Earth Liberation Front
The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is an international movement of autonomous affinity groups that engage in sabotage against environmentally destructive industries. In 2005, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that the ELF had committed over 1,200 actions and cost companies tens of millions of dollars in damages (By 2004, "extreme animal rights and environmental activists" had caused over $100 million according to the Anti-Defamation League). The ELF's famous 1997 Beltane declaration begins, "Welcome to the struggle of all species to be free. We are the burning rage of this dying planet." The declaration endorses both social ecology and deep ecology, and it says, "We take inspiration from Luddites, Diggers, the Autonome squatter movement, the A.L.F., the Zapatistas, and the little people--those mischievous elves of lore. Authorities can't see us because they don't believe in elves. We are practically invisible. We have no command structure, no spokespersons, no office, just many small groups working separately, seeking vulnerable targets and practicing our craft."
The ELF, or the "Elves", first formed in Brighton, United Kingdom in 1992, at a national gathering of Earth First!ers. Fashioning themselves after the Animal Liberation Front, the ELF went on to use militant tactics to help out Earth First! campaigns. For instance, "during British Earth First!'s Mahogany Means Murder campaign of the early 1990s, Elves would mingle in with the EF! activists and whilst the EF! activists dropped their banners and blockaded the premises, the Elves would be busy gluing the locks of the building that the EF! activists were occupying." The ELF spread first through Europe and then to America. The first ELF action in America occurred on "Columbus Day" of 1996, when Elves glued the locks on a Chevron gas station and a McDonalds public relations office in Eugene, Oregon.
The ELF has never harmed a human being in any of their actions. In March 2001, the Property Rights Foundation of America reported that the FBI ranked the ELF as the United States' top domestic "terror" threat. In 2005, the FBI's deputy assistant director, singling out the ELF in particular, described "the eco-terrorism, animal rights movement" as "[t]he No. 1 domestic terrorism threat." In How Nonviolence Protects the State, Peter Gelderloos points to the FBI's classification of the network as evidence that the ELF is a relatively effective threat to the state.
Structure and Guidelines
Each cell of the ELF operates autonomously and separately from the others. ELF cells anonymously send communiques to the above-ground Press Office, which publicizes and explains the underground actions. All ELF cells follow certain guidelines:
Any direct action taken to halt ecological destruction whilst keeping to the following guidelines could, if claimed as such, be considered an ELF action.
- To inflict maximum economic damage on those profiting from the destruction and exploitation of the natural environment.
- To reveal and educate the public about the atrocities committed against the earth and all species that populate it.
- To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal - human and nonhuman.
There is no way to contact the E.L.F. in your area. It is up to each committed person to take responsibility for stopping the exploitation of the natural world. No longer can it be assumed that someone else is going to do it. If not you who, if not now when?
The ELF has not injured or killed any human being. In their "FAQ" declaration, the Elves declare themselves to be nonviolent.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Eugene, Oregon cell of the ELF caused major economic damage to various industries, attracting high-profile attention from the media and the government. An arson at a ski resort in Vail, Colorado caused $14 million in damage, and an arson at Superior Lumber caused $1 million in damage. Other targets included a Bureau of Land Management office and facilities at the University of Washington that researched genetically engineering trees. The journalist Will Potter describes the Superior Lumber action:
Sometime before two in the morning on January 2, 2001, Kevin Tubbs drove McGowan, Ferguson, Meyerhoff and Savoie toward Glendale, Oregon, in a van filled with timing devices and fuel. Superior Lumber Company used helicopters to clear-cut old-growth forests on public lands. It had been engaged in legal battles over the environmental impact of its operations. The company was controversial, but it was also symbolic of typical logging operations in the region, and that's why it was targeted.
Meyerhoff had prepared the devices in advance, and McGowan had done reconnaissance for several days. When they pulled up to the property, Savoie headed to a telephone booth on the south side of the building. McGowan went to the north side, hid behind bushes, clutched a radio and watched for trouble. Ferguson sent one incendiary device underneath a window in the back of the building. Meyerhoff set the other. When the fires lit, they radioed Tubbs, who picked them up one by one, and drove through the dark to a rest area where they split into two cars. They ghosted back I-5 to Eugene, listening to their scanners as flames rose behind them. The blaze caused more than $1 million in damage, reducing half the company to ashes.
