There are numerous environmental groups and animal rights groups whose work and commitment to fostering better understanding about their issues is above reproach. Unfortunately, there are also extremist groups whose goal, far from fostering understanding, is to coerce the public into accepting their beliefs. Two such groups, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) have engaged for several years in “eco-terrorism”—acts of arson for the purpose of destroying targets including meat-packing companies, timber companies, ski resorts, and private residences. Federal investigators estimate that groups like ELF and ALF may be responsible for as many as 1,200 such crimes for the period 1990–2004.

Typically, these groups fashion incendiary devices using flammable liquids and other fuels, which they set on timers and use to destroy buildings. Their targets are chosen on the basis of the damage they believe those targets are doing to the environment. For example, destroying the offices of a timber company could save trees, and destroying a meat-packing plant could save cattle. Destroying large private homes, they reason further, keep people from moving into pristine areas and harming the environment.

In January 2006, eleven suspected arsonists were indicted on charges of arson, sabotage, and conspiracy. They were allegedly responsible for seventeen incidents over a five-year period from 1996 to 2001. What makes suspects like these difficult to find and arrest is that they are extremely secretive. Members of groups such as ELF and ALF pledge secrecy and also pledge never to reveal the names of any of their co-conspirators.

Inside Eco-terrorism