Ecoterrorism: The Dangerous Fringe of the Environmental Movement

Report Environment

Ecoterrorism: The Dangerous Fringe of the Environmental Movement

April 12, 1990 15 min read Download Report
Andrew Brick

(Archived document, may contain errors)


INTRODUCTION As the twenLdth anniversary of Earth Day approaches, environmental activists and private citizens alike are reflecting on the state of the earths ecology and what policies best can make the world cleaner. One environmental matter, however, is receiving little attention. Individuals and scattered bands of environmental or ecological radicals, usually called ecoterrorists, have been sabotaging industrial facilities, logging operations, construction projects, and other economic targets around the country.They have inflicted millions of dollars in damage and have maimed innocent people.

These ecoterrorists are a tiny, fringe group. They in no way represent Americas broad environmental movement. Yet, mainstream environmentalists and the press remain strangely silent about the atrocities committed by the ecoterrorists. By failing to police their own movement, and by failing to denounce loudly and openly the ecoterrorists, mainstream environmentalists risk bringing their entire movement into disrepute. It thus is time for mainstream environmental groups and their supporters in Congress to disas sociate themselves from those who-use violence in the name of the environ ment and to see that they are brought to justice THE ROOTS OF ECOTERRORISM In the early 1970s a lone environmental activist, identified only as The Fox engaged in a sustained campaign of em-sabotage, also termed ecotage, against Chicago-area firms. For three years he committed acts ranging from vandaliz ing the offices of corporations to more serious and dangerous crimes such as plugging industrial drains and smokestacks. Around the same time, a group in Minnesota called the Bolt Weevils and one in Arizona called the Eco raiders carried out similar activities.

From Fantasy to Action. The concept of ecoterrorism gained some attention in the book Ecotage a do-it-%ourself) guide published in 1972 with the sup port of Environmental Action. Based on the results of a contest soliciting eco sabotage ideas, this book extolled the activities of he Fox, who, it argued deserves special credit because he has put his ideas into action, whereas for many, ecotage will remain a fantasy. The book also praised the Billboard Ban dits in Michigan, the Eco-Commandoes in Florida,,who carried out their own disruptive activities, and contended that if Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and George Washington were alive today theyd be ecoteurs by night.s2 While authors Sam Love and David Obst explained that we are not advocat ing that those who buy this book go out and try each one of the tactics in cluded, they added that it is important for readers to become aware that such ideas do exist and that there are already groups actively involved in hplement ing some of them.d ecotage in his novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang. In this story, four people roam the West wreaking havoc, destroying power poles, railroad lines billboards, and any other sign of civilization that mar the landscape. The book concludes with the blowing up of a bridge over the Colorado River. The books message: those genuinely concerned about the environment are entitled to use virtually any tactic, perhaps excluding murder, to stop development. Abbey who died last year, became the spiritual adviser and symbol for activists who turned to outlaw resistance. If opposition is nos enough, we must resist. And if resistance is not enough, then subvert, he said A few years later, environmental activist Edwyd Abbey romanticized THE EARTH FIRST! MOVEMENT In 1981, Dave Foreman, a former lobbyist for the Wilderness Society founded Earth First! This group, Foreman admits, was formed to inspire others to carry out activities straight from the pages of me Monkey Wrench Gan even though Earth First we agreed, would itself be ostensibly law-abid ing. Strictly speaking, Foreman calls Earth First! a movement rather than an organization; there are no membership lists nor officers, for instance. But 1 Sam Love and David Obst, e Ecotagel (NewYork Pocket Books, l.972 2 aid, pp. 17,l3,11-12 3 Ibid,p.l5 4 Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang (NewYork J.B. Lipphwtt Co 1975 Gushed a review in the Nuhunul Observer, the book would make you want to go out and blow up a dam. Blurb, front wver of paperback edition 5 Quoted in Elizabeth Kaufmann, Earthsaving: Here Is a Gang of Real Environmental Extremkts,Ru&bon July 1982, p. 118 6 Dave Foreman, Earth First! The hpssive, October 1981, p. 41 2 the group, with about 10,000 people receiving its newsletter, provides a focal point for those interested in destructive and violent forms of protest. Earth First as an organization does not support or condone illegal or violent ac tivities runs a disclaimer in the newsletter. However, itfdds: what an in dividual does autonomously is his or her own business Details for Destruction. Yet Foreman joined environmental activist Bill Haywood to write Ecodefme: A-$?eZd-Gui& to-iUonkzywh?nching, a book that has sold more than 10,000 copies. While purporting to be for entertainment purposes only, its 311 pages offer detailed advice on how, illegally and violent ly, to sabotage attempts to develop land and other resources. It describes how to drive spikes into trees to shatter chainsaws and saw mill blades when these cut the trees and logs. This tree spiking can injure lumberjacks and mill workers severely. Road spikes are recommended to flatten tires. Methods for destroying roads, disabling construction equipment, and cutting down power lines are discussed. In one chapter, the authors explains that power lines are highly vulnerable to monkeywrenching from individuals or small groups.

