The Earth Liberation Front (ELF), also known as "Elves" or "The Elves",[1] is the collective name for anonymous and autonomous individuals or cells who, according to the now defunct ELF Press Office, use "economic sabotage and guerrilla warfare to stop the exploitation and destruction of the environment",[2] commonly known as ecotage or monkeywrenching.

The ELF was founded in Brighton in the United Kingdom in 1992[3] and spread to the rest of Europe by 1994. It is now an international movement with attacks reported in over a dozen countries[4][5] and is widely regarded as the Animal Liberation Front's younger sister, because of the relationship and cooperation between the two movements.[6] Using the same leaderless resistance model, as well as similar guidelines to the ALF,[3] sympathizers say that it is an eco-defense group dedicated to taking the profit motive out of environmental destruction by causing economic damage to businesses through the use of direct action.[7]

The ELF was classified as the top domestic terror threat in the United States by the FBI in March 2001,[8][9] and are categorised as "eco-terrorists".[10] The ELF's guidelines require that individuals or groups acting on its behalf "take all necessary precautions against harming any animal — human and nonhuman."[11]. On the lack of deaths from ELF attacks, the FBI's deputy assistant director for counterterrorism has said, "I think we're lucky. Once you set one of these fires they can go way out of control."[12] The name came to public prominence when they were featured on the television show 60 Minutes in 2005.[13]

Structure and aimsEdit

Main article: Ecotage

ELF "monkeywrenching" is carried out against facilities and companies involved in logging, genetic engineering, GMO crops, deforestation, SUV sales, urban sprawl, rural cluster and McMansion developments, energy production and distribution, and a wide variety of other activities, all charged by the ELF with exploiting the Earth, its environment and inhabitants.[14][15]

The Earth Liberation Front has no formal leadership, hierarchy, membership or official spokesperson and is entirely decentralized; instead consisting of individuals or cells who choose the term as a banner to use. Individuals are commonly known to work in affinity groups, known as cells, and are usually self-funded.[14][15]

Techniques involve destruction of property, by either using tools to disable or the use of arson to destroy, what activists believe is being used to injure animals, people or the environment. These actions are sometimes called ecotage and there are marked differences between their actions in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Jeff "Free" Luers, who is serving a ten year sentence for the firebombing of SUV's at a dealership, which was revised from twenty-two years and ten months,[16] describes why the ELF exists and why they have kept by the guidelines that were initially published for the movement:[17]


With many different reasons why ELF activists carry out economic sabotage, a communique to the press claiming the responsibility for an arson against urban sprawl in December 2000, described the reason a cell the took an action. As Elves usually do, they claimed that burning down the house was non-violent, because it was searched for any living creatures; an issue which is much debated within the environmental movement.[18]


Any direct action to halt the destruction of the environment and adhering to the strict non-violent guidelines, can be considered an ELF action. Economic sabotage and property destruction are the primary focus of the published guidelines:[1][14][19]



Despite the leaderless nature of the movement, the FBI says that activist Rod Coronado is "a national leader" of the ELF in the USA, while Coronado describes himself as an "unofficial ELF spokesman".[20] Craig Rosebraugh served as an unofficial spokesperson for the ELF Press Office in North America from 1997 to early September 2001.[21] However, doubts have been raised about whether Rosebraugh or other unofficial spokespeople for ELF actually have ties to the cells involved.[22]

Some of the most common and notable attacks are against the development of multi-million dollar houses, known as McMansions, a frequent target in the ELF campaign. In a communique to the ELF Press Officer in North America, that was later published in The Environmental Magazine, the group declared in 2001:[23] Template:Cquote

Support networksEdit

Main article: Earth Liberation Prisoners Support Network

Due to the lack of actions reported to the media and press by the ELF, in comparison to the ALF,[24] there are currently no press offices for ELF activists still operating. Instead, prisoner support networks support ELF activists, such as the Earth Liberation Prisoners Support Network, an English website listing all earth liberation prisoners, as well as a variety of other "prisoners of conscience".

