The ALF rescuing Beagles from a testing lab in Britain
My last post about my friend’s brother possibly being tried as a terrorist for burning down a horse slaughterhouse ten years ago has sparked some interesting off-line debates about what constitutes a terrorist. One of my brothers (and I’m sure a couple of the others agree) insists that the members of the ALF and ELF are terrorists because their mission is to destroy property, and they have caused millions of dollars worth of damage, including burning down two SUV dealerships here in California. Here is a little background on the two groups:
The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) was classified by the FBI as a domestic terror threat in March, 2001. According to Wikipedia (although not the best source): The ELF’s mission is to use “economic sabotage and guerrilla warfare to stop the exploitation and destruction of the natural environment.” The ELF’s guidelines require that individuals or groups acting on its behalf “take all necessary precautions against harming any animal — human and nonhuman.” Their goal is to cause economic damage, often through arson. They destroy property that they believe is used to hurt animals, people or the environment. They have no leader or spokesperson. The FBI has labeled them “eco-terrorists,” and in 2005 and 2006 U.S. grand juries indicted a total of 18 activists (including my friend’s brother) on charges related to “violent acts.” However, Senator Jim Jeffords said that the “ELF and ALF may threaten dozens of people each year, but an incident at a chemical, nuclear or wastewater facility would threaten tens of thousands.”
The Animal Liberation Front (ALF) is another leaderless resistance that works to free animals from testing facilities and fur farms, etc. Like the ELF, the ALF considers itself nonviolent because it hasn’t harmed any humans.The ALF was named a terrorist threat by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in January, 2005 and has been been criticized by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), however, for its “terrorist tactics similar to those of anti-abortion extremists.” Besides burning down the horse slaughterhouse, it has set fire to a veterinary medicine research building at UC Davis, causing $3.5 million of damage and set fire to an office at Michigan State University, destroying 32 years of nutrition research.
So now the question remains: What is a terrorist? I read somewhere that a terrorist is someone who acts out against the government in order to get it to change its policies. One could argue that these groups aren’t acting out against the government; they’re acting out toward the research institutions or companies who hurt animals or the environment, and they’re doing it for a good cause.
People who DON’T think these groups are terrorist organizations ask at what point does activism become terrorism? They fear the growing threat to our freedom to speak out and act out against injustices. They wonder if someone who throws a rock at a policeman during a demonstration will be tried as a terrorist. And should there be a terrorist enhancement at all? Jonathon Paul has pleaded guilty to arson and will go to jail for two to three years nonetheless. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t the terrorist enhancement equivalent to the hate crime enhancement? Is it fair that someone who burns down a building for the fun of it will get three years in jail, while these “terrorists” who are trying to save horses will get twelve?
People who DO think these groups are terrorist organizations argue that terrorism is terrorism regardless or your motive or your skin color. Have we been brainwashed to believe that all terrorists are Islamic fundamentalists? Have we forgotten that terrorism didn’t begin with 9/11? That there are other types of terrorism? If the point of terrorism is to frighten people, isn’t that what these groups are doing–frightening people from testing animals, trading fur and selling SUVs? (By the way, when I lived in London I had a friend who worked at L’Oreal who told me they got bomb threats nearly every week from animals rights activists who opposed their animal testing.) Dictionary.com’s first definition of terrorism is “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes.”
What do you think? Should Jonathon Paul be tried as a terrorist or an arsonist?