FBI Tactics Targeting (A)LF/ELF

Marie Mason and Eric McDavid received the longest sentences of any convicted for environmental activism in the U.S.–Marie’s was 22 years pursuant to her guilty plea of engaging in direct action, Eric’s almost 20 years for merely talking about it with an attractive young paid FBI informant calling herself ‘Anna’. The following article which boasts of the newest entrapment techniques was lifted from the FBI’s web site itself, thus no copyright interests attach.

Putting Intel to Work
Against ELF and ALF Terrorists  06/30/08

In early 2006, eco-terrorist Eric McDavid and two associates met in a secluded cabin in Dutch Flat, California to discuss making improvised explosive devices and to choose targets to bomb. Soon after, they began casing the targeted facilities and buying supplies to make bombs. But before they started mixing the ingredients, we swooped in and arrested them.

How did we know what McDavid was up to? How were we able to prevent attacks that could have caused thousands or millions of dollars in property damage and possibly harmed people?

In a word, intelligence.

Our intelligence—which included the use of an FBI source who was actually with McDavid and his associates inside that California cabin—allowed us to piece together the entire plot ahead of time.

Since 9/11, we have greatly strengthened our ability to identify, collect, analyze, and share intelligence across all of our national security and criminal priorities. And that has carried over into our investigations of violence and terror committed in the name of the environment—as well as of animal rights.

Together, eco-terrorists and animal rights extremists are one of the most serious domestic terrorism threats in the U.S. today…for several good reasons:

  • The sheer volume of their crimes (over 2,000 since 1979);
  • The huge economic impact (losses of more than $110 million since 1979);
  • The wide range of victims (from international corporations to lumber companies to animal testing facilities to genetic research firms); and
  • Their increasingly violent rhetoric and tactics (one recent communiqué sent to a California product testing company said: “You might be able to protect your buildings, but can you protect the homes of every employee?”).

ELF and ALF are probably the names you’re most familiar with. The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) are loosely-organized movements whose adherents engage in crimes like arson, fire bombings, vandalism, intimidation, assaults, stalking, etc. No membership dues are necessary—the only way to become a “member” is to engage in “direct action”…criminal activity designed to cause economic loss or destroy the victim company’s operations.

So what are we doing to counter the threat? For one, we’ve mapped our environmental and animal rights extremism cases in order to give our investigators around the country and our executive management a big-picture look at what’s happening and where. We’re also analyzing information from financial records, phone records, and mail…and working to increase our human source reporting. And we’re sharing intelligence with our partners through our Joint Terrorism Task Forces and other investigative endeavors. Sharing info with our partners, particularly at the local level, is crucial because many times they’re the first ones at the crime scene.

We’re also taking advantage of the 2006 revision to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which toughened penalties, created additional protections for people (the original law only covered property damage), and included secondary targets (often times companies that do business with primary targets are themselves targeted).

Our efforts have paid off—since 2005, our investigations have resulted in indictments against 30 individuals.

Of course, fully cognizant of the right to free speech, we investigate all animal rights and environmental extremism cases in strict accordance with the law and our guidelines.

So whatever happened to Eric McDavid? In May, he was sentenced to nearly 20 years in federal prison.

Read up on more cases:

Eco-Terror Indictments
‘Operation Backfire’ Nets 11  

 Photograph of Vail Ski Resort
The arson at the Vail Ski Resort in Vail,
Colorado, in 1998 caused an estimated
$12 million in damages.

On 1/20, 11 people were charged with acts of domestic terrorism on behalf of the extremist Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) over a five-year period.

The 65-count indictment alleges the defendants committed acts of domestic terrorism between 1996 and 2001 in Oregon, Wyoming, Washington, California, and Colorado.  Specifically, the indictment includes charges related to arson, conspiracy, use of destructive devices, and destruction of an energy facility.

The defendants are implicated in 17 attacks, including the $12 million arson of the Vail Ski Resort in Vail, Colorado, in 1998 and the sabotage of a high-tension power line near Bend, Oregon, in 1999. The indictment follows a series of arrests on Dec. 7, 2005 and again earlier this month. Three suspects named in the indictment are believed to be outside the U.S.