According to McGowan, the group moved too quickly and made significant tactical mistakes, for example when they set a fire at the University of Washington that got out of control and destroyed a library in addition to their target. McGowan opposed his cell's attack on an SUV dealer, since he worried it would compromise the legal situation of Jeff "Free" Luers and Craig "Critter" Marshall, who were then being tried for setting fire to SUVs. McGowan says that at his cell's last meeting, the group split irreparably apart as some members appalled the rest by bringing up the idea of targeting individuals in addition to property. The cell fell apart, and McGowan moved to Canada and then New York.
The federal government launched a major investigation called "Operation Backlash" to catch ELF militants and others they deemed "eco-terrorists". For three years after the actions, the federal agents had no evidence or significant leads, but they came to suspect Jake Ferguson, known for his militant posture in Eugene's environmental scene. Although they had no evidence against Ferguson, they led him to think they did and thus scared him into cooperating. He wore a wire and obtained evidence against other members of the group. Ultimately, 8 co-defendants cooperated with the government, while 4 others, including McGowan, refused. McGowan plead guilty in 2006 and was sentenced to 7 years in prison.
Partial List of ELF Actions
The ELF has had cells around the world. In 2014, an Iranian cell spray-painted "ELF" and a circle-A next to a critique of the cutting down of two old-growth trees in the city of Sabzevar. The next year, a Mexcian cell attacked a Honda dealership and released a statement declaring, "Once again, tired of their artificial world we have acted to demonstrate that we will never accept their offers to live in this filthy puddle that is full of automatons filled with indifference who do not show even the most minimal respect for the Earth." In 2016, a group of ELF and Animal Liberation Front cells jointly took responsibility for a series of coordinated sabotages and blockades around Chile against pharmacies, a butcher shop, a slaughterhouse, a railroad, a bank, and a police station.
The following list of United States actions is from the publication Do or Die:
June 21 Olympia, Washington
In the early morning a joint cell of the ALF and ELF destroy two US Department of Agriculture Animal Damage Control Buildings. An estimated $1.5 million in research was lost and $400,000 in structural damages was caused.
October 18 in Vail, Colorado
Huge damages were caused to Vail Associates who were planning to develop a huge wilderness area into a ski resort. The largest act of eco-sabotage in US history, it catapulted the ELF into the public eye in North America.
December 26 in Medford, Oregon
US Forest Industries suffered damages estimated at $700,000 from a fire that gutted their offices. The target served as the corporate headquarters for four logging mills.
December 25 in Monmouth, Oregon
Fire destroys the main office of the Boise Cascade logging company costing over $1 million. ELF claim responsibility in a communiqué.
December 31 at Michigan State University, Michigan
Offices doused with gasoline and set alight. The ELF said the fire was set in response to the work being done to force developing nations in Asia, Latin America and Africa to switch from natural crop plants to genetically engineered sweet potatoes, corn, bananas and pineapples. Monsanto and USAID were major funders of the research and promotional work being done through Michigan State University. According to local newspapers, the fire caused some $900,000 in damage.
January 23 in Bloomington, Indiana
Fire destroyed a building site at the Sterling Woods development with estimated damage of $200,000. The ELF targeted the house because the sprawling development it is part of is in the Lake Monroe watershed that's being jeopardised by building developments.
April 30 in Bloomington, Indiana
At least six pieces of logging and heavy construction equipment were sabotaged, and a trailer full of wood chips was set ablaze at a road construction site just outside the city. Damages were estimated at over $75,000.
September 9 in Bloomington, Indiana
Fire erupts at the headquarters of the Monroe County Republican Party Committee headquarters. Investigators say a flammable liquid was poured on the building and ignited. The fire was a reminder, according to the ELF communiqué, that it would not sit quietly as politicians pushed for plans to extend an ecologically destructive highway.
December 9 on Long Island, New York
Fire erupts in a condominium under construction. The ELF claims responsibility, saying the homes were "future dens of the wealthy elite." The group, announcing "an unbounded war on urban sprawl," claims it checked for occupants - human and animal - in 16 buildings before setting incendiaries.
January 1 in Glendale, Oregon
The ELF claimed responsibility for burning down the Superior Lumber Company offices. This caused at least $400,000 in damage. The communiqué stated that, "This year we hope to see an escalation in tactics against capitalism and industry."
January 23 in Louisville, Kentucky
The ELF takes action to counter urban sprawl. Five windows were broken, and 18 vandalised in the first wave of attacks against corporate development.
