From the New York
Rash of Vandalism
in Richmond May Be Tied to Environment Group
By LISA BACON
RICHMOND, Va., Nov. 17 The authorities are investigating whether
vandals who have swept through here in recent months, slashing tires,
defacing businesses and damaging construction equipment, were members
of the Earth Liberation Front, an environmental organization considered
by the F.B.I. to be one of America's most prolific domestic terrorist
"Police are trying
to determine if there are any links to other incidents around the country,"
said Wade Kizer, Commonwealth's Attorney for Henrico County.
In September, vandals
used a corrosive cream to etch the letters E.L.F. on the windows of 25
cars and three fast food restaurants. Lawrence Barry, chief counsel of
the Richmond division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, confirmed
that his agency was helping to investigate the incidents.
Mr. Kizer said he
had no reason to doubt the authenticity of the calling cards supposedly
left by the Earth Liberation Front. "But it might be some local people
who have just heard of the organization," he said.
The group may have
struck again Saturday night, when five sport utility vehicles had their
tires slashed here. S.U.V.'s have been a target of the group in the past.
The authorities said
the Richmond incidents fit the profile of the group's operations in the
United States. The group has no formal leadership, just a Web site and
a virtual press office to handle inquiries. A former spokesman for the
group, Craig Rosebraugh of Portland, Ore., once described it as having
only a shared commitment to take aim at "anyone who is destroying
the environment for the sake of profit."
An e-mail message
from the North American Earth Liberation Front press office said Wednesday:
"As for why Virginia, it simply means that there is an active cell
that has chosen to operate in that area. There are cells in operation
from time to time all over North America."
On Sept. 27 or 28,
vandals used a glass-etching cream to damage the fast food restaurant
windows. Thirteen windows at each of two McDonald's and 25 windows at
a Burger King, all in Richmond's affluent West End, were damaged beyond
repair. Around the same time, vandals used a similar substance to scar
the surfaces of 25 S.U.V.'s at a West Richmond dealership.
Then on Oct. 5 or
6, as central and northern Virginia were focused on the sniper attacks,
vandals hacked two S.U.V.'s with hatchets in a suburban subdivision and
left notes on each saying it was the work of the front.
Similar notes had
been found on July 11 when there was a string of S.U.V. tire slashings
in the city's historic Fan District. The authorities in Goochland County,
another Richmond suburb, said that two months ago the front may also have
been responsible for the destruction of construction equipment and damage
to the interior of a house being built in a subdivision. A burned American
flag and a message about environmental concerns were found at the scene.
The Earth Liberation
Front press office said it was unaware of the Virginia vandalism until
a reporter filed an inquiry via e-mail.
"We have received
no statement of claim for those actions at this press office," it
said, "so we are not able to pass along the motivations of these
acts, other than to say that they are in keeping with other E.L.F. actions
that have targeted pollution, roads and vehicle culture through attacks
on vehicles such as S.U.V.'s."
E.L.F. began in England
in 1992 as an offshoot of Earth First, an environmental advocacy group.
While Earth First promotes mainstream ecological campaigns, elves, as
they are often called, take a more direct approach, sabotaging research,
burning buildings and placing spikes in trees to fend off loggers' chainsaws.
The group says it has caused $50 million in damage in the United States.
The group first went
to work in the United States in 1996, claiming responsibility for the
torching of a Forest Service truck in the Willamette National Forest in
Oregon. Within a few months, the group said it had joined forces with
the Animal Liberation Front to destroy millions of dollars in commercial
and government buildings and research. In 1997, the two groups burned
wild horse corrals overseen by the Bureau of Land Management in Oregon,
causing nearly a half-million dollars in damage to structures and equipment.
The next year, the front claimed responsibility for the largest act of
eco-terrorism in United States history, burning three buildings and four
ski lifts at a Vail, Colo., resort. Damages were estimated at $12 million
to $24 million.
The group's actions
do not always succeed. In an October 2001 firebombing at a Federal Bureau
of Land Management corral near Susanville, Calif., vandals caused about
$80,000 in damage but failed to free the 160 horses. The group has set
minks free from mink farms, only to see them run over by cars. After one
such raid in Sweden, when group members painted minks' fur so that they
would be useless to profiteers, the minks died of exposure.