'Eco-Terrorists' Charged in 17 Arson Attacks Federal prosecutors recently announced the indictments of 11 people in an "eco-terrorism" arson conspiracy dating to 1996. Prosecutors say the group was responsible for 17 arson attacks in the West. Hear NPR's Debbie Elliott and Bryan Denson of The Oregonian in Portland, Ore.
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'Eco-Terrorists' Charged in 17 Arson Attacks

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'Eco-Terrorists' Charged in 17 Arson Attacks


After a nearly decade long investigation, federal authorities believe they've cracked what they call a vast eco-terrorism conspiracy. On Friday, 11 people were indicted in acts of arson and vandalism that cut a wide swath across the west, including attacks on a ski resort, U.S. Forest Service ranger stations, a parking lot of SUVs, lumber companies and federal wild horse facilities. The alleged conspirators are said to belong to radical environmental movements known as the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front. Bryan Denson has covered the story for The Oregonian newspaper. He joins us on the line. Hello, Brian.

Mr. BRYAN DENSON (Reporter, The Oregonian): Hi.

ELLIOT: How long have you been covering this story?

Mr. DENSON: Well, since 1996, actually, so coming up on a decade.

ELLIOT: Can you describe for us how officials say this group was operating?

Mr. DENSON: Well, I mean, if the government has their story straight, they're saying that these saboteurs took oaths of secrecy. The called themselves the family, they gathered in small cells among themselves. They built a variety of fire bombs. They dressed in black, they set up little command posts outside, they did dry runs of these various alleged crimes and then they committed them time after time.

ELLIOT: More and more information is now coming out about those who were arrested. What can you tell us about these people?

Mr. DENSON: There was one gentleman who was a bookstore owner. As I understand it, he owned sort of an alternative bookstore in Arizona. They had one person who worked with victims of domestic abuse. Another who worked for people who were disabled. What's interesting about these folks is that if the government, again, has their stories straight, they committed these crimes and then went on to lead more or less normal lives.

ELLIOT: Did authorities give any information as to how they believe this group came together?

Mr. DENSON: Well, no--but we do know that quite a number of them were based in and out of Eugene, Oregon, which has, over the years, been something of a hotbed for what a lot of people refer to as the Green Anarchy Movement. A movement believes that mankind took a backwards step about 10,000 years ago by domesticating animals and the land and this inexorably led to industrial society and that this was our downfall, to hear them give their point of view on the matter.

ELLIOT: Why did the investigation take so long?

Mr. DENSON: I have not gotten an explanation from the federal agents who worked on this case. They are very tight lipped right now. But we do know this: we know that at least one and probably two people who were involved in the crimes or the alleged crimes wound up flipping and becoming part of the government's case.

ELLIOT: We should be clear that no one was ever killed in any of these attacks.

Mr. DENSON: Right, no one has ever been killed in an act of eco-sabotage attributed to the Animal Liberation Front or Earth Liberation Front. Although, I have to tell you, the way this movement works, its more of a philosophy than it is an organizational structure. This is not quite like al-Qaeda. What you have is you have groups of people who adhere to a sort of a credo and one of the tenants of this is that they don't harm any life form, human or animal although they have killed a few animals along the way, they have not, heretofore, killed any human beings

ELLIOT: Now since these arrests, ALF has struck again claiming responsibility for another arson, a mansion in Puget Sound. What does that tell us about the group and how it works and where these 11 alleged conspirators fit into the operation?

Mr. DENSON: One of the things that we've found over the years is that when there is an arrest or several arrests, sometimes there will be other activists who slip underground and commit a crime and then later sort of dedicate the crime to the person who has been captured.

ELLIOT: Bryan Denson, investigative reporter with the Oregonian in Portland, Oregon. Thank you so much.

Mr. DENSON: Thank you.

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