Persons involved in eco-terrorism commit criminal acts in order to spread their ideology of environmental excess, to stop, prevent or minimize the human impact on the natural environment and / or the human rights of others. By claiming such an act, eco-terrorists gain public attention and use this interest as a pretext for spreading an ecological ideology that calls for the destruction of man and the alteration of the natural environment. Like any other deviant outside the norm, eco-terrorists seek out others who share their desire to save the environment through the use of illegal means such as violence and intimidation.
Eco-terrorists like the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF) have become essentially a terrorist group in the United States. Environmental extremism is considered a serious threat, and in 2006 Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which classifies acts of terrorism as such. A recent FBI assessment heightened the fears of environmental radicals when it said eco-terrorists and animal rights activists were “looking beyond the box.” The Justice Department officials welcomed the arrest of a domestic terrorist who had “bent over backwards” to use force to protect the environment and animal rights.
Law enforcement and lawmakers are becoming increasingly aware of eco-terrorism, and in May 2005, US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. referred to it as “eco-terrorism” at a congressional hearing. In 2006, President Bush signed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which gives the Justice Department the authority to capture, prosecute, convict, and imprison animal rights activists who commit eco-terrorism.
The term also applies to crimes against companies and government agencies, but is supposed to prevent or disrupt activities that are harmful to the environment. It is called eco-terrorism because it can intimidate and coerce governments and civilians and cause harm.
This reasoning suggests that the crimes of animal rights activists and eco-terrorists cannot be compared to those of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). This includes criminal acts that are dangerous to the lives of people, which appear to have the intention of intimidating and coercing the civilian population and influencing government policy through intimidation and coercion. Eco-terrorism is practiced by groups that participate in the destruction of existing political structures as well as governmental institutions.
For example, the ideology of the ALF encourages its members to instill fear in those who engage in activities it opposes, whether they themselves or their families. As a result, lawmakers have proposed measures aimed at such violence, with interests ranging from agribusiness to SUV owners and hunters. Part of the problem is that most states make a distinction between angry youths destroying public parks and organized eco-terrorists setting family homes on fire. Many acts of sabotage are target some of the main businesses responsible for pollution such as nuclear power plants, oil refineries, and oil and gas facilities.
Organizations and state and national legislators, with the support of corporate sponsors, have enacted model laws to make eco-terrorism a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Eco-terrorism also includes sabotage, although it is not illegal if it involves crimes against property that could harm people. More radical versions of environmental actions are illegal in some states, compared with some forms of civil disobedience, such as sitting down to effect environmental change. Although eco-activism is not illegal, it can be illegal under federal law, according to the US Department of Justice, including arson, vandalism, arson of property and crimes of violence against people.