Burning one for the road

Ecoterrorists strike in Southern California, and an SUV owners’ group lashes out at environmentalists

  • A contractor walks past a Hummer destroyed by vandals

    SARAH REINGEWIRTZ PHOTO, SAN GABRIEL VALLEY TRIBUNE
 

Occupying nebulous ground between a military Humvee and a limousine, General Motors’ Hummer H2 represents American ingenuity and corporate marketing at its best. The 316-horsepower H2 weighs in at 8,600 pounds, can ford water up to 20 inches deep, and gets somewhere between 8 and 10 miles per gallon. With its $50,000 price tag, it also comes with a 6-disk CD changer and leather seats and is available in colors like “sunset orange metallic.” Popular among “soccer moms,” urban hipsters and celebrities such as Mike Tyson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and rapper Coolio, the Hummer has also become a unifying symbol among environmentalists lobbying both Detroit and Washington, D.C., for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Its cumbersome size and chic status make the Hummer an easy target: Earlier this summer, the Sierra Club launched its “Hummerdinger” Web site, featuring a spoof of GM’s advertisements for the vehicle. Even Arianna Huffington, the Independent gubernatorial candidate in California’s recall election, has taken a stab at the Hummer: On her Web site, she pokes fun at Republican candidate Schwarzenegger and his yellow Hummer.

But in Southern California, radical environmentalists went beyond virtual criticism and took direct action against the gas-guzzlers: At the end of August, vandals swarmed four car dealerships, destroying or damaging more than 100 H2s and SUVs. A West Covina Chevy dealership was hardest hit: Vandals torched about 20 H2s and set fire to a parts warehouse, damaging 20 more H2s and Chevy Tahoes — and causing about $1 million in damage.

Smoke and (rearview) mirrors

Once the smoke cleared, investigators found “terrorist,” “killer,” “gross polluter,” “American Wastefulness” and “ELF” spray-painted across the vehicles. And by the next morning, the Earth Liberation Front, or ELF, had claimed credit for the crimes on its Web site.

The amorphous underground group was spawned by disgruntled activists in 1992, after Earth First! abandoned its “monkey-wrenching” sabotage tactics. Since 1997, ELF has claimed responsibility for more than $100 million in property damage across the nation, including fires at a Vail, Colo., ski area, a Phoenix subdivision and a logging company’s headquarters in Oregon (HCN, 11/9/98: Vail fires outrage community) (HCN, 2/1/99: ELF strikes again).

Despite the high visibility of its actions, ELF, which the FBI considers a domestic terrorist organization, has remained elusive to investigators. Individuals commit “direct action” under guidelines listed on the ELF Web site, then leave graffiti or banners at the scene of the crime, proclaiming solidarity with the ELF cause. Then, the ELF Web site posts press releases, claiming ELF responsibility for the action. In the wake of the Hummer attack, the ELF Web site has been shut down (an FBI spokeswoman says her agency is not responsible).

Road rage

While FBI investigators seek underground criminals, SUV Owners of America (SUVOA) is looking for someone visible to blame. SUVOA, which bills itself as a nonprofit — but which watchdogs call an “industry front group” — has accused the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), as well as Arianna Huffington, of inciting the violence. Rob DeFore, SUVOA’s communications director, says the environmental groups’ campaigns have given “political permission” to groups like ELF to commit crimes.

Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club’s global warming and energy program, says acts of violence undermine the efforts of environmentalists who are working with automakers and Congress to develop more responsible vehicles. Both the Sierra Club and NRDC also condemn SUVOA’s efforts to link them to the vandals. “We and other mainstream environmental organizations advocate tougher fuel efficiency standards,” says Daniel Hinerfeld, spokesman for NRDC. “To try and associate (us) with ELF is nuts.”

The author is an assistant editor for High Country News.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    For more information visit www. wyofile.com/careers/
  • THRIVING LOCAL HEALTH FOOD STORE FOR SALE
    Turn-key business opportunity. Successful well established business with room to grow. Excellent highway visibility.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    For more information, visit www.wyofile.com/careers/
  • SONORAN INSTITUTE, CEO
    Chief Executive Officer Tucson, Arizona ABOUT SONORAN INSTITUTE Since 1990, the Sonoran Institute has brought together diverse interests to successfully forge effective and enduring conservation...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a high-impact, nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 27-year legacy using...
  • PROJECT MANAGER
    Position Summary Join our Team at the New Mexico Land Conservancy! We're seeking a Project Manager who will work to protect land and water across...
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • WILDLIFE HAVEN
    Beautiful acreage with Teton Creek flowing through it. Springs and ponds, lots of trees, moose and deer. Property has barn. Easy access. approx. 33 acres.
  • ARIZONA CONSERVATION CORPS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Arizona Conservation Corps is seeking a Program Director in Flagstaff or Tucson
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...