Earth Liberation Front

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After the attacks of 9/11 on American soil, attention has shifted from domestic terror groups to the international terror organizations like Al Qaeda. Despite this shift, local terror groups continue to pose a threat to lives and properties. Ecoterrorists continue to cause harm in the defense of environmental and animal rights. Some of the most prominent groups are the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), Earth Liberation front (ELF) and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC).

The main motivating factor in the formation of these groups is due to the slow pace in coming up with the appropriate legislation to protect animal and environmental interests. In an effort to achieve their goals, these groups have turned to violence to counter what they perceive as wrongs to animals and the environment. The main tools of achieving their targets include use of nuisance, arson, bombings and destruction. The main targets are research institutions, real estate developments, restaurants, farms, car dealers and forest industries. It is estimated that the damages of this radical groups costs $ 100 million (Jillson 2009).

This essay will discuss Earth Liberation Front (ELF), outlining its origin and history, the organizational structure, their philosophical believes and goals. The mode of attacks used by this group will also be discussed. Finally, an incident involving ELF will be critically analyzed to determine its success in relation to the set goals of the group.


ELF is the environmental equivalent of ALF. This grouping is composed of unknown personalities and groupings. Their identity to themselves and the public at large is anonymous as per its web site. The goal of this organization is to cause economic loss on individuals and companies that gain from the devastation and utilization of the environment (Bolden et al 2001). They argue that their destructive approach to properties does not constitute violence since individuals or animals are not direct victims.

ELF is an offshoot of Earth first!, a core group of environmentalists that was started as a counter measure to excessive  and exploitative  corporate groups bend on profiting at the expense of the natural environment. Dave Foreman, an activist with Wilderness Society with other lobbyist derived motivation from other violent groups and came up with Earth First in the 1980s.

This group integrated environmental conservation with a form of spirituality known as “deep ecology”, advocated by Arne Naess, a Norwegian mountaineer and philosopher. According to this group, their actions are not only political, but sacred in nature. In the early stages, Earth First was involved in actions that included tree spiking- putting a long nail on the trunk of a tree so that it damages machines used for harvesting trees such as the chainsaw. Foreman’s book, Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching released in 1985 vividly described various ways of carrying out sabotage. Foreman and three other members of Earth First were arrested and charged with plotting to interfere with nuclear amenities. Foreman departed the group in 1990 after accepting responsibility for lowered charges.

The methods employed by Earth First to achieve its missions proved soft to some radical members who met in 1992 in England to start the Earth Liberation Front. Until this moment, Earth First continues to be engaged in funding meetings, and recruiting new members for both ALF and ELF through its publication, the Earth first! journal. Earth First is still fundamental, but members who like more militant acts find ELF more attractive to them.

Organizational structure

ELF utilizes an organizational structure which is devoid of leadership. It operates from cells which are made up of individuals not exceeding ten. The individuals of one cell are anonymous to those of other cells. The cells derive finance from themselves. This form of structure has the benefits of being effective and secure. The members are able to avoid arrest due to tight control of information which the authorities find it hard to access.

Philosophical beliefs and mission

ELF members’ belief in the use of violent acts to compel those involved in environmental degradation to cease their activities. Different factions of ELF are guided by different ideologies. Those fighting for animal rights belief that animals should not be categorized as property and their use in research, clothing and food must end. Anti-capitalist engages in activities aimed at ending capitalism or replacing it with another system. Green anarchism is a philosophy of putting environmental issues at the forefront. Deep ecology bases its beliefs on the interdependence of all aspects of the environment which include human beings. Deep ecology is the basis for many movements that fight for environmental conservation which includes ELF (Rosebraugh 2004).

Deep ecology opposes industrial developments and advocates the maintenance of environmental activities at equilibrium. The founder of deep ecology, Arne Naess believed that humans had no inherent right to rule other species and to engage in environmental degradation.

Members of ELF argue that their acts of sabotage are not violent, as long as there is no human or animal who is hurt in the process. Prior to setting fire to target properties, members conduct checks to ensure that no animal or humans are inside (Comcowich 2008).

The core mission of ELF is to conserve the environment from destruction by groups that aim at profiting from it. This organization belief that anticipating legislation to conserve the environment is a futile attempt therefore the use of economic sabotage will restraint all those who are in the business of exploiting the environment for profit making purposes.

Educating the public is another core mission of ELF. A website has been started and is dedicated to providing information about the group and what they are involved in, in their pursuit of conserving the environment.

Tactics employed by ELF

ELF was formed because of the lenient approach taken by Earth First to achieve its goal. The members who founded ELF favored a militant approach in compelling individuals and organizations to stop activities that harm the environment. Among the first strategies used by ELF involved tree spiking. The technique involves the hammering of long nails into trees that are to be harvested. This was intended to destroy the blades of the chainsaw and cause body harm to the logger.

