The CS Monitor‘s Brad Knickerbocker has a competent backgrounder on the recently arrested "eco-terrorists." There’s not a whole lot new in it, particularly about ELF, which is what I’d most like to see some solid reporting on. He does point out that activists in this extremist community (centered in the Northwest, principally around Eugene, Ore.) deny that the feds have the right people, but I suppose that’s to be expected.

This passage, however, jumped out at me:

Many of those charged appear to have led unremarkable lives in recent years. Suzanne Savoie works in a home for the developmentally disabled here in Ashland, Ore. Jonathon Paul, who lives with his wife in the mountains nearby, trains people who fight wildfires. Kevin Tubbs has been an assistant manager at a department store. Chelsea Gerlach is a disc jockey in Portland whose father works in the timber industry.

Yet modest, unassuming lives may have masked ideals and activism that went beyond the mainstream. Thirteen years ago, Mr. Paul spent six months in jail for refusing to testify about convicted ALF arsonist Rod Coronado. Mr. Tubbs once worked for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). As a sophomore at South Eugene High School, Ms. Gerlach wrote in the school yearbook: “Our generation was born to save the Earth – if we wait until we’re out of school it might be too late.”

You catch that? Nothing in these suspects’ lives screams "terrorist," so now we’re supposed to cast a newly suspicious eye on seemingly workaday behaviors — not ratting out a friend, working for mainstream animal-rights or green groups, making bold statements about environmental health.

Once you make that step, well, now you look around and notice that hey, lots of people do stuff like that. Any of them could be terrorists, right? Best to distance yourself, right?

And so the fear and paranoia creep closer and closer to the mainstream, casting ordinary activists in a sinister light.

And that’s just what this kind of campaign by the feds is supposed to do.