The term “Eco-terrorism” was established in the 1970’s out of the need to persecute the groups and individuals who were committing acts of violence in defense of the environment. It is defined as “the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against people 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,”(USLegal).
At first glance, this all seems well and just. After all, there were several groups who were committing crimes in order to make statements that would lead to innocent people being hurt or even killed.
An article written by Stephan Leader explained how the structure of these activist groups made prosecution of these crimes difficult because they were structured in such a way that there was no true leadership or chain-of-command.
People were acting out on their own based on the principles that these extremist groups would preach. While much of the time care was taken to prevent casualties in the wake of their acts, they were not always successful in their efforts.
Radical Protection Groups
Between the 1970’s and early 1990’s, groups such as Earth First!, Animal Liberation Front (ALF), and Earth Liberation Front (ELF) became well-known for their violent and criminal retaliations against companies that were contributing to environmental destruction.
ELF especially has been known for their many acts of arson. In 1993 several ELF activists set fire to 40 vehicles at a California car dealership, causing $2 million worth of damage (HistoryCommons). To them, car companies were profiting from the killing of our environment. Acts like this were not uncommon amongst these groups and, in fact, happened quite frequently.
While these groups were supporting worthy causes and had good intentions at heart, there is no denying that these acts were dangerous, putting innocent people’s lives at risk, and undoubtedly acts of domestic terrorism.
Tree spiking was one of several catalysts in the the labeling of “Ecoterrorists”. It involved hammering metal rods or spikes into trees so that, when a mill workers came along to cut down the trees for lumber, it would destroy the saws. But, as one might imagine, this can be an extremely dangerous tactic as the breaking of the chainsaws has led to numerous casualties.
Tree spiking is most commonly associated with the environmental group, Earth First!, because the co-founder of the group, Dave Foreman, brought about it’s popularity in the 1980’s when he discussed the technique in his book, Ecodefense (wisegeek). But the dangers of tree spiking eventually became common knowledge and most groups, including Earth First!, expressed their opposition to the act in fear that it would give their cause a bad name.
In 1988 the United States officially made tree spiking a federal offense.
Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act
Since the rise of Ecoterrorism, the United States has put forth several laws meant to protect the companies and industries being targeted by these radical activists.
The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (previously called the Animal Enterprise Protection Act) was the 109th Congress Public Law, enacted in 1992, and prevents anyone from “damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise.”
While the law was originally put in place to protect companies and individuals from the physical and economic damage caused by these extremist acts, over time it has proven to be detrimental to even the most peaceful activists in order to keep their causes silenced and prevent the monetary loss that might come from the social and political uprisings that these “ecoterrorists” have been fighting for.