WASHINGTON – Investigating the threats of eco-terrorism against national forests, a congressional committee has subpoenaed a well-known spokesman for an underground environmental group that has taken credit for the destruction of $40 million in property damage in recent years.
Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., chairman of the House Resources Committee's Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, said he was forced to subpoena Craig Rosebraugh, one of the few faces of the clandestine Earth Liberation Front, to answer questions about the group's attacks on unsuspecting communities.
"We must strip away the Robin Hood mystique and perceived high ground that some have given these radicals," McInnis said in a statement announcing the hearing on eco-terrorism and lawlessness on the national forests.
But McInnis may not get far. Officials at ELF said Rosebraugh, who left the group in September after a four-year stint, is willing to go to jail to protect the organization from "political manipulation."
Supporters of ELF are also planning rallies Tuesday in Salt Lake City, Detroit, Boston, and Portland, Ore., as well as outside the Longworth House Office Building where the hearing will be held.
"This is something that we definitely did not want to do," said Leslie James Pickering, a spokesperson for the ELF. "They're just capitalizing on the feelings of the general public right now because of recent events."
ELF has taken credit for more than a dozen acts of environmental sabotage since 1998. It claimed responsibility for the bombs that exploded at a construction site for the new Microbial and Plant Genomics Research Center at the University of Minnesota in January.
Though Rosebraugh denies ever taking part in any direct actions, he has claimed responsibility on behalf of ELF for the October 1998 arson fires that caused nearly $26 million in damage to Vail ski resort in Colorado. The group has joined the radical Animal Liberation Front in pursuit of the destruction of laboratories that test on animals and has targeted housing developments under construction. In October 2001, ELF firebombed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's horse corral, which is used for rounding up wild mustangs in Nevada.
ELF members say their motivation is to prevent "urban sprawl" and to tie the hands of the "wealthy elite." They say they "are fed up with capitalists… who have long sought to develop and refine technologies which seek to exploit and control nature."
They point to Vail's clear-cutting hundreds of acres of forest, including the area's protected lynx habitat, in order to expand the ski resort.
ELF's actions have not yet killed or injured anyone, but McInnis and subcommittee vice chairman John E. Peterson, R-Pa., say it's only a matter of time unless the culprits are prosecuted.
"Eco-terrorism is a threat that directly affects the lives of millions of Americans who live in our communities, work in local businesses, attend universities, and enjoy our public lands," Peterson said in a recent statement. "I am hopeful that this hearing will shed light on this growing criminal movement and provide us with the insight on how best to put an end to this brand of home-grown terrorism."
Pickering denies that ELF is anything like the Sept. 11 terrorists who killed more than 3,000 people, though his description of small ELF "cells" working independently of one another strikes a close resemblance to the operations of the Al Qaeda terror network.
"They're attempting to compare us to terrorists like Al Qaeda," said Pickering. "But (ELF doesn't) harm anyone. They sabotage economically."
Also scheduled to testify Tuesday are members of Congress whose districts have been impacted by eco-terrorism, as well as federal law enforcement officers, the Vail Corporation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and consumer groups.