“Terrorism is terrorism, no matter what the motive,” FBI Director Robert S. Mueller said during a press conference Friday at the Department of Justice. “There’s a clear difference between constitutionally protected advocacy—which is the right of all Americans—and violent criminal activity.”

Terrorism, both international and domestic, is the FBI’s top investigative priority. In this case, the FBI’s Portland field office in 2004 consolidated seven independent field office investigations and dubbed it “Operation Backfire.” A year-long investigation, aided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and other federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, yielded evidence of an ongoing conspiracy by members of ELF and ALF. On Jan. 19, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Eugene, Oregon, obtained an indictment of criminal conspiracy for the following individuals:

  • Joseph Dibee
  • Chelsea Dawn Gerlach
  • Sarah, Kendall Harvey
  • Daniel Gerard McGowan
  • Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff
  • Josephine Sunshine Overaker
  • Jonathan Mark Christopher Paul
  • Rebecca Rubin
  • Suzanne Savoie
  • Darren Todd Thurston
  • Kevin M. Tubbs

“Today’s indictment proves that we will not tolerate any group that terrorizes the American people, no matter its intentions or objectives,” said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzalez.

The defendants are accused of attacks on federal land and animal management sites, private meat packing plants, lumber facilities, and a car dealership with damages reaching $80 million. In 2004, the FBI estimated ELF, ALF and related extremist groups had committed more than 1,100 criminal acts since 1976 with damage estimates over $100 million.

Director Mueller called the indictments “a substantial blow” to domestic terror groups and said they should have a “dramatic impact on persons who contemplate these crimes.”

“Persons who conduct this kind of activity are going to spend a long time in jail, regardless of their motive,” he said.

Note: The individuals pictured or identified here may have been apprehended or may no longer be wanted by law enforcement since the above information was posted on this website.

(FRIDAY, JANUARY 20, 2006)

11 Defendants Indicted on Domestic Terrorism Charges

Group Allegedly Responsible for Series of Arsons in Western States, Acting on Behalf of Extremist Movements

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Eleven defendants have been indicted on charges including arson and destruction of an energy facility for allegedly participating in a campaign of domestic terrorism in five western states on behalf of the extremist Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) movements, the Justice Department announced today.

The 65-count indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Eugene, Ore., Thursday, alleges that the defendants committed acts of domestic terrorism in Oregon, Wyoming, Washington, California, and Colorado from 1996 through 2001. Specifically, the indictment includes the charges of conspiracy to commit arson; conspiracy; arson; attempted arson; use and possession of a destructive device; and destruction of an energy facility.

Eight defendants were arrested prior to the indictment and three are believed to be outside the United States.

The indictment alleges that the group committed arsons with improvised incendiary devices made from milk jugs, petroleum products and homemade timers in a series of attacks in the five states. The targets of these attacks included U.S. Forest Service ranger stations, Bureau of Land Management wild horse facilities, meat processing companies, lumber companies, a high-tension power line, and a ski facility in Colorado. The indictment alleges that the group claimed to be acting on behalf of ALF and ELF.

“The trail of destruction left by these defendants across the western United States caused millions of dollars in damage to public and private facilities,” said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. “Today’s indictment proves that we will not tolerate any group that terrorizes the American people, no matter its intentions or objectives.”

“Investigating and preventing animal rights and environmental extremism is one of the FBI’s highest domestic terrorism priorities,” said FBI Director Robert Mueller. “We are committed to working with our partners to disrupt and dismantle these movements, to protect our fellow citizens, and to bring to justice those who commit crime and terrorism in the name of animal rights or environmental issues.”

“To those who use arson and explosives to threaten lives and destroy property, ATF will continue to dedicate all of our expertise to solve these crimes,” said ATF Director Carl J. Truscott. “We will work relentlessly with our law enforcement partners to find you and bring you to justice.”

