"Attack the financial centers of the country." "Large scale urban rioting." "Actively target U.S. military establishments within the United States." "Spread the battle to the individuals responsible for the war and destruction of life [.] Hit them in their personal lives, visit their homes." "Use any means necessary." "Do not get caught."
Al-Qaeda? Not quite. The above is from a communiqué by Craig Rosebraugh, former media spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front. The communiqué, entitled "A Message to the Anti-War Movement," was issued and distributed by Rosebraugh's new organization, Arissa. Founded on May 12th, 2003 by Rosebraugh and fellow former spokesman Leslie James Pickering, Arissa aims to "create a political and social revolution in the United States." The group plans to do this by building a "revolutionary consciousness in America," convincing a small group of like-minded radicals that political violence is both necessary and justified, and then organizing to carry out that violence. While they've yet to act, we could be witnessing the emergence of a new brand of domestic terrorism, one tempered by its experience in the ecoterrorist movement and ready to launch an all-out, anti-capitalist attack on America.
Although these radicals won't succeed, they could do a lot of damage trying. Craig Rosebraugh's definitely got the prerequisite experience. He spent over a decade as an organizer for the radical animal rights and environmentalist movements. He's been arrested at least a dozen times for "civil disobedience" at protests. From 1997 to 2001, he was the public face of the underground Earth Liberation Front, a group of arsonists responsible since 1997 for more than $95 million dollars in property damage, including a $50 million dollar torching of an apartment complex in San Diego just this August 2nd. The blaze, which forced the evacuation of hundreds of area residents, was the most costly eco-terror incident in America to date.
As the public face of the ELF, Rosebraugh distributed ELF press releases, publicly defended the ELF's ideology, went on frequent campus speaking tours and gave interviews to a wide variety of news organizations. Left-leaning reporters frequently took his declarations of non-violence seriously and produced glowing profiles - for instance, in a 1999 ABCNEWS.com interview, Rosebraugh described the arson of $12 million worth of skiing facilities in Vail, Colorado as "not an act of ecoterrorism, but an act of love," portraying the ELF's opponents as greedy capitalists. He openly advocated property destruction, arguing that "[i]f you can hit them hard enough in their pocketbook, perhaps they will stop all the unjust acts they' re carrying out." Although the media loved him, law enforcement was less sympathetic. He was frequently called to account for the ELF's actions. However, Rosebraugh's appearances before grand juries were unproductive - he routinely denied having any knowledge of events. On one occasion in early 2002, he appeared before Congress, subpoenaed against his will before the House Resources Committee's Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health for a special session entitled "The Emerging Threat of Ecoterrorism." Rosebraugh used the opportunity to submit a lengthy tirade to the Subcommittee, and then stonewalled them, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than fifty times during the hearing.
By the time of his Congress appearance, Rosebraugh had already quit his post at the Earth Liberation Front, resigning from the organization just a few days before September 11, 2001. While he continued to support the group, he ultimately decided it was just too moderate - their commitment to nonviolence was limiting him. Not that the ELF is particularly "non-violent"; as any firefighter will tell you, there's no such thing as a peaceful arson. But Rosebraugh had decided that political violence, including bombings and assassinations, could be a legitimate way to meet his political goals. As he told one reporter from the Williamette Weekly, "Terrorism can be O.K., can be justified. [.] It can be effective." His 2003 Master of Arts thesis, "Rethinking Nonviolence: Arguing for the Legitimacy of Armed Struggle," reflects his new philosophy in depth.
