Leaderless movement proves illusive

Sep 13, 2007

Ask the FBI, and they will contend that a dangerous wave of “ecoterrorism” has swept North America in the past decade. Ski resorts, new condominium developments and corporate logging headquarters have all been the target of arson attacks, pushing the damage tally of a shadowy organization called the Earth Liberation Front past the $100 million mark. The FBI’s concern has reached such a fervor, in fact, that it labeled environmental terrorism as the number one domestic terrorism threat in 2005.

A new study by University of Alberta researcher Paul Joosse cautions against any surety about the ideological motivations behind the arsons, however. “While many of the acts were purportedly done in the name of the Earth Liberation Front, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the acts were actually committed for environmental reasons,” says Joosse. The reason for the confusion?

The Earth Liberation Front (or ELF, for short) uses an organizational strategy called ‘leaderless resistance,’ whereby small cells choose when, how, and against whom to act—and then make a claim of responsibility on behalf of the mother group. This means that the individual arsonists are not bound by the ethical guidelines of the larger organization, and that they may be acting for entirely personal reasons. “In the past, people have spoken in the name of the group” says Joosse, “but actually it’s a movement bereft of leaders, so you can’t pin the movement to a single issue, or even a common ideology.”

When perpetrators have been caught, however, they often bear the full burden of being associated with and “eco-terrorist organization.” Take the case of Jeffrey Luers, for example. In 2000, he was sentenced to a 22-year prison term for his role in fire-bombing three SUVs, causing $60,000 in damages to property, but harming no one. He never claimed affiliation with the ELF, but because his actions looked very much like them, his sentence ranked in the same category as those regularly given in the state of Oregon for attempted murder, manslaughter one, rape one, and kidnapping. Other convicted ELF arsonists have been subjected to a ‘terrorism enhancement’ clause that has added decades to their sentences.

Many in the environmentalist community have described Luers’ and others’ sentences as draconian, and have decried the bullish surveillance and investigative practices of state agencies such as the FBI. “To them, we are in a time of the ‘green scare’” says Joosse—an allusion to the ‘Red Scare’ of the McCarthy era earlier in the twentieth century. American state agencies, on the other hand, have justified their investigative practices as being necessary in the time of the “war on terror,” and maintain, as FBI Director Robert Mueller did, that “Terrorism is Terrorism, no matter what the motive.”

Source: University of Alberta

Explore further: New anthology offers comprehensive insight into the life and works of Margaret Thatcher

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Notorious hacktivist shares methods, motives

Nov 10, 2014

Cocaine dealers, bank robbers and carjackers converge at Manchester Federal Prison in rural Kentucky—and then there is Jeremy Hammond, a tousle-haired and talented hacker whose nimble fingers have clicked ...

The carriers of memory

Mar 07, 2012

Almost 100 years after the outbreak of World War I, public opinion about war in many of the countries that fought appears to have shifted completely. Historian Jay Winter explains how poetry, art and film ...

The China Yahoo! welcome: You've got Jail!

Sep 09, 2005

This week's revelations involving a Chinese journalist sentenced to 10 years in jail for revealing state secrets indicates the weaknesses of human rights and corporate behavior in the virtual world.

Recommended for you

James Watson's Nobel Prize to be auctioned

Nov 25, 2014

Missed the chance to bid on Francis Crick's Nobel Prize when it was auctioned off last year for $2.27 million? No worries, you'll have another chance to own a piece of science history on Dec. 4, when James D. Watson's 1962 ...

Engineers develop gift guide for parents

Nov 21, 2014

Faculty and staff in Purdue University's College of Engineering have come up with a holiday gift guide that can help engage children in engineering concepts.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.