NEWS

Four Alleged Members of ELF Indicted in Michigan

By Matthew Harwood

Four members of a radical environmentalist organization have been indicted on multiple arson charges for the 1999 fire at Michigan State University that incinerated a genetic-engineering facility.

The Seattle Post Intelligencer reports:

The indictment, unsealed Tuesday, accuses Marie Jeanette Mason, 46, of Cincinnati, Frank Brian Ambrose, 33, of Detroit, of arson and conspiracy to commit arson. Aren Bernard Burthwick, 27, of Detroit, and Stephanie Lynne Fultz, 27, of Detroit, also are charged with conspiracy to commit arson.

The New Year's Eve fire targeted Agricultural Hall because it housed the the Agriculture Biotechnology Support Project which did genetic engineering work on crops for developing nations. The fire caused $1 million in damages, according to United Press International.

All four defendants are assumed to be members of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), which claimed responsibility for the arson. ELF is an underground organization of autonomous cells that carry out direct action against targets they accuse of harming the environment. According to the MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base, ELF operates under three guidelines:

1) To inflict economic damage on those profiting from the destruction and exploitation of the natural environment; 2) To reveal and educate the public on the atrocities committed against the earth and all species that populate it; and 3) To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human.

ELF has been designated as a domestic terrorist organization by the FBI. Critics contest the label, however.

Liberal-left columnist Ted Rall argues:

ELF members are vandals. They're arsonists. But they aren't terrorists.

ELF demands that its adherents "take all necessary precautions against harming any animal--human and non-human." Although it could happen someday, no one has ever been killed or hurt in an ELF action. Equating the burning of a Hummer to blowing up a child exposes our society's grotesque overemphasis on the "right" of property owners to do whatever they want. The word "eco-terrorism" is an insult to the human victims of real terrorism, including those of 9/11.

The FBI disagrees. Here's how James F. Jarboe, the FBI's domestic terrorism chief, defined ecoterrorism before Congress in 2002.

The FBI defines eco-terrorism as the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.

Michigan State University's president, Lou Anna Simon, called the fire a "significant act of domestic terrorism" because the arsonists didn't merely set fire to a building but engaged in an "assault on the core value of free and open inquiry at a research university."

The latest round of legal action against  suspected ELF members come a week after Briana Waters was convicted of two counts of arson for being the lookout during ELF's firebombing of the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture in 2001.

Also last week, ELF struck again in a Seattle suburb, torching five 4,500 square foot homes that residents said threatened the local environment, including the endangered chinook salmon.

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