The Twin Flowers: Eco-terrorism and the extremist approach to environmentalism

By Ljudmila Petrovic

ECO-TERRORISM (from UrbanDictionary)
  1. Eco-terrorism is a crime committed to save nature. The crime must have the characteristics of terrorism as defined by the FBI
  2.  Terrorism that actually seems to have a reasonable backing. Done to make the idiotic governments realize that their asses aren’t the only ones in danger and that the earth matters, too. Like all terrorism it achieves no end except to make people afraid of you and the government pissed as hell.
  3. Eco-terrorist~ VERY extreme environmentalist who resorts to violence and the destruction of property to get his/her message across.

Eco-terrorism is one of America’s most active terrorist movements.

Those damn Eco-terrorists blew up my McDonalds… fucking tree huggers.

On April 9th, Weibo Ludwig—infamous for his part in an oil patch bombing and various other eco-terrorism missions—died from cancer at the age of 70. His death once again sparked the debate that had surrounded Ludwig in life: was he a martyr for the environment and his cause, or was he a terrorist, responsible for the damage and deaths associated to his bombings? “Even now, many in the environmental movement are trying to paint Mr. Ludwig as an eco-warrior who valiantly stood his ground against the forces of Big Oil”, wrote Jesse Kline in a National Post article the day after Ludwig’s death. “But we should make no mistake about it: Instead of working through the legal system, Mr. Ludwig waged a campaign that showed no respect for private property or the sanctity of human life.” This opinion is one of the many surrounding eco-terrorism, a movement with morals as contradictory and ambiguous as its definition.


One of the environmental groups renowned for its eco-terrorist missions is The Earth Liberation Front (ELF).  “ELF’s mission is to defend and protect the Earth for future generations by means of direct action”, reads their website. “Although there has never been an injury or death stemming from an ELF action, it can happen regardless how carefully things are planned in advance”.  They gained notoriety in the late 1990’s for their targeted arsons and pipe bomb installations on various industries that they deemed to be having adverse effects on the environment, one of note being the logging industry. In March 2001, the Earth Liberation Front was deemed a “domestic terror” threat in the United States by the FBI. Activists that are part of the Front seem to view themselves as martyrs for the cause, and only those that have been convicted for their activism (have served or are currently serving sentences) are allowed to be spokespeople for the cause. “Prison validates an ELF spokesperson’s credentials”, continues their site. “They’ve earned their stripes”.


A similar group, which focuses more on animal rights than on the environment, is the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). “The ALF carries out direct action against animal abuse in the form of rescuing animals and causing financial loss to animal exploiters, usually through the damage and destruction of property”, reads the Animal Liberation Front’s mission statement. “The ALF’s short-term aim is to save as many animals as possible and directly disrupt the practice of animal abuse. Their long-term aim is to end all animal suffering by forcing animal abuse companies out of business.” According to the ALF’s website, the animal liberation movement was an integral part of the anarcho-punk scene that was popular in the 1980’s. Apparently, most bands of that genre had songs about hunting or vivisection, and many in that sub-culture were vegans and animal activists. This coincided with the founding of the ALF in 1976, and with their increasing popularity as a movement in the early 1980’s; this period was one where activists avidly raided animal laboratories to save the subjects, and economically sabotaged  companies that they felt were responsible for animal cruelty through their products.


ALF started as the Band of Mercy in 1971, with Ronnie Lee and several others in the UK founding what would grow to be a much bigger movement. Among the first attacks they carried out were on hunting, where members of the Band would try and sabotage hunting trips by slashing their tires, among other things. The next several years escalated into various raids on animal-testing laboratories, and several high-scale cases of arson (causing significant financial loss for those affected).  In 1974, Lee and another of the Band’s founders were arrested for their part in a laboratory raid. Upon his release just under two years later, Lee was not only undeterred, but on the contrary: he was ready to start a bigger movement, which would become the Animal Liberation Front.