Furthermore, there are ELF support networks in Belgium, Italy, North America, Poland and Turkey, which collectively coordinate the support of prisoners, as well as support websites set up to support specific prisoners, such as for; Rod Coronado, Jeff "Free" Luers, Daniel McGowan, Briana Waters and Tre Arrow[25]. The networks distribute literature written by those in prison, to their supporters and other support groups, and sometimes raise funds for those who require financial aid in their cases.[26]


File:Rouge clearcut.jpg
Main article: Earth liberation

Radical environmentalists, that claim to be earth liberationists, range from a diversity of individuals with a variety of different ideologies as well as theories. These include; animal liberationists, anti-capitalists, green anarchists, deep ecologists, eco-feminists, and anti-globalisationists.[27]

Elves argue that that illegal direct action is required in order to aid the earth liberation movement, also referred to as eco-resistance movement, and a part of the radical environmental movement. The ELF claim that it would be similar to how the ALF has projected forward the animal liberation movement. There was also the intention that in the same way animal liberationists "help out" with legal campaigns, earth liberationists would aid above-ground environmental organisations, notably Earth First!, by acts of ecotage.[28]


Main article: Radical environmentalism

United KingdomEdit

Main article: Environmental direct action in the United Kingdom

ELF formedEdit


The Earth Liberation Front was founded in 1992 in Brighton, England by members of the Earth First! (EF!) environmental movement at the first ever national meeting. At the time, EF! had become very popular, so people's concerns were based on maintaining this popularity and by doing so not associating with overt law breaking. There was no universal agreement over this, but it was accepted amongst the movement that British EF! would instead continue to advocate and focus on civil disobedience and mass demonstrations.[3] If people wanted to participate in acts of ecotage, the new name "Earth Liberation Front" would be used, with its name and guidelines derived from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), another movement that uses direct action to liberate animals or sabotage companies using them. It was understood that the simplicity of the guidelines was a crucial factor in order to engage as many people as possible to the new cause, with the intention that the ELF would quickly become as popular as the ALF.[30]

Earth NightEdit

The very first ELF action is unknown, or undocumented, but one of the first and most notable actions was on April Fool's Earth Night 1992, a night organised by activists to carry out ecotage and also one of the first of them. The Elves, as they were also known, targeted Fisons, a peat company accused of destroying the peat bogs causing £50,000-70,000 worth of damage. Pumps, trucks and other machinery belonging to the company were destroyed after legal campaigners, Friends of the Earth, spent two years advocating a boycott of the company. Green Anarchist magazine publicised the communique with the demands from the ELF: [31]


EF! JournalEdit

In the September–October 1993 issue of the Earth First! Journal, an anonymous article announced the creation of the ELF in England. It said the ELF is a movement of independently operating eco-saboteurs that split from the British EF! movement, which has focused directly on public direct actions. The author noted that, unlike the ALF which seeks publicity: "ELF cells, for security reasons, work without informing the press and do not claim responsibility for actions."

Development of the ELF abroadEdit


The ELF quickly spread across to Europe by 1994, with actions first occurring in Holland, Germany, Russia, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Spain, France and Finland, and the name starting to be used across the globe. [4][5] and is widely regarded as the Animal Liberation Front's younger sister, because of the relationship and cooperation between the two movements.[6] It is believed that cells rapidly established themselves in new countries because of the global outreach of Earth First! and the connection between the two groups.[32] British Elves were also making contact with link-minded activists, informing them about the ELF and its tactics, with missionaries targeting specifically France, Spain, Germany and Holland.

Within two years, McDonalds had been vandalised in Germany and Poland, Amsterdam Airport and been sabotaged with cars trashed and hunting towers were destroyed in Holland and Germany, presumably inspired by similar actions against hunting by the ALF.[24]

North AmericaEdit

Further information: North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office

Canadian ELAEdit

Main article: Earth Liberation Army

The first time it was known that an earth liberation action had happened in North America, was in 1995, in Canada, by a group calling itself the Earth Liberation Army (ELA). [33] They were considered by the European Elves at the time to be "transatlantic cousins". On 19 June 1995, the ELA burned down a wildlife museum and damaged a hunting lodge in British Columbia.[34]

United StatesEdit

On Columbus Day 1996, activists spraypainted "504 years of genocide" and "ELF" on the walls of a public relations office, as well as a McDonalds restaurant in Oregon, the actions were the very first by the ELF in the United States. The same restaurant then had its locks glued and spraypainted again, but this time in support of the British McLibel Two, two activists who had distributed anti-McDonalds leaflets. The next day, it was reported that another two McDonalds restaurants, again in Orivists.[35][34] The only other reported action of the year was on Christmas Day, when a fur farm was raided in Michigan and 150 mink released into the wild by the Great Lakes ELF.[36]

