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
  • GRANT WRITER (PART-TIME, FREELANCE CONTRACT)
    High Country News seeks an energetic, eloquent and highly organized grant writer to support a growing foundations program. This position works closely with our Executive...
  • ASSOCIATE PROGRAM MANAGER
    Associate Program Manager ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our State Parks thrive. From redwood groves and desert springs...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • FREE RANGE BISON AVAILABLE
    Hard grass raised bison available in east Montana. You harvest or possible deliver quartered carcass to your butcher or cut/wrapped pickup. Contact Crazy Woman Bison...
  • CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST (NORTH CENTRAL WA)
    Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, and the chance to work with many different kinds of people and accomplish big conservation outcomes? Do you...
  • CARDIGAN WELSH CORGIS
    10 adorable, healthy puppies for sale. 4 males and 6 females. DM and PRA clear. Excellent pedigree from champion lineage. One Red Brindle male. The...
  • A CHILDREN'S BOOK FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS!!
    "Goodnight Fossil Fuels!" is a an engaging, beautiful, factual and somewhat silly picture book by a climate scientist and a climate artist, both based in...
  • DIGITAL ADVOCACY & MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    The Digital Advocacy & Membership Manager will be responsible for creating and delivering compelling, engaging digital content to Guardians members, email activists, and social media...
  • DIGITAL OUTREACH COORDINATOR, ARIZONA
    Job Title: Digital Outreach Coordinator, Arizona Position Location: Phoenix or Tucson, AZ Status: Salaried Job ID Number: 52198 We are looking for you! We are...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator who is passionate about conservation and...
  • INDIAN COUNTRY FELLOWSHIP
    Western Leaders Network is accepting applications for its paid, part-time, 6-month fellowship. Mentorship, training, and engaging tribal leaders in advancing conservation initiatives and climate policy....
  • MULESHOE RANCH PRESERVE MANAGER
    The Muleshoe Ranch Preserve Manager develops, manages, and advances conservation programs, plans and methods for large-scale geographic areas. The Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area (MRCMA)...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 52 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • ASSISTANT OR ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    Assistant or Associate Professor of Environmental Humanities Whitman College The Environmental Humanities Program at Whitman College seeks candidates for a tenure-track position beginning August 2023...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) in Crested Butte, CO is seeking an enthusiastic Executive Director who is passionate about the public lands, natural waters and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with volunteer management experience to join...