Eleven people were indicted in arsons across five Western states that have been claimed by the radical groups Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front, the Justice Department said Friday.
The 65-count indictment said the suspects called themselves “The Family” and are responsible for 17 incidents in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming, including sabotaging a high-tension power line, in a conspiracy that dates back to 1996. The indictment was returned Thursday by a federal grand jury in Eugene, Ore., and unsealed Friday.
“The indictment tells a story of four-and-a-half years of arson, vandalism, violence and destruction claimed to have been executed on behalf of the Animal Liberation Front or Earth Liberation Front, extremist movements known to support acts of domestic terrorism,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a news conference Friday.
Appearing with Gonzales, FBI Director Robert Mueller declared, “Terrorism is terrorism, no matter what the motive.”
“There is a clear difference between constitutionally protected advocacy ... and violent criminal activity,” Mueller added.
“It is one thing to write concerned letters or to hold peaceful demonstrations,” Mueller said. “It is another thing entirely to construct and use improvised explosives to harass and intimidate victims by destroying property and to cause millions of dollars in losses by acts or threats of violence.”
Three at large
Eight defendants, including one Canadian citizen, have been arrested. Three people remain at large, and are believed to be outside the United States, Gonzales said.
In Eugene, two defendants, Jonathan Christopher Mark Paul, 39, and Suzanne Nicole “India” Savoie, 28, were both ordered held without bail, pending further hearings.
A criminal complaint filed in federal court in Eugene accused Paul, a firefighter, of setting firebombs that burned down a horse slaughterhouse in 1997. The ALF claimed responsibility for that fire, which caused an estimated $1 million in damage.
Savoie, who works in a group home for the developmentally disabled, is accused of serving as a lookout for a fire in 2001 that destroyed offices of a lumber mill. The ELF claimed responsibility for that fire.
Ecoterrorists have done more than $100 million in property damage over the past decade, officials told NBC News on Friday.
The other defendants are Joseph Dibee, Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, Sarah Kendall Harvey, Daniel McGowan, Stanislas Meyerhoff, Josephine Overaker, Rebecca Rubin, Darren Todd Thurston and Kevin Tubbs.
Dibee, Overaker and Rubin have not been arrested. in early December. Another suspect arrested in December, William Rodgers of Prescott, Ariz., later suffocated himself in prison while awaiting charges.
Using improvised incendiary devices made from milk jugs, petroleum products and homemade timers, they carried out attacks between 1996 and 2001, the indictment alleged. Targets included U.S. Forest Service ranger stations, U.S. Bureau of Land Management wild horse facilities, lumber companies, meat processing companies, a ski area and the power line, the indictment said.
The FBI says ecoterrorism is the most widespread and damaging form of domestic terrorism.
Millionaire firefighter held
The FBI arrested Paul on Tuesday outside Ashland, Ore., said FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele. Savoie turned herself in to the FBI on Thursday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Fong argued that Paul presented a high flight risk and a danger to society due to the nature of the charges and the fact that he had a trust fund and other assets worth $1.7 million, which would allow him to post a $400,000 bond and still have plenty of cash to flee.
Defense attorney Stu Sugarman countered that Paul has lived openly in southern Oregon for nine years, had a wife and family, and demonstrated in the past that he was willing to surrender to authorities rather than hide.
In 1993, Paul spent five months in jail for contempt of court in Spokane, Wash., for refusing to testify in the investigation of another ALF case, a 1991 raid that caused $100,000 in damages to U.S. Department of Agriculture offices at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. He was released after a judge concluded imprisonment would not persuade him to talk.
Sugarman argued that the only evidence is testimony from people facing lengthy prison terms for their own involvement.
According to an FBI affidavit, an unidentified informant involved in the Cavel West horsemeat packing plant fire told investigators that Paul and an unidentified woman set the blaze using five-gallon plastic buckets filled with a mix of gasoline, diesel oil and soap that were ignited by an electronic timer.
The buckets have been a signature of ELF and ALF fires.
Paul prepared the fuel mix, adding soap shavings so it would form a gel and burn more slowly, the affidavit said. They did a dry-run a week before. The night of the fire, one of the buckets went off unexpectedly, igniting a fireball, and two didn't ignite, according to the affidavit.
Cavel has been criticized by animal-rights groups for slaughtering wild horses rounded up from U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands in the West. The Belgian-owned company never rebuilt the Redmond plant, but continues to operate one in DeKalb, Ill.