Notable attacks: 1998-2008Edit

Main article: Timeline of Earth Liberation Front actions

The ELF gained national attention for a series of actions which earned them the label of eco-terrorists,[10] and one of the top domestic terror threats in the United States.[8] This came after the burning of a ski resort in Vail, Colorado, on October 19, costing $12 million.[37] In a communique to the press, the ELF said:[38]


Actions also included sabotaging power lines, the burning of an SUV dealership and the burning down of a logging headquarters causing $1 million in damages. The Elves wrote to the local paper "Let this be a lesson to all greedy multinational corporations who don't respect their ecosystems,",[37] with most actions taking place in Oregon. The defendants in the case were later charged in the FBI's "Operation Backfire", which included 17 acts of property destruction.[39]

The ELF then set fire to the Michigan State University on New Years Eve, using a gasoline bomb to cause $1.1 million in damages, because of their GMO-engineering. The next day, commercial logging equipment was set on fire, with "ELF" and "Go Log in Hell" spraypainted on a truck. In March 2008, four activists were charged for both the arsons.[40] On November 27th, in Oregon, the ELF burned the Legend Ridge mansion and sent a message to the Boulder Weekly saying "Viva la revolution!" Damages were estimated at $2.5 million.[41]


In March, a total of thirty SUVs were torched, belonging to Joe Romania's dealership, in Oregon, with damages estimated at $1 million. The action was claimed in support of Jeff "Free" Luers, who targeted the very same dealership and was in court for the charges at the time.[42] He was then sentenced to twenty-two years in jail, later revised to ten.


On May 21, a fire destroyed laboratories, offices and archives at the Center for Urban Horticulture, University of Washington, causing a total of $7 million in damages.[43] After the ELF claimed responsibility for the arson, because they believed the University was involved in genetic engineering of poplar trees, an FBI spokeswoman in Portland, Oregon said "I don't think there's any doubt the ELF is upping the ante".[44]


On August 1, a 206-unit condominium in San Diego was destroyed, with a banner left at the scene saying "If you build it, we will burn it", signed "The E.L.F.s are mad".[45] The damages totaled $50 million dollars[46] after flames reached an estimated 200 feet in the air, as over a hundred fire fighters attempted to put out the fire. The destruction was the movements most financially damaging action against a target, with a local preservation group calling the action pointless, noting that "You can go and burn something down, but it's just going to get built again."[45] Exactly three weeks later, 125 SUVs and hummers were torched, costing a total of $3.5 million, with "I love pollution" spray-painted at the scene,[47] and a month later homes being built in San Diego were targeted again, this time costing an estimated $450,000 in damages.[48]


The FBI's most recent report stated that there had been over 1,200 "criminal incidents",[32] within January 2006. A nearly completed 9,600-square-foot trophy house, worth $3 million, was burnt to the ground in Washington. The Herald Net reported that a bedsheet was drapped across the front gate, with a threatening message spray-painted on it.[49]


One of the latest ELF arsons was reported on the morning of March 3, when explosive devices set fire to four multi-million dollar homes from the 2007 Seattle Street of Dreams in Echo Lake, Washington, costing $7 million in damage.[50] Authorities described the act as "domestic terrorism" after finding "ELF" spray-painted in red letters, mocking claims that the homes were environmentally friendly: "Built Green? Nope black! McMansions in RCDs r not green. ELF."[51] A criminology professor replied saying: "The real unfortunate thing is many citizens will empathize with ELF because their goal is the environment."[52]

Other movementsEdit

ELA and Environmental RangersEdit

Further reading: Earth Liberation Army (ELA)

The first major report of another name other than ELF being used to claim ecotage was in 1998, when the Earth Liberation Army (ELA) claimed the arson at Vail Resorts that severely damaged the resort in Vail, CO costing $12 million in damages.[53]

Two years later, in Oregon, four SUVs were completely destroyed by placing jugs of gas under the vehicles, with the ELA calling for others to "[c]ontinue the fight to remove the profit motive from the killing of the environment (biophysical)." Jeff Luers was later convicted of arson, as part of the Operation Backfire case, along with other ALF and ELF defendants.[54] There have also been other groups that have caused similar damage as the ELF, with in 2001 reports that "eco-terrorist" attacks, known as "ecotage" had increased. These included the ELF, the ELA, and another name being used the "Environmental Rangers" who use similar tactics.[55] Activists have also used the names "The Moles", "The Grey Wolves", "Westcountry Wildlife Cell", "Eco-Animal Defense Unit" and "Radical Brigades for Ecological Defence", as well as others.[15]

