Talkback: Ecoterrorists or Earth's Defenders?

Is property destruction ever a justifiable political tactic? Just whom do the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front -- groups that refuse to abandon such tactics -- think they represent? Elaine Close, spokesperson for the Earth Liberation Front's Press Office, responds to MotherJones.com readers.

| Thu Feb. 14, 2002 4:00 AM EST

Read the articles that sparked the exchange: Ecoterrorists Under Fire

Why Property Destruction?
It seems that ELF and ALF actions that involve property destruction direct the public's attention more towards the activists than the victims -- the earth and animals -- on whose behalf the actions are being taken. In that there are many proven direct action techniques that place the focus on victims of exploitation (Animal Liberation actions in Australia or Compassion Over Killing actions in the US come to mind) why do the ELF and ALF continue to focus on property destruction?

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Dean Smith


ELAINE CLOSE responds:The ELF/ALF are not focusing on public opinion. They are focusing on actually stopping the destruction of animals, the environment and ourselves. Property destruction targets the motive behind environmental destruction: profit. For example, Boise Cascade, which has been targeted by the ELF, is cutting down forests for one reason: to make money. Obviously there is no conscience to appeal to there. If environmental destruction and animal abuse become unprofitable, then the perpetrators will stop. An example of the effectiveness of this tactic is the fur farmers who have given up the business because they are unable to recover financially from property-destroying raids on their farms.

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Does Property Destruction Work?
How do you think the environmental crisis will ultimately be averted? Can we really force people through fear to respect life and the environment? My brain says maybe yes, but my bones say no. Where do you stand on this topic?

Daniel Oblyn



ELAINE CLOSE responds: If the environmental crisis is to be averted, we need to engage in a variety of tactics. As I said in my answer to the previous question, the goal of the ELF is not to affect the conscience of the likes of Boise Cascade. It is to directly stop them, to cause them to lose money. Actions like those of the ELF occur when appeals to conscience have failed. I think legal work to educate people about the environment is also important and has helped to change attitudes to some degree, but unfortunately is not enough. Corporations like Monsanto obviously cannot be taught to respect life and the environment.

 

Terrorism? Says Who?
If one accepts this definition of terrorism:

terrorism
n.
The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.

Then the majority of our founding fathers in the American Revolution were "terrorists," as were countless other American "heroes". So are the ELF/ALF heroes or terrorists, and who decides?

Matthew Brehe
Missoula, Montana



ELAINE CLOSE responds: The word "terrorism" really has no meaning at this point. Its constant use has become a propaganda tool. Our corporation-run government and media label actions that oppose their policies "terrorist acts". They decide who are "terrorists" according to self-interest, with no rational application of the term. Clearly our foreign and domestic policies throughout history could be labeled "terroristic", but we never hear the term used in that context. Speaking of the American Revolution, the Boston Tea Pary was an act of property destruction and would be called terrorism today. In my opinion, the ELF/ALF are heroes, as were others in the past who have accepted great personal risk in the fight against injustice.



How to Fight Without Terror
As an activist who is trying to network schools in my state, I wonder about your activities. Without the support of other environmental organizations, how do you expect to accomplish any of your goals? I feel that in order to accomplish any of our goals, we must be united. I fight every day for the environment, but your activities dishearten me. I don't want to be considered a terrorist because I am trying to save the environment. What do you say to people who want to help their local and national environment, but want to do so without the stereotype as an extreme terrorist?

Terrill Legueri
Grinnell, IA



ELAINE CLOSE responds: People who commit actions like those of the ELF have lost faith in the system. They feel that legal action alone is not working and is not enough to save us. They are underground and illegal by neccesity, and therefore cannot work with other groups. I don't see how the existence of the ELF and others like them stops you from doing things the way you want to do them. So what I would say to people who want to help the environment without being stereotyped as a terrorist is this: Worry more about doing the right thing, and less about what people think about you. If anyone lumps together the Sierra Club and the ELF, then the problem is their ignorance or stupidity, not the ELF. Successful social justice movements in the past have always included a variety of tactics, legal and illegal.



An Eye for an Eye
If you feel a particular institution is not meeting your criteria for what is environmentally ethical, and you go and physically destroy their property, does that make it acceptable for the affected institution to go and destroy your property since they do not agree with your practices?

Matt E. Collins



ELAINE CLOSE responds: A particular type of action is not absolutely right or wrong, it is relative to the situation. For example, if I kill someone in self-defense, it does not mean someone else has the right to shoot me. If you see someone beating a child and you break down their door to stop them, does that mean that the abuser has the right to come and break down your door? Also, we are not talking about someone destroying someone's property for selfish, impulsive or trivial reasons. We are talking about self-defense. Society accepts that people sometimes lose their right to their property. If someone is in the habit of hitting people while driving drunk, we eventually take away their car. Why does someone who poisons people, threatens us all, or pours toxins into the environment that give us cancer have some absolute right to the private property they use in the commision of these crimes?



What Do the A/ELF Want?
What is the end goal of ELF/ALF, and how does each violent act bring us closer to a more peaceful and sustainable life?

Ross Hammersley
Pacific Coast Field Organize, EcoPledge.com



ELAINE CLOSE responds: First of all I don't consider damaging property to be violence. The end goal of the ELF is to save life on this planet, to stop violence. If we are concerned about violence, then we have to be serious about stopping environmental destruction. Shall we sit peacefully by while environmental destruction kills us? The survival on this planet is in question. People are being killed by pollution, by environmental disasters caused by global warming, by a lack of clean air and water, etc. Is being peaceful a good goal when all life on this planet is in danger? If peaceful methods were working by themselves, that would be great, but unfortunately that is not the case, and we are running out of time.
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