The Animal Liberation Front and the rise of ecoterrorism Will Islamic terrorists learn from the methods of operation and targeting used repeatedly and largely successfully by ecoterrorists?
By Glenn McGovern
At 5:00 a.m., the town was quiet. Just one day past the new moon and sunrise more than an hour away, it was also very dark. August 2, 2008, Santa Cruz, California, was a quiet beachside community known for relaxed attitudes. That Saturday morning, however, was not an average day. On a small suburban street with only a single decorative street lamp, an unknown number of individuals prepared to launch an attack. Unbeknownst to the family of four asleep inside a small, two-story, blue townhouse, an improvised incendiary device (IID) (which would later be described as a "Molotov cocktail on steroids") was deployed.
Whether this IID was thrown or set in place and ignited is not clear, but at approximately 5:30 a.m., Dr.David Feldheim awoke with a start to the sound of smoke detectors blaring. Upon investigating, he discovered the house's first floor blanketed in dense smoke. He quickly gathered his wife and two small children, and used a second-story emergency escape ladder. They were lucky.
Feldheim is a University of California at Santa Cruz research scientist specializing in the study of the human brain. As part of his research, he uses rodents. This practice brought him to the attention of ecoterrorists. The year before this attack, he had received threats. His home was vandalized with graffiti, which consisted of messages of hate directed at Feldheim. Because of that incident, the UC Santa Cruz police installed an alarm system and motion-sensitive lights to increase the security of his residence.
The week prior to the arson attack, a large number of pamphlets had been distributed around the downtown area of Santa Cruz, left on stacks of newspapers, and posted inside coffee shops. These pamphlets were titled "Murderers and Torturers Alive and Well in Santa Cruz" and stated "Animal Abusers Everywhere We Know Where You Live We Know Where You Work We Will Never Back Down Until You End Your Abuse."1 Printed on copy paper, the pamphlets identified 13 researchers by picture, name, phone number, and address, and accused them of abusing animals in the name of research.2,3
Ecological extremist groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) organization, and a host of splinter groups, such as the Vegan Final Solution, have, for many years, restricted targeting individuals in their operations. They have attempted to intimidate, used graffiti, freed animals from universities, farms, and ranches, raided corporations, and/or caused intentional destruction of facilities through arson, but until recently have refrained from targeting their efforts against people. The attacks by these organizations, both attempted and completed, have spanned more than 25 states in the United States and nine countries, including Italy, Canada, the United Kingdom (UK), New Zealand, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, and France.
ALF was founded in the United Kingdom in the mid 1970s and in the United States in the late 1970s. It carried out its first "known" arson attack in the United States on April 15, 1987, when members apparently set fire to the University of California at Davis Veterinary Medicine laboratory, causing $3.5 million in damage. Apart from this attack, ALF extremists have largely focused their operations to raids and the release of animals.
ELF was also founded in the United Kingdom, during the early 1990s. ELF extremists almost immediately began conducting attacks employing IIDs. One of their most destructive attacks to date occurred on October 19, 1998, when they reportedly torched the Vail Mountain Ski Resort in Vail, Colorado. This attack resulted in $26 million in damages. On November 27, 2000, it is believed ELF struck again, setting alight the Legend Ridge Mansion in Boulder, Colorado.4 On May 21, 2001, ELF claimed responsibility for the arson attack on the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington, which caused $5.6 million in damages.5
The SHAC organization, as with the previously mentioned groups, was originally founded in the United Kingdom in 1999. Its stated purpose was to shut down the UK-based research company, Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS). SHAC in the United States was formed in 2000 and it has stated it would use violent criminal actions as part of its repertoire of attack.
In California, 2003 was a particularly damaging year because ecoterrorists caused tens of millions in damages and also demonstrated a change in tactic. It began on August 22, 2003, in San Diego when an apartment complex under construction was set ablaze. The following day in West Covina, a city 120 miles north of San Diego, a Hummer dealership was attacked by arsonists. Both of these terrorist events were claimed by ELF and totaled more than $22 million in damages.
An attack occurred on August 28, 2003, in the San Francisco Bay area that marked the arrival of a new and more deadly method of operation. In this case, the Chiron Corporation suffered a bombing when an improvised explosive device was detonated outside of its offices during the hours of darkness.
This was followed by a similar attack against the Shaklee Corporation in the same area on September 26, 2003. These two companies were affiliated with HLS, however, the attacks were claimed by the Revolutionary Cells – Animal Liberation Brigade (the links to SHAC are not currently known). A communiqué from the group stated that all customers and their families were considered legitimate targets. It went on to threaten, "You never know when your house, your car even, might go boom." It was a significant statement.