The Animal Liberation Front activists had only just begun. In 1999, Graham Hall—a freelance reporter—posed as an activist in order to film a documentary about the group. He got footage of ALF officers giving him advice on how to build explosives. Hall went public, alleging that members of ALF had abducted him and held him for 12 hours because of his part in the documentary.   In 2006, activist Donald Currie was jailed for twelve years and put on lifetime probation: he had built and planted bombs on the doorsteps of several people that were involved with Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS)—the largest animal-testing laboratory in Europe. These are only a couple of examples in the recent history of ALF’s missions: there were numbers of other similar events in that period of time, and they have continued to stage protests around the homes of researches.


Another animal rights group—the Animal Rights Militia (ARM)—started in England, also in the early 1980’s. While they agreed with what the Animal Liberation Front stood for, they didn’t support their approach. ARM became infamous for their poisoning hoax approach, which peaked in the 1980’s and the early 1990’s. The first of their more famous poisoning hoaxes occurred in England in 1984: in an attempt to put a stop to the Mars Company’s animal experiments on tooth decay, ARM went to the media with the alleged knowledge that a large shipment of Mars Bars had been poisoned. The company, of course, had to pull their products from the shelves, and lost vast amounts of money because of it. It was later announced to have been a hoax, but ARM was successful: the Mars Company made changes to their laboratory testing procedures, for fear of further ARM action. In 1990, ARM started their activities in Canada. An incident similar to the Mars Bar one occurred with Cold Busters bars: ARM announced that eighty-seven Cold Busters bars had been poisoned and returned to the shelves. The company had to recall their product, losing almost an estimated $1 million.  It was again revealed to have been a hoax but, despite the precedent ARM had set before, the company could not have taken that risk. The damage was done. Yet another poisoning hoax that ARM admitted to was in Vancouver in 1994. Activists claimed that they had gone to various Safeway and Save-on-Foods locations and had injected turkeys with rat poison. Even after police tested samples and found undeniably negative results, the companies were again forced to take the necessary precautions in recalling the turkeys in question, again losing millions. This form of activism certainly causes damage, but it is arguably a safer approach than the arson and bombings of groups such as the ALF and ELF.


In 2006, the FBI launched “Operation Backfire”, laying charges against nine Americans and two Canadians that called themselves the “family”, and were active members of ALF and ELF. Despite being met with opposition from animal and environmental rights activists, the FBI remained adamant and unwavering in their goal to indict as many of those involved as possible. “These individuals are terrorists. Regardless of their political or social message, their actions were criminal and violated federal laws,” said Michael B. Ward—Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division—at a 2008 press conference in Washington.  Rewards of up to $50, 000 each were offered for information leading to the arrests of several of the activists, whose charges included arson, conspiracy, and animal enterprise terrorism.


Though “Operation Backfire” was mainly focused in the United States, Canada has had its share of public concern around eco-terrorism, especially in the past year, in relation to the controversial pipeline. “Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade,” Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver wrote in an open letter in January. “Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.” In February, the Globe and Mail reported that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews had released an anti-terrorism strategy—and environmental extremists were high on the list. “Terrorist action occurs when an extremist ideological group plans to carry out a violent attack that reasonably can be expected to kill people or destroy property,” Toews’ director of communication, Michael Patton, said in an e-mail to the Globe and Mail. “We have seen individuals or groups of differing ideologies or points of view both internationally and domestically who have planned and carried out violent attacks to bring attention to their causes.”


“Many [Animal Rights] advocates…believe that morality is relative”, reads a quote on the Animal Liberation Front’s website. “We believe that [Animal Rights] is much more cogently argued when it is argued from the standpoint of your opponent’s morality, not some mythical, hard-to-define universal morality”. Most people would agree that animal and environmental rights are moral causes, whether they themselves are activists or not. Likewise, few would be willing to admit that they support terrorism. But when the fight for a good cause takes on an extreme form—and especially when it endangers people and property—this ethical line becomes blurred. In the eyes of the law, it is an unacceptable form of activism, but in the eyes of many activists, it is the only way.