Fire Starters: ELF Torches “Green” Homes

ecoterroristfire.jpgThe term “eco-terrorism” is getting thrown around again today after four multi-million dollar “green” homes in a Seattle suburb were torched by arsonists claiming affiliation with the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). Others have argued eloquently that “eco-terrorism” isn’t much more than a political language game: “terrorism” doesn’t describe the aims or methods of the “perpetrators,” but simply creates fearful associations. It’s an easy (and intellectually lazy) way to discredit environmentalism in general, and not worthy of the term “argument.”

With all of that said, though, I have to ask: What the hell do ELF members think they’re accomplishing?

Yes, the “Street of Dreams” homes were large exurban houses… which were built according to a legitimate green building standard. Ideal? No. But greener than traditional McMansion development? Definitely! The potential buyers of homes like these will not be in the market for yurts… ever. Radical acts may feel like a righteous means of “sticking it to the man,” but they also ensure alienation of a sizable portion of the mainstream… and we need these people making greener choices. Greenpeace’s John Passacantando summed it up nicely:

Passacantando believes educating people about the environment is the best tool of persuasion. He says the greats have taught us that love is the force more powerful, so burning down someone’s house for any reason is not going to advance anyone’s cause.

Unless that cause is enhancing one’s revolutionary credentials, and making headlines, of course. I don’t know if this will set back more mainstream environmentalism, or if it will cause some people exploring a greener lifestyle to step back for fear of being perceived as radical. I’m pretty sure, though, that the costs will be much higher than the benefits.

Image credit: Dan DeLong/Seattle Post-Intelligencer

  1. Timothy B. Hurst

    I was under the impression that ELF was all but defunct, as an organization (loosely defined). The ELF folks that burned down the new lodge on Vail mountain in Colorado are behind bars. And last I heard, they were pretty repentant. But, I suppose bars could have that effect on anyone.

  2. Christopher

    Actually, I don’t think “eco-terrorism” is intended as a way to discredit environmentalism at large — any more than “Islamic terrorism” is a reflection of Islam.

    Most thinking people discern the difference between real Islam and real Muslims vs. al Qaida types who try to use their religion as an excuse to murder. I think most thinking people can also discern the difference between an environmentalist and someone who will use said cause to justify violence, arson, even murder (via spiked trees). I don’t believe ELF represents environmentalism any more than I believe al Qaida represents Islam.

    If you want to blame anyone for “discrediting” environmentalism, it’s ELF who should be in the picture.

    And by the way… what’s the carbon footprint of a torched house? πŸ˜‰

  3. Nicholas

    I’ve got two theories about this as I watch the news on this from here in Seattle.
    1. It seems possible, maybe even likely, that this is really a disgruntled neighbor trying to cover his tracks by putting up some ELF signs.
    2. The ELF, as far as I know, isn’t really some kind of organized group, so while possible they’re becoming active again, it’s also possible that it’s someone who idolizes the group and is really freelancing.

    I guess we’ll find out as they continue the investigation…

  4. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

    @christopher… I think there have been efforts among anti-environmental (or, anti-environmentalist) forces to make this connection… with that said, you’re right — many people won’t go there. And, ultimately, ELF is responsible for the damage done to the reputation of environmentalism (a point I tried to raise at the end of the post).

    @tim: ELF is barely an “organization,” as I understand it, so it’s hard to say whether it’s on the rise again or not… looking at their website might lead one to believe it’s not: hackers have clearly gotten in, and no one’s fixed it.

    @nicholas: That’s pretty much SOP for ELF, as I understand it: there really is no “organization,” so everyone’s a “freelancer.” And you also raise a good point that this could be someone else trying to cover themselves in the ELF mantle. The fact that such cover is available is still irritating, though…

  5. Adam

    Maybe it was the Keebler Elves. They might have been baking in a nearby tree and, well…. baking in trees just isn’t a good idea.

    I think that there is something in the language of eco-terrorism. After 9/11, people were weary of anyone who looked like a Muslim. Only after education and understanding did the separation happen.

    I think similar things happen with eco-terrorism, anyone not an environmentalist begins to wonder about the hippies promoting green in their community.

  6. Bobby B.

    Dr. Jeff,

    Did I catch a misspelled word? “exurbant”? Shouldn’t that be “exuberant”? And don’t tell me that you meant “exurban” since the houses were outside the city limits. Just kidding around here. I know that generally your command of the English language far exceeds my own. Please don’t tell me that I’m actually wrong.

    But seriously, ELF & ALF remain on the FBI terrorist watch list because they are loosely coordinated extremist groups with violent tendencies. Additionally, it has been documented on quite a few occasions that the more traditional green groups (Sierra Club, Earth First, Environmental Defense Fund, Green Peace, PETA, etc.) funnel monies to these violent groups. I believe the term for such actions is “collusion”. Sorry about the guilt-by-association aspects of this one, but the perception is somewhat justified.

    Also, you just have to love the green jump to conspiracy theories. I thought that only far right-wingers did that; with the exception of Hillary Clinton, of course.

    Later bud.

  7. Bobby B.

    I thought the correct word would have been “exurban” not “exurbant”. I could not find the latter in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. However, I will give you the benefit of the doubt since you have that PhD hanging on the wall.

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