During an Earth First! demonstration at the Arches National Park in mid 1981, power lines in nearby Moab, Utah were cut. Foreman said that Earth First! was not directly responsible for such acts, but he added that Other people in Earth First! have done things, not as Earth First! thou gh Earth First a group, is not going to do any monkey-wrenching. But if people who get the Earth First! newsletter do that, thats fine.g In a later interview he went even further, arguing that monkeywenching is morally required as self-defense on the part of the Earth.1o DEEP ECOLOGY Underlying the activities of many members of Earth First! and probably most em-terrorists is the ideology of Deep Ecology, which places the protection of nature above the promotion of humankind.The principles of Deep Ecology were first enunciated in 1972 by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess. California sociologist Bill Devall and philosopher George Sessions of Sierra College in California are among the more prominent American Deep Ecologists. Naess 7 Bid 8 Dave Foreman and Bill Haywood, eds Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Morhymmching, 2nd ed Tucson, Arizona: Ned Ludd Books, 1987 p 4. Foreman alone authored the first edition 9 Quoted in Plowboy Interview, Dave Foreman: No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth, The Mother Ed News, JanuaryFebruary 1985, p. 21 10 Kaufmann, op. cit p. 119 3 advocates a long range, humane reduction [in the worlds population] through mild but tenacious political and economic measures This will make possible, as a result of increased habitat, population growth for thousands of species which are now constrained by human pressures. According to environmentalist Alston Chase, a newspaper columnist and chairman of the Yellowstone Nation al Park Library and Museum Association, who does not support Naesss views poqts, philosophers, economists 4 physicists joined, the ecologists in a search for a new beginning. Through what Chase describes as a swirl of chaotic, primeval theorizing, patterns began to form, and themes resonated particularly the notions that nature is sacred and everything within the universe is interconnected l2 Sacred Wilderness. Though Deep Ecology may be a bit jumbled, it has in fluenced a number of environmental activists. In one interview Foreman attack ed the anthropocentric or human-centered philosophy of the Western world, explaining that wilderness has a right to exist for its own sake, and for the sake of the diversity of life forms it shelters; we shouldnt have to justifj the existence of a wilderness area by saying, Well, it protegs the watershed, and its a nice place to backpack and hunt, and its pretty.

In his view not only is the wilderness sacred, but ecotage is a necessary ele ment of Deep Ecology. Monkeywrenching is a form of worship toward the earth. Its really a very spiritual thing to go out and d0.14 ter to the editor in Earth First! newsletter.

The mindset of the most extreme of these ecoterrorists is evident from a let The only way to stop all the destruction of our home is to decrease the birth rate or increase the death rate of people It does no good to kill a few selected folks.

That is a retail operation. What we need is a wholesale operation The simple expedient: biological warfare! Think about it. It fits. It is species specific. Bacteria are, and viruses tend to be, deadly to only one species.

Only a very few of human pathogens are shared by other partners on our planet. Biological warfare will have no impact on ther creatures, big or small, if we design it carefully. 8 11 Quoted in Peter Borrelli, The Ecophilomphers, The Amicus Jopcmal, Spring 1988, p. 33 l2 Alston Chase, Playing God in Yellowstone: The Desbuchon ofAmericas First National Park (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986 p. 3

