most concentrated spate environmental terrorism in U.S. history: at least 12 arsons and nearly $17.9 million in damage, most of it in the Pacific Northwest.

The two organizations - sometimes jointly, some- I times alone - took credit for almost all of it.

The Vail ski resort arson was the centerpiece.

In that action, arsonists hit the playground of the well-to-do by torching four buildings, including a 33,000 square- foot lodge, and four ski lifts. The $12 million conflagration was the most destructive act of eco-terrorism in U.S. history.

When Portland's Craig Rosebraugh announced that the Earth Liberation Front was responsible, he issued an announcement on behalf of the perpetrators: "For your safety and convenience, we strongly advise skiers to choose other destinations until Vail cancels its inexcusable plans for expansion."

The Vail arson awakened the public to eco-terrorism. Some federal agents who had kept tabs on the mounting crimes joked privately that it took an upscale target like Vail to take the problem into the mainstream.

And they wondered where the public had been for the last quarter-century.

Abbey's "The Monkey Wrench Gang" follows four ecosaboteurs angered by development of the American West. They bum down billboards, disable road graders and blow up a railroad bridge.

But in the real world of the last two decades, passions burned more furiously.

Angered by aerial herbicide spraying on Oregon's forests in 1981, an anonymous duo calling itself the People's Brigade for a Healthy Genetic Future reduced a $180,000 Hiller helicopter to a smoldering pile of rubble near the coastal town of Toledo.

No charges filed.

The Animal Liberation Front, an underground group born in England in 1976, made its West Coast debut on Christmas in 1983, stealing 12 research dogs from a medical laboratory in Torrance, Calif. The $50,000 theft ruined years of research on heart pacemakers. A series of similar break-ins followed, disrupting research intended to reduce air pollution and alleviate sleep disorders and other human maladies. ALF claimed credit.

Cases unsolved.

ALF reappeared on April 15, 19870 claiming to have set fire to a lab under construction on the campus of the University of California at Davis. The $3.5 million arson set back the diagnoses of veterinary animals across the West and touched off a $1.2 million spate of similar crimes against butcher shops, meatpacking plants and cattle yards across Northern California.

No charges filed in any of the cases.

A growing number of animal-rights activists joined radical environmentalists in their efforts in the late 1980s. They began to see their struggle as a shared fight to save not just the wilderness but all animals, wild and domesticated.

They disrupted the hunting of mountain lions and bison and sabotaged a desert motorcycle race over the sensitive habitat of kangaroo rats and tortoises. They sabotaged logging operations to save not just centuries-old trees but the creatures inhabiting them, especially two birds under protection of the federal Endangered Species Act: the northern spotted owl and the marbled murrelet.

Coronado, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, saw the struggle to save wild nature and laboratory animals as one in the same. He says he became an activist at age 12 when he watched a documentary film about the slaughter of harp seals in Canada. By 1990, he had sunk whaling boats in Iceland, learned to make firebombs in England and sabotaged logging sites, fur stores and billboards in the United States and Canada.

His five-state arson campaign against the fur industry, launched in June 199 1, was called "Operation Bite Back." He and his accomplices did just that.

They broke into Oregon State University's experimental mink farm, rigged several incendiaries with clocks, cans of Sterno and 9-volt batteries and hurried away. The fire caused $62,000 in damage. Investigators found an ominous warning spray-painted on a wall: "This is only the beginning."

They went on a nine-month tear, setting fire to a mink-food warehouse in Edmonds, Wash.; a coyote research station in Millville, Utah; a mink-food manufacturing plant in Yamhill, Ore.; a research lab at Michigan State University. They also vandalized animal-research labs at Washington State University in Pullman.

Coronado's terrorism worked, according to a Michigan prosecutor's sentencing memorandum filed in U.S. District Court.

"A terrorist combines violence and threats so that those that disagree with him are silenced, either because they have been victimized by violence or because they fear being victimized," the memorandum said. Although firebombings and property damage ceased for a time after Coronado's capture, fear lingered, the prosecutor wrote.

Coronado's victims, the memo went on, "remain so afraid of the defendant and others like him that they would not speak to the court's own pre-sentence investigator unless he guaranteed their anonymity."

Coronado went to prison for 31/2 years, but eco-terrorism flourished.

Eco-terrorists seem to have struck just about every kind of enterprise having to do with

the environment or animals. They've set fire to everything from an ice-cream plant in Eugene to an offroad motorcycle club headquarters in Littlerock, Wash., to a pharmaceutical company in Fort Collins, Colo.

To almost everyone's amazement, no one has been killed.

There have been close calls, however.

In April 1989, the Animal Liberation Front set timed incendiary devices beneath a meat company in Monterey, Calif., perhaps not realizing that butchers started work at 4 a.m. The morning crew smelled smoke and fled. Only one of the firebombs ignited.

"It was an old building," butcher Manuel Brito recalled. "It could have gone up like a matchbox."

One year later, the Earth Night Action Group toppled power lines near Santa Cruz, Calif., a blackout that caused the failure of Rosina Mazzei's respirator. Paramedics took hours to revive Mazzei, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease.

Horton, the night watchman at the Utah trapping store, was standing in an expanding puddle of gasoline the night in 1997 when he chased arsonists away. Police later found the Molotov cocktail the arsonists had apparently planned to use to ignite the fuel.

Horton, the night watchman at the Utah trapping store, was standing in an expanding puddle of gasoline the night in 1997 when he chased arsonists away. Police later found the Molotov cocktail the arsonists had apparently planned to use to ignite the fuel.

"They knew I was in the building," Horton said. "The lights were on. My truck was in front. My lunch bucket and thermos were on the counter where they could see it. They intended to burn me and the building."

Coronado does not now rule out the possibility that someone could be killed - either deliberately or by accident - as crimes in the name of the environment continue.

The African National Congress relied on sabotage for years in its fight against apartheid before making a conscious decision to draw blood, he said. Although he hoped that would never happen here, he was surprised to learn that some Utah activists had been accused of using bombs in their crimes.

I doubt that they had any realization of the intensity or severity of escalating the struggle by using explosive devices," he said. "We don't have the structures in place to support a struggle that uses explosive devices."

Some observers worry what will happen next.

Damitio, the federal agent in Corvallis, is one.

"The old adage is, we're not going to do anything about it until somebody gets killed, " he said. I think it's true.

"There will be much more attention to these issues when someone does get killed. I think we've come very close to that line, and we will cross that line unless we deal with this problem."

Next: The face of eco-terror - who's doing it and why

You can reach Bryan Denson at 503-294-7614 or by e-mail at btyandenson@news.oregonian.com.

You can reach James Long at 503-221 - 4351 or by e-mail at jimlong@news.oregonian.com.

Brian Hendrickson of The Oregonian's computer services department built databases for this series. Head librarian Sandra Macomber, assistant head librarian Gail Hulden and researchers Lovelle Svart, Margie Gultry and Kathleen Blythe also contributed.

Related

Enviro News An archive of Oregonian stories related to environmental concerns, ranging from salmon protection and federal logging legislature to urban growth and water quality control. http://www.oregonlive.com/outdoors/enviro.html

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