In the mid 1990s, ecoextremists began conducting limited attacks against individuals. Fortunately, the method of attack was limited to the throwing of pies in the victim's face. The only damage from such attacks was embarrassment for the victim and certainly for any protective personnel who failed to prevent it, but there was no physical harm.
The attack on Feldheim and his family was a recent attack that has marked a shift in the level of violence employed by an ecoextremist group, in this case ALF. The extremists have moved beyond the raids and burning of structures and appear willing to employ murder to accomplish their goals. This shift was first noted in London on February 22, 2001, when three SHAC men wearing balaclavas and armed with pickax handles attacked Brian Cass, managing director of HLS. The attack occurred outside his residence and resulted in his being hospitalized. Shortly after, on May 1, 2001, vehicles belonging to HLS employees were firebombed in the United Kingdom.
Targeted violence against individuals subsided for a time, perhaps because of the events of 9/11. However, on September 7, 2005, the attacks resumed with a firebombing in Beaconsfield, England, of the home owned by a senior employee of the GlaxoSmithKline corporation. Like the attack on Feldheim, the employee's wife and daughter were home at the time of the attack, but were able to escape safely.
Thais attack was claimed by ELF.
This new level of violence would not reach the shores of the United States until February 5, 2008, in Los Angeles, California. In this case, the home of a University of California at Los Angeles professor was firebombed. Fortunately, no one was home at the time.6 That same month, extremists believed to be linked to SHAC attempted to force their way into the home of a University of California at Santa Cruz professor. The husband fought with upwards of six masked individuals, resulting in his receiving several blows.
May 2010 marked the use of another violent tactic. In this case, the wife of a marine biologist researcher in Santa Cruz walked out from her hillside home and approached her car. As she did, she noted a pool of fluid underneath. Ultimately, it was discovered that the entire brake system had been disabled and lines cut, including the emergency brake cable. To date, there have been no claims of responsibility.7
While laws that can be used against the perpetrators of such attacks already exist in most if not all jurisdictions, there were no laws specifically addressing the threat ecoterrorists represented. In 1992 that changed when the U.S. Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. It represented the first major legislation for protecting animal researchers. In 2006 Congress expanded its efforts when it passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act to replace the 1992 law. This law prohibits using force, violence, or threats for purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise. In many of these ecoterrorist attacks, no one has been arrested.
Understanding the nature and methodology of the attacks carried out by ecoterrorists is incredibly important given the world's current battle with Islamic terrorists. With the apparent increase in the number of Islamic extremist lone-wolf or small-cell attacks and attempted attacks, a connection may become evident. Ecoextremist organizations may exploit the lone-wolf concept by operating in very small cells. By approximating what has been termed "leaderless resistance," a small, close-knit structure, penetration by law enforcement is exceedingly difficult. By way of the Internet, extremists are able to share a common cause, claim responsibility for attacks, and learn from others about targeting, methods of attack, and so forth.
Will Islamic terrorists learn from the methods of operation and targeting used repeatedly and largely successfully by ecoterrorists? Will the members of ALF and ELF and others learn from the Islamic extremists and increase the lethality of attacks? Jerry Vlasak, the Los Angeles founder of and spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, which often posts claims of responsibility for animal extremist attacks, told Congress in 2005 that the killing of researchers who use animals in their work is an acceptable tactic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mr.McGovern has served in SWAT, JTTF and protective operations assignments. He is the author of Targeted Violence (CRC Press, April 2010) , and the forthcoming Protective Operations (CRC Press, April 2011).
1 FBI Media Bulletin, "FBI and Santa Cruz Police Department Seek Assistance from the Public in Identifying 2008 Firebombers," August 2, 2010
2 "Santa Cruz firebombs look familiar: 'Molotov cocktails on steroids' are similar to those animal rights extremists have used, police say," August 4, 2008, Wyatt Buchananand and Demian Bulwa, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writers http://articles.sfgate.com/2008-08-04/news/17121852_1_uc-santa-cruz-animal-rightsfirebombs accessed 12/22/2010
3 "A year after firebombings, no arrests, though awareness remains among scientists" August 2, 2009, J. M. Brown, Sentinel Staff Writer
4 "Eco-Violence: The Record" Intelligence Report, Fall 2002, Issue 107, Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2002/fall/frompush-to-shove/eco-violence-the-rec
6 "Animal extremists say 'liberationists' responsible for firebomb attack," Office of Media Relations, UCLA Newsroom, February 5, 2008, http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/fbi-investigates-fire-ar-home-44151.Aspx accessed 12/29/2010
7 "Cops Eye Animal Rights Extremist in Attack on Marine Biologist," Eamon McNiff, CBS News, May 26, 2010, http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/police-suspect-animal-rights-groupcut-brake-lines/story?id=10740962 A protest in Huntingdon by SHAC, November 2007. Photo: SHAC Activist accessed 12/29/2010.