It doesn't seem to me that the ELF and the ALF should always be spoken of in the same breath. The Animal Liberation Front is decades old and well-established in over 20 countries.
The Earth Liberation Front didn't really appear on the radar until 1998, when a Vail ski resort was torched. There are questions about the communique in which ELF claimed responsibility. There are questions about the authenticity of ELF website. There are questions about whether the ELF exists as an organization in any ontologically robust sense.
In general, the animal-rights movement has a much longer and more storied history of violent direct action than the environmental movement. Lumping them together as one amorphous threat is driven as much by the political needs of the powers-that-be as by events on the ground.
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.
I'm looking over this "eco-terrorism" stuff. Some stray thoughts.
Why always "shadowy"? Can we find a new adjective for our bogeymen?
Is this what shadowy means?
Who is the leader of the ELF?
This is what has caused problems for law enforcement trying to put an end to the group's activities. There is no Osama bin Laden of the ELF [ed: Yesima bin Burnin?], there are no "lieutenants," and no hierarchical structure at all. It may even be a misnomer to call the ELF a "group."
Gonzales thanked law enforcement at all levels for "their continued determination to help protect Americans from the threat of terrorism, both foreign and domestic."
Foreign. Domestic. Hey, it's all the same stuff.
But what distinguishes setting fire to buildings with crude milk jugs full of gasoline from simple crime?
Gonzalez's formulation was careful: They "worked together with extensive planning to influence the conduct of government and private businesses through the use of coordinated force, violence, sabotage, intimidation, and coercion."
Mueller stuck to Rumsfeldian koans: "But terrorism is terrorism, no matter what the motive."
To me that sounds uncomfortably like "terrorism is whatever the hell we feel like calling it, including maybe ... yeah you, the shifty-eyed guy in the back. You a terrorist, chump?" But maybe I'm just paranoid.
LA Weekly's Judith Lewis has written a short but incisive piece on a subject dear to my heart:
When the American Civil Liberties Union this week released a new batch of documents obtained from the FBI verifying that the federal agency has been monitoring domestic environmental- and animal-rights groups, it was only the latest evidence of government working on behalf of the anti-environmentalist industry and property-rights advocates to, as one of those advocates put it in 1992, "destroy the environmental movement." It's an effort that's been under way since the 1980s, using various tactics from intimidation to slander. Only recently have the anti-environmentalists hit upon their most promising idea yet: Linking environmentalism to terrorism.
Lewis goes on to question whether the ELF (Earth Liberation Front) actually exists as an organization at all. Its alleged website is little more than a hook for a bunch of advertising; its alleged spokesmen are self-promoting cranks; the criminals allegedly connected to it deny any such connections.
Indeed, the people who seem to have the most to gain from the ELF existing are Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the leaders of the wise-use movement, and certain industries whose excesses are threatened by environmental activism.
Zealots need enemies, and if those enemies don't exist, zealots will create them.
The documents the FBI has released so far, most of them heavily edited accounts of monitoring activities directed at Greenpeace and PETA, may be just the tip of the surveillance iceberg. "The reason we have the documents on PETA and Greenpeace is because we asked for them," says Ben Wizner, an attorney with the ACLU. "There have also been requests by local environmental groups around the country. They're trickling out. And I expect that because of these revelations there will be more groups that want to see their FBI files," he said.
You could call the FBI surveillance a colossal waste of public resources, but Wizner thinks it's worse than that: Also in the documents obtained by the ACLU is a memo about a source planted within Greenpeace informing the agency that recent law-enforcement efforts have already damaged morale.
As I've said before, the goal here is not just to hurt morale, not just to slander, but more specifically to question the tax-exempt status of certain powerful environmental organizations.
I think it's far past time for the mainstream green movement to speak out about this publicly. They're letting their enemies define the terrain.