Thus the Courts better start to pass tougher sentences upon these people that act as judge and jury against the people they target and terrorize.
Arson group retreats even more into shadows
By Jonathan Martin and Mike Carter
Seattle Times staff reporters
Tuesday, March 18, 2008http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2004289322_elf18m.html
In the past four years, firebugs with a flair for the dramatic have
burned at least seven homes in the northern Puget Sound region.
They've tried to torch at least six others, and monkey-wrenched
construction equipment in several other sites.
All the acts, according to the FBI, were claimed by a group of radical
ecosaboteurs called the Earth Liberation Front, or the ELF.
That much is known.
But the group, which once loudly touted its actions, has become even
more shadowy and enigmatic than ever, and so have the cases —
including the human-set blaze that engulfed three luxury "green" homes
built on the Street of Dreams near Maltby on March 3.
Until a few years ago, ELF would routinely issue fiery "communiqués"
with specific details, to prove it was responsible and sway the public
to its ideology. But through a string of arsons, culminating with the
Street of Dreams fires, ELF has been essentially silent, except for
simple messages scrawled on bedsheets and cardboard box tops.
FBI agents working the case are all but convinced the fire is
ELF-related, according to a federal law-enforcement source close to
the Maltby probe. Yet the silence has even ELF's sympathizers
wondering whether it's really the work of the group. And federal
agents say they have to investigate all possibilities.
Agents from the local offices of the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) met Friday to divvy up
investigative tasks. And that includes steps such as checking out
transients in the area and considering other motives such as "revenge
and arson-for-profit," said Doug Dawson, the assistant special agent
in charge of the Seattle ATF.
"This could be insurance fraud; it could be something to do with the
housing market," said Charles Frahm, the FBI's deputy assistant
director for counterterrorism operations in Washington, D.C.
At the Street of Dreams, a bedsheet painted with "ELF" and a message
rejecting "green" building practices was left. Although such signs are
an "ELF" calling card, federal agents are not assuming there is an
active ELF cell in the area, Frahm said.
"You can't assume it, and we don't assume it," he said.
So at this stage, they can't rule out any possibility, including "that
ELF is being used in an attempt to misdirect the investigation," said
David Gomez, the FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge.
7 unsolved arsons
The Street of Dreams fires, causing $7 million in damage, are among
the seven unsolved arsons that the FBI says have been claimed by the
Earth Liberation Front.
In 2006, ELF allegedly spray-painted an undisclosed message on a pink
bedsheet after torching a 9,600-square-foot mansion on Camano Island.
A year earlier, in April 2005, an incendiary device and a message on a
bedsheet — "Where Are All The Trees? Burn, Rapist, Burn." — were left
at the site of a garage fire in Sammamish. And in April 2004, two
homes burned to their foundations in Snohomish in an ELF-claimed
The FBI tallies four other arsons at construction sites. In addition,
several other apparent home-arson attempts went awry in the same time
frame and area as the Sammamish, Snohomish and Street of Dreams
But none of the latest fires have been followed by news releases or
Internet announcements bragging about the fires or even attempting to
In fact, one of the last ELF "communiqués" was back in 2001, when
arsonists destroyed the University of Washington's Center for Urban
Lauren Regan, a Eugene, Ore., attorney who has represented several ELF
defendants, said the lack of communiqués is among several reasons she
is skeptical that the latest arsons are actually ELF.
"Anyone with a few brain cells could take a bedsheet and spray ELF,"
said Regan, who runs the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene.
No membership lists
The FBI, which has labeled the Earth Liberation Front their top
domestic-terrorism target, officially says the group is responsible
for about 100 arsons across 20 states since 1995, according to Special
Agent Fred Gutt. Nineteen of those have occurred in Washington.
But the FBI also acknowledges that ELF, a radical splinter ideology of
animal-rights and environmental movements, has no membership lists or
On its now-defunct Web site, believers were exhorted to educate the
public by inflicting economic damage on natural-resource extractors,
but never to harm humans or animals.
The only way to join ELF was to commit an ELF action, a past spokesman
From the mid-1990s until about 2002, a Northwest-based ELF cell called
"The Family" targeted sites that would hurt corporate profits — such
as slaughterhouses or SUV dealerships — or research facilities like
the UW that supposedly were engaged in genetic engineering.
A federal investigation led to a series of prosecutions; the most
recent of those cases, against Briana Waters in the UW arson, was
ongoing at the time of the Street of Dreams arson. Waters was
convicted of two counts of arson in federal court.
In 2004, just as federal agents were closing in on "The Family," the
string of residential home arsons began.
"I will build"
If the latest arson fires were meant as warnings to developers, the
message was ignored.
The Camano Island house was rebuilt at the same size, and is worth
around $3.4 million.
The lack of communiqués has left Mark Marzolf, who built and then
rebuilt the two homes torched in Snohomish, to wonder what his
attackers really wanted. He never heard from anyone representing the
"I'm afraid to build anymore, and they know it. But I will build, and
I will have a security guard."
By contrast, after the UW fire in 2001, a communiqué explained that
the fire was because a forestry professor "continues to unleash mutant
genes into the environment that is certain to cause irreversible harm
to forest ecosystems." It turned out the professor was not doing the
kinds of research ELF thought.
Since the UW fire, the ELF press office in Portland — which frequently
issued the communiqués — has closed. Its two primary spokesmen firmly
assert they no longer speak for the group.
Even so, one of those former spokesmen, Leslie James Pickering, said
in an e-mail this month that although no communiqués was issued on the
Street of Dreams fires, they were consistent with other ELF arsons
against residences on New York's Long Island, in Indiana and San
Will Potter, a freelance journalist in Washington, D.C., who has
covered the fringe environmental movement since 1999, said it may be a
mistake to take the lack of communiqués as a sign that ELF isn't alive
and well. In fact, the silence may represent an evolution in the
In the past, prosecutors used the news releases and manifestos to
argue for boosted prison sentences under terrorism laws, Potter said.
"Activists may be realizing it's just one more fingerprint tying them
to the crime," he said.
"Or it means there it is not an ELF action."
Gomez, the FBI supervisor in Seattle, speculates that ELF sympathizers
might be learning lessons from the cases of other ecosaboteurs who
have been caught.
Among lessons learned, Gomez says: "The ELF media people started to
worry about being linked to crimes."
Gomez also points out that the Street of Dreams fires lacked another
past ELF signature: the use of timing devices to ignite firebombs.
Instead, the Maltby fires appear to have been set with "available
materials," suggesting ELF might be learning, Gomez said.
Such timing devices would constitute using a destructive device during
commission of a violent felony, and would expose the arsonists to
heavy federal prison sentences, including a 30-year mandatory minimum.
Even so, a fear of prosecution is not likely to deter the ELF
activists, say Potter and others.
"They're not going to be motivated by their fear; they're motivated by
the ideology," Potter said.
"It's almost like a martyr mentality kicks in."
But federal law enforcement isn't so sure.
Mark Bartlett, the first assistant U.S. attorney in Seattle who
prosecuted Waters in the UW fire, says the lack of communiqués
indicates a crippled organization.
"I'd read it as their movement is severely damaged by prosecutions,"
"I'd read it as they went further underground."
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or firstname.lastname@example.org