Consequences of Movement

It is hard to uncover the consequences of a movement that is so secretive and is still unfolding, so much of this section will be our opinion.  We were driven by the following questions:

  • Is ELF a terrorist organization?  By the government’s standard? By the public’s standards?
  • Is property destruction an effective way to bring attention to an issue?
  • Why would some people rather destroy property than to protest peacefully?
  • Who are the real radicals: loggers or ELF members?
  • How can a group attract media attention if they are at risk of being arrested?
  • How does the FBI’s portrayal of groups like ELF affect the public’s perception of those groups? The media’s portrayal?
  • How does the eco-terrorist movement compare to other movements like the Weather Underground, Civil Rights, and the Women’s Movement?

  • Do movements need leaders to be successful?
  • Has ELF affected the environmental movement as a whole?
  • What drives someone to become radical/violent?
  • How can people effectively enact change without being radical/violent?
  • Is ELF hoping for complete overhaul of the current system (capitalism to anarchy) or do they want to fix the system?
  • What is the difference between the media the movement makes (the events themselves and the communiques) and the media made about the movement?


1) Has Ecoterrorism Helped or Hurt the Environmental Movement?

  • Eco-terrorism has detracted from the environmental movement as a whole
  • It has divided the environmental movement
  • Those that support ecoterrorism have usually given up on the passive ways of the mainstream environmental movement, and those in the environmental movement are usually fundamentally against violent actions
  • In many environmentalists point of view, the environmental movement is about respect for all living organisms, so how can people blow up property in the name of environmentalism?
  • When people think about environmentalists, they may think that all of them are radical and dismiss their arguments altogether.
  • Many people believe that the members or ELF are disconnected from reality and misguided, so they may assume that anybody that is an environmental activist is like that
  • Ecoterrorists have have tainted the environmental movement



2) Can ELF be Successful if it is Considered a Terrorist Organization?

  • Although we do not agree with the philosophies of ecoterrorists, we do not believe that they should be condemned and punished as terrorists
  • Until someone gets injured, or violent outcomes are sought, we believe that ecoterrorists should be considered criminals who commit acts of property damage, and not terrorists
  • Most Americans associate terrorism with Al Qaida and 9/11, and ecoterrorism is far different than that
  • Members of ELF go to great lengths to avoid any injuries–it is not accident that not one person has been injured in their thousands of attacks
  • So we believe that it is misleading for the FBI and the media to call these activists terrorists, and they will never be seen as credible as long as they are considered terrorists



3) Does ELF’s Anonymity Hurt It?

  • It was practical for the movement to stay away from the public sphere to avoid arrest, but it allowed other people and groups to define what they were about
  • The media defines these groups as crazy radical hippies; the FBI defines them as radical terrorists; industry defines them as reckless, misguided people; and the public does not know what to believe
  • ELF members may be passionate about causes and have concrete motives, but there is no way for others to know since they need to stay anonymous to avoid arrest
  • A movement is not going to be successful if they cannot communicate with the outside world
  • A successful movement must actively communicate their messages to the outside world
  • For example, the Civil Rights and Women’s Movements were successful in part because they were able to engage with other people and were not anonymous



4) Are There Any Advantages of ELF for the Environmental Movement?

  • We can think of only one potential positive outcome of ecoterrorism for the environmental movement as a whole
  • The demands and actions of these radicals makes any demands or actions from the moderate movement seem more credible and acceptable
  • For instance, developers and resort owners might now be more willing to engage with peaceful environmentalists because they seem like a much more reasonable group than groups like ELF
  • A similar argument has been made for the Tea Party and the rest of the Republican Party (The extreme demands and rhetoric from the Tea Party makes the Republican Party seem a lot more reasonable than they might seem alone)



5) How can ELF be More Successful in the Future?

  • It seems like ecoterrorism and ELF have sputtered out in recent years
  • In the wakes of the Arab Spring and Occupy movements, the world is seeing how successful “civil” protests can be
  • In other words, why would people want to blow things up and not accomplish anything when they can protests peacefully and make concrete changes?
  • These movements have also had complex organization and have relied on social media–two things ELF has not, and can not do
  • ELF relies on anonymous groups forming and cannot network because the FBI would stop these actions before they can occur
  • We recommend that those in ELF stop their destructive actions altogether and look towards more peaceful (AND LEGAL) actions
  • Groups like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, 350, and the World Wildlife Fund are large and respected agencies that, unlike ELF) have made progress on the environment

6) Does ELF Have a Bleak Future in Store?

  • Because ELF lacks structure, it is not unlikely that individuals could turn to violent tactics in the name of ELF; some members have already expressed desire to target people (Leader and Probst 2003 & Curry 2011)
  • ELF relies on media attention to ignite their movement, so they could turn to larger and more dangerous operations (Leader and Probst 2003)
  • Since the media and law enforcement officials have focused on catching criminals, they may never be able to successfully communicate their motives (Curry 2011)
  • After one of ELFs most public leaders, Daniel McGowan was sentenced to 8 years in jail, the entire movement started to fizzle out (Curry 2011)
  • Although McGowan has since expressed dissatisfaction with ELF, since ELF has no leaders, he has no real control over those who want to continue (Joose 2007)