When Americans think
of terrorists after September 11, images of Arab men motivated by a perverted
version of Islam inevitably come to mind. In contrast, the moniker "environmentalist"
conjures up visions of granola-eating, tree-hugging, peace-loving hippies.
Yet, just like a small number of radical Muslims are sullying a great religion,
a new breed of eco-terrorists is poisoning the once pure environmental movement.
A rising tide of eco-terror is rapidly spreading across America. In August,
fires set by the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) destroyed dozens of SUV's and
a warehouse at an auto dealership where vehicles were spray-painted with
slogans such as "Fat, Lazy Americans." In September, ELF torched six homes
under construction in San Diego County. In these two months alone, ELF's
acts of eco-terrorism have cost individuals and businesses some $54 million.
The FBI has now declared ELF the nation's top domestic terrorism threat.
The related Animal Liberation Front (ALF) targets laboratories that conduct
vital scientific research on animals. For example, Gilbert Low, a researcher
at a University of Minnesota laboratory, noted that a recent ALF attack on
his facility "has set back two years research conducted there on Alzheimer's
disease and cancer."
ELF and ALF have also taken credit for arsons at a Vail, Colorado ski resort,
as well as damaging crop fields at university research centers in the Midwest,
fur farms in the Pacific Northwest, meat vendors in the San Francisco Bay
area, and department stores on the East Coast.
However, the plague of eco-terrorism is hardly confined to America. In Europe,
terrorist incidents in the name of animal rights have increased from 39 in
1999 to 110 in 2002. The European news agency Novum recently reported that
the damage caused by animal rights activists in Europe in the last 20 years
totals $60 million.
While these acts of eco-terror are themselves clearly illegal, few people
realize that the money being used to commit many of these crimes has itself
been illegally laundered through tax-exempt organizations so donors can receive
a tax-deduction. Environmental organizations designated by the IRS as 501(c)(3)
groups are illegally transferring funds to non-exempt groups, which then
use the money for eco-terror campaigns.
These wholesale transfers from more tax-restrictive organizations to less-restrictive
organizations are illegal on their face because there is no way to be sure
that co-mingled funds won't be used for non-exempt purposes. Furthermore,
terrorist acts clearly do not fit within any of the legally recognized areas
of activity for 501(c)(3) groups. Tax-exempt activities are limited to: charitable,
religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety,
fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and the prevention
of cruelty to children or animals.
On September 22, the charitable oversight group Public Interest Watch filed
a complaint with the IRS charging Greenpeace with making such illegal transfers.
In a report entitled "Green-Peace, Dirty Money: Tax Violations in the World
of Non-Profits," Public Interest Watch found that Greenpeace Fund, a 501(c)(3),
transferred over $10 million in exempt funds to non-exempt Greenpeace organizations
such as Greenpeace, Inc. between 1998 and 2000.
Greenpeace, Inc. and other non-exempt Greenpeace entities benefiting from
these transfers have committed numerous acts of eco-terrorism. They have
blockaded a U.S. naval base, broken into the central control building of
a nuclear power station in England, overrun the Exxon Mobil corporate headquarters
in Texas, and rammed a ship into the French sailboat competing in the 2003
America's Cup, permanently damaging the vessel.
In April 2002, Greenpeace activists forcibly boarded a cargo ship in Florida
carrying Brazilian wood. In connection with this incident, federal prosecutors
indicted Greenpeace in July for violating an 1872 law prohibiting the unauthorized
boarding of "any vessel about to arrive at the place of her destination."*
Greenpeace isn't alone in funneling tax-exempt dollars into eco-terrorism
efforts. According to the Center for Consumer Freedom, People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals (PETA) has donated at least $70,000 from its tax-exempt
coffers to the ALF.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Verhey, who prosecuted the 1992 ALF firebombing
of a Michigan State University laboratory, recently noted the challenge of
prosecuting eco-terrorists because of "a lack of witnesses and the group's
'cell' structure that lacks centralized leadership or a membership roster."
The difficulty in nabbing individual eco-terrorists is precisely why it is
critically important that the IRS do its part to immobilize eco-terror groups
by investigating the illegal use of tax-exempt funds to bankroll their crimes.
Eco-terrorism is a scourge on society and a sordid stain on the wholesome
causes of nonviolent environmentalists. Let's put the peace back into Greenpeace
and protect the environment through vigilance, not vigilantism.
*The trial in this case is scheduled for December.
Marc A. Levin is an appellate lawyer, President of the American Freedom Center, and Associate Editor of The Austin Review.