47. For a response to Chase, see Doug Foreman, Doug Peacock, and George Sessions Whos Playing God in Yellowstone? A Tripartite Review of the Alston Chase/Yellowstone National Park Controversy, Earth Fhtf, December 21,1986, pp. l8-21 13 Plowboy Interview, op. cit p. 18 14 Quoted in Jim Robbins, Hurling Sand into Societys Gears, Hi& Country News, December 21,1987, p. 14 15 Anonymous, untitled letter, E& Fhtf, November 1,19&1, p. 3 4 ECOTERRORISM A PRESENT DANGER Foreman claims that the fact is, theres almady an awful lot of monkeywrenching going on The Forest Service tries to keep it quiet, industry tries to keep it quiet, and I think there has even been an effort in the media to downplay the extent and effectiveness of monkeywrenching in America today since reporting such.actiyities

The sabotage of construction equipment in logging operations has become common in Washington State. Damage in the millions of dollars has been in flicted by breaking equipment, smashing gauges, stealing batteries, and destroy ing radiators. While in the past ecoterrorists left obvious signs of their activities allowing firms to clean the equipment before using it, the new attacks are in creasingly undetected.

Example: In February 1989 the Janicki Logging Co. of Sedro Woolley Washington, lost five pieces of equipment, including a log loader; the ecoteurs poured fine sand and salt water into the fuel, hydraulic, and water compart ments and removed engine filters.The cost of this attack was $187,000 Skyline Logging Co. of Ellensburg, Washington, and damaged another piece for $240,000 worth of destruction.

Example: Vandals burned a road grader owned by the Gary Will Logging Co of Okauogan County, Washington, which caused $200,000 in damage.

Example: Ecoteurs burned down a National Forest warehouse, destroying three trucks, costing $900,000.

Example: The Oeser Co. of Bellingham, Washington, suffered $7,000 in damage from vandalism of two bulldozers.

TheTrillium Corporation, also of Bellingham, meanwhile, has been placed on Earth First national hit list. The firms signs have been vandalized, shrub bery uprooted, windows broken, door locks jammed, graffiti painted on skylights, and toilets clogged. Other firms have suffered thousands of dollars in Foreman himself was arrested last year for allegedly conspiring to sabotage a Example: Ecoteurs burned a log loader and a log carrier owned by the Swiss 16 Bid, pp. 21-22 5 damage from caltrops, or road spikes, which flatten tires. Ecoterrorists also have dropped caltrops on trails in national forests in an attempt to halt off-road vehicles and along the course of the Sarstow to Las Vegas motorcycle race. On occasion saboteurs have cut the brake lines of logging crew buses and dynamited equipment. Such incidents have occurred in Arizona California Montana, and Oregon Death Threats ForXanchers. It is not just timberlamtthat ecoteurs attempt to protect. Construction firms developing urban shopping centers and build ing roads in Colorado, Utah, and Washington have lost equipment to sabotage.

The FBI reports that ranchers in Arizona, California, and Nevada increasingly have become targets of ecoterrorism. Saboteurs have castrated cattle, vandal ized farm equipment, freed farm animals, and made death threats; last year the Dickson Livestock Auction Yard in Dickson, Tennessee, was torched. Members of both the Animal Liberation Front and Earth First! are thought to be in volved. Lynn Jacobs of the latter group says some of its adherents may be in volved, though she does not how of any specific attacks; I don advocate that anyone break the law unless they feel its the right thing to do.

Ecoteurs routinely pull up survey stakes, slowing road construction and other operations, thus making them more expensive. Ecoteurs also cut down billboards. In 1986 protestors uprooted potato plants to forestall a University of California biogenetic project. Two years later the telescope at an Arizona obser vatory was vandalized. Seismic equipment has been damaged at a number of sites.

A helicopter used by an Oregon .firm to apply herbicide on a commercial tree plantation was firebombed. Ecoteurs destroyed a utility company bridge, isolat ing a Montana wilderness and recreation area from motor vehicles.

Power generating facilities are a favorite ecoterrorist target. In 1979 and 1980 Colorado power line supports were cut down. The following year a Utah trans mission line was felled. In 1986 saboteurs knocked out three electrical transmis sion lines in Arizona. The following two years ski lift pylons at the Fairfield Snowbowl in Flagstaff were cut, allegedly by the same people arrested along with Foreman last year.

Personal Injury While most of the actions of ecoteurs to date mainly have destroyed property injury of innocent people iS now becoming part of the ecoterrorist record. Spik ing trees with metal or ceramic spikes, the latter of which are not detected by metal detectors, is common in the western US. Incidents have also occurred in Canada and Australia. In May 1987, a young California sawmill operator was 4 17 Range Wars of Past are Passe; Now its Ec~logical Terrorism, The Washington Ties, December 18,1989. p.

