Pity Briana Waters, maybe just a little bit. As she sat waiting for a jury to render a verdict in her Seattle eco-terror arson trial, another Earth Liberation Front conflagration reminded practically everyone in the Evergreen State that violence motivated by environmentalism is a serious, serious problem. Yesterday that jury convicted Waters for her role in the 2001 firebombing of the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture. She faces between five and 20 years behind bars. Less than 200 miles away in Oregon, Michael “Tre Arrow” Scarpitti faces an even longer sentence for allegedly bombing a construction company in 2001. He was extradited from Canada this week after four years of legal wrangling.
What makes single-issue activists tip their mental scales in the direction of explosive devices? Newsweek asked Portland State University emeritus criminology professor Gary Perlstein to weigh in yesterday:
If their cause is to save the environment, how does burning houses, and thereby releasing carbon and toxins into the atmosphere, help achieve that goal?
It’s just as logical as the radical anti-abortion activists who killed abortion doctors because they’re against murder. We’re not dealing with logic; we’re dealing with emotional feelings.
How deep-seated are these emotions?
To these people the environmental issues have become a religion. It’s beyond the mind. It’s beyond even emotion. We’re talking about something that’s become a religious thing to them the same way people would die rather than give up Christianity or the way the Jews at Masada would not surrender to the Romans. This is the same type of fervor that we’re dealing with.
What would you say has been the ELF’s biggest “success”?
They’ve had basically no success. They make people who might be more caring about the environment a little more upset because they commit violent acts.
What can be done to stop groups like the ELF?
What we need to do is very hard because we need to train law enforcement on both the federal and local levels to think in an entirely new way. It’s the same as if you asked me about fighting Al Qaeda.
All of this, of course, applies equally to animal-rights-motivated violence. With arsonist par excellence Rodney Coronado back in jail for teaching activists how to build firebombs, and most of the “SHAC 7” serving federal terrorism sentences, it’s tempting to believe most targets of the Animal Liberation Front and similar groups are out of the woods. Don’t believe it. Animal-rights violence is still a global menace. One look at this website should be enough to persuade anyone.