A couple of days ago, several houses were torched in Snohomish, Washington. Two houses were burned to the ground, a third suffered minor damage, and an investigation uncovered a 4th house that had had an incendiary device (a plastic bottle with flammable liquid) in it but that had failed to ignite. The homes were newly constructed and not yet occupied, and total damage was estimated to be around $800,000. Two other (apparently unsuccessful) arson attempts, at two other sites, were made within a 20 mile radius of Snohomish. The incendiary devices were similar to those that resulted in the destruction of the houses in Shohomish, and authorities are considering the possibility that the 3 events might be linked. A note left at one of the sites apparently "mentioned cutting down trees to develop homes," and the Shohomish County Fire District 4 Fire Chief Bob Merritt said: "It's definitely some sort of environmental statement."
There was some question early on whether or not agents of the Earth Liberation Front were responsible. Unlike typical ELF attacks, there was no graffiti, the ELF did not immediately announce or take credit for the arson, and, indeed, ELF could not even be reached immediately for comment.
But today, the AP (via LexisNexis) reports that the ELF probably is responsible at least for the Snohomish fires:
The Earth Liberation Front says its members most likely are responsible for three house fires that caused an estimated $1 million damage at a new development in Snohomish County. . . . .
An e-mail to reporters Thursday from the ELF press office said it had "received no communications about these actions from the persons responsible," but they are most likely that of individual members.
"In the absence of other information, this note does indicate a claim of responsibility for the fires and fire attempts by ELF activists," the e-mail went on to state.
The ELF has claimed responsibility for other arsons in the Northwest, including the May 2001 fire that destroyed the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington in Seattle. . . .
I think this illustrates the difficulty of bringing ecoterrorists to justice. ELF is a "cell-organized" group, meaning that there is no central control, nobody in charge, no "Operations Officer" coordinating activities. And yet, there is still the incendiary mix: an ideology, a set of specific targets (named persons or corporations) or global targets (unnamed persons or corporations) who are demonized for interfering with nature's naturalness. There is a way to communicate the ideology and targets instantaneously to the world at large (by the internet), and a way to teach people how to construct simple tools of destruction like incendiary devices (again, accomplished by way of the internet and by underground publicatitons).
And there is a computer somewhere, I suppose, manned by people who neither engage in terrorist acts themselves nor abet terrorists known to them. All they have to do is maintain a website or two and disseminate information - information that everyone can read and anyone may act upon, and that can inflame easily impressionable or sick minds.
The system is so successful at protecting its terrorist disciples that the ELF spokesman himself didn't even know whether or not these arson attacks were committed by ELF operatives. All ELF can say is that the acts were "most likely that of individual members."
ELF's carefully-cultivated ability to recruit anonymous, free-lancing terrorists - without ever having contact with them - makes it tough for law enforcement to prevent ELF-inspired attacks, or to bring the perps to justice.