Tuesday, May 15, 2007


One to ponder:

Their guilt isn't in question. The six men and four women already admitted being involved in a series of arson fires that did $40 million in damage to research facilities, a ski resort and other businesses in the West. But are they terrorists as the government says?

A federal judge was set to hear arguments Tuesday on a motion by the government to add a so-called terrorism enhancement to their sentences.
To some extent, the definition of whether this is terrorism is a bit of a distraction from the more important point that the threat is significant:
Prosecutors want Judge Ann Aiken to declare the group terrorists — something defense attorneys argue has never happened in 1,200 arsons nationwide claimed by Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front.

The fires targeted forest ranger stations, meat packing plants, wild horse corrals, lumber mill offices, research facilities, an SUV dealer and, in 1998, Vail Ski Resort. No one was injured, the defense notes in legal motions.
That no one was injured is also something of a red herring. As any firefighter will tell you, arson is a serious crime. Firefighters get hurt and killed in arson fires every year.

In terms of the threat, it's noteworthy that the group was coordinated:
The case, known as Operation Backfire, is the biggest prosecution ever of environmental extremists, and has turned on its head the prevailing idea that arsonists have generally acted alone, said Brent Smith, director of the Terrorism Research Center at the University of Arkansas.

"We thought these people operated for the last 15 years under this kind of uncoordinated violence approach, just like the extreme right was doing — leaderless resistance," Smith said. "That's why this case is so very different."

Prosecution filings argue that though the defendants were never convicted of terrorism, they qualify for the label because at least one of the fires each of them set was intended to change or retaliate against government policy.
I guess I'm agnostic on what label is applied to them. Their sentences aren't likely to change if they get the "terrorism" add-on. More important is the recognition that it's not just jihadists who are willing to use coordinated violence to promote an agenda.

Update 05-24-2007: They got the terrorist label.

Cross-posted in IPS Blogs at the Institute for Preventive Strategies.

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