Formed in 1992 in Brighton, England as an offshoot of the Earth First! movement, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) initially became active in North America in 1996, with a series of actions in the Eugene, Oregon area. ELF is an underground organization with no centralized authority or board of directors. Its membership consists mostly of autonomous cells that support the group’s chief objective, which is to “halt the destruction of the environment” by carrying out “economic sabotage and property destruction” against both the U.S. government and corporations that “make considerable profits off environmentally destructive practices.”
By ELF’s reckoning, capitalism, with its profit motive, is the “social and political ideology … that is creating the various injustices on this planet and ultimately the destruction of life.” The organization contends that ever since “the advent of the industrial revolution, the westernized way of life has been in complete violation of natural law.” “The pursuit of monetary gain by corporations and the governments,” ELF elaborates, results in “the ongoing decimation of our natural environment — including the melting of the polar ice caps, polar bears threatened with extinction, the erosion of the ozone layer, widespread deforestation, the contamination of our food supply and nature from genetically modified organisms, and the pollution of our air and water globally.”
To punish those allegedly responsible for the foregoing trends, ELF has declared war against “greedy capitalists” and “rich scum.” Consequently, its direct actions typically target the “forms and symbols of capitalism,” be they “individuals, businesses, governmental and non-governmental organizations, [or] items which aid in directly destroying life and/or the spread of the destructive propaganda of the American Dream.” Examples of the latter, says ELF, could include “Mt. Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, Disney, Wall Street, etc.”
Also among ELF’s primary targets are the timber, construction, and automotive industries. The group conveys its contempt for these industries via such methods as tree-spiking, “monkeywrenching” (the sabotage of logging or construction equipment), arson, and all manner of vandalism. In some cases, ELF carries out its terrorist activities in conjunction with the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).
To date, the most notorious action performed by ELF operatives in North America was an August 1, 2003 condominium fire in San Diego that resulted in some $50 million in damages. Second to this was a series of October 18, 1998 fires that caused an estimated $26 million in damages at Colorado’s Vail Ski Resorts, which, ELF complained, “had proposed an 885-acre expansion into one of the last remaining habitats for the Canadian lynx in the United States.” From January 1997 through mid-2011, ELF’s direct actions resulted in more than $150 million in total property damages. thereby earning the group an FBI designation as America’s top domestic terrorism threat. Nonetheless, ELF professes “to take all necessary precautions against harming any animal — human or non-human.”
Exhorting people to shed their “anthropocentric” worldview in favor of an “ecocentric” alternative — wherein the well-being of the natural world as a whole takes precedence over the well-being of mankind specifically — ELF strives to “educate the public on the atrocities committed [by mankind] against the earth and all species that populate it.” But this “public education” campaign consists largely of anonymous press releases disseminated to the media in the wake of ELF’s illegal direct actions. ELF operatives also use spray paint and banners to communicate messages, typically at the sites of crimes which they have just committed.
The most recognizable “public face” associated with ELF is that of Craig Rosebraugh, who served as the group’s spokesman from 1997 to 2001.