Lately, Rosebraugh's been on the road, lecturing on "The Logic of Political Violence" - part of his plan to convince fellow radicals that a new terrorist organization is needed. He sells copies of his lecture on CD from his website, as well as other "revolutionary"-themed merchandise: a history of the ELF, a t-shirt sporting an assault rifle and the slogan "Regime change begins at home," and another t-shirt depicting a plane flying into the World Trade Center towards, with the slogan "Join the fight against the U.S. government." From August 8th to 10th, Rosebraugh attended and spoke at the "Break the Chains" conference in Eugene, Oregon, held by the Northwest Anarchist Prisoners' Support Network. This activists' meeting isn't an ordinary event for Rosebraugh and his new organization. It's relatively separate from the radical environmental groups he grew out of, and places him in contact with representatives of some of the most murderous domestic terrorist organizations of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
"Break the Chains" is no moderate convention for improved prison conditions. The conference is explicitly designed to begin an effective movement against what they call "state repression and mass imprisonment," and most would call "rule of law." The participants in the "Break the Chains" conference aren't just prison reformers, but are dedicated to "eliminating prisons altogether." According to their mission statement, "to struggle against the prison system is to struggle against capitalism." Their own politics vary between anarchism, communism, and nihilism.
Speakers at the conference came from a wide variety of leftist criminal groups. For instance, the conference was opened, in part, by Safiya Bukhari, who first joined the Black Panther Party in 1969 and rose to a prominent position in the Party's East Coast faction - head of Information and Communications. In 1973, she was arrested for attempting to break fellow Black Panthers out of a Manhattan prison; at this point she decided to go underground as a guerilla in the Black Liberation Army, an allied organization. Two years later, she was captured in a shootout with Virginia police, and charged with two counts of attempted murder, two counts of robbery, and weapons violations. She was sentenced to forty years in prison. Even though she broke out of prison and was a fugitive for two months in early 1977, she would serve less than nine years of her 40 year sentence before being paroled. Now she works as part of the Jericho Movement, a group of former terrorists dedicated to obtaining amnesty for their comrades still in prison.
The ending plenum featured convicted domestic terrorist Ed Mead, a former member of the 1970s Seattle-based George Jackson Brigade. In order to help the United Farmworkers, ex-convict Mead planted a pipe bomb in a bag of dry dog food; he then set it off inside a Safeway grocery store during business hours. Several customers were injured. After this crime, the George Jackson Brigade recruited other ex-cons and at least one former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and used their new manpower to launch a series of liquor store robberies. When they tried to rob a bank in 1976, things went badly wrong for them - one member was killed, another injured, and two, including Mead, were captured. He spent the next 18 years in prison for his crimes. Apparently, that gives him the credibility necessary to lecture the Break the Chains radicals at their closing session, a forum called "Enemies of the State."
The closing session also featured Laura Whitehorn, a convicted terrorist with a long history of left-wing lawbreaking. She was a Students for a Democratic Society organizer in the 1960s, was arrested in the "Days of Rage" riots in Chicago, later joined the 1970s terrorist Weather Underground organization, and resurfaced in the 1980s as part of the May 19th Communist Organization. This group murdered a security guard and two police officers in a notorious 1981 armored truck robbery in Nyack, New York, and from 1983 to 1985 conducted a string of terrorist bombings - hitting, among other targets, the National War College, the Washington Navy Yard Computing Center, the United Stated Capitol Building, the Israeli Aircraft Industries Building, the Washington Navy Yard Officers' Club, New York City's South African Consulate, and New York City's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. Whitehorn was first captured for passport fraud - she was attempting to obtain false passports to help her fellow terrorists flee the country - and sentenced to two years in prison, serving one before being paroled. She then was indicted for her role in the May 19th Communist Organization's bombing spree, along with six others. Despite her claims to have been an unfairly prosecuted "political prisoner," Whitehorn admitted some of her crimes, pleading guilty to a conspiracy count and the bombing of the Capitol Building, and was sentenced in late 1990 to 20 years in jail. Incomprehensibly, she was paroled in August 1999.
