What Does the ELF Want From Us?

The radical Earth Liberation Front has claimed responsibility for an Oct. 24 attack on a Wal-Mart construction site in Martinsville, Ind. The saboteurs vandalized over a dozen vehicles, resulting in $25,000 worth of damages—a tiny blip compared to the $100 million in damages the group says it has inflicted since the mid-1990s. What are the ELF’s goals, exactly?

As the shadowy organization has noted several times in post-attack communiqués, its most immediate aim is “to remove the profit motive from the killing of the natural environment.” For the past few months, for example, ELF operatives have been vandalizing SUVs at auto dealerships, particularly those specializing in gas-hungry Hummers. An anonymous ELF member explained these acts in an e-mail to the Los Angeles Times, stating that the goal was to increase insurance premiums to the point that dealers and car buyers alike would think twice about investing in an SUV. Similar logic has reportedly guided the group in its arson campaign against urban sprawl, as well as a failed September plot to set off incendiary devices at a Michigan-based Perrier bottling plant. “Water for life, not for profit!” declared the group’s press release.

But unlike politically oriented guerrilla movements, such as those that press for ethnic self-rule throughout the world, the ELF’s ultimate goal isn’t entirely clear. At the very least, zero growth seems to be high on the agenda—in its early days, when the bulk of its operations took place in forests rather than suburbs, ELF communiqués used the slogan: “Leave the forests alone, and no one gets hurt.” The destruction of capitalism also seems to be a priority. A 2001 pamphlet published by the ELF press office declares:

There is no excuse for, out of pure greed and selfishness, desiring more than you need to live a free and happy life. The majority of stockpiling, greed, and monetary wealth comes at the expense of others whether humans, non-human animals or the natural environment.

Though the ELF is based on a cell structure, with no central headquarters or leadership, Oregon has been a hotbed of activity. The earliest actions, dating back to an Oct. 14, 1996, vandalizing of a Eugene McDonald’s restaurant, occurred in the Beaver State, and ex-ELF spokesman Craig Rosebraugh is a Portland resident. Probably not by coincidence, Oregon is an anarchist hotbed, and it’s believed that anarchist philosophy informs ELF’s political ideology.

The ELF has been careful to insist that it views itself as a nonviolent group since its action guidelines state that all attacks should be designed to minimize any threat to human life. But the U.S. Department of Justice begs to differ. In a 2002 congressional statement, FBI counterterrorism official James F. Jarboe characterized the ELF “as a serious terrorist threat.” A suspected ELF member, Michael James Scarpitti, is currently a fugitive from the FBI, and Rep. Chris Chocola, R-Ind., recently introduced the Stop Terrorism of Property Act of 2003, which would stiffen punishments for anyone convicted of attacks like those ELF has carried out.

Next question?