Environmental Life ForceEdit

Main article: Environmental Life Force

The Environmental Life Force, was the first radical group to use explosive and incendiary devices to promote pro-environment causes, also known as the Original ELF. It was founded by John Hanna, who was the only member of the group to be arrested and convicted for the use of explosives on federal property.[10] Although it was an eco-guerilla entity with similar philosophies to the current ELF (Earth Liberation Front), which formed fifteen years later, there was no formal link between the two groups, and founders of the Earth Liberation Front may not have even been aware of the existence of the Environmental Life Force.[10] Despite this, it has acknowledged in written communications that Dave Foreman, who founded Earth First! three years after the original ELF, was in communication with Hanna in the mid 1980s, before the Earth Liberation Front was founded, which was after Foreman cut ties with the Earth First! movement.[56]

Police response, and convictionsEdit

First ELF ArrestEdit

Further information: Earth Liberation Prisoners Support Network

In 1994, Dutch authorities and police made claims that British ELF activists were travelling abroad to cause sabotage, which were disputed by the organization, with later that year the first ELP activist being caught and later charged. Known as Paul S., he was arrested and accused of carrying out an 18th-month campaign of vandalism in Holland against road construction sites. The Dutch government attempted to declare him insane, because of his inability to provide a political reason for his actions, other than his care for the environment. This was unsuccessful and the prisoner was sentenced to three years for damaging property.[4]

British police raidsEdit

Due to the increased popularity of the environmental movement, as well as the animal liberation movement and estimates that five ALF actions occurred per day, police carried out a series of raids against animal rights and environmental activists. In total, there were 55 homes raided against suspected ALF and ELF activists, including an individual in Italy. The police had not managed to charge anyone with any illegal activities, until on January 16, 1996, when six men were charged for a five year ALF/ELF campaign. They were sentenced a year later each to three years for conspiracy to incite direct action in the name of animal and earth liberation.[4]

Operation BackfireEdit

Main article: Operation Backfire (FBI)

The term Green Scare, alluding to the Red Scares, periods of fear over communist infiltration of U.S. society, is a term popularized by environmental activists to refer to legal action by the U.S. government against the radical environmentalist movement.

It is first known to have appeared in 2002 in the wake of the February 12 congressional hearings titled "The Threat of Eco-Terrorism" which discussed groups including the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).[9] In late 2005 and early 2006, as part of Operation Backfire, US grand juries indicted a total of 18 activists on a range of charges related to "violent acts in the name of animal rights and environmental causes".[57] According to the FBI, many of these acts were carried out on behalf of the ELF[37] and was considered as one of the largest arrests of environmental activists in American history.[58]

The operation resulted in the arrest of Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, William C. Rodgers, and Daniel McGowan. [59]

Cooperation with the ALFEdit

Main article: Animal Liberation Front


Further information: Earth liberation, Animal liberation, Ecocentrism, Biocentrism and Deep ecology



  • Radical environmentalists consider the ELF to be the environmental wing of the Animal Liberation Front, effectively acting as the Eco-ALF.[28] Evidence of this include names used such as the "Westcountry Wildlife Cell" and then later "ALF: Eco-Animal Defense Unit".[36]
  • The ELF is also considered to be the ALF's younger sister,[6] forming 16 years later and due to the fact that the guidelines, as well as the name itself, were derived from the movement.[3]
  • Despite the movements only forming alliances in 1996/1997, activists such as Rod Coronado were known to be active in both the ALF and ELF dating back before the names were officially used together.[60]

Noel Molland, a former ELF activist, writes in Steven Best's Igniting a Revolution that:[3]



Main article: Timeline of Animal Liberation Front actions, 1976-1999

During the mid 1990s, the Western Wildlife Unit, an ELF branch in Britain, were responsible for various acts of animal rights themed direct action. The ecotages included spiking trees as well as targeting anglers, all in the name of wooldand animals. However, it wasn't until sometime later, in the United States, that a joint claim of responsibility was made.

Molland also writes that the first established ALF and ELF action was established on March 14, 1997, when the "Animal Liberation Front - Eco-Animal Defense Unit" claimed the spiking of 47 trees in a clearcut area, Oregon. This was only a few months after the fur farm had been raided by the Great Lakes ELF, which also highlighted the overlap in direct action for animal rights and environmentalism.[36] The groups intention was to state that the farm they had raided was a joint effort between members of the Animal and Earth Liberation Front.

