And it was in the news six years ago in Canada too -- at least if you were paying attention. Below is the unedited version of a story I wrote in August, 2006, on a little-covered, little-noticed outbreak of eco-terrorism in Canada. The story was published in the Western Standard.
The malicious ELFs of central Canada
|FBI 'Wanted' poster: Rebecca Rubin|
Last January, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced that a massive police initiative code-named Operation Backfire had resulted in the indictment of 11 members of a radical environmental group known as the Family, an eco-terrorist gang which was aligned with the outlaw Earth Liberation Front* and which had been linked to 16 arson and vandalism attacks in the U.S. West between 1996 and 2001. Six members of the gang, including Canadian Darren Thurston, who was twice convicted of similar crimes in Edmonton in the early 1990s, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and arson charges in July. The rest, plus two others, are either fugitives or face trial in October.
The criminal proceedings marked an important victory for U.S. law enforcement authorities in their fight against ELF, which the FBI has called the number-one domestic terror threat in the country and which, in conjunction with its ideological fellow travellers in the Animal Liberation Front, has been responsible for attacks causing more than US$110 million in damage over the past two decades.
But even as prison doors were slamming shut on some of the U.S.’s most dangerous eco-zealots, ELF radicals were running riot in southern Ontario, burning partially-built homes and vandalizing construction equipment, all in the name of protecting Mother Earth from human development. Since June of 2005, attacks in Guelph, Brantford, London and Toronto have caused more than $3 million in damage, most of it this past summer [see list below]. No one has been injured in any of the attacks, and the incidents have stayed under the radar of the national media. But that doesn’t mean they’re not extracting a high toll.
“The unfortunate truth is that is costs construction companies and excavation companies a whole lot of money,” says Nathan Lancaster, a project manager with Lanca Contracting Ltd. of Brantford, one of whose sites was hit in mid-July. “There are so many other serious problems out there, you’d think someone would have better things to do with their time.” Vandals typically put sand into the fuel tanks of heavy machinery.
Police have few leads, but it is known that computers linked to the University of Guelph were used three times to send ELF communiqués taking credit for attacks. As well, on August 1, Guelph police charged University of Guelph environmental activist Matthew Soltys, 23, with mischief after they caught a man spray-painting the image of a red dump truck on a wall in downtown Guelph; he was also in possession of a stencil reading, “Eco-Terrorist.” Sgt. Ron Lord of the Guelph police department says he hopes the public will help solve the vandalism and arson attacks, the most serious of which destroyed the Cutten Club golf course’s clubhouse last October. “We’re at a point now where all the files are active,” Lord says. “Fires of this magnitude, I’m sure somebody will talk somewhere, some time.”
Not necessarily. It was only through undercover police work and extensive surveillance that U.S. authorities were able to crack ELF’s criminal conspiracy. Indeed, Lynn Snowden, a professor of criminology at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, notes that ELF tends to be organized very loosely into independent cells; some lone wolves may even act alone, claiming ELF membership but really just operating on their own. “There’s really nothing to connect them to the movement or anything like that,” she says.
Whether acting alone or in groups, the eco-zealots are usually young, impressionable and believe that civilization is destroying the world, says author Ron Arnold of Bellevue, Washington. Arnold, vice-president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, is one of the continent’s experts on radical environmentalism. He says typical ELF recruits are aged 17 to 22, and begin lawbreaking at least as much as an expression of their generalized anger at authority as in response to their environmental beliefs. “It’s a way to get attention, a way to get even, and revenge is a very powerful motive,” Arnold says.
Motive aside, police in Ontario clearly have a big problem on their hands. Brantford’s Sgt. Lord says his office is sharing information with police departments in other cities hit by the eco-vandals, but the communities have yet to establish a joint task force to tackle the problem. Perhaps they’re hoping the success enjoyed by U.S. authorities will rub off on them.
Ontario’s eco-terrorism hot spots
June 26, 2005. Arson, the Church of Our Lady, Guelph. Cost of damage, $10,000.
June 26, 2005. Arson, Zeller’s department store, Guelph. Cost, $25,000.
October 31, 2005. Arson, the Cutten Club, Guelph. Cost, $400,000.
January 30, 2006. Arson, house under construction, Guelph. Cost, $5,000.
June, 2006. Arson, house under construction, Guelph. Cost, $200,000.
June, 2006. Vandalism, construction machinery, Guelph. Cost unknown.
July 14, 2006. Vandalism, construction equipment, Toronto. Cost, $2 million.
July 18-20, 2006. Vandalism, equipment at five construction sites, Brantford. Cost, unknown.
July 21-27, 2006. Vandalism, equipment at 10 construction sites, London. Cost, $300,000.
July, 2006. Arson, house under construction, Guelph. Cost, $80,000.
*Radical environmentalists belonging to the Earth Liberation Front believe humans are destroying the world. Accordingly, they have pledged to use “direct action in the form of economic sabotage to stop the exploitation and destruction of the natural environment.”
ELF was formed in the United Kingdom in 1992 and has since spread to the U.S., Greece and Canada. Prior to this year’s epidemic of destruction in southern Ontario, ELF’s Canadian activities were mainly limited to B.C., where eco-radicals burned down a wilderness lodge in June 1995 and repeatedly vandalized a Vancouver Island golf course in 2000 and 2001.
A communiqué, issued by ELF following one of its Brantford, Ont. vandalism attacks this July, casts a light on the outlaw group’s warped mindset. It reads: “The day to day lives most of us live are killing our sweet mother earth, that which we all need to survive…Let us RISE UP and fight the machines that destroy the planet. We do not need to fight each other. Working as one we can live lives of LOVE and HARMONY for all humans, animals, plants and the planet.”