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It's all the rage

National | When environmentalists attack: SUVs, biotech labs are their hottest targets

Issue: "Pryor commitment," Sept. 13, 2003

Explosions ripped the pre-dawn quiet late last month outside the Chiron Corporation, an Emeryville, Calif., biotech company, shattering windows and rattling nerves among nearby residents. The animal-rights group "Animal Liberation Brigade" claimed responsibility for the blasts, citing Chiron's ties to another firm that tests pharmaceutical products on animals. "We left them with a small surprise of (two) pipe bombs filled with an ammonium nitrate slurry," the group said in a statement posted on the Internet.

The FBI is investigating the bombing as "domestic terrorism," the latest in a chain of such acts tied to left-wing activists. On Aug. 22, fires at four Los AngelesÐarea car dealerships destroyed about 20 sport utility vehicles. On Aug. 1, flames consumed a luxury-apartment construction site in exclusive La Jolla, Calif., leaving $30 million in damage. The radical environmentalist group "Earth Liberation Front" (ELF) claimed responsibility for both fires.

The FBI defines domestic terrorism as the use, or threatened use, "of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States ... without foreign direction." Such acts aim to "intimidate or coerce" government or civilians to "the furtherance of political or social objectives."

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The deadliest act of domestic terrorism occurred on April 19, 1995, when ex-soldier Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 169. Since then, eco-terror groups like ELF have grabbed headlines with splashy crimes against property designed to register protests against such evils as development, logging, and fuel consumption.

But the government is more concerned with other kinds of domestic terror, according to Syracuse University researchers' analysis of federal law-enforcement records. During the first six months of 2002 (the most recent data available), law-enforcement officials referred for prosecution 34 acts of domestic terrorism. Giving "false statements," often concerning identification or other documents, was the most common charge. Next came "threatening communications" (including threats against the president), weapons and explosives charges, and threatened destruction of aircraft or facilities.

Meanwhile, ordinary citizens don't see much point to the current spate of domestic eco-terrorism. Chris Kushnir, a La Jolla engineer, lives in an upscale apartment complex about 500 yards from the apartment construction site ELF says it torched last month.

The shriek of sirens awakened Mr. Kushnir, then "my bedroom lit up ... and I felt a blast of heat." By the time he joined other onlookers on the street, a massive conflagration had engulfed four stories of wood framing on a 200-unit section of the nearby construction site. "It was the most incredible thing I've ever seen in my life, watching it go up," Mr. Kushnir told WORLD. "The flames were at least 100 feet high, but there was this huge column of sparks shooting straight up to the cloud base. It was like something out of the movie Ghostbusters."

Still, Mr. Kushnir said he doesn't understand what ELF was trying to accomplish. "This isn't a deterrent [to development]. The developers will just collect from their insurance company and rebuild, and the insurance company will pass the cost on to the rest of us."

Not to mention all those trees that will have to be cut down.

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