The Bush administration has been touting the arrests of terrorists of a different kind: homegrown militants who have embarked on arson attacks to protest treatment of animals and the environment, says the Seattle Times. During the past three years alone, FBI counterterrorism agents have conducted at least 190 investigations into property crimes claimed by the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). None of the crimes injured or killed people. “Terrorism is terrorism – no matter what the motive,” says FBI director Robert Mueller. More indictments are expected in the months ahead as federal grand juries meet in Seattle, Eugene, Denver, San Francisco, and other cities.
Some balk at putting the terrorism label on activists who have targeted property – not people. In the post-9/11 era, they say that the word tilts the criminal-justice system against defendants and helps the Bush administration justify a broader infiltration – and surveillance – of groups that protest government policies. “You couple spying on political dissenters with grand jury subpoenas and a series of arrests, it’s had a huge effect,” said Alejandro Queral, executive director of the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center. “There is a serious danger of chilling dissenting points of view.” The FBI decision to run these investigations through a counterterrorism branch has been questioned by its own Office of Inspector General, which in a 2003 report recommended that the cases should be handled by its criminal division.