Operation Backfire is a multi-agency criminal investigation, led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), into destructive acts in the name of animal rights and environmental causes in the United States regarded as eco-terrorism by the FBI.
In 2004 the FBI merged seven independent investigations from its Portland, Oregon field office and called them Operation Backfire. According to an agency statement, the operational focus is on investigating acts of domestic terrorism, carried out on behalf of two activist groups, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF).
In December 2005 and January 2006, with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the FBI indicted five women and six men on a total of 65 charges, including arson, conspiracy, use of destructive devices, and destruction of an energy facility. The defendants were named as Joseph Dibee, Chelsea Gerlach, Sarah Kendall Harvey, Daniel McGowan, Stanislas Meyerhoff, Josephine Overaker, Jonathan Paul, Rebecca Rubin, Suzanne Savoie, Darren Thurston and Kevin Tubbs.  A 12th alleged co-conspirator, William "Bill" Rodgers, also known as Avalon, committed suicide while in police custody.
According to reports,  and their own websites, most of the indicted individuals initially claimed to be innocent of the charges. Prosecutors alleged that the 11 conspirators collectively referred to themselves as "The Family" and had taken an oath to protect each other. The FBI indicated that some of the charges relate to an 1998 arson attack, claimed by the ELF, on the Vail Ski Resort in Colorado. The combined cost of the damage from the attacks is estimated at approaching $80 million.
In late 2006, a number of self-described ELF members pled guilty to arson and other charges in U.S. federal courts.
On November 11, 2006, Joyanna Zacher, Nathan Block, Daniel McGowan and Jonathan Paul pleaded guilty to several eco-sabotage related charges, as part of a global resolution agreement with prosecutors. Judge Ann Aiken presided over the hearings. The change of pleas from the four defendants resolves all current “Operation Backfire” cases in Oregon.
On December 15, 2006, Chelsea Dawn Gerlach and Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff, pleaded guilty to $20 million worth of arsons committed between 1996 and 2001 by the Eugene-based cell of the ELF known as "The Family". Their fire-bombing of a Vail ski resort resulted in damages totaling $12 million, with the FBI characterized the ELF as the United States' "top domestic terrorism threat". Gerlach has previously pleaded guilty to 18 counts of arson in other attacks, saying she was motivated by "a deep sense of despair and anger at the deteriorating state of the global environment," but adding that she has "since realized the firebombings did more harm than good." Meyerhoff has renounced ELF and pleaded guilty to 54 counts, but is still under indictment in Michigan, Arizona, Washington, Wyoming and California.
The FBI alleged that the group was led by William C. Rodgers, who was arrested in December 2005 and committed suicide in jail just before he was to be transferred to Oregon. Two other ELF members indicted in the Vail arson, Josephine Sunshine Overaker and Rebecca J. Rubin, have not been apprehended.
Related operations Edit
In January and February 2006, as a result of separate investigations, but widely reported as extensions of Operation Backfire, three more individuals, Zachary Jenson, Eric McDavid and Lauren Weiner, were arrested in Auburn, California for conspiring to damage facilities "by explosive or fire." Eric McDavid, the only one of the three who refused to sign a plea agreement, was found guilty on all counts, and faces up to 20 years in prison, and a $250,000 fine, when sentenced on the 6th of December. In Washington, Nathan Block and Joyanna Zacher were arrested on charges relating to a 2001 arson on a farm near Clatskanie, Oregon and in Tucson, Arizona, Rod Coronado, a prominent American eco-anarchist, was arrested on a felony charge of demonstrating the use of a destructive device.
The indictments of the 18 activists for alleged acts of eco-terrorism has drawn condemnation from activists and alternative media organizations. The National Lawyers Guild condemned the operation and the resulting indictments, arguing that "life sentences for property damage offenses where the actor has no intent to harm an individual are simply unconstitutional." Animal liberation activist and physician Jerry Vlasak accused the FBI of targeting "a bunch of above-ground, well-known, peaceful animal-rights activists and environmental activists and charg[ing] them with being members of the ALF and the ELF."
In response, U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales argued that "there’s a clear difference between constitutionally protected advocacy — which is the right of all Americans — and violent criminal activity."
See also Edit
- Department of Justice Press release
- Independent Media Center report on Operation Backfire
- The North American Earth Liberation Prisoners Support Network
- Earth Liberation Prisoners Support Network
- Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Green Is The New Red.com
- Green Scare
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