#1) "Elves up to more than just mischief"
Commentary and responses printed in L.A. Times.
#2) "Isn't this terrorism?"
(ALF's own words)
*Ecodefense "A" list
The FBI calls all of this "domestic terrorism" and has even designated ELF as the nation's No. 1 domestic terrorism threat. But ELFers-or elves, as they sometimes call themselves-are not typical terrorists; they specifically declare themselves to be "against harming any animal, human or nonhuman." Their actions are aimed only at property, and in this they stand in a long tradition of sabotage as political and economic protest, going back at least as far as the Luddites in 19th century Britain. It's a tradition, though, that does not provide much support for the idea that they will achieve their goals, however much destruction they enact.
main goal is to inflict financial
damage on property owned by people
seen, as an ELF statement has it,
as "profiteering from the destruction
and exploitation of the natural
environment" - whether by urban
motivation for the San Diego attacks, or air pollution, as with the Hummers. Thus they hope to hit corporations, and the government agencies that aid them, in "their pocketbooks," stopping specific eco-transgressions in the short run but ultimately bringing down "capitalism and the mind-set that allows it to exist." So far they claim to have inflicted more than $100 million worth of damage in eight years, which must seem a significant figure to them, though it represents only a small part of the net worth of the corporations they target and doesn't seem to be doing away with sprawl, pollution or corporate capitalism.
Their second purpose is to encourage more people to take similar direct action. "More and more actions need to be taken," an ELF statement says, "to create an actual movement that continues to grow to successfully stop the destruction of life." ELFers are not much interested in making people aware of the abstract issues of development or deforestation or trying to help mainstream environmental groups push through reforms, all of which they scorn. "With one night's work," as they put it, "a few individuals can accomplish what years of legal battles and millions of dollars most likely did not."
And that really is all that ELF is: people deciding on their own, singly or in small groups, to sabotage a target in their neighborhood that has symbolic environmental meaning. It is not an organization. It doesn't have a headquarters or officers or members, and it doesn't hold meetings or marches. (It does, as seems inevitable these days, have a Web site.) Anyone who wants to go out and set fire to an SUV dealership and then spray paint "ELF" on the wreckage is an ELFer, and the motivation will be presumed to be environmental and not, say, revenge or the insurance money.
This style of activism was borrowed from a group called the Animal Liberation Front, which began in Britain in the mid-1970s and spread to the United States, possibly by some of the same people.
Environmental sabotage - "ecotage," as it is sometimes called, or "monkeywrenching" - goes back in this country at least to 1977, when Paul Watson broke from Greenpeace to start the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has taken credit for incapacitating illegal fishing ships and inflicting $2 million worth of damage to a whale-processing plant in Iceland. And for a decade after its founding in 1980, Earth First!, like ELF, encouraged anonymous ecotage, but it downplayed it in the early 1990s because as a group with offices and meetings, it was too open to police attention.
Thus the way was open for a group like ELF. It struck first in October 1996 in Oregon, where locks were glued shut and buildings spray-painted at McDonald's outlets and a PR firm for Weyerhaeuser and Hyundai and a U.S. Forest Service pickup truck was torched. More than 70 actions took place across the country over the next seven years, perhaps the most spectacular being the $25-million arson in October 1998 at a ski resort being built in Vail, Colo., over fierce local environmental opposition. If ELF's goal, however, is nothing less than the eradication of the capitalist system, it is unlikely that ecotage will be the means. The problem is not with its analysis, for indeed this is a system that depletes and exploits the Earth's resources with scant regard for byproducts of pollution or extinction or climate change. But - moral considerations aside - it is hard to see how local economic sabotage can be an effective method of change.
ELFers may imagine that people will become outraged enough at our present undoubtedly catastrophic assault on the Earth's environment to set fire to SUV dealerships across the country, but the historical record shows little reason to believe that this would stop the production of those cars, much less destroy the Detroit manufacturers or the economic system itself.
course when your target is, essentially,
Western civilization, it is hard
to know what strategy would work.
Kirkpatrick Sale is the author of 10 books, including "Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War Against the Industrial Revolution"(Addison-Wesley, 1995).
RESPONSE: Violence in Earth's Name
October 4, 2003 (Letter to the Editor - L.A. Times)
By Paul Watson
Kirkpatrick Sale referred to me and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in his Sept. 29 commentary on the Earth Liberation Front, "These Elves Are Up to More Than Mischief." He wrote that "ecotage," or eco-sabotage, began in this country in 1977 when I founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Sea Shepherd operates outside of the U.S. primarily, and the organization has undertaken only one action within the territory of the U.S., a completely legal opposition to illegal whaling by the Makah tribe in Washington state in 1998 and 1999.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been established as an international marine wildlife conservation organization for almost three decades. We don't commit crimes, and we do not support the use of criminal tactics in our activities. We specialize in intervention against illegal activities that exploit marine wildlife in international waters, where we are empowered to intervene in accordance with the U.N. World Charter for Nature. I resent the implication that our legal intervention against high-seas poaching, sea turtle poaching, illegal whaling, illegal drift nets and long lines and the unlawful killing of baby seals can be connected to illegal crimes of arson and sabotage committed by unknown perpetrators whom I don't know and don't care to know. The least Sale could have done was pick up a phone to question me directly or refer to www.seashepherd.org
Paul Watson is the Founder and President
of the Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society, the National Director of
the Sierra Club and one of the original
founding members of Greenpeace.
RESPONSE: Violence in Earth's Name
October 4, 2003 (Second letter to the Editor - L.A. Times)
By Martin Byhower
Unfortunately, I have to disagree with Sale's premise that no good comes of such apparently disdainful and destructive practices as those engaged in by ELF "representatives." In this case, two overplayed aphorisms come to mind: "one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist" and "any publicity is good publicity." I was an activist working "within the system" as national conservation chairman of the American Cetacean Society during the days when Watson and the Sea Shepherd were ramming pirate whaling vessels. Who was more effective in bringing attention to and fundamental change in world opinion and policy toward the great whales? I would like to think we both helped, but I know there was nothing my organization could do that could compare to the graphic and dramatic images and descriptions of Watson's efforts that appeared in the media and the sense of outrage and engagement these fomented.
Where is the sense of outrage today over President Bush's dismantling of protection for the planet's humans, wildlife, ecosystems and global climate? One can argue about where the line is drawn between civil disobedience and directed attacks on the despoilers of the planet, but until the media and public truly awaken to the daily assaults on the environment being approved and even perpetrated by our "leaders," it is hard to imagine anything less than fires and car wrecks, the daily fare of most newscasts, gaining the attention of the public. Shameful, yes.