March 5 in Huntington, New York
Corporate shops whose owners have involvement in the clear-cutting of forests in the Pacific Northwest had their windows smashed. The communiqué warns that actions will continue until the corporations stop their economic support for forest destruction.
November 27 in Boulder, Colorado
The ELF use arson to destroy a $2.5 million mansion belonging to corporate developers. The target was razed to the ground, leaving only the cement foundations recognisable.
September 3 in Irvine, Pennsylvania
The ELF claims responsibility for an arson attack on the US Forest Service Northeast Research Station. The laboratory was set ablaze during the early morning hours, causing over $700,000 damage and destroying 70 years worth of research.
January 2 in Erie, Pennsylvania
The ELF destroys several off-road vehicles at a car dealership.
April 10 in Santa Cruz, California
The ELF spray-paint anti-war messages on about 60 vehicles and trucks.
June 4 in Chico, California and Washington, Michigan
Two separate arson attacks against urban sprawl target luxury homes under development. These are the third and fourth attacks against urban sprawl undertaken by the ELF in 2003.
Unrepentant Marxist blogger Louis Proyect writes, "In a novel, a well placed firebomb might discourage a corporate despoiler but in the real world, the businessmen will pay for the damages with insurance and plunge ahead, making sure to make an amalgam between the underground activists and those who are using mass action to protect the environment."
Former ELF Press Office member Craig Rosebraugh addresses this line of criticism in Burning Rage of a Dying Planet. Rosebraugh argues that property destruction is an excellent tool for public education, and that if it were to be repeatedly applied to a single target, insurance companies would raise their rates and eventually refuse to cover the company.
Marius Mason is serving 22 years for ELF actions including a 1999 arson of a GMO research office at Michigan State University and a 2000 arson agaisnt logging equipment in Michigan.
- Noel Moland, "A Spark that Ignited a Flame: The Evolution of the Earth Liberation Front," in ed. Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth (Oakland: AK Press, 2006), 47.
- Anti-Defamation League, "Ecoterrorism: Extremism in the Animal Rights and Environmentalist Movements," http://archive.adl.org/learn/ext_us/ecoterrorism.html
- Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth (Oakland: AK Press, 2006), 406-9.
- Neil Molland, "A Spark That Ingited a Flame: The Evolution of the Earth Liberation Front" in Best and Nocella II, Igniting a Revolution, 49-51.
- Molland, ibid., 55.
- Michael Loadenthal, "The Earth Liberation Front: A Social Movement Analysis," Radical Criminology, No. 2 (2013), http://journal.radicalcriminology.org/index.php/rc/article/view/13/html. Anti-Defamation League, ibid.
- Property Rights Foundation of America, "Earth Liberation Front is now FBI’s No. 1 Domestic Terrorist Threat," March 2001, http://prfamerica.org/2001/EarthLiberationFrontNo1onFBIList.html.
- Henry Schuster, "Domestic terror: Who's most dangerous?," CNN 24 August 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/08/24/schuster.column/.
- Peter Gelderloos, How Nonviolence Protects the State, https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/peter-gelderloos-how-nonviolence-protects-the-state.
- Best and Nocella II, 407.
- Will Potter, "'Eco-terrorism' and the Green Scare," http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/green-scare/. Best and Nocella II, ibid., 406-9.
- If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOhkaB7oU7E. Will Potter, Green is the New Red, 86-92.
- If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOhkaB7oU7E. Will Potter, Green is the New Red, 86-92.
- Crimethinc, "Green Scared?," http://www.crimethinc.com/texts/rollingthunder/greenscared.php.
- "News from the Fontlines," Bite Back, http://www.directaction.info/news_mar21_14.htm. "Mexico: Attack Against a Honda Dealership by Earth Liberation Front," Earth First! Newswire, 5 October 2015, http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2015/10/06/mexico-attack-against-a-honda-dealership-by-earth-liberation-front/. "Chile: ELF and ALF Actions in Santiago and Arauco," Earth First! Newswire, 15 October 2016, http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2016/10/15/chile-elf-and-alf-actions-in-santiago-and-arauco/.
- Louis Proyect, "If a Tree Falls," Unrepentant Marxist 21 June 2011, https://louisproyect.org/2011/06/21/if-a-tree-falls/.
- Craig Rosebraugh, Burning Rage of a Dying Planet: Speaking for the Earth Liberation Front (New York: Lantern Books, 2004), 70.
- http://earthfirstjournal.org/eco-prisoner-list/. https://nycabc.wordpress.com/guide/.