Arson became the preferred tactic as ELF assumed a more militant approach. Arson is the intentional burning of property which includes buildings, automobiles and forests. ELF members have destroyed research institutions which use animals in their research programs. According to the philosophy of deep ecology, they belief that humans have no right to dominate other organisms by subjecting them to humiliating conditions such as those found in research laboratories (Liddick 2006).

The most rampant cases of arson are those aimed at large housing projects. Environmentalists agree that such developments encroach on the natural habitat leading to displacement of other species. The wastes emanating from such developments will pollute the environment immensely. Burning of machinery and equipment used in this development is another tactic aimed at crippling the process and inflicting losses on the company involved.

The most well noted case of arson was the burning of Vail Ski Resort in Colorado. The fire consumed three adjacent buildings and four chairlifts leading to damages estimated at $12 million. In its response to the attacks, ELF claimed that acts of profiting at the expense of the wild habitat will not be condoned and such attacks will be stepped up if business entities continue with their pursuit of encroaching on the wild (Bolden et al 2001).

In the San Diego area, ELF razed down a housing project that caused damages estimated at $50 million. In the incident, a five storey building, and a crane measuring 100 feet burnt. The arsonists left a banner that said that continued construction will lead to further destructions. Within a span of another six weeks, three buildings were destroyed by fire in the same location.

Sports utility vehicles have also been targeted in many instances. 40 SUVs and hummers were destroyed in 2003 in attacks claimed by ELF.  SUVs are characterized by their high fuel consumption which in turn cause more pollution and increased mining activities which are both harmful to the environment (Rosebraugh 2004). ELF argues that car dealerships benefit very few people at the expense of the environment which benefits millions of people.

Another method which borders on the extreme is bombings. Four houses were destroyed in the Echo Lake area of Washington by explosive devices leading to damages amounting to $7 million. ELF left marks in the scene disputing claims that the buildings were friendly to the habitat.

Intimidation and threatening helps ELF members to convey messages to those involved in activities they deem destructive to the environment.  Scientists involved in research activities receive warnings to abandon their activities or face dire consequences.

Arson attacks in San Diego

On 1st Aug 2003, a fire suspected to have been started by ELF members destroyed an 18,000 apartment building in the university town near San Diego. The destructions are estimated to be worth $ 50 million. The fire consumed the whole five storey building and a crane. Curtains of buildings located 500 feet from the scene melted indicating the strength of the fire and it led to the displacement of 400 people.

What makes ELF responsible for the attack was the banner left behind warning that further construction will lead to another incident of arson. Further proof is provided by the San Diego Union-Tribune which claims to have received an e- mail from the group claiming responsibility. Another possible proof is the claims taken by cells related to the group for arson attacks on homes in then county in the recent past (Comcowich 2008).

Did ELF achieve one or most of their goals by carrying out this arson attack? This is the question one is left to ask oneself. First, fire from such a large project releases massive smoke into the atmosphere. Most building materials like paint contain harmful substances which are destructive to the environment. The smoke also contributes to acid rain which has corrosive properties. In the quest for protecting the environment, ELF is also contributing to its destruction by engaging in arson activities. The burning of resorts, research institutions, vehicles and luxurious homes only serves to worsen the problem than they were let undestroyed (Comcowich 2008).

The green house gas emissions are far more destructive than the potential threat of these facilities if they are not burnt. Another loss is to the tax payers and the environment that will fund reconstruction and source new building materials respectively (Likar 2011).

Another possible victim of the inferno are the employees involved in the construction considering the size of the project, a sizeable number of workers must have been employed their. Justifying the loss of income for such a number with the guise of conservation through crude means does not make sense at all.

Arson activities by ELF have not led to any casualty so far, but controlling fire of such a magnitude requires input from authorities. The 400 evacuated individuals were exposed to grave danger which cannot be justified by conservation.

According to the law, arson activities are crimes which are punishable. Those arrested and prosecuted are contributing to the congestion of the prison facilities which demands more funding from the government. In this scenario, both ELF activists and the environment are losers.


Environmental conservation is of significant importance in the pursuit of better living conditions and preservation for future generations. This responsibility lies on the shoulders of individuals, private and the public sector. ELF is involved in a noble initiative but the mode of approach is raising eye brows and brings more damage than conserving it. Dialogue and sober discussions on the most effective ways of conservation are needed than correcting a wrong with another wrong. All the tactics employed by ELF are criminally punishable, so at the end of the day, their members will bear the greatest loss than the environment because they will be languishing in prison. The approaches employed by ELF do not contribute to the achievement of its goals.

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