Convicted terrorists also peppered the conference's regular sessions, held on the property of the University of Oregon. Rita "Bo" Brown, also a former member of Seattle's George Jackson Brigade, lectured conference attendees on "the struggle against prisons, repression, and social control" - after Ed Mead was captured, Rita headed up the group's series of bank robberies and bombings. By dressing in drag during her crimes, she avoided law enforcement until 1977; at first, they had been looking for a male. She was charged with five counts of armed robbery and weapons charges, but four of the robbery counts were dropped when she pleaded guilty to the fifth. Although sentenced to 25 years in prison, she would serve only eight.
Brown shares her session with "Splitting the Sky," the chosen name of Indian activist John Hill, who murdered prison guard William Quinn during the 1971 Attica prison riots. Although Hill was sentenced to 20 years to life in 1975 for beating Quinn to death, former New York governor Hugh Carey commuted Hill's sentence in 1976 in an attempt to quell controversy over the conditions leading to the riots. Hill was paroled in 1978. Other conference speakers who've done lengthy prison sentences for politically motivated crimes include '60s radical Chuck Armsbury and failed prison-break artist Claude Marks, both gone on to become full-time apologists for the violent actions of their felonious friends.
The mixing of the old domestic terrorism with the new at "Break the Chains" is a disconcerting development - not because the old terrorists are particularly likely to pick their guns up once again, but because they've got the potential to pass down murderous techniques and traditions to a new generation of criminals. The naïve, hateful conference attendees see the terrorists of the 1970s and 1980s as they are today, no longer in jail and respected members of their far-Left subculture, and then Rosebraugh comes along, offering them an opportunity to follow in their role models' footsteps. But these potential bomb-throwers need to remember that it's not the 1970s and 1980s anymore. They're not dealing with a scandal-ridden, post-Watergate FBI with a largely dismantled intelligence apparatus, but a law enforcement system made very sensitive to terrorism by the mass murder of 9/11. According to spokeswoman Jane Brillhart, the FBI is already aware of Rosebraugh's new group. Those who do follow him are going to follow him straight to the penitentiary.
Both Congress and federal law enforcement are well-aware of eco-terrorism's destructive potential. Rep. George Nethercutt, R-WA, summed up the situation well when he asked "How do we deal with this home-grown brand of al-Qaeda?" at last year's House Subcommittee hearings, proposing improved intelligence and less restrictions on law enforcement authorities. However, many members of the media, local prosecutors and judges, university administrations, and city governments aren't quite as well informed. If they took the threat of ecoterrorism seriously, would the University of Oregon permit a conference of unrepentant ex-terrorists and career criminals, all of whom advocate lawbreaking in some form or another, from civil disobedience to murder, to use their taxpayer-funded facilities? If they took the threat of ecoterrorism seriously, would a court in Nebraska, three months after 9/11, shunt three Earth Liberation Front activists charged with felonies into a "diversion" program which allowed them to escape with community service - without even a trial, without even criminal records? Local governments would be wise to listen to radical environmental and animal rights activists and take them at their word; this might prevent future crimes. Would a hundred San Diego firefighters have been needed to put out a three-alarm fire in the middle of San Diego August 1st, a fire that did $50 million in damage and endangered the lives of hundreds, if just a few policemen were monitoring the preparations for the concurrent "Animal Liberation Weekend," attended by many Earth Liberation Front activists?
Americans can do a lot to prevent domestic terrorism by making it harder for the criminally inclined to take Rosebraugh's advice: "Do not get caught." These radicals aren't martyrs; they only strike when they're confident they'll be able to strike again. Through effective policing and strict sentencing, we can take that confidence away from them. Nothing deters a potential terrorist more than knowing they're almost certain to end up like the ironically nicknamed Jeffrey "Free" Luers, sentenced in June 2000 to more than 22 years in prison for the arson he committed as a member of the Earth Liberation Front. That's one criminal who won't physically be able to follow Rosebraugh on his jump from the ELF to Arissa, from advocating arson to advocating murder. If only the misguided idealists at Rosebraugh's conferences could be prevented from ruining their own lives and those of their innocent targets by hearkening to his call for destruction.