A7 6 severely injured when a spike shattered a band saw. A local Earth First! official blamed the sawmill for jeopardizing its workers lives. Earth First! leader Foreman said workers fearing injury could quit and that to him, the old growth forest in North Idaho is a hell of a lot more important than Joe Six pack.lS Loggers in California and Oregon since have been injured Stepped-Up Efforts. Northwest Forestry Association spokesman Mike Sul livan:of Portland,-Oregon,-says that throughout the Northwest. After the injury of the California mill worker, the Forest Service said it planned to step up efforts to prevent spiking, but argued that the practice was not a great epidemic Though spiking has increased during the mid-l980s, explains Forest Service spokesman Jay Humphries there is still less than 100 incidents a year. Most of the illegal activity and threats to Forest Service land are related to marijuana growing, not environ mental ecotage.,19 Many loggers remained unconvinced In 1988, one Washington lumber mill lost $20,000 worth of blades from cutting spiked trees.

In another incident involving personal injury, demonstrators, some armed with knives and clubs, attacked Forest Service personnel involved in herbicide spraying in the Siskiyou National Forest inddefie%ave been reported REXCTIONS TO ECOTERRORISM Increased enforcement has been the traditional response to ecoterrorism.

Companies are more vigilant in protecting their equipment; the Forest Service tries to watch more closely for saboteurs of trees, roads, and equipment. In 1988, Congress passed a bill offered by Senator James McClure, the Idaho Republican, making tree spiking a federal offense. Last year, Representative Charles (Chip) Pashayan, the California Republican, introduced legislation to stiffen penalties and create a reward program for informers against tree spikers.

Last year, too, the Washington Contract Loggers Association created a Field Intelligence Report to track the activities of ecoteurs and has established a reward program for information leading to the apprehension of such criminals.

Similarly, the Mountain States Legal Foundation, based in Denver, Colorado established an ecotage hotline last year. In the first two months of hotline opera tion, Foundation President William Perry Pendley received reports of ecotage from California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washingtona Moun tain States also established a clearinghouse to file civil damage actions against saboteurs and to assist the government in prosecuting violators 18 Quoted in Dean Miller, McClure Wants Federal Law Agahst TreeSpiking, Se Mew, August 1, 1987 19 Robbins, op. cit p. 16 20 Deborah Frazier, Ecotage Hotline Wins Prw Rocky Mountain News, August 21,1989, p. 6 p. 1 7 THE ENVIRONMENTALISTS RESPONSE Adequate penalties are a necessary part of any effort to combat ecoterrorism.

Yet western forestland and deserts are too sparsely populated to be patrolled and defended effectively against the determined ecoterrorists.The best defense against ecotage is for mainstream environmentalist community and political leaders and for .businessmen .to;speak.out frequently-on-the issue Aiding Extremists. The message should be twofold: 1) violence is not jus tified as a response to perceived to the environment, wrongs and 2) the protec tion of human life remains societys paramount responsibility.

Particularly important is the role of the major environmental groups Though none of them endorse ecotage, few have shown much enthusiasm for publicly criticizing the practice. Some even aid violent ecoteurs. David Brower, past ex ecutive director of the Sierra Club and current chairman of Friends of the Earth, gives Earth First! office space and has defended the organizations ac tivities I think the environmental movement has room for lots of different views broadcasting on many channels, said Brower. Im certainly not going to be against civil disobedience.21 Brower has said that Earth First! makes Friends of the Earth look reasonable. What we need now is an outfit to make Earth First! look reasonable. When challenged to disavow ecoterrorists in 1983, the Sierra Clubs then-executive director and now chairman Michael McCloskey responded that we no more have an obligation to run around denouncing ex tremists using the environmental movement than Republicans and Democrats have an obligation to go around spending most of their time condemning the views of left or right wing extremists.22 Rejecting Violence. McCloskey ignores the fact the Republicans and Democrats have done just that.They overwhelmingly reject the use of violence to achieve their goals. They never have supported the use of tactics that may maim and even kill. And when such cases occur, these political movements have acted to disassociate themselves with the culprits. In the 1950s the American labor movement purged itself of most communist members and in fluence. In 1989, George Bush and Republican Party Chairman Lee Atwater denounced the election of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke as a Republican to the Louisiana State Legislature and expelled him from the M The political organizations closest to the terrorist groups ideological views should separate themselves from its activities and to help mold a broad social consensus against its activities. The Sierra Club and other organizations, be tionalparty 21 Quote in Kaufhann, op. cit p. 117 22 Quoted in Arnold, op. cir p. 35 8 cause they are committed to many of the goals of Earth First have a duty to discourage violence committed in the name of the environment PEACEFUL CHANGES IN GOVERNMENT POLICY The renewed interest in the environment generated by the twentieth anniver sary of..Earth .indeed welcome.-Itdfen-an opportunity to examhe how best to balance the need for economic development and individual liberty vciith legitimate concerns about destruction of the earths ecosystem and about wilderness preservation.

