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Dark Elves

The FBI takes down the Earth Liberation Front.

11:00 PM, Feb 1, 2006 • By JAMES THAYER
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IT WAS TO HAVE BEEN the perfect crime. A recon of the target had already been accomplished, and a staging area selected, where a hole had been dug to later bury the evidence. All was ready: timer, dark clothing, two-way radios and police scanner, masks and gloves, a drill, and the acid. Night was thick in the little town of Redmond, hard by the Deschutes National Forest in central Oregon. The four actors moved off toward their target. Three of them had nicknames: J.P., Dog, and Seattle.

White five-gallon plastic buckets were their trademark. Inside the bucket was diesel fuel and ground up soap, used to thicken the fuel and slow the burning. The one known as J.P. carried the bucket and timer.

Their target was a meat packing plant owned by Cavel West, Inc. The plant slaughtered wild horses rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management, and sent the meat to Europe. At the plant, the man known as Seattle drilled a hole in an exterior wall. The fuel was poured through the hole into the building. The timing device was activated.

J.P., Seattle, Dog, and the fourth arsonist hurried back to their staging area, dropped their clothes and shoes into the hole, poured acid over the clothes, filled the hole with dirt, then scattered like poultry.

The fire--which occurred on July 21, 1997--caused a million dollars in damage. The meat packing plant has never reopened.

Earlier this month, after a nine-year FBI investigation, federal prosecutors handed down a 65-count indictment against 11 people--including J.P., Seattle, and Dog--involving 16 acts of sabotage and arson. Arrests were made across the country.

The indictments and arrests may have broken the back of the Earth Liberation Front--which the FBI has concluded is our most serious domestic terrorism threat. They estimate that the group's members have caused $100 million in damages since the mid-1990s.

The indictments reveal the extreme enviro movement's hapless clumsiness, its paint-thin philosophy, and its dangerousness.

THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT originated in Great Britain, where in the early 1990s several Earth First! activists decided their organization--with its lobbying and organizing and pamphleteering--was too passive. Direct action--their term for setting fires and tree spiking, which is also called monkey-wrenching--was needed. Judi Bari, an Earth First! leader, wrote, "It's time to leave the night work to the elves in the woods." A 1993 ELF communiqué declared solidarity with the Animal Liberation Front--known for freeing minks--and now acts jointly with the ALF.

Earth Liberation Fronters call themselves elves. On October 28, 1996 the elves set fire to the U.S. Forest Service ranger station in Marion County, Oregon, their first act of arson in the United States.

The Earth Liberation Front's philosophy is a mix of Marx, Unabomber, and Beavis and Butthead. An ELF communiqué (why can't these people call them messages?) states, "ELF works to speed up the collapse of industry, to scare the rich, and to undermine the foundations of the state." A New York Times article quotes an ELF activist saying that "It takes all the tools in the toolbox to dismantle the master's machine." Jeffrey Luers, who calls himself Free, and who is serving a 22-year sentence for torching SUVs at a Eugene, Oregon Chevrolet dealership, and who bears an odd resemblance to Gilligan, lists in a letter to followers those things he fights for: animal rights, gender equality, anti fascism, and eco-defense. Luers remembers his thoughts as he set fire to the Chevies, "Wow, I'm really doing this."

Also, they don't like freeways. The headquarters of the Republican party in Monroe County, Indiana was set on fire because it supported the extension of an interstate highway. One sympathizer sums up ELF philosophy: "Knock down all the concrete." This nihilism begins early in some elves. Luer's partner in the SUV arson, Craig Marshall, said, "Back in the fifth grade, I was already questioning the Pledge of Allegiance." Marshall earlier copped a plea, and was sentenced to five years.

PERHAPS the ELF spokesman could make sense of all this. During hearings in 2002, members of Congress, trying to understand the ELF philosophy, questioned former ELF spokesman Craig Rosebraugh, who replied with more than 50 refusals to answer based on the Fifth Amendment. (He even refused to answer whether or not he was an American citizen.) But when he wasn't taking the Fifth, he did manage to promote the Zapatista cause in Mexico, accuse the United States of trying to assassinate Egypt's President Nasser, and imply America was complicit in the 9/11 attacks. Rosebraugh denies he is an elf himself, saying, "I receive anonymous communications from the ELF and act as a conduit . . . to let people know these are not just random acts."