According to the indictment, Joseph Dibee, Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, Sarah Kendall Harvey, Daniel Gerard McGowan, Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff, Josephine Sunshine Overaker, Jonathan Mark Christopher Paul, Rebecca Rubin, Suzanne Savoie, Darren Todd Thurston, and Kevin M. Tubbs conspired to commit numerous acts of domestic terrorism as part of a group they called “the Family,” an alleged group of the extremist movements ALF and ELF. The indictment follows a series of arrests on Dec. 7, 2005, in Oregon, Arizona, New York, and Virginia. Gerlach, Harvey, Meyerhoff, McGowan, Thurston, and Tubbs were arrested at that time for various charges, including the destruction of an energy facility. Paul was arrested on Jan. 17, 2006, on a criminal complaint charging him with one of the arsons mentioned in the indictment. Savoie was arrested on Jan. 19, 2006, on a criminal complaint. Dibee, Overaker and Rubin are believed to be outside of the United States.

The indictment refers to attacks on 17 sites:

Oct. 28, 1996, at the U.S. Forest Service Detroit Ranger Station in Marion County, Ore.;

Oct. 30, 1998, at the U.S. Forest Service Oakridge Ranger Station in Lane County, Ore.;

July 21, 1997, at the Cavel West, Inc. meat packing company in Deschutes County, Ore.;

Nov. 30, 1997, at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Facility in Harney County, Ore.;

June 21, 1997, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Wildlife Facility in Olympia, Wash.;

Oct. 11, 1998, at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse Holding Facility in Rock Springs, Wyo.;

Oct. 19, 1998, at the Vail Ski Facility in Vail, Colo.;

Dec. 27, 1998, at U.S. Forest Industries in Jackson County, Ore.;

May 9, 1999, at Childers Meat Company in Lane County, Ore.;

Dec. 25, 1999, at the Boise Cascade office in Polk County, Ore.;

Dec. 30, 1999, at a Bonneville Power Administration high-tension power line tower near Bend, Ore.;

Sept. 6, 2000, at the Eugene Police Department West University Public Safety Station in Eugene, Ore.;

Jan. 2, 2001, at the Superior Lumber Company in Douglas County, Ore.;

March 30, 2001, at Joe Romania Chevrolet Truck Center in Eugene, Ore.;

May 21, 2001, at Jefferson Poplar Farms in Columbia County, Ore.;

May 21, 2001, at the University of Washington Horticultural Center in Seattle; and

Oct. 15, 2001, at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse Facility in Litchfield, Calif.

An indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendants named in this indictment are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The cases are being prosecuted by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. The cases are being investigated by the FBI and ATF, along with the Eugene Police Department, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Oregon State Police, Portland Police Bureau, Oregon Department of Justice, and the Lane County Sheriff’s Office.


Robert S. Mueller, III, FBI Director

  • Operation Backfire Press Conference – RFK Main Justice Building
  • Washington, D.C.
  • January 20, 2006

Good afternoon. Today’s indictment marks the culmination of an intensive investigation by the FBI and our partners,  focused on a group of individuals who have committed numerous violent acts in the name of animal rights and environmental causes.

Terrorism is terrorism — no matter the motive. The FBI is committed to protecting Americans from all crime and all terrorism, including acts of domestic terrorism on behalf of animal rights or the environment.

There is a clear difference between constitutionally protected advocacy — which is the right of all Americans — and violent criminal activity. It is one thing to write concerned letters or hold peaceful demonstrations. It is another thing entirely to construct and use improvised explosives or incendiary devices, to harass and intimidate victims by destroying property, and to cause millions of dollars in losses by acts or threats of violence.

The FBI becomes involved, as it did in this case, only when volatile talk crosses the line into violence and criminal activity. No person — no matter what his or her political or moral convictions are — is above the law.

Today’s indictment marks significant progress in our efforts to combat animal rights extremism and eco-terrorism. Thanks to outstanding cooperation and strong partnerships, we have taken the first steps towards bringing this cell to justice. We in the FBI will continue to work with our partners to investigate and bring to justice the animal rights and environmental extremist movements whose criminal acts threaten the American economy and American lives.

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