In many instances, the federal government makes no attempt to find the economically efficient and environmentally sound mix of different activities and actually promotes environmental damage for no economically defensible reason. For instance, fees for federal rangeland are usually between one-fifth and one-tenth of market rates, and thus encourage overgrazing of lands best used in other ways. The federal government even has cleared trees to create more grazing land, a highly destructive and costly process that would not occur without federal subsidies.

Wasteful Investment. Even more wasteful is the Department of Agricultures management of the nations forestland. An estimated $100 million is spent an nually to promote logging in forests that otherwise would not be economical to harvest. In fact, federal road construction not only encourages logging opera tions on public lands, it also opens up private forests that would not be economi cally worthwhile were it not for the government roads. Logging in Alaska has proved to be particularly wgteful, returning just $32 million on an investment of $386 million since 1982.

Similarly, federal water projects such as irrigation systems, dams, and canals often have been created to satis& special interest groups, not to meet genuine public needs. North Dakotas $1.2 billion Garrison Diversion project was designed to serve less than one percent of the states agricultural land while destroying in excess of 70,OOO acres of wetlands.

No Public Good. Environmental destruction underwritten by the federal government certainly should be the target of reformers. But this does not jusw extremist tactics, civil disobedience, and violence. Nor does this justify ignoring the balance that must be struck between ecological concerns and economic development. It is neither humane nor does it serve the public good to shut businesses needlessly, to restrict the supply of housing by prohibiting construc tion of new homes, or to drive up the costs of energy by reducing electrical generating capacity. There are ways to protect the environment without paying 23 As a result, the US. House of Representatives voted, 356 to 60, in July 1989 to end federally mandated timber sales. Said Representathe Steve Bartlett, theTexas RepubIiuucThe timber program H a classic case of corporate welfare. It is not capitalism. It is a taxpayer-subsidized jobs program. John Lamaster, HouseVotes to Limit hgging in Vast Alaskan Tract, me Wmhington Post, July 14,1989, p. A6 9 those prices. Some of these ways include privatization and ending federal of development subsidies. Environmental policies must be designed around natural markets forces which would deliver more ecological amenities at lower cost CONCLUSION I Americans want to preserve a clean world -to conserve their environment.

Americans too want an economy that offers them increasing economic oppor tunities. How to balance these two goals all too often splits Washington be tween myopic conservationists and equally myopic developers. Out of this split comes the ecoterrorists, who believe that anything short of complete victory for the environment is a moral as well as a practical disaster.

Their extremist philosophy is leading to a guerrilla movement that is destroy ing property and injuring the innocent and one day will kill innocent workers or park employees Special Responsibility. To prevent this, policy makers and particularly estab lishment environmental groups, must respond to the ecoterrorists by rebuilding the moral consensus against the use of violence. The environmental movement has a special responsibility. It must no longer tolerate, let alone encourage, the ecoteurs. In particular, environmental groups should publicize the fact that the ecoteurs violence sabotages legitimate environmental groups. These mainstream groups thus should speak out forcefully to encourage their mem bers to distance themselves from violent and destructive activities If Deep Ecology is not challenged at the philosophical level, the number of environmentalists committed to ecotage is likely to grow. And as more people put the rights of nature before those of humans, the more likely it is that in nocent people are going to be killed.

Prepared for The Heritage Foundation by Doug Bandow Senior Fellow, Cat0 Institute, Washington, D.C.


Andrew Brick