Sport utility vehicle owners and dealers in Central Virginia have received a chilling message in recent weeks by what police believe to be the radical environmental organization Earth Liberation Front [ELF]. An estimated $45,000 in vandalized damage to SUVs in four incidents in Henrico and Goochland Counties have occurred over the last several weeks. Spray-painted letters E-L-F were the only calling card left behind.

These appear to be just the latest act in the sordid history of this extremist group. West Coast law enforcement is all too familiar with the acts ELF is capable of committing. Just four years ago, the group claimed credit for burning a Vail ski resort to the ground resulting in $12 million in damages and endangering the lives of firefighters. In April 2000, the ELF claimed responsibility for torching a Eugene, Ore., auto dealership that destroyed 30 SUVs. How can a homegrown group of radicals that commit arson, massive vandalism and physical violence continue to thrive in this day and age?

Despite the fact that these groups commit their obscene acts under anonymity and the cover of night, they do receive funding and accolades from mainstream tax exempt activist groups, especially from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA]. Or perhaps a more appropriate name would be “Promotion of Extremist and Terrorist Acts.”

Just as Congress convened hearings on environmental terrorism within the United States this past February, researchers for the Center for Consumer Freedom discovered after searching PETA IRS records that the group had donated $1,500 to the Earth Liberation Front [ELF] in April 2001.

ELF has been called “the largest and most active U.S.-based terrorist group” by the FBI. And ELF and its sister group, the Animal Liberation Front [ALF], have earned it. ELF and ALF took credit for 137 “actions” in 2001 alone.

These two groups commit arson, set off time bombs and incendiary devices, destroy research facilities, run online eco-terror “training camps,” and sell how-to manuals on “blockading tactics,” “thievery and trespassing,” “covert direct action,” and even sinking ships.

ELF even offers a manual on “Setting Fires with Electrical Timers” free of charge on its Web site – which opens with a photo of an ELF-torched building ablaze.

Why did PETA donate the $1,500 to ELF? According to PETA’s tax returns, to “support their program activities.”

It’s hardly the only tie between PETA and domestic terrorism. PETA gave $5,000 to the “Josh Harper Support Committee” to assist an ALF-affiliated criminal arrested numerous times and convicted for assaulting a police officer.

An unrepentant Harper has said: “We’re going to continue to be militant. If people see that as extreme, then so be it.”

PETA has also given $2,000 to David Wilson, then a national spokesperson for ALF, who has told the press: “We started with animal rights, but we’ve expanded to wildlife actions like the one in Vail.”

PETA’s ties with terrorists are nothing new. PETA served as the de facto spokesgroup for ALF in the late 1980s, holding press conferences to praise ALF criminals and field media questions just hours after laboratories were destroyed or buildings burned down.

And in 1995, PETA gave $45,200 to the “support committee” of Rodney Coronado, a convicted arsonist who firebombed a research facility at Michigan State University, and also “loaned” $25,000 to Coronado’s father. [He never paid it back, and PETA never complained.]

The same year that PETA lined terrorist Coronado’s pockets, the animal rights group spent less than $3,955 on animal shelters.

PETA gets a significant portion of its funds from mainstream donors like the Park Foundation [$200,000 between 1997 and 1999] and the Glaser Family Foundation [$179,488 between 1999 and 2001]. Do these donors know what they’re paying for?

If not, they should examine PETA’s rhetoric more carefully. PETA co-founder Ingrid Newkirk flirted with bioterror when she said in 2001 of her desire for a U.S. hoof-and-mouth disease outbreak: “I openly hope that it comes here.”

PETA’s Bruce Friedrich was even more blunt, saying last summer: “It would be great if all the fast-food outlets, slaughterhouses, these laboratories and the banks who fund them exploded tomorrow. Hallelujah to the people who are willing to do it.”

It turns out “the people who are willing to do it” are directly tied to PETA. Just weeks after Mr. Friedrich’s speech, ELF and ALF burned down a McDonald’s restaurant in Tucson, Ariz. They publicly took credit for the attack – on September 11.

The events of that day did nothing to stop these domestic terrorists. ALF set fire to the Coulston Foundation primate-research facility just nine days after September 11, while ELF placed time bombs at a government-holding pen for wild horses and burros in October.

The PETA money trail shows us just what PETA really stands for. And PETA’s own words reveal just what they “are willing to do.”

The question, then, is: Will PETA’s donors keep paying for it?