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EDITORIAL: YES, THEY'RE TERRORISTS (Rocky Mountain News, May 29, 2007)
May 29, 2007

Posted by (10:30am ET)




MAY 29, 2007

Visit Senator Inhofe’s EPW Committee website page on Eco-Terrorism

Lawyers for the people who pled guilty and are now being sentenced for a crime spree that included the 1998 Vail Mountain arson naturally argue that their clients are not terrorists, no indeed.

"KEVIN TUBBS IS NOT A TERRORIST," Tubbs' lawyer wrote in melodramatic fashion in a court brief (the capital letters were his). The given reason: Tubbs' violence was motivated by a love for animals and an "overwhelming feeling of despair."

Tubbs, a supporter of the Earth Liberation Front, was sentenced Thursday in federal court in Eugene, Ore., to more than 12 years in prison.

Chelsea Gerlach's attorney argued that Gerlach's name didn't belong on a list of terrorists that included Timothy McVeigh, among others. She and William Rodgers, another member of the ELF cell that called itself the Family, carried out the Vail attack, but they didn't intend it to kill or hurt anyone - as if the fact that other terrorists are worse is some kind of excuse.

Gerlach's sentence, handed down Friday, is for nine years. A third defendant, Stanislaus Meyerhoff, received 13 years at his sentencing Wednesday.

The difficulty with these arguments is that the legal definition of the federal crime of terrorism does concern motive, but not in the way these criminals mean. Terrorism is "an offense that is calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct; and is a violation of several different offense categories, among which is arson."

Members of the Family have entered guilty pleas in more than 20 attacks carried out from 1995 to 2001 that caused more than $40 million in property damage in five states. Targets included both private property and facilities belonging to government agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

No one was hurt or killed, but it could easily have happened; the man who set the Vail fires, who committed suicide in jail after his 2005 arrest, just happened to notice two hunters sleeping in one of the buildings he had intended to burn, so he decided not to light that fire.

Federal law allows for much stiffer sentences for the crime of terrorism, and U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that such "terrorism enhancements" may apply to these individual cases without regard to whether the attacks could have caused death or injury.

Her ruling puts copycats on notice that they may be looking at long prison terms even if their attacks target only property.

In a case involving arson at an Internal Revenue Service office in Colorado Springs, the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2005 upheld a 30-year sentence for a man convicted of terrorism. (No IRS workers were injured in that attack, by the way, although a firefighter who responded was hurt.)

Incidentally, even though actions targeting private property might not meet the federal definition of terrorism, there is no doubt that they are morally and practically equivalent: They involve violence intended to coerce or intimidate people into changing their behavior.

For instance, Grant Barnes was arrested in March for allegedly setting off firebombs under seven large SUVs parked in the Cherry Creek and Lowry neighborhoods. Police later found a box with seven more of the homemade devices in Barnes' car. The directions for the devices come from the Animal Liberation Front, a group associated with the ELF.

Whoever committed these crimes may well think people shouldn't drive large SUVs, and probably can cite chapter and verse about how environmentally insensitive it is to do so. But if 70 or even 700 SUVs had been torched, does anyone doubt it would have terrorized people into leaving their SUVs at home or driving them only from one secure location to another? Several more members of the Family will be sentenced in the next few days. We hope the judge will treat all these cases with the seriousness they deserve.



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