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Group spokesman familiar with devices

Local environmentalists: Violence not condoned

The Daily Mining Gazette
November 6, 2001

HOUGHTON — While no group has taken responsibility for planting two bombs at Michigan Tech University’s forestry buildings Monday, officials are looking into whether radical environmentalists might have been targeting genetic research at the facilities.

Researchers in the university’s forestry department received threatening e-mails around Earth Day in April from someone who claimed to be representing the Earth Liberation Front. That organization is believed to be responsible for a number of eco-terror attacks around the nation in recent years.

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Forestry department research includes the genetic manipulation of trees, which the ELF has targeted at other universities.

“Apparently there’s a group that opposes that kind of research,” said Dean Woodbeck, director of MTU News and Informational Services. “But no one has claimed any responsibility for what happened (Monday).’’

The ELF has claimed responsibility for attacks on research projects at universities and research areas for more than a decade. The shadowy group does not currently have a spokesman, according to David Barbarash, a spokesman for the North American Animal Liberation Front — the ELF’s sister organization.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the two organizations have taken responsibility for setting fire to a maintenance building at a primate research facility in New Mexico, twice releasing minks from an Iowa fur farm and firebombing a federal wild horse corral in Nevada.

“What the ALF and ELF do is something that is totally different than what anyone else is trying to do — take action to immediately end whatever atrocities are being committed,” Barbarash said.

Recent attacks in the Midwest include an attack on 500 research trees at a federal forestry laboratory near Rhinelander, Wis. in July 2000 causing about $750,000 of damage. The ELF also claimed responsibility for setting fire to an agricultural biotechnology program at Michigan State University in East Lansing in December 1999, causing $400,000 worth of damage.

Although Barbarash said no ELF or ALF member has taken responsibility for the devices left at MTU Monday, he acknowledged the devices left behind the U.J. Noblet Forestry Building and the U.S. Forest Search Engineering Laboratory are similar to bombs used by the two organizations.

He said the goal when using such devices is “to burn it down.” He said the ELF generally opposes genetic research. The organizations hope that by destroying property they set back, and ultimately derail research.

“We see that the illegal actions taken by the ALF and the ELF at this time are part of a larger process, larger protest movement,” Barbarash said. “We need all aspects of protest to achieve social change.”

Barbarash, who relays anonymous information about the ALF’s actions to the public, said the ALF and the ELF do not have a leadership structure, leaving local terrorist cells to act on their own.

“The only people who know who are involved in an action are those who took part in an action,” Barbarash said.

Barbarash, who no longer participates in ALF actions, served four months in a Canadian jail in 1991 for releasing cats at a Canadian university. He said he stopped taking part in ALF actions because he lost his anonymity.

He said the groups aren’t concerned about breaking the law; he compared their actions to those of abolitionists who broke the law to free slaves. Both the FBI and Congress are investigating the organizations.

Local environmental groups are scratching their heads about who locally would be involved in planting such devices.

“I don’t know of any violent actions on the part of any environmentalists that I know of in the Copper Country ever,” said Janet Avery, the retired president of the Association Working Against Keweenaw Exploitation.

She said she and her husband may have seen more radical environmentalists at meetings, but they have not met anyone from the Keweenaw who fits the description.

“We’ve been accused of being radical and we actually haven’t done anything radical and we don’t know anyone radical,” she said.

Susan Harting, A.W.A.K.E.’s current president and a Tech instructor, said environmental groups in the region are non-violent.

“The primary mission for an environmental group in this area is to educate people and to empower them to take control in their community in terms of land-use planning and educate people on possible problems when a development project is proposed,” she said.

MTU students who attended a regular Students Against Violating the Environment meeting Monday night expressed concerns that eco-terrorism apparently has reached their school.

Jason Grubb, a fifth-year geology major, said it hurts their cause.

“It ... scares people that environmentalists are just wackos, and that’s not the impression that we try and give,” he said.

Barbarash said he rejects the use of the word eco-terrorist to describe the members of the ELF and ALF.

“It’s true that what these people are doing is destroying property, but I don’t think that that is terrorism,” he said.

Barbarash said the aim of the radical environmentalists is to protect animals and the environment, not to harm people. He said the organization considers actions against the environment and animals as terrorism.

“The Sept. 11 attacks were horrific acts, but we also have to remember that the atrocities against the earth continue unabated,” Barbarash said.

On the Net:
Earth Liberation Front,
Animal Liberation Front,

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Material from The Daily Mining Gazette © 2001-2004, Ogden News Publishing of Mich.