If the executive branch was trying to distract attention from Osama Bin Laden’s latest taped message and the NSA spying scandal with this "eco-terrorism" business, they failed pretty miserably. When Gonzalez and Mueller took questions, only the final two were about the Milk Jug Brigade.

QUESTION: On the environment and eco-groups, how big a blow is wrapping up these people that you’ve got indictments against — how deep do you think the support goes for these kinds of acts?

MR. MUELLER: If you read the indictment and you see the listing of the actions that have taken place at the hands of this group over a period of time, you get some understanding of the impact of this investigation and this indictment. In terms of identifying and arresting those who were principly responsible for something like 17 — over 15, as the Attorney General pointed out, acts over the last few years in this arena. So, I think it’s fair to say it was a substantial blow.

A blow to who, though? To what? Membership in the Earth Liberation Front seems to require one thing: Saying so. These fruitcake hippies said they acted in the name of ELF, but how is throwing them in jail a "blow" to ELF? It’s not like ELF is an organization with upper management you can remove. It’s just a name. Any angry malcontent who wants to can claim to act on its behalf.

The ELF is an idea, not a gang. Now that the federal government has made it famous, I’m sure it will begin attracting a broader array of malcontents, one of whom eventually will be willing to injure another human being, and then we’re off to the races.

It’s not coincidence that this administration has declared war on an opponent which can by definition never be defeated, can never surrender, because it is an abstraction. The war will last in perpetuity. So when Gonzalez starts pushing for special "wartime" powers on behalf of the FBI and ATF, he will in effect be working to permanently expand the powers of the executive branch. That is, after all, his one true mandate from his bosses.

Witness:

QUESTION: Is there any concern that these groups are contemplating the kinds of attacks that they’re willing to commit — the case last week out of Sacramento talked about actually blowing up a federal building. Is there any concern that these groups are escalating?

MR. MUELLER: I wouldn’t say that there’s concern that there is escalation. We had another arrest last week of a group that was contemplating similar acts, but if you look at what has been accomplished in the course of this investigation, as well as the investigation last week, we’ve had a dramatic impact on persons who contemplate these crimes.

If you look back over the last three or four years and you add up the number of prosecutions, the number of investigations that have led to prosecutions, and the substantial sentences that have been handed down to persons who conduct this kind of activity, there is a substantial deterrence out there.

Persons who conduct this type of activity are going to spend a long time in jail and they should understand that, regardless of the motive.

A perpetual war. Perpetually being won, as measured by number of arrests, but perpetually not quite won yet. Perpetually useful in winning elections. That, I fear, is what the Bush administration means by "terrorism."