Earth Liberation Front Speaker Hits Stone Wall In Virginia
Earth Liberation Front or ELF is a loosely organized underground activist group that has claimed responsibility for a long list of eco-terrorist attacks on businesses and research facilities. Arson, sabotage and vandalism are its calling cards. Its targets are "greedy capitalists," particularly those that profit from the land. i.e. timber and wood products producers, biotechnical researchers, land developers, even ski resorts. ELF activity is suspected in the arson of three forest products companies' offices, a Bureau of Land Management horse corral, and attempted arson of a Forest Service Ranger District. They've also sabotaged logging equipment, spiked trees and destroyed a seedlings nursery.
When word got out that ELF mouthpiece Craig Rosebraun had been invited to speak to students at Virginia Tech, which has a highly respected forestry program, people were justifiably concerned. Lumbermen Bruce Griffith and son Talley did not take the news lightly.
In just four days, they mobilized a treekeepers.org protest which from all appearances could have been torn from the pages of a Sierra Club playbook. In addition to two dozen placard carrying protestors marching in front of the university meeting hall, the group managed to attract coverage by national as well as state media.
Talley is credited for spearheading the publicity campaign which included producing the placards, printing flyers to hand out to students attending the presentation and assembling a press kit of background material exposing ELF history, terrorist tactics and alleged criminal activities. In addition, members of treekeepers.org alerted the media, school administrators and local authorities of the scheduled event.
These contacts were critical to the success of the protest. "We felt they needed to be alerted because of this group's past history of attacking universities," says Talley. "We worked hand in hand with them so that they were aware of what the threat might be. The FBI counter-terrorism investigation unit in Portland, Ore. issued a warning to us that basically said wherever this guy goes, something typically blows up within 30 days." That was a particular concern since Virginia Tech is building a Biomedical Center. Protest organizers were also warned that they needed to double their own security and insurance coverages.
"We think that because of the unexpected turnout and the results of our actions, they (ELF) might be hesitant to do anything now because we put them under such a heavy spotlight." The visit was unusual in that Rosebraugh is known to crave media attention, but the media had not been contacted about his visit to Virginia Tech. There is even some conjecture that the real purpose of the meeting was to encourage students to take action and to teach them ELF's methods.
If it was, that was quickly abandoned when Rosebraugh was greeted with pro-forestry protestors outside, a packed house inside the 300-seat auditorium and heightened security. The FBI, ATF and state criminal investigative agencies were also in attendance. There were people surveying the students and videotaping all of the comings and goings. For a group that depends on the cover of anonymity, this was not the reception they would prefer.
Actually, Rosebraugh, who operates a restaurant in Oregon, claims he is nothing more than a spokesperson for ELF members and that he does not even know who they are. It was clear from his speech that he subscribes to the group's anti-capitalist and revolutionary philosophies. Please note that there is no organized membership. Simply sharing those philosophies appears to be the only criteria to being an ELF, so the speaker's multitude of disclaimers simply didn't ring true. Rosebraugh cited many historical examples of noble political and social movements that justified riots, wars and terrorist-type activities to achieve social change.
But during the questions and comment period, an Indian student chastised him for talking terrorism and using someone like Gandhi, who was a peace loving man, as an example. Others noted that what ELF calls "mischief" actually endangers the lives of innocent people. Judging from questions, comments and the applause, Griffith estimates about 40% of the crowd was of the treehugger persuasion and out of those, probably only 5% might have been supportive of ELF.
Media coverage, including interviews with several treekeepers.org protesters, was presented as either "middle-of-the-road" objective or slightly slanted in favor of the protesters. The story ran in six news broadcasts on three TV channels. Associated Press as well as local and collegiate newspapers also covered the story.
Since that late January protest several resource-based industries have commended treekeepers.org for being willing to stand up to these people and oppose their methods. "A lot of people have told us this is what has been needed," states Griffith. "We hope it inspires others to start standing up to them."
Contact Jennifer McCary, ph: 334-834-1170; fax 334-834-4525; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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