ELF arsonists compared to KKK | VailDaily.com

ELF arsonists compared to KKK

AP PhotoDemonstrator Carol Berg-Caldwell walks in front of the Wayne L. Morse federal courthouse in Eugene, Ore., Tuesday, where a hearing is in progress for 10 people accused of numerous ecoterrorism charges.

EUGENE, Ore. ” Defense attorneys expressed outrage Tuesday when federal prosecutors compared 10 Earth Liberation Front arsonists who are awaiting sentencing to Ku Klux Klan arsonists.

“I cannot sit idly by and hear what these defendants did be compared to acts of the Ku Klux Klan burning empty churches,” defense attorney Amanda Lee said in federal court.

The six men and four women have pleaded guilty to conspiracy and arson charges related to 20 fires set in five Western states from 1996 to 2001 that caused $40 million in damage. Targets included Vail Mountain’s Two Elk restaurant, National Forest ranger stations, meat packing plants, research laboratories, lumber company offices and a tree farm.

The 10 carried out the attacks in the name of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front, saying they were trying to stop old-growth logging, the slaughter of wild horses for meat and genetic engineering of plants.

They were to be sentenced individually starting next week.

Federal prosecutors asked Judge Ann Aiken that a so-called terrorism enhancement be added to their sentences ” something defense attorneys argue has never happened in 1,200 arsons nationwide claimed by Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front.

Prosecutors on Tuesday elaborated on their reasons for asking that the arsonists be labeled terrorists.

“This is a classic case of terrorism, despite their protests of lofty humane goals,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer said in court. “It was pure luck no one was killed or injured by their actions.”

“If that is the standard, then the Ku Klux Klan did not commit terrorism” when they burned empty black churches during the civil rights upheaval in the South in the 1960s, Peifer said.

Lee voiced anger over that comparison, pointing out that four girls died in the burning of a Birmingham church and also citing numerous lynchings and other murders by the Klan.

Operation Backfire is the biggest prosecution ever of environmental extremists, and has turned on its head the prevailing idea that arsonists have generally acted alone, said Brent Smith, director of the Terrorism Research Center at the University of Arkansas.

Aiken said she was unlikely to rule on the terrorism issue before individual sentencing hearings begin next Tuesday because each of the cases is different.

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