Five days later, the "Bay Area Cell of the Earth and Animal Liberation Front" claimed the fire bombing of the University of California, an animal research laboratory that was still under construction at the time.[42] Also later that year, on November 29, there was another joint ALF & ELF claim, this time releasing 500 wild horses and torching the Bureau of Land Management in Burns, in protest of BLM's intention to round up the wild horses and process them for the sale of horsemeat.[36][51]

However, this claim contradicts the Southern Poverty Law Center, which states that the first incident of cooperation between the two movements was 6 months prior to these events on October 27, 1996, when the ALF & ELF were both responsible for firebombing a Forest Service truck in Detroit, Oregon. Then three days later both groups claimed the arson at the U.S. Forest Service Oakridge Ranger Station, at the cost of $5.3 million.

It was then reported that a week before the Bay Area cells fur farm raid, on March 11, 1997, four trucks were torched, at the Agricultural Fur Breeders Co-Op. The damage totaled $1 million and the action was again claimed by the ALF & ELF.[42]

As the ELF was becoming well established through its own actions, on 21 June 1998, the United States Forest Service wildlife research centre near Olympia, Washington was set on fire with "Eco-Defense" and "Earth Liberation" spray painted on construction machinery, which had received extensive damage in New Jersey on the 2nd July. Both the actions were claimed jointly by the ALF & ELF, and were estimated to have caused one of the worst damages yet, estimated at $1.9 million. The same claim was made when 310 animals were taken from a fur farm involved in experimental research based in Madison, Wisconsin, which were stolen the day later.[61][51]


Timeline of Animal Liberation Front actions: 2000-2004 and 2005-Present

Actions claimed by both the ALF and ELF jointly has appeared across the globe, nearly as much as the ELF has, causing more activists from the ALF and other movements to become involved; believing in "No Compromise in Defence of Mother Earth",[61] a popular Earth First! slogan used and populated in the 1980s.[62]

File:Longbridges Fire.jpg

Despite this, in comparison to the ALF, there have been few communiques in recent years that have been released to the media or ELF Press Offices, with now no known ELF PO's in Europe or elsewhere. This is largely due to the style of the ELF, whom are much less likely to report their actions, or even leave a message to notify their targets regarding why they have been attacked.[24]

Although ALF and ELF combined actions have continued,[63] one of the latest string of jointly claimed arsons[64] was publicised was in November 2002, when activists sent a communique to Bite Back and also the ELF Press Office, claiming responsibility for the arson at Mindek Brothers Fur Farm.[65] In a press release, the groups stated the reason for their action:[66][67]


In popular cultureEdit

  • Folk musician David Rovics performs a song dedicated to the ELF called "Song for the Earth Liberation Front"[68]
  • In the 2004 novel by Michael Crichton, State of Fear, a fictional group based on the Earth Liberation Front, but called the Environmental Liberation Front instead, is the main villain.
  • In the novel by Nicholas Evans, The Divide, a main character is involved in ELF activities.


Further information: Eco-terrorism

The FBI designated the ELF as "eco-terrorists."[10] Representative Scott McInnis, then chairman of the US House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, subpoenaed Craig Rosebraugh in an effort to investigate the ELF's activities. On hearing Rosebraugh's testimony, McInnis suggested it was "luck" no one has been killed by an ELF (or ALF) attack.[69]

Referring to the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front, ATF Deputy Assistant Director Carson Carrol has said, "The most worrisome trend to law enforcement and private industry alike has been the increase in willingness by these movements to resort to the use of incendiary and explosive devices."[70] In 2005, the FBI announced that the ELF, is America's greatest domestic terrorist threat, responsible for over 1,200 "criminal incidents" amounting to tens of millions of dollars in damage to property.[32] The United States Department of Homeland Security confirmed that the Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front are the most serious threats to the nation.[70]

It has also been claimed the ELF's actions harm the environment, a spokesman for the Vail Ski Resort, which the ELF fire bombed in 1998 in protest of a planned extension, explained, "more logs were used to rebuild the resort than were cut for the [original] expansion".[69] In 2001 the ELF targeted the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture in with the aim of disrupting research into genetic engineering. However, the targeted researcher was investigating hybridization in poplar trees, and the resulting fire killed a significant number of endangered plants.[71]

ELF was also featured in commentator Bernard Goldberg's book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America as #23, "The Unknown American Terrorist". They were listed and criticised for damaging property and acting like a terrorist group in the name of saving the environment.[72]

Further readingEdit

See alsoEdit



External linksEdit

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